If you’ve been keeping up here at the Yule Log, you will remember us introducing you to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. The purpose is to preserve and honor those who have greatly contributed to the Legend of Santa Claus. The first class of honorees was names in 2010. Fourteen men served as charter members to the hall. Today we look at three honorees of note.
Bill Strother, the Miller & Rhoads Santa, did his work at the famous department store in Richmond, VA. Born in 1896 Strother started his career as a stuntman. He started as Santa at the legendary store in 1942. He took the role seriously. His makeup was created by Max Factor himself and was incredibly realistic. It took 2 hours to apply. His Santa display was a real act. He arrived by coming out of a chimney. He used a concealed microphone with his assistant to learn the names of the kids before they got to his lap. A news article in 1951 reported that he was the world’s highest paid Santa. Tens of thousands of kids, and adults, would visit him until his untimely death in 1957 in a car accident.
Edmund Gwenn was the jolly Santa in the Hollywood classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Gwenn was born in 1875 in Wales. His father kicked him out at the age of 17 when he reveled that he wished to be an actor. Gwenn found his way to London where he was lucky to be discovered by George Bernard Shaw. Shaw would feature Gwenn in six of his plays. The actor would take a break from the stage to serve in the army during World War I. After the war he moved to Hollywood and found work in many films. He iconic role in Miracle landed him an Oscar in 1947 for playing Kris Kringle. Gwenn played Santa in the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1946 and 1947.
Robert George was known as the Presidential Santa. George was born in 1928 in Nebraska and worked as a barber. In 1949 George had a vision that he should live as Santa Claus. After the vision he began living as Santa year round. His first Christmas after that he spent the holidays being Santa for needy kids and sick seniors. Fate seemed on his side when he was invited to be Santa in Washington for President Eisenhower. In 1962 George moved to California. He married Stella Chaney, daughter of screen legend Lon Chaney. Their home was decorated year round for the holidays and was known as “Santa’s Dreamland”. His role as Santa in Washington continued for Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush. In 1997 his life was the basis for the Lifetime television movie “A Different Kind of Christmas”. George passed in 1998.
There are so many great men, and even a couple of women, in the Hall of Fame. Keep checking back for more about the most interesting ones in the coming weeks.