Clint Eastwood, Mickey Rooney, Michael Landon, Julie London, Eartha Kitt and a very young version of the Osmond Brothers were among the headliners at the 49th annual National Orange Show, held March 12-22, 1964, in San Bernardino.
It was my first Orange Show.
My family had moved West and settled in the Inland Empire the previous summer. I was 14. I started high school that fall. And when winter started giving way to spring, I noticed that everyone started buzzing about the Orange Show. That’s what people did back then. They buzzed about it, then they went to it, usually several times, and then they buzzed about it afterward.
The National Orange Show was a very big deal. It was the major event of the year in San Bernardino, and one of the major events of the year in all of Southern California. Visitors from L.A., Orange and San Diego counties joined visitors from all over the Inland Empire to attend.
I had a blast at my first-ever Orange Show. Browsing some old newspapers of the day helped to refresh my fond memories of those days.
Despite the fact that wind and rain disrupted Opening Day, and a major winter storm hammered the region on Closing Day, with drenching rain in the valley and heavy snow in the mountains, the 11-day festival attracted a record 346,343 visitors. It was the third record-setting year in a row. Proud show officials said that without that punishing storm on the final day, the attendance figure easily would have topped the 400,000 mark.
It was an interesting week in history. Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the slaying of accused JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got married in Montreal. The swallows returned to Capistrano. On Sunday, March 15, Inland Empire teenagers crowded into San Bernardino’s California Theatre, as did other teens in other theaters all over the nation, to watch a closed-circuit screening of the Beatles performing their first American concert a month earlier at the old Washington D.C. Coliseum.
People weren’t just crowding into the California Theatre that day. They were crowding into the National Orange Show, as well. More than 66,500 people attended that Sunday. An aerial photo that appeared in the newspaper the next day showed every parking lot filled to overflowing. As it would turn out, almost each day of the festival would set a new single-day attendance record.
There was plenty of A-list entertainment to attract the crowds. Clint Eastwood, then a star of TV’s “Rawhide” series, took the Swing Auditorium stage on March 14 and told stories and performed in Western-themed comedy sketches. He even did a little soft shoe.
The Opening Night star, on March 12, was hometown girl Julie London, who grew up in San Bernardino and became one of the great torch singers of the era. She performed her signature song “Cry Me a River” and other hits during her Swing Auditorium set.
Other headliners during the festival included Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, co-stars of TV’s “Dick Van Dyke Show,” who appeared on March 18, legendary accordianist Myron Floren and other popular stars of TV’s “The Lawrence Welk Show” on March 19, blues legend Eartha Kitt on March 20, TV’s “Bonanza” stars Michael Landon and Lorne Greene on March 21, and Mickey Rooney, who appeared on both March 21 and on Closing Day, March 22.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the Osmond Brothers, who performed on March 16. This was a very young Osmond Brothers, which included Alan, 13; Wayne, 11; Merrill, 9; Jay, 7; and Donny, 6.
In addition to showcase entertainment, there also was the usual fun fair stuff. There were four grand parades during the festival, and daily ostrich races. Citrus exhibits included elaborate depictions of historical scenes and famous landmarks including Roman chariot races and the canals of Venice, Italy, all formed out of artfully arranged fruits and flowers.
The midway featured a new ride, The Trabant, imported from Germany, which promised to whip, spin, tip and turn in every possible way all those who dared to strap themselves in. “This thing does everything but talk,” said one show promoter.
Reigning over the entire festival was the 1964 California Citrus Queen, Charlene Jacobs, a resident of the city of Orange, appropriately enough. Prior to winning her title in San Bernardino, she also had won the titles of Miss Orange, Miss Orange County and Miss Southern California. But winning the crown at the National Orange Show, she said, was the “biggest compliment of my life.”
Finally, we must not leave out mention of Mrs. Hazelle Sabatella of Calimesa, whose Orange Velvet Cake won top prize in the show’s baking contest sponsored by Sunkist Growers. Here’s her recipe:
ORANGE VELVET CAKE
6-ounce package chocolate chips
half cup boiling orange juice
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup orange juice
2 and a half cups sifted flour
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
Pour boiling orange juice over chocolate chips; let cool. Cream sugar, butter, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time and beat until light and lemon colored. Add chocolate mixture and blend well. Dissolve baking soda in orange juice. Alternately add orange juice and flour to cake mixture and blend well. Lastly, fold in beaten egg whites and grated orange rind. Pour into three 9-inch wax paper lined tins. Bake in 350-degree oven for 35 minutes; allow to cool. This will yield three cake layers. Assemble and frost with orange coconut icing.
1 and a half cups sugar
eighth teaspoon cream of tartar
three-quarters cup orange juice
3 egg whites stiffly beaten
1 can Angel Flake coconut
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
Combine sugar, orange juice, cream of tartar and salt. Boil until syrup spins a thread. Pour over beaten eggs whites and beat until it holds a peak and is glassy. Spread between cake layers while assembling cake and then over top of cake. Sprinkle blended coconut and orange rind over top and sides of cake.