Y’know, you don’t just get to be Santa’s New York City Representative by simply relying on your good looks. No, you have to learn the tricks of the trade from other Santas. And in my travels across New York City, I’ve run into some of the finest Santas in the Big Apple who were nice enough to share their stories with me, or let me listen to a few of their own individual adventures. So this part of ElfWithoutJingles.com is my tribute to all of them. These, then, are the Kringles I Have Known:

In 1991, the good folks at ABC Carpet and Home, in the Union Square Park region toward Washington Square and Greenwich Village, decided that they needed someone to make the magic of Santa happen, if only for Saturdays and Sundays. Staten Island’s own Tom Tuminello, Sr. didn’t waste any time in rising to the challenge, and almost immediately, he was a big hit. Parents and children fell in love with him practically from the get-go! Before long, it got to a point where he became so much in demand, there had to be a waiting list in order to check him out. For a few short years, Tom was also Santa-in-Residence for ABC’s Good Morning America, and headlined the annual Christmas Eve Party episode, which featured the children and grandchildren (and even great-grandchildren!) of GMA’s various on-air talent, production and technical personnel. Tom, with the help of his son John, even found time to create a record album, “You Gotta Believe in Me,” starring Santa and the Toymakers (a/k/a Elvis‘ old back-up vocal group, the Original Jordanaires)! Having retired in 2019, after 28 incredible seasons in residence at ABC Carpet and Home, Tom Tuminello, Sr. will, it is to be hoped, continue undefeated as elder statesman among New York City’s Santa Clauses.

He’s a true character with a capital C, but never underestimate the incredible Dick Shea! This former Navy SEAL once held court in his own Hideaway apartment, where this top talent agent hosted incredible parties that are the stuff of local legend! Even today, Dick remains the stuff of legend, producing, hosting, and manning his own camera for the locally-produced Dick Shea’s Variety Show, where he has often revealed some of his adventures in his own Santa suit! And that isn’t all: on St. Patrick’s Day, he has dyed his real beard green, and has also dyed that same beard in rainbow colors, reflecting his love for the Grateful Dead. He and his dear Angel were Santa and Mrs. Claus for some 15 seasons at what was then Abraham and Straus Plaza, and is now called the Manhattan Mall, where regardless of changes in the Mall’s ownership, they kept on hanging out with the customers every Christmas season. Today, Dick and Angel have kind of mellowed out, and are continuing their Claus journeys from an undisclosed location.

When ABC’s two legendary soap operas, All My Children and One Life to Live, both of which were headquartered at Lincoln Square during the early 1970s, needed a Santa Claus for their respective Christmas Eve episodes, they would often turn to a young actor in his mid-50s named Ed Kulkosky. Ed’s appearances on both shows made him a very in-demand Santa indeed, and it resulted in his landing various other roles on film and on television in New York City, on a local and a national level. Sometimes Ed was accompanied by his wife of over 50 years, Janet. I was lucky enough to have met both Ed and Janet even before Ed began writing his one-man comedy musical, “Santa and Sex After 60,” which posed the question: Could a Manhattan Claus still bring joy to the fans and still look semi-radical? At Ed’s invitation, I attended at least two complete performances of “Santa and Sex After 60,” for which Ed had written his own original songs. Only a few short years after I’d seen those particular performances, sadly, Janet Kulkosky passed away, and Ed later suffered a debilitating stroke. While he rarely comes out of his apartment on Broadway and West 76th Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side (indeed, at present, his status is thus far indeterminate), he still has what it takes to make at least a little bit of Santa’s magic happen for everybody he encounters.

Today, Macy*s and Bloomingdale’s are the only department stores in Manhattan proper that annually commit to having Santa in residence from the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving Day right up until Christmas Eve. Bloomingdale’s Santa usually rules based on which floor they decide to place his secret nook, where he sits on a simple red-and-gold Throne. During the early 1980s, one particular Bloomingdale’s Santa I was lucky enough to befriend was a fellow named Gerald O’Buckley. Based in Long Island City, Queens, Jerry in the off-season operated his Santa duties from his two-story townhouse, where he ran his one-man talent agency, a company called Top Drawer Entertainment, so named because he insisted that the acts who were his clients should be “top drawer”. When I first met up with Jerry, I had the privilege of not only taking his photograph, but also drawing several pictures of him, in a style I often like to describe as “Drawn on the Run.” Alas, Top Drawer Entertainment no longer exists; and I can only assume that Jerry O’Buckley has since retired from the Santa business. If, however, someone can set the record straight regarding Top Drawer’s status, I invite them to e-mail me and let me know.

Having shut down at the end of 2018, after 105 Christmases on Fifth Avenue, the late Lord & Taylor, in its final years, ceased to employ a weekend-only Santa, choosing instead to rely exclusively on its traditional Christmas Windows. There was, however, a time when Lord & Taylor did have a weekend Santa in residence, and his name was Al Williams. Al, and two young, 30ish Elves regularly employed by the store (Jesse and Jose, I believe their names were) did their usual routine with the parents and children — Al wore the Santa suit, and Jesse and Jose took the photos, mostly with an old Polaroid SX-70 camera. And on their slower moments, I often listened as they told interesting behind-the-scenes yarns about being a New York City Santa, along with what it takes to survive in the Big Apple’s little corner of the Kringleverse. Though I still have Al’s cell phone number, I’ve never been able to actually hear from him. We did see each other in person one other time during the summer one year at Washington Square Park; alas, I’ve not heard from him since. Still, I do hope, wherever he is, that he is indeed happy……

It was the Christmas season of 1986. Character actor Douglas Broyles was in his final season as a member of the cast of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Doug had just finished work on the HBO hour-long special that featured highlights from that 1986 show. Joel Grey hosted, and his guests were world and Olympic figure-skating icons Peggy Fleming and Robin Cousins, along with music legend Leslie Uggams. A key highlight of the show was Doug performing as Santa, singing a song entitled “They Can’t Start Christmas Without Us” (that would be Santa and his Elves). Anyway, shortly after the HBO special aired, a young man out of Lexington, Kentucky, came to New York to audition for the then-triple role of Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge (in the fastest interpretation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol I’d ever seen at that time), and the voice-over Narrator for the Spectacular’s traditional Finale, “The Living Nativity.” The gentleman’s name: Charles Edward Hall. For several years afterward, when I first said hello to him in person, Charles made sure that I got my own ticket to check out the first Dress Rehearsal for the Christmas Spectacular, Rockettes and all! As of circa 2018, Charles Edward Hall remains Radio City’s longest-serving Santa Claus. Even if they’ve long since phased out the Scrooge segment, Charles continues to make every new audience keep comin’ back for more! (Did I mention he’s also an inductee in the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame, much less a best-selling author as well?) Charles’ biography, Santa Claus is For Real, is the true story, told in his own words, of how he began his journey from simple character actor to Kringle legend. When last heard from, Charlie divided most of his time to hangin’ out in his apartment in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen section, and commuting from there to his beloved Lexington, Kentucky, where he subsequently retired from his post as artistic director at a local theatre there. As for his biography, it was announced in October 2014 that the book would be developed as a musical movie, Santa is Real, with Arnon Milchan’s Regency Pictures and Walden Media as co-presenters, and 20th Century-Fox as North American distributors. To date, nothing more has been heard regarding the project.

King Manor Museum in Jamaica, Queens, honors the legacy of Rufus King, who was one of the signers of the Constitution of the United States. Today, the house where he lived until his death in 1827 is surrounded by a children’s playground — and, although some folks still don’t know it, there was a time when the mansion was home to a most unusual Santa: Roy Fox. The ol’ Fox, they used to call him. This one-time radio disc-jockey was Caretaker of King Manor for nearly three decades, starting in 1989. He worked with other area historians to perpetuate Rufus King’s legacy, and in addition to his duties as Santa, also performed each Halloween as King Manor’s resident “Mad Scientist.” Roy’s favorite time of year at King Manor was always Citizenship Day, each September 17th, when he assisted in welcoming new American citizens to their new home in New York City, USA. But for this ol’ Elf Without Jingles, it was Roy Fox the Santa Claus that I came to know him, and I would usually be the last to leave whenever he had to finish his tour of duty in his own red suit. (Note, too, that Roy kept ringing that silly bell of his, to let the visitors know that Santa was on his way. I still can see him ringing it now, so many years later……) To date, unfortunately, there is no further news regarding Roy’s status, otherwise, the news would have been shared here properly.

Frank Melfo hailed from Astoria, Queens — and, until recently, was unknown to me as far as his Santa connections were concerned. But, using only an interview with Frank for the Christmas Eve 1998 issue of Newsday, The Long Island Newspaper, I was able to conclude the following:

Born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1926, Frank, at the age of 14, became the youngest-ever member of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, playing the violin. In time, he would segue from classical to jazz and big-band music, playing alongside Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra — and even meeting up with Frank Sinatra!

Mr. Melfo’s connection to Santa began in 1968, when a friend told him about the New York Daily News seeking auditions for a Santa to spend the afternoons in the Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street. He got the part, and for the next 35 years, he served as the Daily News’ official Santa until 1993, when New York’s Picture Newspaper moved to 450 West 33rd Street (currently, their headquarters is located at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan).

In the Christmas season of 1988, I met up with Frank Melfo as he held court in The News Building, sitting on a gilded gold throne and ready to greet visitors of all ages — including me. That holiday, he gave me a coffee-table book, Folktales & Fables from Around the World, which, happily, I still have in my house. Frank would, ultimately, continue to play his role as Santa for home visits, eventually living long enough to see the horrible first moments of September 11th, 2001. Six days later, September 17th, 2001, Frank Melfo passed away at his home in Astoria, Queens. He was 75.

Long before the entity now calling itself National Grid moved into MetroTech Center on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, it was known as the Brooklyn Union Gas Company. One part of its Christmas celebrations each December was their annual performance by the Brooklyn Union Festival Choir, with singers chosen from the ranks of the company’s employees. Another Brooklyn Union employee, Michael Heinz, usually played Santa Claus during the last of their shows, and was at times joined by his lovely Elf, Anna Cacare (and no, you were not permitted to touch the pointy ears!). Mike and Anna would share candy canes with the visiting children (and one or two semi-willing adults), and then, before the MetroTech lobby had to close around 5 p.m., they would have occasional one-on-ones with everyone. Alas, Mike and Anna have since retired from the company, for reasons unknown; and I eventually lost touch with both of them in subsequent years. As for the Festival Choir, their status is at present likewise unknown.

There’s not much I can really tell you about this wonderful force who, for 21 incredible seasons, was THE undisputed goodwill ambassador for Christmas in New York City. Holding court at Pier 17 and at the Food Court at the South Street Seaport, character actor-historian and performer Roger Franklin was the epitome of a New York Christmas. To me, though, Roger was far, far more: he was, to put it bluntly, my Sensei. (That’s Ninja for “mentor” or “teacher”; essentially, the two words mean the same thing.) He had a wisdom that first had its roots on Broadway, when he first became an actor, and was cast in the role of Officer Krupke in the original Broadway company of West Side Story. Now, it was early in 1991 when Roger first arrived at the Seaport; in those days, there were few who actually knew his real name; I myself never discovered that until so many years later. But he loved playing Santa, and in return, I loved how he taught me all the things I’ve learned as far as being a great Kringle is concerned. I did not learn of Roger’s passing, sadly, until that June in 2011, when I had not yet prepared myself for the coming season. In fact, I still have the only relic from Roger’s memorial service that they held that May at the Rogers Community Church on Broadway and West 76th Street, near the apartment that was his home …. the apartment I visited only once. What a wonderful conversation we had that Christmas Eve, as I helped him put away his Kringle stuff for another year. I still miss him today, and I still remember all he taught me. And the memories are enough.

So, boys and girls, those are the Kringles I Have Known in my various travels as a New York Claus. I hope one day that I, too, can pass along what I’ve learned. Phil Wenz said it best, I think: being Santa is a gift that, once used wisely, can work wonders that can be shared by everyone!