A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF HOW IT ALL BEGAN
In the late summer of 1994, a German catalog company was planning its Winter sales campaign...
Sorry for the quality-- this is the only remaining copy anywhere on the web (CLICK to view)
and word went out to casting agents throughout the Southwest that Santas were needed;
ultimately, 10 actors were found who were also professional Santas,
and the “Brownstone Street” set at Universal Studios was booked for a single day in September.
Tom Hartsfield, selected as the Principal Santa, was shown sitting in his sleigh contentedly thumbing through the Otto Versand catalog (with Cindy Crawford on the cover),
while the other nine Santas scrambled around,
bumping into each other as they delivered huge piles of wrapped presents
up and down the street depicted in the set.
The shoot began at 3pm, and wasn’t over until 5am the next day
—and there was plenty of time between the shots for the Santas to get to know one another.
One of them had brought a camera,
and as he snapped candid behind-the-scenes photos,
he promised to provide copies for the other Santas.
At one point, Santa Ed Murphy suggested that they should get together for “a lunch or something”
—but they all agreed that, with the Christmas Season rapidly approaching, they should probably wait .
During subsequent breaks in the shooting,
it was agreed that they would meet for lunch on the third Sunday of the following January,
at the world-famous Northwoods Inn in La Mirada, CA.
Hartsfield and Murphy were joking with Santa Jim Lewis that the group ought to have a name;
since the casting call stipulated actors with “real beards” who portrayed Santa,
they wanted to keep that in the group’s title.
When Santa Tom Hartsfield himself coined the phrase, “Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas”, the name stuck instantly!
When they gathered for that very first “Founders Luncheon”, only nine of the ten were able to make it.
But nonetheless, the klatch was an outstanding success; a good time was had by all of the Santas, and many NEW pictures were taken amidst the laughter and swapping of tips and tales
—and to a man, they agreed that they would do it again the following year!
By the third Sunday of January 1998, a few of the Santas had shared their little secret with OTHER Santas whom they knew, and the AORBS Founders Luncheons slowly began to grow…
Well, you get the idea...
My first & only group shot: That's me in the back row center, just to the right of the black hat, wearing a vest & sunglasses.
As AORBS videographer, I left the scrum after a few photos, to capture some video before the group broke up-- as luck would have it, I wasn't in the shot which was finally chosen...(CLICK HERE to watch video of the group shot)
When we met onboard the Queen Mary, I was Master of Ceremonies and due to technical difficulties, found myself unable to leave the stage as my fellow Santas met for the annual group shot. The good news is that we were able to resolve the problems, and nobody ever knew how close we came to disaster that year!
(BTW: Diva Claus and Elves Heather & Holly WERE able to attend the group shot: CLICK HERE to watch a short video clip...)
Again, as AORBS videographer, I had to duck out after a few shots to capture the video-- and AGAIN, the photo selected did not include me...
(CLICK HERE to watch Santa Group video)
This year we also had a Mrs. Claus scrum--and guess who just HAD to invite himself into the middle of the LADIES' group shot? And did you also notice that the same person declined to be in the MEN'S group shot?
I'll give you a hint: IT ISN'T THE ONE WITH THE BIG NOSE!!
(CLICK HERE to watch Mrs. Claus Group video)
Little did we know that this would ultimately turn out to be the last Founders Luncheon-- and the final group shot in this noble lineage...
In the few months following this luncheon, the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas literally disintegrated-- as either the result of catastrophic mismanagement or criminal enterprise (or both, depending on your perspective)...
In the late summer of 2007, this 13-year-old globe-spanning fraternity was targeted by a con man who called himself, ironically enough, "Santa Nicholas"... concealing a long civil & criminal legal history, Nick Trolli lied his way onto the Board of Directors by claiming to have decades of experience which he could bring to bear on the 2008 AORBS Convention, which was then being planned for Overland Park, KS; rather than focus on organizing that Convention, Trolli immediately ignited what some in the national media have called the "Santa Wars"! The Board tried & failed to force Trolli to resign -- that is, a vote to ask for his resignation was actually in process during a conference call, when Vice-President Nick Trolli simply ended the call by hanging up on everybody at once; following this outrage, most of the Santas serving voluntarily on the Board with Trolli resigned in incredibly short order-- calling loudly for immediate national elections.
Now calling himself President of AORBS, Nick Trolli then literally stole our organization from us by dissolving our group's charter with the State of Montana, and registering "AORBS,INCORPORATED" in the State of Kentucky- with only himself and his loyal side-kick (the Bully Giant) Jeff Germann as company officers!
By July 2008, membership had fallen from 1300 to an estimated 30-40 Santas-- mostly new members who were being told by Trolli that he, as their group's leader, was under attack by a group of disgruntled ex-members. In their defense, those new Santas simply hadn't yet discovered the truth about Nicholas L. Trolli, Sr. and Jeffrey Gene Germann for themselves...
Later that same month, Trolli & Germann were slapped with a Cease & Desist Order by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for unlawful charitable solicitations nationwide. AORBS,Inc. is also facing approximately $100,000 in penalties for defaulting on contracts in Kansas & Missouri concerning the Convention which Trolli originally volunteered to organize-- and which ultimately became the greatest single fiasco in Santa history!!!
(All photos used with permission. Screen caps from original Otto Versand commercial, Winter of 1995)
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