Santa Claus is the man. You can't touch Santa. And since no one owns him, no one can corner the market on his business. Yes, Coca-Cola comes close to having a registered trademark on St. Nick, and good for them. But they can't tell you or anyone else what to do with him. And he can't sell cigarettes or booze. At least not anymore. At least not in America.
Rankin and Bass did a decent job of adding ancillary characters, though all the best ones are from the original Rudolph special (Hermie, the Misfit Toys, the Abominable Snowmonster, et al.) And there's Heat Miser. After that it gets kind of pathetic. Baby New Year? Little Drummer Boy? Really? Do you have any of those ornaments on your tree?
Before I get too far afield, I am not talking about Christmas characters in general. I am not talking about Scrooge or Jesus, I mean people who are next to Santa.
The Dutch can be reasonably proud of the delightfully shocking and offensive sidekick they have for Kris Kingle - Zwarte Piet or "Black Peter." When my brother was working in the Netherlands he once sent me a Christmas gift in wrapping paper festooned with pictures of a joyful Santa followed by what to me appeared to be Little Black Sambo. "What the f*** am I looking at?" I wanted to know. That's Black Peter, Santa's
Now, how many American cities can say they have their own, personal assistant to Santa Claus? One - that's right, I said it, Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Jingeling is the official "Keeper of the Keys" to the North Pole. He is the guy who carries all the keys, to every single lock in Santaland. And you know what they say, the more keys you have, the more important you are.
Jingeling received this position when Santa lost his own key to the Treasure House of Toys, and fashioned a new one for the Big Man. He was created by Chicagoan Frank Jacobi as a promotional event for Halle's Department Store in 1956. He began making appearances on Captain Penny, performed by local actor Max Ellis (seen at top.) For live appearances on the 7th floor of Halle's, he was portrayed by off-duty Cleveland police officer Tom Moviel, carrying real prison keys.
His is best known, however, as played by WEWS producer Earl Keyes (nice one, huh?) who took on the role in 1965 both on television and at Halle's, and ever kept the copyright to the character when Halle's went out of business in 1982. I saw him on TV during the holiday season's of my youth, providing bumpers to afternoon cartoons on Channel 43, shilling for Halle's.
Keyes died in 2000. But his legend lives on, Mr. Jingeling has his own website, still makes personal appearances, and is now performed by this rather svelte young man:
Talespinner Children's Theatre presents Adventures In Slumberland by David Hansen, Nov. 30 - Dec. 22, 2013.