Santa Speaks Out:

We have done so much since we first launched, but until now, we have not had a chance to hear things from where they truly count: from the lips of The Man Himself. And so, it is the pleasure of the Management of, to present to you Santa Claus, as he sits down one-on-one with Richard Washington on the topics that have meant the most to Santa fans all across the cosmos: his historical origins, starting with his life as Nicholas, Bishop of Myra; Professor Moore and That Poem; Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom, and how their illustrations of him have helped to shaped his legend; of course, how Alexander and Ilya Salkind first approached Santa with the idea of doing The Movie in the first place; and finally, how the Jolly One first came to embrace the world of cyberspace, and how his future will be linked to ours. It was an honor to be able to sit down and converse with Santa before his Christmas Eve flight; and we are sure you will enjoy the results of our conversation. Our interview took place in Santa's office at North Pole Headquarters --- yes, the same little house occupied by Big Red and Anya, as seen in The Movie; Dooley, as usual, was on hand to verify every specific detail of our discussion. And, of course, everything presented here is completely on the record.

RICHARD: Santa, let me simply say that it is an honor an a privilege to be able to chat with you here where the Salkinds and Jeannot Szwarc filmed some of the key sequences in the movie. But we'll get to all of that in just a moment. I wanna start off, though, for those who might not be familiar with what you do, by recapping your historical background.

SANTA: Do you now? Well, as most Mortals are aware, I began my life's journey in a little town off the Mediterranean coast called Patara, some 280 years after Christ was born. It was at some point during my youth that my parents and I moved from Patara to an obscure Asia Minor village called Myra. By age 19, I had offically taken my oath of celibacy; and, at 22, I became the youngest bishop ever to enter into the priesthood.

RICHARD: Very interesting.

SANTA: Indeed, my dear Richard! But let me remind you that these were dark times: it was a period in the history of Mankind where one could be persecuted for simply sticking to one's principles. Having held firm to my own beliefs as a Christian priest, I was arrested during the A.D. 300s for sticking to some of those principles. Then, in 312 A.D., I was among several Christians ordered freed by the reigning Holy Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. I tell you, lad, I was not pleased when I returned to Myra.

RICHARD: What happened?

SANTA: The citizens had built temples to honor the goddess Artemis, the Romans' equivalent of the Greek goddess of the hunt, Diana. As you can imagine, I put a stop to all that nonsense when I prayed to the Lord to smite down vengeance upon Artemis' disciples. A few weeks later, one particular temple they'd built to glorify Artemis was destroyed in an earthquake. Those who dwelt in that temple soon ran to me seeking mercy. I didn't give them any. All those years I'd spent in prison had hardened my knack for compromise.

RICHARD: So, basically, you told them they could go burn in Hell.

SANTA: Precisely!

RICHARD: So we see now that even then, you were not one to mince words.

SANTA: Of course.

RICHARD: There are many who say that you died on December 6th. Problem is, the actual date on which you died is something of a mystery.

SANTA: My very first mystery, as a matter of fact! Indeed, as an example, let me share with you one of my so-called "post-death experiences." The year was 1057 A.D., and the place was Cluny, in France. A friar by the name of Dom Ytherius was the leader of an obscure coven of monks; and one of them had recently written a musical historia --- what these days you'd call an oratorio --- about my life. For some strange reason, Father Ytherius refused to allow it to be performed in his rectory. The musical historia was something of a new art form during the 11th Century --- a blending of song and myth about the lives of famous saints. Ytherius, who was a rather stubborn man, was determined that no canticle about me would ever be sung within his church.

RICHARD: So, keeping in mind that, at the time, you were pretty much 'dead,' you managed nonetheless to do something about it.

SANTA: Oh yes! What happened was, later that night, I got that old fool right out of his bed and threw him to the floor. Then, from the folds of my robes, I produced a whip, which I then used to --- well (heh-heh!), let's just say that Father Ytherius' bare bottom made for a heckuva drum set whilst I sang that canticle out loud all night long. Guess what happened the very next day.

RICHARD: Father Ytherius had a change of heart?

SANTA: You got it! As you can see, that's just one of the stories folks of that era told about me after I allegedly died on December 6th. Anyway, to make a long point short, the anniversary is celebrated in certain countries to this very day --- as my very own feast day, St. Nicholas' Day.

RICHARD: Cool! Well, let's fast-forward to the mid-19th Century --- specifically, the year 1809.

SANTA: Ah! A very good year indeed, particularly if your name was Washington Irving. Having just finished writing Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Irving pretty much needed a little Christmas in his life, and so he turned to me. In his Father Knickerbocker's History of New York, Irving depicts me as a rather scatterbrained saint, brought to the shores of the Americas by the Dutch --- who did in fact have their own version of yours truly.

RICHARD: Yeah, but as I seem to recall, the Dutch did make a few grammatical errors when it came to pronouncing your name.

SANTA: Indeed! Corrupting the spelling of "Saint Nicholas" with the Dutch linguistic meter, I came to be known, then as now, as Sinterklaas. According to Washington Irving's depiction of me, that version was somewhat more freer with the legends than the one we know now. In that story, a certain Oloffe van Kortlandt, a Dutchman recently shipwrecked in America during the late 17th Century, sees me in a dream. In part because of that dream, Oloffe becomes an eyewitness to the purchasing of Manhattan Island from the Indians (Native Americans, you'd call them these days) --- setting the stage for the subsequent birth of New York City. All that, simply because one man dared to dream of me!

RICHARD: Pretty clever, Santa!

SANTA: Thank you, Richard.

RICHARD: I wanna come now, Santa, to That Darned Poem, and, by extension, That Darned Poet.

SANTA: Clement Clarke Moore and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

RICHARD: Those would be the ones.

SANTA: Ah yes! The year is 1822, and Dr. Moore has a lock, so to speak, on what you presently know as Manhattan's Chelsea section. It is, after all, his family farm. Having compiled his Lexicon of the Hebrew Language, you'd think that he'd be content simply being a scholar/educator. Not our Dr. Moore! He was an obscure poet on the side; and on Christmas Eve in 1822, he read his children a simple little poem that he'd written for them. I trust, dear Richard, that you know the words well enough without having to hear me recite them.

RICHARD: I sure do! I should also mention here, by the way, that Dr. Moore originally wanted to keep that poem a family secret.

SANTA: Yes, but the poem was published --- anonymously, mind you --- the following Christmas. 14 years later, Dr. Moore accepted the suggestions of friends and colleagues and claimed authorship of the work --- and the rest is history. Sort of.

RICHARD: I know. As I recall from the movie, you didn't exactly take kindly to that line about your belly shaking when you laugh like a bowl full of jelly.

SANTA: Well, over the years since then, I've found that maybe Anya was right all along. I suppose it was, and still is, the cookies.

RICHARD: Chocolate chip in particular?

SANTA: I see that you, too, possess a particular passion for chocolate chip cookies.

RICHARD: What can I say? Us chocoholics gotta stick together, Santa!

SANTA: Ho-ho-ho!

RICHARD: Let's talk Thomas Nast. From 1862, right up to his retirement from Harper's Illustrated Weekly, Thom was the artist that your many fans turned to every Christmas whenever they wanted to know what you were up to next.

SANTA: Yes, indeed. And Mr. Nast was the first artist to truly cement my public image, giving me my big belly, making me more human but still providing me with an elfish sense of wonder, and yet never failing to keep me in tune with the times of the day.

RICHARD: He was a wonderful soul.

SANTA: He was that, I grant you. As, of course, was dear Haddon Sundblom.

RICHARD: Oh yeah. Haddon was the fellow who, beginning in 1931, introduced you to your one and only official beverage: Coca-Cola.

SANTA: Ironically, believe it or not, Mr. Sundblom never really liked Coca-Cola. I can't imagine why. But I still love it; and, as I understand it, the legendary Coca-Cola sign in Times Square is undergoing a bit of a makeover.

RICHARD: It sure is. I got my first look at what they were doing with it recently, but I don't think they're gonna really activate the new Coke sign until at least New Year's Eve.

SANTA: Then perhaps I might wish to see it for myself --- assuming, of course, that Anya and Dooley will allow me to do so.

RICHARD: Oh yes, wise old Dooley. I can't thank your Senior Second-in-Command enough for all the help he gave me when I first set up KQ.

SANTA: Well, he'll be happy to hear that, I'm sure.

RICHARD: And ya gotta send out a couple of props to John Barrard, the wonderful British character actor who portrayed him.

SANTA: Quite so. Doubtless I, too, was made aware of John's passing; regardless, I still think he deserves to know that, even in spirit, he is welcome up here at the Top of the World any time!

RICHARD: Well, anyway, let me remind you briefly as to the origins of the website: when we started it in 1998, we called the site A 15th Anniversary Tribute; then, as now, our mission was to increase public awareness about the Salkinds, their moves and their legacy. All of which brings me to my next few questions about that wonderful duo. When did you first meet up with Ilya Salkind?

SANTA: Well, Ilya had just finished Superman III, and was about to get started on Supergirl..... and late one night, just before Christmas Eve, I visited his bedroom.

RICHARD: What happened?

SANTA: After I woke Ilya up (a bit gently, mind you, because I knew that Alexander was asleep in the other room), I said to him: "You know, Ilya, you've had a decade or so making movies, mostly with your father. Now, I realize how wonderful this Superman thing is, but you can't keep it going forever." When Ilya asked me what he should do, I told him: "You can always try making a movie about me! You've been wanting to do so for 10 years now. Maybe now's the time for you to get it all out while you still can."

RICHARD: And, needless to say, that's exactly what he did.

SANTA: Oh yes!

RICHARD: Let me tell you, Santa, I still recall that big Kodak photo of you and Patch in that Toy Tunnel filled with toys and everything --- it was the very first photo they ever put up at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. They've since changed the technology on that big ol' billboard; but frankly, I'd give anything to see that big picture again.

SANTA: And I certainly hope you do. Those days we spent on the lot at Pinewood were some of the most magical that I will ever remember; watching dear Dudley act as the quintessential joker as dear, beloved Patch, laughing at his antics and even mugging for the still photographers. When we here at the Pole found out about his PSP diagnosis, we too pulled for him. He had so much in his life to look forward to; but it was, all the same, very sad when he passed away. You are wise, Richard, to have your website support the Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, and I encourage all your visitors to do the same.

RICHARD: Working with Jeannot Szwarc, that must've been pretty terrific.

SANTA: Oh, it most certainly was! To this day, I can't understand why Jeannot hasn't made a feature-length movie in the U.S. for a very long time. I seem to recall him making one theatrical release in the U.S. in 1987, but I don't think it was a really big hit. I understand, however, that Jeannot has long since returned to directing for series television in the States. I hope that someone in L.A. takes a chance on him and lets him direct an American-made movie one of these days.

RICHARD: Frankly, so do I. It ain't for nothing that there's an entire website and nonprofit organization dedicated to his most personal movie, Somewhere in Time --- which is why KQ4 has a link to that site for those who "really really need a Jeannot Szwarc fix."

SANTA: Truly you ARE a clever Elf, Richard! I wish you'd found your true calling in life here at the Pole with us.

RICHARD: Yeah. Well, sometimes you have to know where your destiny lies.

SANTA: You're right about that.

RICHARD: One more question about the Salkinds: Take me back to 1997. Alexander was not too well that year, having been diagnosed with leukemia. Tell me what happened the last time you saw him.

SANTA: Well, it was late February 1997, shortly after Alexander had said that he'd never make movies, or even see his own grandchildren, ever again. He was very sad and depressed. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery had not played very well at all at the U.S. box-office, and Ilya had taken his own father to court because of it. It was the last week of February when I paid him a visit. This was at the hospital room where he was staying at the time, and I said to him, "Alexander, I came here to see you today knowing that you might not be alive for very much longer, but I just wanted to say thank you, on behalf of Anya and all my Elves. Because of you and Ilya, more and more children will eventually come to appreciate my Legend ---- and ultimately, they'll believe in me. That could not have been possible were it not for you, your son, or your entire team. Now, I realize that you and Ilya have not been on speaking terms recently, but while there is still time, I advise you both to reconcile your differences, and remember that you are still a father and son who love each other very much." Though Alexander never said too much, he nodded his head, and acknowledged my presence. "Remember, Alexander," I said as I vanished, "your son will always love you, no matter what." That was the last time I ever saw him. He died about a week later.

RICHARD: March 8th, 1997.

SANTA: Yes, indeed. I miss him terribly to this day.

Click here for Part II of Santa Speaks Out!