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Santas Split Hairs Over Beard Question - Chicago Tribune

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Santa Johnathan

Santas Split Hairs Over Beard Question - Chicago Tribune

December, 1 2013 by Ron Grossman

 

EXCERPT

 

 

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Every walk of life has its existential quandaries, and for Santa stand-ins, it is: To shave or not to shave. For a dozen Christmases, Steve Francois has answered the question with a hirsute "No."

Even in the offseason, he sports a bushy, white beard thats runs from shoulder to shoulder, reaches to the third button on his shirt and is topped by a mustache almost as wide as a tricycle's handlebars.

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Before a recent appearance at the O'Hare Oasis on I-294, Francois explained that his mass of facial hair guarantees that the magical moment won't be broken with the snap of an artificial beard's elastic band.

"A kid will be sitting on my lap, wanting to believe in Santa and staring at my beard. I'll stroke it, giving him leave to touch it. He'll tug it, and — lo and behold — it doesn't come off!" he said, taking his place on a velvet-covered throne amid the fast-food franchises.

 

The schism between cleanshaven and real-bearded Santas has led each group to form fraternal organizations in a rivalry that has occasionally popped into public view. Two years ago, the Macy's store in Portland, Ore., substituted artificially bearded Santas for its longtime real-bearded Santas, who responded by setting up shop in a public square. But as this Christmas season approaches, a move is afoot to bridge the split in the Santa world, with the bearded Santas possibly opening the door to their cleanshaven brethren.

Despite the potential detente, real differences remain.

 

Speaking for his side's philosophy, Jac Grimes, board chairman of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, notes that the appeal of his group's mission isn't limited to children.

 

"If anything, adults have a higher commitment to their vision of what Santa should look like," said Grimes, who is based in North Carolina and appears at corporate Christmas parties. "It's the solstice, the darkest, coldest, bleakest time of the year. Who wouldn't want to believe, if just for a moment, in a jolly, gray-bearded man who gives presents just to spread a little joy?"

 

Yet among rent-a-Santas and those who employ them, there is an alternative school of thought that argues an artificial beard can actually make for a more authentic Santa.

 

"Real beards lack the magic," said Phillip Wenz. "How many guys can grow more than a few scraggly whiskers on their chin?"

 

The longtime resident Santa at Santa's Village in East Dundee, Wenz wears designer beards made of yak hair. His commitment to authenticity, as he sees it, doesn't come cheap: He wears out 10 beards a year, at $1,500 each, what with gluing them and ungluing them for 240 performances. Those who his philosophy (or lack beard-growing ability) have their own fraternal organization, the Mystical Order of Traditional Santas. Though it might seem odd that the adjective "traditional" is employed by the artificially bearded Santas, their claim is supported by chronology. Artificial beards were long the norm, notes Tim Connaghan, who runs the California-based International University of Santa Claus, which offers classroom instruction and DVD courses for novice Kriss Kringles

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"In 1941, Max Factor, the Hollywood makeup artist, created a standard set of specifications for depictions of Santa," Connaghan said.

 

The logic was the same as that underlying modern use of interchangeable parts. Movie moguls and department store executives reasoned that a common template for Santa meant that parents wouldn't have to worry about being asked: "Why does Santa look different than last time I saw him?"

 

But beginning in the 1980s, Santa fashions began to change, Connaghan said. "Kids are smarter now."

 

"They'll spot Santa pulling on the elastic that's itching the back of his neck," Connaghan said. "With that, the magic wears off."

 

So some Santas hung up their artificial beards in favor of growing their own, and came together in what is now the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. Earlier, it went by other names, the original organization splitting several times, noted Grimes, its board chairman. There is reason for that, though parents should be warned that the explanation might not be suitable for precocious readers.

 

"Conflict is part of human nature," said Grimes. "Santas are only human."

 

In a nutshell, that's the challenge of playing Santa. It can also be the joy."We were the fat child, the awkward kid last to be chosen for pickup," Grimes said. "But now, we grow a beard, put on a red suit and we're the center of attention."

 

There is some statistical support for Grimes' theory. Connaghan does an annual survey, which this year got 652 responses from Santas with an average weight of 256 pounds.

 

"In my red suit, I'm a cultural icon," said Francois. "Without it, I'm just a 64-year-old gray-haired guy who lives in the suburbs."

 

Yet not quite, because the beard stays with him when a gig is over. At the supermarket, he'll pass a cart with a child perched in it whose eyes light up, recognizing Francois by his facial hair. Excited, the youngster will say something to his mother.

 

"The second time he looks at me," Francois said, "I'll wink."

 

Yet not every Santa wants to be on 24/7, among them Wenz, a Santa since he was too young to grow a beard even if he wanted to.

 

"Most people are into Santa as a child, leave it as adults, and return later with their children," Wenz said. "I never left. I've been doing this since I was a kid, but after posing for 17,000 pictures a year, I'm happy that, without a beard, I can put some separation between myself as Santa and myself as Phil."

 

Despite their differences, bearded and shaven Santas  a common mission statement.

 

"We're all trying to create magic," Connaghan said. "others about love, hope and joy — that's the magic of playing Santa," Wenz said.

 

Sometime in the next year, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas will put to its membership a referendum that once would have been heretical. On the recommendation of its board, the group will vote on offering membership to cleanshaven Santas, Grimes said. He feels strongly that Santas need to put factionalism behind them.

 

"The time has come to bring everyone in," he said. "Anyone with a good heart should have the right to be Santa."

 

Isn't that the theme of Santa's special? he said. "Peace on Earth, good will toward men."

 

view full article

Edited by Michael Rielly
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Santa Johnathan

 

"Real beards lack the magic," said Phillip Wenz. "How many guys can grow more than a few scraggly whiskers on their chin?"

 

This has been an interesting read but I'm hoping with all of my heart that this was a misquote Phil. 

 

Outside of portraying Santa and including the few interviews I've done as Santa, I have yet to have my words not turn out twisted or taken out of context. 

Edited by Santa Johnathan
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Michael Rielly

This has been an interesting read but I'm hoping with all of my heart that this was a misquote Phil. 

 

Outside of portraying Santa and including the few interviews I've done as Santa, I have yet to have my words not turn out twisted or taken out of context. 

 

I talked to Phil about this a couple of days ago. He was furious and demanded a retraction. No surprise, the media is always trying to create news rather than report on it.

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Santa Johnathan

I talked to Phil about this a couple of days ago. He was furious and demanded a retraction. No surprise, the media is always trying to create news rather than report on it.

 

ALWAYS...based on everything I've read on how Phil has worked to bring this community together I was SHOCKED when I read this but as you have said...it doesn't surprise me in the least. Trying to sell something you must have drama I guess.

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Santa Ernie

This is an interesting story.........I think Clausnet does a great job of including Santas on both sides of the real vs. the traditional fence......perhaps they can take their lead from the Clausnet group.   

 

Personally, I have seen wonderful real beards that i can only envy, but I have also seen several real beards that don't have much of a Santa look to them IMO.  I can say the very same about Traditional beards....some look great and anyone would be proud to wear them as Santa...some however might not fool anyone past the age of 2 or 3.....my very first traditional beard is something I look back on and wonder how I ever thought it was worth wearing...........but ultimately over the years of meeting more and more men in red,  it comes back to the love each Santa expresses that makes the experience real for the kids and adults alike.      Again, i give so many thanks for the Clausnet group, as the focus is always on being the best Santa possible.....how to answer the difficult questions...how to style the beard.....what material to use in a new suit.....where to buy bells with the proper ring tone.....etc.   

 

Here's to all the Santas who do their best to make it real....regardless of their type of whiskers.

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Dutch Schrap

Yawn... There is still so much mis-information about both traditional beards flying off when a child tugs on it to traditional Santa's "itching" at their elastic. I hope most of this story was a big misquote. I have had so many parents this year tell me they want Santa to look like he came out of a story book. Luckily, both Real Bearded Santa's AND Traditional Bearded Santa's can make that happen with a bit more than the beard. It's your persona, your cleanliness and your suit, it's your act, it's the way you love the kids as they come up to you, a ton of it is in your heart.

Someday, soon I hope, we can walk away from this yearly drama in the media.

Edited by Santa Dutch
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SantaStephen

Amen, Dutch. And like Johnathan, I am so glad to hear that these were not the words that left Phil's mouth. I couldn't imagine that, having heard him speak on this matter at other times, that this was his true sentiment. The magic of Santa does not emanate from his suit, his beard, or his accessories, but rather from the goodness and faith in his heart that is skillfully sprinkled upon the children to believe.

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Michael Rielly

Good point Dutch. I really think it comes down to your portrayal. Anyone can put on a beard -- or in some cases grow a beard. It takes talent to portray Santa Claus convincingly. If all it takes to be Santa is a beard and a suit, then you might as well just use a mannequin.

 

I've never had a child pull off my beard. And kids, babies, and adults, believe it or not, tug at it all the time. It doesn't come off that way. You have to "peel" it off.  It would probably hurt is someone were to try to tug it off.

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SantaCraig

And to add one more point, the argument will never end as long as labels are used to describe your appearance. It shouldn't matter if you are a tbs or rbs, so why use it as a crutch in your "advertising" of yourself?

In 11 years of portraying Santa I cannot remember one time of ever being asked before hiring if my beard was real or not, however I have been asked many hundred times at a performance how long it took me to grow it. Also, in those 11 years not once did a child pull it off or did I ever Lose it while performing. Thus is all a marketing ploy and it needs to stop if we ever want to truly end the "war"

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Cayman Claus

Meh... seems to me like we've done this one before... oh, I don't know, maybe eleventy seven times now?  

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Santa Johnathan

Meh... seems to me like we've done this one before... oh, I don't know, maybe eleventy seven times now?  

 

eleventy eight times at least. 

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Santa Marty

How many times has it been said here in ClausNet, it is not the beard, it is not the suit?

 

Even though, we try and make traditional beards look natural, and natural beards to look traditional.  The process fuels the Santa community economy, and I am not even going into the suits.

 

Be absolutely the best Santa you can be, embrace all things Santa and be supportive.  Hair and beards as well as suits come and go, Santa always seems to survive and remain so very real in the hearts of the people we come into contact with each season...... season after season.

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SCSanta

Let's face it, we all want to look like this guy here. Since we can't, I think we're all just a little sensitive about falling short.

 

bad-santa-header.jpg

 

So, who's feeling good about their Santa look now?

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Santa Eric

Santa is not your clothes or your appearance.  It is what is in your heart.

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Chris Capstone

...Someday, soon I hope, we can walk away from this yearly drama in the media.

 

The only way we can can walk away from this yearly drama in the media is if PEOPLE QUIT TALKING TO THEM ABOUT IT.  They will always twist your words or even make up quotes to fit their agenda of creating controversy. 

 

No matter how nice and sincere the reporter seems during the interview just remember, they don't give a rip about what you want to say or what's important to you.  They are just using you for their agenda.  Repeat:  THEY ARE USING YOU.

 

I can't tell you how many times reporters have done this to me and my family over the years.  I've learned that if I am going to talk to a reporter I need to have simple message worked out before and stay on that message during the interview.  No matter what they ask, I will ignore their questions and stay on my message.

 

But even if you stay on your message, often they will lie and make up a quote if they can't get you to say what they want.

 

I understand that high profile Santas like Phil Wenz and Tim Connaghan need to talk to media, I'm not really suggesting they stop.  But as a group, all Santas TBS and RBS are going to have to launch a major coordinated media strategy to kill this story that is equally appealing to the media.  It will have to be orchestrated by leaders in our field like Wenz and Connaghan.  (As if they have time for another project.)

 

Of course this also means TBS will have to cool it with "biker beard" comments and RBS will have nix the words "fake" and "elastic" from their vocabulary.  We know that some Santas make negative comments about "the other side" as way to distinguish themselves from their competitors.  I you're doing it you need to stop.  There are other more positive ways to distinguish yourself from competitors.

 

I'm new to this Santa field, but as a professional magician I am a seasoned veteran of "Masked Magician" media controversy.  The whole thing was created out of thin air and so many magicians were suckered into making themselves look foolish by reporters.  (By the way, I'm not suggesting anyone quoted in the above article looked foolish.  Don't you start twisting words too! :santa_wink:  

 

One last thing (I'm probably going to regret saying this) but one way to help elevate the Santa community in the eyes of the general public is for all of us to take our portrayal seriously.  If your a TBS with cheap hair upgrade.  Get some styling tools and learn how to style.  Spend some money and do your best for the sake of Santa's reputation.  I your an RBS, keep up with bleaching, trimming, and styling.  And all of us can take a good hard look at our wardrobe and props to make sure we have the details right and everything is always in good condition.  And above all, create your own vision of the perfect Santa and strive to attain it.

 

 

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SantaDon

I'm glad that you all cleared up with Phil didn't really say.  I personally just love Santa...real bearded or traditional.  God provided me with a face full of mostly white hair so I just use that as part of my portrayal of Santa Claus.  I also must say that I am enjoying the resurgence of bigger beards (thank you Robertson clan) and all of the interesting things that go along with tending the same.  

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Legendary Santa Claus

If you check at the bottom of the story on-line you will find my post about this...it was published December 1st. Here is what I posted on the Tribune site....

 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-santa-claus-beards-met-20131201,0,1445373,full.story

 

Mr. Grossman…you quoted me as saying…"Real beards lack the magic," said Phillip Wenz. "How many guys can grow more than a few scraggly whiskers on their chin?"…Why did you not use the full statement I gave you? I said that there are some who can grow a great real beard and some that cannot. Some are even scraggly. And those lack the magic. That is what I said…not what you printed to start controversy.  For your information…last March in Santa Claus, IN I was presented with membership into the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.  The certificate states…and I quote…”The International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas hereby recognizes Santa Phil Wenz as a Charter Member in this year 2013.” It is signed by Santa Jac Grimes-Chairman and by the late Santa Rob Figley-President.  As most Santas in most organizations feel…Santa does not come from your chin…he comes from your heart. That is the real story here. 

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Curtis E Santa

Okay, the media twists and spins. We all know that, but why are there organizations that put any sort of label in front of "Santa" at all?

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Santa Johnathan

Okay, the media twists and spins. We all know that, but why are there organizations that put any sort of label in front of "Santa" at all?

 

...well, for started, Santas put labels on ourselves...it's only going to be magnified in the media. For many of our "problems" we have caused them ourselves and the issues that are there are easily capitalized and exaggerated by others. 

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Chris Capstone

Okay, the media twists and spins. We all know that, but why are there organizations that put any sort of label in front of "Santa" at all?

 

I don't see an issue with having different organizations for TBS and RBS.  We each have different issues that are specific to the type of beard we have.  It's really the one major thing that is different between Santas.  I appreciate ClausNet because I can interact with all Santas but I also appreciate MOTS because I can interact with other TBS who face the same issues I do in dealing with hair goods, adhesives, solvents, application techniques, etc...  I don't feel there's anything wrong with having the different groups.  They serve a valuable purpose.  It only becomes an issue when individuals within groups begin to feel superior because of their group identity.

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Santa Arthur

This season, many people have made remarks about my beard and how authentic it looks.  It makes me feel good to know that I am doing my best to provide a convincing portrayal of Santa.  I do have a real beard and have the good fortune to have a nice full set of natural whiskers.  I do recognize that a number of Santas can't grow a good natural beard or are prevented from doing so for some reason.  Many of them have upgraded their appearance at no small expense to themselves so that they look just as outstanding as the most attractive real bearded Santas.

 

At the same time, I recognize that there are some Santas that cannot afford to purchase a quality yak or human hair beard set but are trying to do the best that they can within their budgetary constraints.  Many of us, including myself, started out in this way and then upgraded our portrayal over time.

 

                                                                                                                                       Santa Arthur

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SantaDon

I don't see an issue with having different organizations for TBS and RBS.  We each have different issues that are specific to the type of beard we have.  It's really the one major thing that is different between Santas.  I appreciate ClausNet because I can interact with all Santas but I also appreciate MOTS because I can interact with other TBS who face the same issues I do in dealing with hair goods, adhesives, solvents, application techniques, etc...  I don't feel there's anything wrong with having the different groups.  They serve a valuable purpose.  It only becomes an issue when individuals within groups begin to feel superior because of their group identity.

 

I agree with Santa Chris entirely.  Claus Net is the hub of activity for all sorts of Santa topics and I see nothing wrong with having both MOTS and the IBRBS or other Santa groups.  To me the purpose of any Santa organization should be for camaraderie, educational opportunities, and possibly some group insurance benefits.  Of course, at the heart of it all should be our ability to continue the magic and traditions of Christmas and the spirit of giving as our namesake St. Nicholas modeled.

Edited by SantaDon

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