Yesterday's Magazette

4 – Buttons and Bows and Bob Hope

Buttons and Bows and Bob Hope

By Terri Elders

“I wouldn’t walk across the street to see a parade,” Daddy announced that chilly morning in l949, the day before Thanksgiving. I shot Mama a quick panicky glance, and then stared down into my breakfast corn flakes.

All autumn I had been practicing my walkovers and finger twirls. I was one of three acrobatic majorettes in the Bebe Carpenter troop, The Carpenterettes. Though the other girls rolled down parade routes on skates, those of us in the center row thought ourselves the stars. At parade breaks we twisted and twirled, cavorting for the crowds like a pack of seals, outdoing one another with our twelve-year-old ingenuity, tossing batons as high as the telephone lines, turning a quick flip before catching them.

For weeks Mama had been sewing gold sequins onto the lapels and panties of my aqua satin costume. Having outgrown last summer’s purple velvets, we welcomed new attire for the Santa Claus Lane Parade, locally second in fame only to the Rose Parade. The two events bracketed the holidays like bookends.

“Don’t do this, Paul.” Mama said in a rare assertive tone, “Terri has to leave for school and I don’t want her worrying all day.” With a reassuring smile, she handed me a slice of raisin toast.

Daddy sighed heavily, then nodded. “All right, we’ll leave at five,” he agreed. “But I’m not driving to Hollywood ever again, Hope or no Bob Hope.”

I breathed in the pungent cinnamon scent of my toast. We would leave for the parade site by five. I’d be too nervous to eat my lunch, and we’d have to postpone supper until we got back home. I took a greedy bite.

Though fabled Hollywood was just nine miles from our working class West 59th Place home, it could have been a million miles away, as far as the moon or Mars or Andromeda, a beckoning, shimmering symbol of glamour.

Star struck, my Carpenter Studio classmates and I talked of how sultry Lana Turner had been discovered as a teen, sipping a soda at the very Schwab’s Drug Store on Sunset where they were shooting the new movie, “Sunset Boulevard.” We pored over photos of the filming in the Herald Express.

We would whisper about how the secret sororities at Manual Arts High, the Scians, the Debs, the Vals, took new initiates to Hollywood and Vine to scrub the sidewalks with toothbrushes on initiation night.

Every year we tried to guess who would be Grand Marshall. Just a few years ago it had been Gene Autry, so inspired by the evening that he penned one of our favorite new Christmas ditties, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

This year it would be Bob Hope. While my parents would joke about Hope and Crosby vying for the favors of Lamour in the earlier Road movies, at Bebe Carpenter Studio we tapped and twirled to “Buttons and Bows,” an Academy Award winning song Hope had introduced in l948 in “The Pale Face.”

That afternoon as Mama pinned my cap securely to my topknot so it wouldn’t fall off when I turned cartwheels, I wondered which troupe would march in front of the float that would carry Grand Marshall Hope. I suspected we’d be fronting an American Legion Post color guard or a drum and bugle corps.

Mama applied mascara to my lashes, then rouged my cheeks. She handed me her tube of Tangee Pink Queen so I could put on my own lipstick. This past year Joan Blondell appeared in ads in Movieland and Photoplay, extolling the virtues of this new shade. Getting made up was one of the most thrilling parts of preparing for a performance.

As it neared five, my family hurried outside to get in the car. Mama handed me my new baton and boots. They had been an early Christmas present, Mama said, and I had wondered where she’d found the extra money from her grocery allowance to buy them.

As we headed north, I wondered if the magnificent Meglin Kiddies would be there. The Meglin Dance Studio had produced such young stars of the performing arts as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple. Though we wished we could think of them as our arch-rivals, in truth we Carpenterettes were second cousins twice-removed. We could only aspire, while already they had attained.

When we reached the participant drop-off point, my parents said they would pick me up after by Grauman’s Chinese Theater at Hollywood and Orange. I looked around for my troupe, and we soon connected. Bebe Carpenter herself appeared, nodding her approval at our sparkling new outfits. Each sequin seemed to reflect the rays of the thousands of fairy lights decorating Santa Claus Lane.

“Good news, girls,” she said. We hushed our chatter. “You’ve been chosen to escort the Grand Marshall.” Our gleeful cries probably could be heard all the way to Highland. We quickly assembled in front of the Cadillac convertible carrying Hope. He sat regally on the backseat, waving to the throngs lining the streets. We didn’t think he had noticed us at all.

This would be the second year the parade had been televised, so we knew that when we passed the booth with the cameramen and radio personality Bill Welsh, we were expected to turn and give a baton salute. Welsh would announce our name, a matter of great importance to Bebe.

Though November nights can be cold, even in balmy Los Angeles, the exertion of performing soon warmed me up, and along the route I’d welcome the occasional pauses and wipe my forehead. At last we neared Welsh’s booth. Welsh seemed beside himself with excitement, leaping from the booth, carrying his hand mike out to Hope.

We couldn’t hear their exchange, but Welsh soon hurried back to us. “Hope wants to give one of you his autograph,” he said, grabbing my shoulder, as the cameramen positioned themselves to record this historic moment. “How about you, young lady?” He hurried me over to the Caddy, where Hope leaned over, extending a hand with a pen at the ready. “Good evening, dear,” Hope said, in that familiar voice, “Where’s your paper?” I blinked bewilderedly.

“I don’t have any,” I said. Then I tugged off my left boot, “Could you sign this?” Hope beamed, reaching for my tasseled footgear, signing his name in letters big enough for the camera to catch.

On Thanksgiving the Herald Express came early. There I was on the front page, smiling up at Hope, as he autographed my boot. I felt famous. Mama clipped out the photo and framed it. “You’ll be a star,” she predicted.

My father never again attended another parade, nor did he venture north to Hollywood. A couple of years later I returned to scrub the sidewalks for Scians. I had my own Tangee Pink Queen by then.

On March 21, 2007, I read in my online Los Angeles Times that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which staged this Tinseltown treat each year, had announced that the 75th in ’06 would be the last.

Then a miracle happened and the City of Los Angeles resurrected the parade. Friends in Los Angeles e-mailed me that 250,000 folks crowded the Hollywood streets on Saturday, November 25. Far away in Colville, Washington, throughout that day I found myself humming a few bittersweet bars of “Buttons and Bows,” recalling that long ago holiday season when Mama and I had been so full of hope…and Hope!

Maybe Daddy wouldn’t have walked across the street to see the extravaganza, but if I could have teleported myself to L.A., I sure would have!

(Terri Elders, a retired LCSW, has worked all over the world with the Peace Corps, both as a Volunteer and an employee. Her stories have appeared in local, national and international publications. She lives near Colville, WA with husband Ken Wilson, two dogs and three cats. You can write to her at telders@hotmail.com.)

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1 Comment »

  1. Mrs. Elders,
    My name is Tom Holbrook, I am a historian who is resaerching a project which involves “The Carpenterette’s” Dance Troop,… and I would like very much to ask you some questions about your time with “The Carpenterette’s.”
    If you read this please contact me at either; info@thebozochronicles.com OR at; bozo_history@yahoo.com
    Thank you for your time, I am looking forward to your friendly reply.
    Tom

    Comment by Tom Holbrook — January 2, 2011 @ 12:42 am | Reply


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