The majority of the missing Macy's Parades I spoke of last year have been located! We have a complete 1980s set (except for '82 which doesn't appear to exist) and our 1990s library is almost complete! All that remains is the 1998-2001 gap, and someone has promised they can fill it in. We've already got enough of the available history complete that I no longer feel I have to cover the years that Matt did (unless I want to). So here is 1983, hosted by Bryant Gumbel and someone named Sarah Purcell, who would only host this parade.
Bryant mentions Sarah is the star of Real People, a reality show of sorts on the network. NBC using the Macy's Parade to shamelessly promote their own shows is a longstanding tradition, and it becomes especially obvious once you start looking at the really old ones. Real People wasn't a new show, but it's going to be mentioned a lot this year, as is the early 80's sitcom "Gimme a Break." They don't mention the fact that they've got a show about a talking monkey on the air. Missed opportunity if you ask me.
Another tradition is to burn off an entire hour of coverage on dancers from Broadway while constantly showing teasers of the parade you're missing. As a kid I hated this practice, until I got smart enough to just turn the set off until 10 AM. Sarah teases Bullwinkle here, and looks on in awe as the giant moose sways under the wind and goes sideways, terrorizing people with its antlers. At this point Bullwinkle had been in the parade for 23 years; Underdog for 18.
Sensing disaster, they make the immediate decision to flash back to various balloons of the past, such as the Standard Oil dinosaur, who Sarah refers to as "Dino." She must've owned a black and white set in the 60's. No, actually, there's really no excuse, because the Flintstones appear later in their own float and you can clearly see what color Dino is. Maybe this is why we only saw Sarah once.
During one of the anniversary parades, it would be nice if Bullwinkle or Underdog would come back; everyone associates the parade with those balloons no matter when they were born. For the 90th parade, Macys did resurrect an old character balloon.....but, believe it or not, they picked the Standard Oil dinosaur!
The earliest performance we get comes from the Chipmunks. Their new Saturday Morning TV show had just started airing, but oddly, NBC doesn't take the opportunity to mention that. The Munks begin swaying as a vague tune that could lead to anything starts up, and the selection is obvious. The Chipmunks first made it big with a holiday song, "Christmas Don't Be Late," so surely they're singing that.....no, wait, they aren't.
They aren't even singing a Christmas song; they start belting out "Tomorrow" from Annie. It wasn't recorded for the parade either; when the disembodied voice of Dave comes from nowhere, you realize it's ripped from one of their albums.
A plug for the Alvin show comes two commercial breaks later, but it's as part of a package ad mentioning that several Saturday Morning shows will be airing Friday morning, like TV networks used to do. Only a handful of programs got that bonus slot per year, and the Chipmunks landed it -- plus the Smurfs, represented by the most profane second of animation in Thanksgiving Parade history. Despite appearing right there, the cartoon Mr. T did not make the cut. Today I also learned there was a Chipmunks/T crossover.
Sarah mentions this is the very first time the Care Bears have appeared in the parade, which holds more significance now then it did then. An ad appears from American Greetings later in the parade "introducing" the Bears, so I guess it's true. They went from obscurity to having their own movie in two years. Singing and swaying alongside them is -- who else -- another star from an NBC program, Lara Jill Miller from Gimme a Break.
Bryant instructs a "Macy's Mouse" to deliver to Sarah a box that has the suspicious exact measurements of a picture frame. Sarah gives the same kind of package to a clown and tells him to give it to Bryant. Later on during a performance by the Shirt Tales, the clown catches up with Bryant and he unwraps an award from the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bryant is a humble man, however, and he names off every single person who works behind the camera and won an Emmy for it.
It's 1983 and you weren't getting out of here without hearing the "Flashdance" song. "What A Feeling" is brought to us by the National Dance Institute, an army of children ranging in age from eight to fourteen, some of which Bryant informs us have never danced before. Some of these kids actually waited until they were in the middle of New York's most popular parade, with millions watching on television, to attempt dancing for the first time? Truthfully, the parade has hosted worse. But these kids were all right.
You knwo who else was on Gimme A Break? Joey Lawrence. These days people remember him more for going "whoa" on Blossom, but he was a child actor before then, and according to Bryant he started on Johnny Carson at age eight. As of November 24, 1983 he was dancing with the Flintstones on Herald Square.
|IS KITT BRAINWASHED? That's correct --
the car from Knight Rider is hackable with an IBM
computer and can be controlled with an Atari 2600
joystick. "Height of technology" my butt.
"Be There" didn't last long as a campaign and you can see why -- the style they're using makes these goofy shows look even goofier. It was replaced with "Let's All Be There," nearly the same slogan but with graphics a bit less pronounced.
|Actually, I'm not sure if KITT was
hacked with an IBM -- the shot isn't clear enough -- but
I bet you could even hack him with something like a Tandy
Radio Shack Trash-80.
And there's my "say something mean about Tandy computers" quota filled for the year.
There were a lot of country singers this year, most of which I've never heard of. The first one to appear was the man who got the privilege of riding the turkey -- Charley Pride. And he took full advantage of the valuable real estate, pulling out his most recent album halfway through his solo and pointing to it.
Next rolled in a giant showboat filled with the cast from We Got It Made, a show about two dudebros and the beautiful live-in maid they gawk over. Guess what network it was airing on.
I watched a recent parade right after I watched this one, and if anything stands out, it's the fact that each attraction is given a much smaller amount of time to strut around today. But back in prehistoric times, they went a little too far. A lot of these acts outstay their welcome by at least a minute, and this is perhaps the worst example. When the float stops, the cast of We Got It Made sings the entirety of "High Hopes" -- and I mean the entirety; they are there for over three minutes singing about rubber tree plants and the ants that move them and I just couldn't take it anymore. They were muted on my television for half of this.
As the float leaves the Square Bryant mentions "if I want to keep peace with my son, I have to mention at the top of that float are Spider-Man and Captain America." Characters that would get top billing in later years were only casually mentioned in 1983. This is a year in which Marvel's biggest heroes played second banana to a testosterone-fueled Three's Company ripoff.
The cameraman briefly focuses on this Zombie Bear with Eyes of Death while Bryant refers to him as "Bearby, a parade favorite." I've certainly never seen Bearby in any Macy's Parade before or after this, and I have most of 'em now. "Just don't dip your hand into that honey jar!" the host warns. I wasn't gonna try.
|You won't believe who's in this
turtle. It's Peter Billingsley, THE Ralphie from A
Christmas Story, right at the time when A
Christmas Story first came out. He's the exact same
age as he was in the film. Not an imitation, not a
replacement actor....we got THE REAL THING! And they
don't mention this at all, instead pointing out that
Billingsley is from "TV's Real People," which
again is an NBC program. This means if Billingsley hadn't
appeared on Real People, he never would've been in the
Macy's Parade. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge.
Pete sings "Talk to the Animals" from Doctor Dolittle. He lip-syncs about as well as you would expect Ralphie to, which isn't that well.
But he doesn't receive this year's trophy for Worst Lip-Sync.....that award goes to country star Lynn Anderson. Apparently no one told her she was supposed to be singing. While the camera is focused entirely on her and her prerecorded song is audible, she's shouting and waving to people on the ground, and appears to be talking to somebody else on the float at other times. When the network put her in closeup and chyroned her name, she never faced the camera.
Now we come to the "Comic Strip" section of the parade, as a float from United Feature Syndicate comes into view. On board are red-hot cartoon figures Garfield and Snoopy, as well as fading stars Nancy, Sluggo and Marmaduke. And to give the float a reason to idle there, you have a singing tap-dancing kid. "Just a few short years ago this kid was nobody, and now look at him -- his career's taking off!" says Bryant. This was most likely his only appearance on TV.
Following the float....a giant Olive Oyl balloon. I would have believed Popeye has made it to the parade (and he has), but Olive Oyl? Just...by her lonesome? Did she have fans? There was actually a cartoon in the early 80's called "Private Olive Oyl" so I guess there is precedence for spinning her off. She also technically predates Popeye because she was part of the original "Thimble Theatre" cast. But Bryant brags that Ms. Oyl is "the first female Macy's Parade balloon," as if this squealing damsel was some kind of feminist breakthrough. You took what you could get in those days.
Whoop, whoop, no, wait--no, WAIT! The talking ape made it after all! Mr. Smith is IN THIS! He came rolling right down Main Street in an antique convertible while Bryant teased his identity (for he was too small to see without a close-up). "He's the only celebrity who can hang upside down while he eats his Thanksgiving dinner.....he's co-starred with notables like Clint Eastwood; he's also been with Bo Derek." Okay Bo, you have some explaining to do.
Definitely not a fan of the saccharine touchy-feely ads McDonalds was known for around this time. No amount of happy hugging families and reuniting couples are going to convince me your product isn't sloppily-produced garbage, McDees. There is one 60-second spot called "My Sister" that starts with a little girl running into a living room and bothering her brother and his friends (who have McDonalds drinks and bags prominently placed in the room). Only ten seconds in you can already guess the ending is going to be the grown-up versions of those people meeting at a McDonalds. Maybe this gimmick was fresher in '83.
|But if you want to talk about ads I DO like, it's hard to beat this one. I imagine the Stranger Things children were screaming when this came on.|
|The most overexposed ad of the 1983 Macy's Parade is this one, for "Levi's Action Slacks." It appears in every odd-numbered ad break, without fail.|
|And the biggest, most potent earworm of the parade goes to Hello Kitty for her Hello Ditty. Listen at your own risk.|
Dance your cares away as the Fraggle Rock float comes into view. Not every kid could see the show at this time -- HBO was paying to have it made, so it only ran on premium cable. By the time I was old enough for it, Fraggle Rock had ended production and was in rerun rotation on regular cable stations like Nickelodeon. This parade offered kids a rare chance to hear the entire three-minute theme song....though there aren't many variables. It's just "Dance your cares away" over and over and over.
Once again Walter Lantz was there in person to ride alongside the giant Woody Woodpecker balloon, and this year his wife Gracie, who voiced the character, also made a public appearance. Woody's been in mothballs for so long that kids today don't know who he is. We may never see a Woodpecker balloon again, unless Universal feels like making a CGI movie and revitalizing one of their oldest properties. Could happen.
Be still your heart -- it's Betty and Veronica's biggest crush, Glenn Scarpelli, riding in on a giant bug. NBC picked him instead of Ann Jillian to represent Jennifer Slept Here...why exactly? They mention Glenn is singing a song from his brand-new album (today I learned Glenn Scarpelli had an album), but Jillian's capable of singing too, isn't she?
Two more people who got to sing today were Vanessa Williams and Lou Rawls. Vanessa would go on to have a long and varied career, but her reign as Miss USA was about to come crashing down thanks to an impending issue of Penthouse that had landed old nudie photos of her. Fun fact: That same issue had Traci Lords as the centerfold, who lied about her age. Thanks to the Williams scandal it's one of the most famous single issues of any mag in the 20th century, but if you own one, you're technically in possession of child porn and risking jail time.
As for Lou Rawls, boy was I surprised when he threw back his head and started singing "Wind Beneath My Wings." Did he time-travel to 1990 or something? All this time I thought that was a Midler original, but she was just singing a cover. I can't count how many other times I've discovered an "original" 80's or 90's tune has a 40's or 50's equivalent.
Superman showed up for work today sick. He just hung there, with his head down, his deflated arms limply flapping in the wind. Luthor could have had an easy sniper's shot, but he was off golfing.
Remember the kangaroo from last time? He made an appearance here as well, but there was no special guest star inside....just two clowns. It was followed by "Tommy Tune and Twiggy," stars of a new Broadway production called "My One And Only." They strummed identical ukeleles and sang something called "The Little Jazz Bird." Their act wasn't bad....for a Macy's float attraction they were in rare form.
|I appreciate effort, and Hanna-Barbera topped Tune and Twiggy by actually animating an introductory sequence for their Yogi Bear balloon. As Yogi and Boo Boo are talking it sounds like they're working the setup to a joke, but the joke never comes. They are just....having a conversation. When the Yogi balloon finally appears, Purcell puts her foot in it again by doing her best Yogi Bear impersonation: "HEY HEY HEY!!"|
|This was the one and only year Radio Shack was offering radios that came nestled inside stuffed animals. You know why these didn't catch on? There was no syndicated cartoon series animated in Korea starring Cool Shades-Wearing Radio Dog, Vain Radio Pekanese, Overeating Radio Spaniel, Nerdy Radio Owl, and Girl the Cat (whose stereotype is "girl").|
|Wow, Pigs In Space got an ad? Last I heard, this Atari cart was never actually released...or it was extremely rare. These kids are sure psyched to play this -- the biggest Muppet fans in the world. "You're in BIG PIG TROUBLE!" declares one of them. This is the quote I will be repeating all year.|
And right before Santa we got....surprise surprise, the Radio City Rockettes. They decided to mix things up this year by simultaneously dressing as Mam'selle Poupee from Neil the Horse, which was a comic book so beloved and popular that everybody was making references to it. And its creator got so rich from the royalties, she was able to buy the entire state of Montana, which she owns to this day. Yup, that's what happened -- no depressing back story there.
And there he is, the Man of the Hour, letting you know the hour is up. Not a bad Macy's, all things considered. I've never attempted to rate these or stack them against each other, because it's like trying to pass judgment on a spoon, or trying to determine which of twenty identical spoons is superior to the others. Kitsch is kitsch is kitsch.
I might as well announce the next parade this site will be covering: the 1986 version. With that I am officially breaking the rule not to review any parades that Matt already did, but I have a reason: I discovered a local recording of it in Dad's collection. That means I can have Portland-centric ads in the thing for once, and I can't pass that opportunity up! See you in 364 days.
RETURN TO THE MAIN PAGE