Santa Claus was, for most of us, our last connection to the realm of magic and innocence. Then we "grew up." They Wore the Red Suit is a documentary featuring the rare individuals who have devoted their lives to keeping that magic alive in the world by actually being Santa Claus 365 days a year.
By the time we are ten years old, having already been robbed of much of the world’s wonder by the adults around us, belief in the magic of Santa is one of our last threads of hope for dreams becoming reality. Losing that belief leaves us with a emptiness in our hearts that is rarely examined.
This documentary will help fill that emptiness.
We will examine Santa from three perspectives: The legend of Santa, the vocation of being Santa, and the Santa industry, showing how all three have merged into the public’s perception of what Santa is today. We’ll take brief look at the history and evolution of Santa from centuries prior to St. Nicholas of Myra through the Santas of the early 20th century - such as Jim Yellig and Charles Howard - through the men who currently portray Santa as a career.
The documentary will run the gamut of human emotions. From the whimsical coverage of Santa conventions and schools, to educational/historical sections on the origins of Santa as a legend, to the poignant and heartbreaking stories that Santas will tell of the most difficult requests they’ve received from children. The pinnacle will be the tales of pure selflessness when these Santas made children’s wishes that seemed impossible, actually come true.
Santa Claus, IN was home to the world’s first two theme parks, both based on the Santa legend - Santa Claus Town and Santa Claus Land. The second of these, Santa Claus Land, (pre-dating Disneyland by 18 years) became the template on which other “Santa Homes” across the country were based. The legacy of Santa Claus Land will be traced, along with its impact on the industry and personal story of the original career Santa, Jim Yellig.
Raymond (Jim) Yellig began his career as Santa while serving as a sailor in World War I. While docked in Brooklyn, New York, the crew of his ship decided they would like to do something nice for the underprivileged children of the area. A Christmas party was planned and since Jim was from the Santa Claus, IN area, he was selected to be the jolly old elf. Yellig was so touched by the children’s happiness that he prayed, “If you get me through this war, Lord, I will forever be Santa Claus.”
After the war Jim kept his promise. He became the first resident Santa of Santa Claus Land and played the role for 38 years until his death. From this small town (population 37) in the middle of nowhere, Jim unknowingly was shaping the modern image of Santa Claus. From his choice of wardrobe to his makeup stylings to his Germanic accent, the Santa seen today in parades, movies, malls and department stores owe their image largely to Jim. He is the man other career Santas refer to as the master.
Many other facilities copied the Santa Claus Land template, as parks sprung up across the nation during the 1950s, with varying degrees of success. We’ll examine the slow demise of “Santa parks” across the nation during the last decades and cover the re-opening of historic Santa’s Village in Dundee, IL. Phil Wenz, Dundee’s Santa Claus will be an integral part of the documentary as a historian and founder of The Santa Claus Oath Foundation. His devotion to Santa Jim Yellig is the impetus for much of this documentary. His 23-year fulltime career is second only to Yellig’s in length.
Charles Howard was the other Santa of the 20th century that has had a lasting impact on the legend. While Yellig approached the Santa persona from a one-on-one perspective, concerned only with the child who was on his knee at the moment, Howard took a larger perspective on Santa as an industry.
Howard was the Macy’s parade Santa in New York City for 18 years. He was the founder of the Charles Howard Santa Claus School, which is still training Santas in Midland, MI. We’ll visit the school, watch the training sessions and speak to the instructor and students. Howard and Yellig only met once, at a Santa School in Santa Claus, IN in 1938. We have recently discovered documents and photos from that historic meeting.
In order to experience what being a career Santa really entails, the Director will apply the knowledge gained during the production of this film and undergo a transformation into Santa Claus, and spend a day in the nation's most famous Santa theme park visiting with children.
What compels a man to don the Red Suit and never remove it? We'll reveal our answers in this film. And these answers are both surprising and heart-warming. This film is our 2012 Christmas gift to the world. We're sure you will enjoy it, and thank you for supporting this incredible project.
They Wore the Red Suit™
©2012, Power Plant Productions, LLC