Thursday, November 28, 2013 will be the 54th anniversary of the CBS All-American Thanksgiving Day Parade Jubilees. Featured on that first broadcast: The Gimbel's Thanksgiving Day Parade from Philadelphia; The J. L. Hudson Parade from Detroit; The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade from NYC; and The Eaton's Santa Claus Parade from Toronto, Canada. (Eaton's Parade was always pre-taped in advance for later broadcast).
The main MCs for the parade's early telecasts were Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Lumpy Brannum) Gus (Cosmo) Allegretti's puppets Mr. Moose and Bunny Rabbit. The group viewed the parades via a giant TV monitor which The Captain called "The Magic Picture Window Screen."
On his last parade broadcast in November of 1965 Captain Kangaroo's co-host was ventriloquist and entertainer Shari Lewis.
(The Detroit-based commentators were Dallas Townsend and Bob Murphy in 1962.)
Other hosts for late-1960s / '70s / '80s parade telecasts were Peter Graves (when he was just beginning his stint as Jim Phelps on "Mission Impossible"); Bob Barker; Kukla, Fran (Allison) and Ollie with The Kuklapolitan Player Puppets; The Bil Baird Puppets; William Conrad, and Larry Hagman. With the exception of Kuklapolitans, Mr. Barker and The Bil Baird Puppets, the other hosts worked against a living room to give the viewers the feeling that they were sharing their holidays with friends.
Many well-known performers and personalities served as the on the street commentators for the parade broadcasts: CBS newsmen Jack Whitaker and Gene Crane, Valerie Bertinelli ("One Day At A Time"), Danielle Brisebois ("All In The Family" and "Archie Bunker's Place"), Sorrell Booke ("The Dukes Of Hazard"), The Hudson Brothers, Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley, and Kevin Frasier ("Kojak") all commented over The Gimbel's Thanksgiving Day Parades from Philly.
Esther Rolle & John Amos ("Good Times"), Linda Lavin ("Alice"), Ned Beatty, and Captain Kangaroo (Mr. Keeshan) and Kathy Garver ("Family Affair") were commentators for the J. L. Hudson Parades; Bob Barker and Rob Reiner commented on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades" from NYC and Michael Lerned , Art & Jack Linkletter and Bob Denver, Herschel Bernardi, Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island") introduced the Eaton's Santa Claus Parades from Toronto.
When the Eaton's Santa Claus Parades were dropped from the broadcasts, CBS TV acquired the rights to telecast "The Hawaiian Floral Parades" from the city of Honolulu. Loretta Swit ("M*A*S*H") and Gregory Harrison ("Trapper John, MD") hosted one parade telecast with the intros pre-filmed by actor Jack Lord (who was still playing Police Lt. Steve McGarrett on "Hawaii Five O").
Video from the early parades is hard to come by. We only have home movie footage of a fifties era Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - after all the broadcast was live and there were no VCRs.
Here's The Santa Claus Lane Parade from November, 1960 with appearances by Los Angeles local TV stars Skipper Frank Herman, Chucko The Clown, Sheriff John Rovick, Don Defore, Patty McCormick, "Bozo" (Vance Colvig), Francis X. Bushman and Soupy Sales.
In 1972 ABC aired it's Saturday morning shows on Thanksgiving and the Friday after to the welcome delight of kids home from school and flustered moms that wanted them out of her hair.