A Hollywood set decorator and Santa-for-hire tells all

“Santaaaaaa!!! I know him!”

Virtually 20 years since “Elf” turned a vacation traditional, it’s nearly unattainable to see a Santa, any Santa, and never reenact, or at the very least consider, Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf totally freaking out over seeing a division retailer Santa. Or Buddy’s horrified gasp of “You’re not Santa” when he realizes this isn’t the true deal.

So if, say, you’re requested to be Santa at a fundraiser that entails Ferrell taking photos with you and quite a lot of friends, there must be some strain, proper? Some concern that you just could be accused of “sitting on a throne of lies” and smelling like “beef and cheese”?

Fackrell makes a video with Kate Horbach, of Glendale, for her son at Model Park.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Instances)

“Not at all,” says Stephen Paul Fackrell, 58. He just lately donned the massive purple go well with for a Good Deeds Corps voter-registration fundraiser on the Pico Union Mission, which included a screening of “Elf” and pictures with Ferrell and Santa. “[Ferrell] was lovely. In the middle of it, he leaned over to tell me that he had once been Santa in Pasadena and that he imagined I was pretty hot in my suit. But I wasn’t. I never feel anything but joy in that suit.”

Fackrell is a Daytime Emmy-winning set decorator presently working for “The Talk,” however he has additionally been representing Santa for greater than 30 years; “that suit” is his personal, gifted to him by Nordstrom, the place he greeted youngsters for 16 years.

His Santa journey started in 1988, when he was employed as a decorator by the Nordstrom retailer at San Diego’s Horton Plaza; his ebullient persona made him an apparent candidate for the Kris Kringle gig. “I was doing the windows,” he says, “and one of the managers said, ‘Stephen Paul, you need to be Santa,’ so I started filling in on the weekends, and it was magical.”

That was again when department shops dominated the vacation season and plenty of supplied the type of ornate winter wonderlands seen in “Elf.” As a decorator, Frackell would come within the day earlier than Thanksgiving and work till the shop was remodeled for Black Friday. “One day it’s normal, the next day it’s Christmas,” he says.

Most shops additionally had their very own Santa, and Nordstrom took his presence very critically. “One year, I arrived at the store in a horse-drawn carriage,” Fackrell says.

Working at varied Nordstroms from San Diego to San Francisco, he heard lots of of kids’s Christmas needs. “It’s important to never promise anything,” he says. “Because sometimes you’d have kids asking for things like to have their father back in their lives or very expensive things and, you know, there’s only so much Santa can do.”

An older man sits on the back bumper of a red Volkswagen Beetle car with sticker-covered boxes on top.

“Once I started in television, I knew I was home,” says Fackrell, pictured in civilian clothes. “I absolutely love my job.” However he by no means stopped being Santa.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Instances)

When he left Nordstrom, he took a yr to run a horse ranch — “my first love is horses.” Then a contract gig led him to working with Dr. Phil (Dr. Phillip C. McGraw), which in flip launched a profession in tv, together with stints on “American Grit,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “The Talk,” the place he’s been for six years.

“Once I started in television, I knew I was home,” he says. “I absolutely love my job.”

However he by no means stopped being Santa. At Nordstrom, he says, dad and mom would ask if he did non-public occasions, which is how he discovered himself bringing Santa to Lionel Richie’s vacation bash one yr and a Kenny Loggins Christmas episode of “The Marilu Henner Show” one other, with a stream of events, fundraisers and company occasions in between.

“I’ve arrived at a Hollywood Hills party in the back of a Mia,” he says. “And in 2020, I visited Tig Notaro’s house in the back of the truck. And then I drove through the neighborhood, which everyone loved.”

He’s additionally stored up one other custom from his Nordstrom years. “Santa used to call the children of Nordstrom employees, with ‘Jingle Bells’ music and their Christmas list, and it was just amazing. So now I’ll — I mean Santa will — call my friends’ children, and the wonder in their voices is such a gift. “

Fackrell at Brand Park in Glendale.

Fackrell at Brand Park in Glendale.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Without the suit, Fackrell doesn’t look much like Santa, though his enthusiasm is definitely infectious. A San Diego native, he’s had the kind of career that can happen only in Southern California. Before joining Nordstrom, he worked at Sea World, cleaning the then-new emperor penguin habitat. “There I’d be, in my wet suit, washing the windows while the penguins swam around at my feet.”

He labored in La Mesa, Calif., on the Grossmont Middle department of Bobby McGee’s, the diner the place all of the waiters performed characters, and as a information at Sundown Ranch, the place he has boarded his horses through the years.

“Right below the Hollywood sign,” he mentioned. “We’d take guests up and over the hills and down for a Mexican dinner.”

He is aware of the travails of the tv trade, the place he fought to get into the union, and the place he struggled to assist himself and keep sane when the COVID-19 pandemic shut manufacturing down. “I painted my apartment, I rearranged my furniture, it was crazy,” he says. He’s happy with his 5 Emmy nominations (for “Hell’s Kitchen” and “The Talk”) and win (“The Talk”).

Fackrell greets Bowie van Grunsven, 6, at Brand Park.

Fackrell greets Bowie van Grunsven, 6, at Model Park.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Instances)

However he swears he won’t ever give up Santa. Which is good to know. We can not have too many Santas strolling amongst us, particularly now that they typically appear in brief provide. There are far fewer department shops than there have been in 1988, and most have minimize Santa from their budgets. These days, the representatives of that jolly previous elf are to be discovered within the middle of buying malls, on Christmas tree tons and, since COVID closures, on Zoom.

The pandemic has been powerful on Santa, or at the very least these earthly beings who signify him within the days main as much as Christmas: In 2020, Santa sightings have been scarce, and final yr, many dad and mom continued to skip the standard St. Nick photograph op as coronavirus circumstances surged.

This yr, nevertheless, the traces appear again to pre-pandemic lengths, stuffed with youngsters (and adults and, sometimes, pets) dressed of their vacation finest for a snap with the massive man.

Frackell understands; for him, that temporary connection between little one and delusion is considered one of life’s nice joys, for each Santa and little one.

“I remember the first time I met him,” he says. “I still have the photo. I was 5 years old at a McDonald’s in Utah, where we were visiting relatives. I remember staring at my boots, in my Toughskin jeans and corduroy jacket, and not believing that Santa would take time out of his busy day to talk to me.

“It was magical.”