Two years ago, I revived the lost sacred art of reviewing ancient Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades during Thanksgiving weekend. Last time it was the 1980 version; this time I'm bringing you 1981! I'll keep doing them as long as I can find them. If you own a parade recording and want to feed the fire, let me know.
Ed McMahon is back to host another year, and this time, he brought along Regis Philbin! Most of the time they're narrating the parade from separate locations, but occasionally they meet up. Other guest hosts join them now and then to speak a sentence or two before they cash their checks.
This recording is in worse quality than the 1980 one, and the digital version wasn't made from the original source tape, but it's three and a half hours long, meaning we get everything: the entire parade AND the pointless Broadway time-wasters beforehand. Actually, what I didn't know, and found out through this DVD-R, is that back in the early 80's they had more than Broadway acts taking up Herald Square. They had things like an elephant on roller skates.
Before you start feeling sorry for the poor elephant, he had no trouble walking at all. In fact, there was no difference in posture or gait, making me wonder if those were actually roller skates they slipped on him.
The Magnavox Odyssey, the world's first video game console, was released in 1972. They came out with a few sequels throughout the 70's. Nine years later, this advanced model is misleadingly called the "Odyssey 2." It's a pretty slick ad for 1981, combining animation and early computer graphics and neon dragons.
Before you watch this next clip, let me establish a little context for it: the very first "realistic" cop drama, Hill Street Blues, had premiered on NBC not too long ago. Though it pales in comparison to the harsh grittiness of today's police programs, Hill Street Blues was groundbreaking and praised by critics for protraying subjects TV had failed to attempt seriously in the past. So, that explained......enjoy this scene of two of its lead characters singing and dancing like goofballs.
Now I really wish the 1980 tape had contained its pre-parade material, because events just got more and more drugged-up from here. Even skating elephants and singing cops weren't as strange as McMahon's conversation with Strawberry Shortcake.
It's during moments like these I wish the tape's sound hadn't become so muffled. Shortcake says she wishes she could see the previous year's parade, and McMahon remarks that she can....and they play a time-lapsed version of the entire 1980 parade in one minute.
I don't think there's anyone nowadays who thinks the singers on Macy's floats are actually singing; the autotuning coming out of their mouths makes it too obvious. You'd think it would be easier to fool people in the early 80's, and it should be, but this time the sham was blown wide open. If you remember the 1980 Lip-Synch Fail, that was nothing compared to this. Regis introduces an old couple who he says met when they were actors on Days Of Our Lives, and announces that they're going to -- what else -- sing about the parade. The couple walks on camera....and then stands there with bewildered looks on their faces for over 40 seconds while their own voices are singing without them. They even turn away and start talking to each other after a while, at which point Regis rushes back into the frame, apologizes, and tells them to give it another go. Like we were getting fooled NOW.
After this Strawberry Shortcake returns and asks if she can sing a song. It's cut off by a commercial -- considering what they just aired in its entirety, it must've been pretty bad.
Finally, the parade begins, but the crazy is far from over. One of the first sights to be seen, right after the Robot Turkey, are two actresses from The Facts of Life singing "Let Your Love Flow"......while one of them sits in the pouch of a kangaroo. Imagine the conversation.
"Okay, we have Kim Fields and
Nancy McKeon....but why the kangaroo? Do we need the
"What, are you crazy? YES! Without the kangaroo the whole thing falls apart!"
One year later, after an innocent solitary appearance during Macy's 1980, Rubik's Cube has returned with a vengeance, and so have a million spinoff puzzle gizmos that didn't catch on as well, like "The Missing Link." If this didn't cement what time period we're in, Ideal Mfg. also promoted a Dukes of Hazzard racing set within the same hour.
Then, this old lady (I want to say Bea Arthur, but I'm not certain....We'll just call her "Bea Arthur-ish") appears in nearly every ad break selling Amana microwaves. Normally it's GE appliances we'd see plastered all over the parade, since they own the network it's broadcasted on. These three hours have their share of shiny GE logos blinding you, sure, but Amana bought even more time. I suppose they can't legally block a rival from purchasing ad space.
Fulfilling the national law that at least one Osmond had to be on every single program during the late 70's and early 80's, Donny now joins Ed in the hosting booth. As the first big balloon of the parade, Kermit the Frog, passes by, Mr. Osmond says "There's Alvin and the Chipmunks, Simon and Theodore, who will be starring in their very own Christmas special, next month here on NBC." I have no idea where he saw the Chipmunks in this scene. Maybe the foggy picture quality is obscuring them, but if they're there, the camera doesn't seem to notice either....instead it's fixated on Fozzie Bear haphazardly driving a Muppet Cab through the street.
I posted a screenshot of a giant Cootie Bug last time, but never mentioned it. They're back, so I'm mentioning them now. Did anyone have Cootie Bug toys growing up? I don't know if they still make them, but they did when I was a kid. Mainly, I'm bringing this up because of the strange way they're worked into the telecast:
One of these days they'll have to bring Underdog back, just for one year, just for old time's sake. As one of the most iconic balloons in Macy's history, how can they not? Underdog had a balancing problem that year, as you can see, and you can hear audible gasps as his giant hand grazes people's woolen hats.
After the dog Don McLean, most famous for "American Pie," drifts in on the mast of a giant pirate ship to sing something that's not "American Pie" so who cares. For a few seconds we catch a glimpse of Fred and Barney on that ship, but they aren't mentioned.
The Superman balloon floats into view, which at that date was the largest, longest Macy's balloon ever assembled at 100 feet in length. After pointing this out, Ed oddly becomes distracted by a crude-looking bear statue being rolled down the street before Supe.
The award for "Most New York-y" goes to this next float. Surrounded by people dressed like tugboats, a New York Yankee lip-synchs the song "Manhattan" atop a big apple surrounded by scale models of buildings that were there at the time. This float is still around, but has been revised. The Twin Towers are the most prominent piece here, making the float awkward to look at with 21st century eyes.
And then again, some things don't change at all. Kool and the Gang show up on a giant paper-mache dragonfly to sing "Celebration," and I could see Macy's doing the same thing now, with the same group (though maybe not the same members) and the same song. This says something about the quality of the music they typically showcase.
Some of the rarest Muppet footage is the commercial kind, like Kermit's series of ads for Polaroid. Luckily, one of them has been preserved thanks to its Macy's 1981 airing....well, sort of. As with everything else on the tape, the sound is hard to make out. But it'll have to do; this is The Henson we're talking about.
"We're about to experience one of those real special moments in the parade, a moment of pure enchantment and fantasy." Ed hypes up a Cinderella-based float with these words, and they might have fit well if not for the massive, googly-eyed Bullwinkle balloon leering behind the singers and destroying all dignity completely. Now for something you'll REALLY like!
Cinderella, with her back turned to the camera, starts singing "I Feel Pretty" as Ed hypes her identity. "What pretty young thing has won the honor of gracing us all with her lovely presence? If only she would turn around!" Cinderella turns around, and she's.....Phyllis Diller. You got us, Ed. If things weren't surreal enough, Eric Estrada plays the Prince, slips an army boot on Diller instead of a glass slipper, and Ed announces that they are now married. Those are gonna be some screwy kids.
Holy Poop! This parade had a PINWHEEL float! Not Sesame Street, but Pinwheel (though Sesame Street had a float earlier, as always). You may not be that thrilled, but I happen to belong to an exclusive club of 80's children for whom this makes a difference. And they were all there! Plus and Minus, Luigi, Ebenezer T. Squint, et al. Ed calls them "Muppets." ....Not quite.
A little known fact: Jim Jinkins was a puppeteer on Pinwheel before he created Doug. He might have been inside that wagon. One nitpick, however: where's Coco the Mime? Or Chapi and Chapo? Or a bunch of clay worms playing 4-square?
Ed called these clowns "Spider-Man" and hoped they would be able to fend off "The Lizard and Doctor Octopus." Then, for once, he noticed a goof and said, "...Okay, I can't find him. Maybe he took the day off."
The camera eventually does show the Spider-Man actor, doing acrobatics in the street, but he only gets five seconds before----
You've gotta be kidding. She just won't leave him alone!
"Wait'll you see MYYYYY
float," she creepily coos out. "It's extra-yummy!"
Just kiss already, you two.
I won't go into Shortcake's float. I don't need to; it's predictable enough to ignore. I'd rather point to this illusion-shattering second when somebody walked where he shouldn't have.
Macy's Parades today are usually covered in obvious corporate tie-ins and floats that are little more than commercials. They were very light on this sort of thing in '81; the only movie float appeared toward the end of the parade, hyping Columbia Pictures' Annie movie. The film was based on the Broadway play of the same name, so the content fit in with what Macy's usually put forth. By the 90's this wouldn't be the case, and we'd eventually get floats and balloons hyping websites.
Snoopy has been in more Macy's parades than any other character. It's mentioned that Snoopy missed Macy's the previous year. Ed's comment about their "having to put a Band-Aid on him" can be taken literally, as he actually sports a big grey patch on his leg. There was no attempt to paint over that. World War I Flying Aces wear their wounds with pride.
It took clear until the end of the
parade for the Rockettes to show up. They never miss one of these
-- it's weird for them to come so close. Maybe their flight was
I didn't add "Hi Mom." For the tech they were stuck with, that word balloon was tricky to time right, and they almost didn't make it.
But by this point, it wasn't the Rockettes children were waiting for. It's almost noon, and you know what that means! Now, the capper of the event, the Main Man has arrived....ladies and gents of all ages, it's SANTA CLAUS!
......He seems to have changed somewhat since I last saw him.
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