Friday, November 13, 2020

A Houston Chronicle History of Foley's Thanksgiving Day Parades 1950 - 1994

Culled from The Houston Chronicle, clips from the first Foley's parade in 1950, a modest affair with just Santa riding in on a Missouri Pacific train to Union Station and then down  through 1994 when Foley's handed over the reins and passed off sponsorship of the parade to a consortium of businesses.

For decades the parade was put on wholly by Foley's employees donating their time and talents  after hours.



After that first year's simple affair, Foley's would go all-in the following year when the parade permit request became much more elaborate with "45 units" including 6 marching bands and walking balloons.

Three of the units were elaborate floats: 
Mother Goose, Old King Cole, and the Ugly Duckling whose float was 100 feet long and featured a simulated lake.

There were 31 giant balloons representing various Mother Goose rhymes, fables, and comic characters including a 65 foot giant from Jack and Beanstalk. 100 boy scouts dressed as clowns piloted the balloons.

Clowns were out in force, including Bozo the Clown (and Eddie the Cop), Foley's JoJo the clown with Professor Pockets.

The parade ran at 3:00 p.m. and the weather was in the mid-60s.

The only photo I came across going through the UH Foley holdings:


Theme: Wonderland (both Santa & Alice)

In the beginning, Foley's was not counting the 1950 Santa "parade" and called 1952's parade the "second annual."

This year there were 800 participants. 

The 37 balloons were walked by 185 clowns (boy scouts). There were also 13 professional clowns, 5 bands, and a dozen antique cars from the Horseless Carriage Society.

Once Santa ascended to the storybook house on top of the Foley's sign, he led the crowd in Christmas carols.

This was also the first year the "Typical Cowpoke" contest was held in which the winners got to ride in the parade and meet some of the celebrity westerners. This year it was Texas Ruby and Curly Fox.

The parade would continue to run at 3:00. The weather was brisk in the 50s. 

In 1981, the Chronicle ran this photo, which apparently was never used.
(And look at how much better the photos in the paper appear in the 80s comparatively!)


Theme: Disney's Peter Pan 

Grand Marshal: Uncle Bert

Uncle Bert hosted the local television show "Looney Town" on KPRC. 

There were 12 floats (up from 5 the prior year) and 33 balloons piloted by 200 clowns (boy scouts).

Six bands, two drill teams, and a drum corps marched.

The Most Typical Cowpokes got to meet the Cisco Kid this year and have special box seats to the rodeo in the coming year.

While the prior year there had been a couple of antique cars, this year there would be more than 30 driving in the parade.

The weather was in the 60s.


Theme: Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 
(the Disney version had been released earlier that same year)

63 parade units with 250 clowns (boy scouts), including Captain Hook's Pirate Ship

Again larger than its predecessors, the only mishap noted was when the floor of the Nativity float gave way at Milam and McKinney but there were no serious injuries. 

The Chronicle noted the weather was in the low 70s and the attendance was over 100,000.

This year's Most Typical Cowpokes would get to meet Gene Autry and Annie Oakley!

This was also the first year the L-C Cafeteria advertised the parade as part of its amenities should you choose to have your Thanksgiving Dinner with them. Every child received a toy and you could have as many "seconds" as you wished all while having a view of the parade at 3:00.


Theme:  "Important Events in a Child's Life" 
Easter, Christmas, Birthday, and Circus Day. 

Ten floats, forty balloons, 200 clowns (boy scouts), and 10 bands marched this year.

The Most Typical Cowpokes would be meeting Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

250,000 attended in chilly 55 degree weather 


Theme:  Favorite Fairy Tales, featuring Cinderella
 (and a giant Chinese dragon?)

Ten floats, forty balloons piloted by 250 clowns (boy scouts) and fourteen bands marched. 

It was even colder this year, in the 40s, but the crowds still numbered around 250,000.

And it appears the Cowpoke segment was retired this year. 


Theme(s):  Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, and Babes in Toyland 

Eleven floats, forty balloons, 200 clowns (boy scouts) and ten bands marched. 

Strangely, the attendance seemed to drop off and was estimated at 200,000 this year, despite fair weather


Theme: Round the World

Eighty units in the parade, 40 were balloons, and ten bands marched. 

The drop in attendance continued this year, with only 150,000 estimated during a cold and rainy Thanksgiving Day in the mid-40s.


Theme: Circus Joys and Christmas Toys

The parade participants and units have stabilized in size with 40 balloons and 10 floats and  bands. Attendance estimated at 350,000, weather in the upper 70s


Theme: Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

The 10th annual is advertised as bigger and better. 

There are still 40 balloons, but 20 floats now. 

This year, two lucky kids (who had their 10th birthday in 1960) will be selected as Parade Chieftains and ride in the jeep pulling the gigantic turkey at the start of the parade. 

The paper reported there were 80,000 in attendance in one piece, but no notes on why the gigantic shift from 350,00 the year prior and 300,000 in 1961? Another piece puts the estimate at 350,000, so we'll assume a typo must have been involved.



The paper reported 67 units marching and 300,00 reported in attendance with temps in the upper 60s. 

And some vague theme about east meets west? It wasn't exactly clear. The boy and girl selected a parade chieftains this year would ride with the Turkey float, but be dressed as Geronimo and his princess.

This is the first mention of Girl Scouts participating. 

New to the parade: "a mammoth Noah's Ark, a replica of an American 'astronaut,' a troupe of clowns, and a great dog pulling his doghouse behind him."

Note the use of quotations around this new word "astronaut."


Theme: Comics and Fairy Tales

Grand Marshals: Kitirik and Cadet Don, 
along with Little Miss Cotton 1962 Barby Parrish 

This was the first year since 1953 that a Grand Marshal was announced and will continue with celebrities for the rest of the parade's run. 

For the third year, a contest is held for a boy and girl turning the same age as the parade. This year, they had to be turning 12 during 1962. They ride with the first unit in the parade, the giant turkey.

Ten floats, 35 balloons, 10 bands, 10 teams of twirlers, 25 clowns, and 5 drill teams marched.

Per estimate, 50,000 more were in attendance, guesstimated at 350,000 with temps in the lower 70s.


Grand Marshal: Benny Goodman

No theme appears to have been assigned. 

It rained.

The paper write-up noted "Fathers had trouble getting their cameras to work and missed the A&M/Texas game."

This was all at the end of the shocking week of John F. Kennedy's assassination. 

250,000 were estimated to be in attendance, seemingly (by the tone of the piece) starved for something happy and bright. There were 2000 participants in the parade.



Theme: Storybook Themes (and the Flintstones)

No Grand Marshal was announced for this year's parade.

Finally, for the first time in the parade's history, it's going to start in the morning instead of 3:00 in the afternoon. 


It's not really because that works better for everyone's dinner plans. 

It's because this year it would have conflicted with the Texas/Texas A&M game time.

Seriously. That had been mentioned in the prior year's write-up and again in the piece below as the reason for the time change.

Foley's also has a brand new warehouse on the Gulf Freeway to house all of its parade floats, train, balloons, costumes, and assorted paraphernalia. 

The parade is now composed of 77 units, so it has nearly double in size over its 14 year history. 

But the attendance is only estimated at 150,000 despite perfect weather.


Theme: Christmas Toys and Circus Joys

Highlight : James Bond's Aston Martin from Goldfinger

The fifteenth annual parade included, for the first time, Houston ISD bands marching. 

And the start time would be 10:00 a.m. from this point forward, excepting a few years in which they tried out 9:45 a.m. 

This year featured the Royal Marines Tattoo Commando Motorcycle Squad.

The oddest find turned out to be no formal write up describing the parade and its attendance, which had happened since 1951. 

The only thing the paper ran the day following the parade was a photograph of the bulldog balloon with the caption stating the parade drew "large crowds" in summerlike weather. 

(In 1966 a piece mentions that the 1965 crowd was estimated at 275,000.)


Grand Marshals: Frank Sinatra 
& Joy Neufer (Mrs. America 1966)

Crowd attendance was estimated at 300,000. No theme was announced. 


Theme: Music Man

Grand Marshal: Hal March

The 1967 parade was led by Hal March, who was playing the lead in The Music Man. As honorary grand marshal, he was followed by 76 cub scouts playing toy trombones.

The new 13 foot turkey float joined the parade this year, with 40 balloons and 21 bands.

Estimates published the following year put the attendance at around 350,000.


Grand Marshal: Mickey Mouse

The parade started at 10:30 this year. No specific theme was announced.

Mickey Mouse was the grand marshal. He also made an appearance in the Foley's newsletter at Almeda Mall, which had only been open a month. You can just make out the Children's Shoe Department play ship on the back wall:


Theme: Old and New Stories for Children

Grand Marshal: Dana Andrews

The parade returned to 10:00 a.m.


Theme: Christmas Around the World

Grand Marshals: Sesame Street characters

The featured theme the year I was born was "Christmas Around the World" but the real draw was characters from Sesame Street, which had debuted on the year prior.  Susan, Bob, Mr. Hooper, and Big Bird were in attendance.


Grand Marshals: Mitch Vogel (Jamie from Bonanza),
David Hartman, and Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes

No theme was announced.

In 1969 the captions noted it was the 19th year
1971 would then be numbered the 21st
But the above piece from 1971 calls it the 23rd?
Even adding the initial 1950 "parade" with just Santa, the math doesn't work.
Adding to the confusion, in 1973 they are advertising it as the 24th annual parade. 
From that point forward, the numbering would stick with counting 1950 as the first year. 


Theme: Books, Toys, and Television Joys

Grand Marshal: H.R. Pufnstuf


Theme: Fifty Happy Years of Disney

Grand Marshal: Mickey Mouse

Disney's Fifty Happy Years was the theme in 1973, as The Disney Brothers Studio was formed in Hollywood in 1923 and would go on to become the entertainment juggernaut The Walt Disney Company. 

For the first time, the parade would be taped in the morning and played on Channel 8 -- unedited and without commercial interruption -- that evening so parade goers could see if they might spot themselves along the route.

(note the piece that appeared under the big hello from Mickey. Ware)


Theme: Happy Days are Here Again

Grand Marshals: Henry Winkler, Ron Howard, ANson Williams, and Ron Most

The route in use for more than two decades was changed for the 25th annual parade.

The theme "Happy Days are Here Again" and featured the cast of Happy Days, which had debuted in January of 1974.

The crowd estimate was 500,000.

Start time: 10:00

Broadcast: PBS Channel 8 6:30 p.m.


The next two scans are from the University of Houston Foley's holdings, in the Port-Foley-O newsletter, the "Foley's Store Newspaper" the same week as the parade: 

The 1974 Happy Days float  ("Happy Days are Here Again") included Dobie students dressed in their 50s regalia, a photo of which made into the Dobie yearbook:

It wasn't long after I'd posted it to the South Belt Houston History FB page in 2015 that Mark Holt posted the follow up meeting with Henry Winkler showing him the photo:


Theme: Bicentennial Salute

Grand Marshal: Will Geer, Grandpa from the Waltons

Estimated attendance 250,000

Broadcast: PBS, KUHT Channel 8 at 6:30 p.m.

Theme: Mr. Roger's Neighborhood
Grand Marshal: Mr. Rogers

Start time: 10:00

Broadcast: PBS 6:30 p.m.


Theme: Pete's Dragon
Grand Marshals: Pete and Shawn Marshall

Start time: 10:00

Theme: CHiPs
Grand Marshals: Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox

Start time: 10:00

Broadcast PBS 6:30 p.m.

Theme: Through the Spirit of Adventure
Grand Marshal: James Doohan
(Scotty from Star Trek)

Start time: 10:00

Broadcast: PBS (6:30 that evening)


Theme: A Child's Fantasy
Grand Marshal: Adam Rich (8) from Eight is Enough

Start time: 10:00


Theme: That's Entertainment

Grand Marshal: Matthew Laborteaux 
(Albert from Little House on the Prairie)

Time 10:00

1981 was also a banner year for information about prior parades, including a 1952 photo that did not appear in that year's paper (added above)

This is the first explanation I found regarding the absence of Houston school bands in the early years of the parade!


Theme: A Salute to the Comics

Grand Marshal: Philip McKeon (from Alice)

Broadcast: CBS

Start time: 9:45 a.m.


Theme: A Salute to the Magic of Disney

Grand Marshal: Mickey Mouse

Start time: 9:45

Broadcast: CBS

The Disney Floats and their sponsors:

Sport Goofy with Tiny Tykes 

Mickey's Christmas Carol, sponsored by General Homes


Jungle Book

101 Dalmatians, sponsored by The Houston Chronicle

Alice in Wonderland, sponsored by Ninfa's

Fantasyland with Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio 
sponsored by The Houston Post


Theme: 100 Years of Ringling Bros. Circus

Grand Marshal: Gunther Gebel-Williams

Estimate 75,000 - 100,000 in attendance

start time: 10:00

LIVE Broadcast: CBS


Theme: Texas' Sesquicentennial 

Start time: 10:00

for the first time, sketches of all the floats were included in advertising!


Theme: "What's Up Doc?"

Grand Marshals: Bugs Bunny and crew

start time 10:00

LIVE Broadcast: ABC


Theme: Fairy Tale Favorites from Little Golden Books

Grand Marshal: Max Headroom

Start time: 10:00

LIVE Broadcast ABC

all the floats this year and their sponsors:


Theme: Celebrate the Season with
A Foley's Christmas Carol

Start time: 10:00 a.m.

Live Broadcast ABC

Estimated crowd: 450,000 - 500,000


Theme: Foley's 40th Annual Parade

Grand Marshal: Jerry Mathers 

Regionally syndicated in three states 

Each decade had its own float and stars

The Beaver on the 50s

The Platters on the 60s

Sally Struthers from All in the Family on the 70s

John Stamos from Full House on the 80s

and a giant Foley's birthday cake float


Theme: Celebrate the Children

Grand Marshal: Jerry Lewis

Syndicated in 62 markets across the country


Theme: Toyland

Grand Marshal: Bronson Pinchot

Start time 9:00 a.m.

Estimate crowd: 700,000!


Theme: "That's Entertainment, That's Universal"

Grand Marshal: Charlton Heston

Start time 10:00 a.m.

This year's write up included a quick history of the parade's broadcast, starting in 1973 until 1985 on PBS Channel 8, then on ABC starting in 1986. 

In 1990 it was syndicated to 65 stations, then 92 stations a year later. 

ABC bought the rights to a national broadcast for 1992. 


Theme: Animals on Parade

Grand Marshal: Tom Bosley

The Final Foley's Thanksgiving Day Parade

start time: 9:00 a.m.

Televised live by KTRK Channel 13 (ABC)

1994: our last entry

45th Parade, but Foley's is out. 

Bank United takes over the sponsorship

Theme: A World of Wonder

Grand Marshal: Naomi Judd and Jay Thomas

Parade Time: 9:00 a.m.

Estimated Crowd: 400,000