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Macy's parade celebrates 70 years of hot air

Spiderman November 28, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Bill Tush

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Macy's 70-year tradition of annual Thanksgiving Day parades couldn't get off the ground without the work of the parade's head balloon designer.

Manford Bass has been letting his imagination take flight in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for 35 years.

Woody Woodpecker

As Bass oversees a team of designers working on a series of fish balloons, his words are part artist, part engineer.

"From the design we build a model, and that kind of answers all the sculptural questions about the balloon as you can see floating in front of us," he said.

Although in this instance Bass told us a fish story, he's not full of hot air.

"Cold air inflatables" are his bag. Bass sends superheroes soaring and breathes life into classic cartoon characters that snake their way through New York City streets once a year.

His full-time staff of 25 sculptors, artisans and welders help with his year-round endeavors in Macy's massive studio in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he crafts the most famous Thanksgiving Day parade in the country.


"I've been here since 1960. Back then we only had seven floats and seven balloons," Bass said. "Today, the list is endless."

Well, longer anyway. Thanksgiving 1996 will feature 18 giant helium balloons and 23 smaller, novelty balloons -- guided by some 1,200 handlers -- and over two dozen floats. The lineup makes Bass' first Macy's parade look like a high school homecoming.

"It just gets better every year. The challenges get better ... the colors and the materials and the skill," Bass said.

To distinguish Parade No. 70 from those in the past, Bass plans a "parade of classics," re-introducing spectators to some old favorites whose inflatable potential has been overlooked before.

Peter Rabbit

For example, Peter Rabbit will be there. "We all know Peter Rabbit, but he never came into the parade as a giant balloon," Bass said.

The classic cartoon character Bullwinkle will come down the parade route with sidekick Rocky on his back. A big fish is the designer's favorite -- not surprising from a man named Bass.

What if the fish and his high-flying friends should meet water on parade day? Come rain, come snow, come freezing winds, the parade will go on, Bass said.

"New Yorkers are very unique people," he said. "It could be raining. It could be snowing. They'll be there."

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