The Christmas Spirit
Gerald Wills has played Santa for almost 30 years.
Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Gerald Wills is best known as Santa Claus. The 59-year-old has portrayed the jolly old elf for nearly three decades. In addition to serving as Santa Claus in various Christmas parades, he poses for Christmas ads and holiday cards and performs at parties and for many children each year. He’s had offers to perform in Los Angeles and even Japan during Christmastime, but he’s always stayed in Oklahoma. He says he would miss the children he gets to see each year.
I had a gentleman supervisor ask me in 1983 to play Santa. I had just got out of the service, and I said sure because we had a lot of young families at work. I painted my beard white, and I thought it turned out pretty good. Then all of a sudden my beard and hair started turning white. It was kind of like the (character of Tim Allen) in The Santa Clause.
It became a natural thing. I got to doing it for people I work for and work with. It just spread word-of-mouth. Eventually I picked up an agent. I don’t have a contract, they just take care of me and I take care of them. I’m my own manager. Every year seems to get more and more intense.
When Gov. Frank Keating was in office, I would light the tree at the State Capitol. Once the governor called my home. I answered the phone and he said, “This is Gov. Keating,” and I always had guys from work playing pranks on me, so I thought it was one of them. I said, “Yeah, and this is Santa Claus,” and he said, “Just the guy I’m looking for,” and I hung up on him. The phone rang again, and when I answered he said, “Don’t hang up, this is really the governor.”
I have a lady in Edmond that always plays up Christmas for her children, and she hires me to come to the house to deliver presents. One year, the family had went to Maui for vacation, and the then-5-year-old boy, Justin, had left his favorite Beanie Baby on the beach. His mother had easily found a replacement, so she gave it to me, sprinkled with sand, to give to him on Christmas. When I came by to deliver the Beanie Baby, that little boy had a runaway. He was bawling, and he said, “Thank you Santa, that is so cool.” Just little things like that that inspire me to do more. I go out of the way to make sure that kids stay kids as long as they can.
Every person I see when I’m dressed up has a smile on his or her face. They can’t keep from smiling when they see Santa. When Santa comes in the room, everyone smiles.