Skip to comments.THE 1920S PUPPETEER WHOSE INFLATABLE MONSTERS CHANGED THANKSGIVING
Posted on 11/26/2015 3:22:14 PM PST by NYer
Tony Sarg & an elephant balloon (via printmag.com)
As the procession of bands, balloons, and high-production spectacles makes its annual appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, let's time travel back to the 1920s to the innovative puppeteer who made the inflatable characters part of the American holiday.
The Macy's parade started in 1924, but in 1927 its collaboration withÂ Tony SargÂ took things way up a few whimsical notches. Working with fellow puppeteerÂ Bil Baird, aÂ 60-foot balloon dragon, tottering Felix the Cat,Â hummingbird, and other buoyant wonders made their way down the Manhattan streets, and the crowds went wild.
As Jimmy StampÂ wrote at Smithsonian Magazine, these first balloons were inflated with oxygen (although by 1928 they'd switched to helium, often soaring higherÂ than our balloons today). Furthermore, in the early years they were let to ascend at the end of the parade and people got rewards for their retrieval.Â Stamp explainsÂ that ended in 1932 "when a daredevil pilot thought it would be fun to capture the balloons with her biplane and nearly crashed when the rubberized canvas wrapped itself around the plane's wing."
Sarg also worked on the annual Macy's holiday window displaysÂ from 1935 to 1942, the year he died of appendicitis. HeÂ considered the balloonsÂ "giant, upside down marionettes," and saw no limits to what they could do. Â Each year of the Macy's parade, he added new fanciful figures, ever more animated like a policeman shaking a nightstick, a 20-foot elephant,Â and a sea monster. That inflatable sea serpent was eventfullyÂ part of a hoax Sarg staged at his home in Nantucket,Â where in 1937 he had the balloon wash ashoreÂ to the delight of the locals and tourists. In 1939,Â SargÂ was a host for the first television broadcastÂ of the parade.Â
Melissa Sweet's children's bookÂ Balloons Over BroadwayÂ playfully tells Sarg'sÂ story, and in the video below you can see Sarg's creations in action on the New York streets, where they even had to fit below the elevated train.
Felix the Cat in the 1927 parade (viaÂ bennypdrinnon.blogspot)
The "Happy Dragon" balloon from 1927 (via Macy's/Brooklyn News)
The "Nantucket Sea Serpent"Â (via Movie Morlocks)
The 1930 parade (via businessinsider.com)
Mickey Mouse in the 1934 parade (via trendimages.net)
The 1931 parade (via NY Daily News)
For more on Tony Sarg's balloon work, check out Atlas Obscura's story on the Sea Serpent of Nantucket.
I remember Felix the Cat. I think maybe they brought him out of retirement one year.
Can’t have Felix now, someone from the SJW crowd would screech RACISSS!
Imagine waking up hungover in some seedy 5th Avenue hotel and looking out to see that sea serpent looking back at you...
Thanks for the history lesson.
It actually dismays me how these days, every balloon is something corporate. Everything is a corporate TM character, not just generic fanciful child stuff.
Nevermind the endless inappropriate hip songs being sung. Why not just nice songs without the “edge” of being cool or “love” songs? Doesn’t have to be a rel Christmas song, but if ao, stop with everything being about so-called “love” (sex).
With or without the hangover or seedy hotel~~~~they all look quite creepy to me! (not that I have ever been in a seedy hotel~~~hangover~yes)
Interesting story. I miss the floats...too many inflatables now! But really just glad all went well.
That one’s even self-inflating.
Felix? I thought Felix was a communist - he’d be acceptable.
And to think we elected him twice!
When did Woody Woodpecker make his first appearance?
.....They can simply be told to keep quiet, it is just a float.
Cool, thanks for posting
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