The Story of The Santa Chair - by - M.D. Smith, IV
It was the first Christmas in 1963 and M.D. Smith, III decided we needed to have a Santa Show on TV. He got a salesman to sell the sponsorship to Montgomery Wards. It was decided to pitch their toys from Santa's "workshop" just to the side of the set. We all agreed it was not right for Santa to "hawk the toys for Wards", so we decided on Santa's Elf Helper, Miss Mary Christmas to guide kids on and off his lap and do the commercial breaks for the toys.
But of course, we needed a big Santa chair for the Jolly Old Elf to sit in. Remember, these were the days of ALL black & white TV, and our studio was painted shades of gray, as was all our artwork. Howard Troutman (artist when we bought the station) was very good at hand painting 11x14 art boards in shades of white, gray and black on a sort of medium gray board. He was a bit of a handyman as well, helping construct the sets. (With 17 people total, we all had to do a lot of jobs). So, Howard set about building the chair out of 3/4" plywood so it would be strong.
Howard basically built a strong box with straight, squared angle arms on each side and a square, rising back of the chair that came about as high as a person's head when seated. Then he painted it a light gray that would balance with the rest of the shades of gray on the Santa Claus set.
It was pretty plain, I thought, but most would be hidden when Santa was seated in it, so I didn't have any comment about it. Howard Troutman was very sensitive about criticism on his work. However, when the Merchandising and Advertising Manager for Wards came up to the studio to set up the toy racks, he took one look at that plain, square, gray chair and said, " HOLY S%$#!!! YOU'VE MADE A G#$ DAMN ELECTRIC CHAIR!!!" Well, he was right, now that someone said it out loud. It did look exactly like an electric chair, missing the wires and top cap. He had an absolute fit! I know Cactus remembers this well. Mr. Smith, III saw it and clearly agreed it was awful (but it didn't look all that bad on camera) Mr. Smith, III talked to Howard (who got his feelings hurt very easily if you didn't like his work) and explained he wanted a big show for the moms and little kids coming to the station, and he wanted a THRONE of red velvet.
Time was short with the show to start in a day or two, so we first got another piece of plywood and made a large, rear, flower petal back for the "chair" and secured it. Then, we got a bolt of Red Velveteen and some sponge rubber and some brass tacks. We covered the chair and with the sponge rubber beneath the arms and back and holding it in place with the brass tacks, we actually did produce a very good looking Santa Chair. The Montgomery Wards guy was very pleased with the improvement. (He was actually a horse's ass to please and we had many more arguments with him that season). The Santa Chair lasted for many, many years, but I bet only the oldest of you ever knew the real story behind the Santa Chair until now.