While I was researching the new edition of the Biographical Dictionary of Film, I received this letter from one man hoping to get an entry.
There was no room, sadly – but it might be of interest to readers to see how a life can be destroyed by typecasting as an old, bearded man in a red suit, and being forced to assume a series of pseudonyms for the opening credits …
"I know a lot of children find me morose or worse (on the Polar Express they say I'm bipolar), but if you had to squeeze through modern chimneys or deal with reindeer (dirty, mean-spirited animals, with a kick like Didier Drogba), you might be bitter, too. Not to mention having to handle the plastic trash that your children regard as toys. But let's talk about the movies.
"I never intended to get into this ridiculous gift-delivery business. I was going to be an actor. But then the day came when it was either a month in Scunthorpe doing Macbeth and Blithe Spirit, or would I do this picture, Miracle on 34th Street? They called me Edmund Gwenn in that one and told me to speak very slowly and clearly - as in slooowly and cleeearly – so the children could understand what I was saying.
"I hated the whole thing, but that little Natalie Wood gazed at me as if I was butterscotch sauce and she was the ice cream. Absurd story, humbug! But the idiotic Gwenn I was obliged to be ended up getting a supporting actor Oscar! Can you believe I actually beat Robert Ryan in Crossfire and Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death that year – now there are a couple of guys I'd invite home for Christmas!
"Well, Miracle on 34th Street was just the start. I don't have time to list all the Father Christmas films. I can't even remember them – how about Santa with Alzheimer's, so everyone gets the wrong presents? The real knockout came when I had to be Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause … there was no escape. And those pictures were so sweet and cosy they drove me mad. Being Tim Allen that often directly caused my nervous breakdown. I tried to sue him, but I couldn't find a lawyer who would take the case. And if you can't find a litigation lawyer in Los Angeles, the world is over.
"What saved me? Bad Santa and that rascal Billy Bob Thornton. All of a sudden, the awful truth of the Father Christmas trade was revealed – this Santa was a regular jerk, foul-mouthed and catching on to the idea that all those chimneys were heaven for breaking and entering, not to mention What is Father Christmas Doing with Mummy? The best thing about Bad Santa is that there are still movie guides that give solemn warnings about it. That Terry Zwigoff, the director – what a guy! When we did that picture, it didn't matter how nasty my ideas were, he kept saying, 'Give me more!'
"I know, where's my Christmas spirit? All right – it's with all the damn snow we've had this year in December. Try that on for 'Ho-Ho-Ho!'. But there's hope. For years now I've been trying to warm up the Weinstein brothers to do a Serial Santa film, where he kills any kid who is awake. Oh, OK, I'm joking – we won't actually kill them, just tar and feather them and set the raccoons on them. (I like to slip a raccoon in a few sacks. The kids who get them always remember Christmas.)
"Of course you're probably right, the Weinsteins are stringing me along. So how the hell do I get away from these chattering elves and wrapping paper? Don't you hate the wrapping paper? Costs the earth. A wicked fuss to do it. And getting the ribbon to curl! Then in seven seconds it's ripped to shreds! By the way, you may be right: I'm having another breakdown. The last time I was in the hospital what do you think happened at Christmas? You got it. I had to put on the beard and the red coat. Give me Santa's Chainsaw Massacre any day. Night of the Living Santa?"
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