For many people Santa Claus The Movie became one of those Christmas films you never forget. For some, the whole vision and representation of what Santa Claus is came from the movie, and it became a tradition to watch it every single year without fail.
Friday 29th November, 1985, the movie was released in cinemas across the UK. It had been released in the US two days earlier. With a reported budget of $50million, there was some very high expectations. In the US, it recouped just $23.7million at the Box Office and received a lukewarm reception from critics.
However, if the film had one thing those critics may not have expected, it’s longevity. Still screened on television pretty much every year, and capable of selling stack loads of copies in DVD and BluRay format, it remains popular to this day.
Getting to know the man behind the Santa suit
One of the first places we reached out when searching for information about the making of the film was to David Huddleston, the actor who played the role of Santa Claus. David pointed us in the direction of Matt Haestier, an American-born film lover now based in the UK.
Following the movie’s release, Matt was a fan immediately. So much so, he ended up becoming good friends with David Huddleston and subsequently an unofficial expert about Santa Claus the Movie.
However, before we could get in to questioning Matt about the movie, we just had to find out how he went from being a fan of the film to becoming good friends with the lead role.
“I first came into contact with David Huddleston on 11th May 2002. I traced his number through the international telephone directory. When doing so, I wasn’t expecting to get in touch with Santa himself, however, I couldn’t believe it when I did.
“Since then, a friendship developed, and at first I was star-struck, however, as time went by, I made a connection with the wonderful man behind the Santa suit, and 13 and-a-half years later, I consider him as one of my closest and most genuine friends.
“During that time, we have met twice in person, first time 15th October 2004 and second time 24th April 2007, which were both in London, and I telephone him about once a month.”
The challenges of making Santa Claus the Movie
Production on the movie began on 20th August 1984 and finished in November of the same year before being released in November the following year.
The cast was stellar, with the late, great Dudley Moore playing Patch, Judy Cornwell, David Huddleston, John Lithgow, Christian Fitzpatrick and Carrie Kei Heim also starring in a strong line-up.
As with any motion picture, the casting could have been much different.
Matt tells us: “The original choice for Santa was Brian Dennehy, however, it was later decided that they wanted an actor with much more warmness in his face. So, after a screen test, David Huddleston got the job.
“Also, the role for BZ was offered to Dustin Hoffman and then Burt Reynolds, however, neither were available for several reasons. The BZ character was one of two choices, as the first choice was to have David Huddleston playing two different roles; those being Santa and BZ.
“However, they went for the second choice which was to hire another actor as BZ (subsequently John Lithgow). Also, John Barrard, who played Dooley had most of his part cut, as they wanted to centre the film on Dudley Moore.”
There were also plenty of challenges faced by the cast and crew as recording took place. Matt has heard some such stories through his relationship with David Huddleston. One happens early on during the movie, as Mr and Mrs Claus battle their way through a blizzard on Christmas Eve in their sleigh.
The acting was fantastic, as the pair desperately shy away from the frozen snow blowing in to their faces. As it turns out however, perhaps it wasn’t all acting.
Matt recalls: “Both David Huddleston and Judy Cornwell were admitted to hospital – albeit only for the day – as the fake snowflakes in those opening sequences went into their eyes.”
As with so many films through the ages, the critics couldn’t wait to sink their teeth in to Santa Claus The Movie. With a big budget and a strong cast, despite the pleasure it brought many millions of people around the world, some critics were somewhat harsh.
With the success the film has enjoyed through the years, perhaps hindsight would have been useful to the critics back then. But why was it given such a tough time back in 1985?
“I believe it was panned by the critics as they saw it as half of a good film. Basically, most thought that the film started off well, but went mushy after it went into the modern day New York.
“Also, the film tried to focus more on the Patch character played by Dudley Moore rather than Santa. However, it’s still my favourite film of all time. It’s a holiday and a feel-good film that has a lot of warmness about it.”
A festive tradition
As mentioned at the outset, the film has become a favourite with families around the world. Those of a certain age were quite possibly brought up watching it on TV or VHS every Christmas, and Matt himself keenly watches it every year. In fact, he can still remember the very first time he saw it.
“Most years, I would watch it twice a year… 1st December and 24th December. However, in later years, I would have it playing in the background while relaxing in the evening, whether I’d be taking a nice long bath or surfing the internet/Facebook etc.
“In my early years, my brother and sister would join me watching it. The very first time I saw it was at the cinema on Saturday 30th November 1985, at the age of 13, which is 30 years ago this month!”.
And so it is that December is upon us, and we cannot wait to dust off the DVD and watch it once again.
Season’s Greetings, indeed.
I’d like to extend a warm thank you to Matt for taking the time to answer my questions. Enjoy your 2015 viewing, Matt.
Buy Santa Claus the Movie
The movie is available to buy in DVD, BluRay or digital format now.
Director Ilya Salkind has some pretty cool before-the-scenes photos of the shooting of Santa Claus the Movie on his website.
Carrie Kei Heim did an interview for the website “KringleQuest” some years ago. We love it, and it’s a bit of a collectors’ item as very few interviews seem to be available with Carrie or young (at the time) co-star Christian Fitzpatrick.
Unfortunately, attempts to reach Illya and some of the cast members for our feature were unsuccessful.