He's timeless, of course. Yep, that guy in the red suit with jolly cheeks. God knows I saw many movies with Santa in them, and I loved them all. Yet the Santa I loved gave hope to two characters I adored on Guiding Light, showing them in New York City Santa does exist.
In 1983, I was rushing home every day to watch Guiding Light. My favorite character Beth (Judi Evans) just left her abusive home after being raped by her stepfather Bradley. She wasn't talking to her boyfriend Phillip (Grant Aleksander) and hadn't told him about the rape. I remember pleading with the TV: "You got to tell him. He won't be mad at you. You have to tell." It would be years until I realized how devastating Beth's rape was to her. At eleven I knew it was bad but I didn't know how emotionally devastating it could be.
But back to our story: last day of school before break, Miss Simms (Harley Jane Kozak) was reading Thomas Wolfe to her class. Bradley and Beth's mom Lillian (Tina Sloan) were outside with a police officer to force Beth back home. Bradley bursts in, making an ass of himself (this wasn't hard; James Rehborn did an incredibly good job in the role) The last straw was when he tells the officer to put handcuffs on Beth. That did it! In true eighties fashion, Phillip threw a desk through a window, grabbed Beth, and ran away. Millions of girls across the country--including me--yelled "Go go go!"
So off they went! To where? New York! Good thing, the show was taped there! The two of them walked around the city, leaving the used car they just traded in unlocked. Not smart.
So Beth is sitting in a diner, sketching (she was an artist) Someone from behind says "Hello Beth" At first the viewer is scared, then we see him: it's Santa! But this isn't some fake Santa; this is a real looking Santa, a Santa Miracle on 34th Street's Natalie Wood would approve of to work at Macy's. Alas, Phillip goes back to the diner, no Beth.He runs around New York, scared out of his mind.
After much prodding, Santa (named Nick, yeah get it?) convinces the two of them to come with him. He takes them under the Belvedere castle in Central Park, where other homeless people are. Think of this as OccupyBelvedere. Seeing it now is jarring; the show was one of the first to address the growing homeless problem in America.
After a while, a skeptical Phillip mellows out, then he and Beth tell the others "The Gift of The Magi" by O. Henry. Yes, on television in one week Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry were mentioned! Be still my English major heart !
So Nick stayed on the show to help Phillip and Beth. He helped get them a room in a motel, and food to eat. But most importantly, he knew what happened to Beth. It was never explained how he knew, he just did. But he was kind to her, and told her she had nothing to be ashamed of. Now I realize what an important message this was to send to girls. That a man can say to a rape victim you did nothing to deserve this especially Santa, could oddly be healing.And he was the one who convinced her (after she turned down Phillip's marriage proposal) that she had to tell Phillip in order to heal.
After Phillip and Beth returned to Springfield(where--thanks to the suggestion of Tina Sloan--Beth took Bradley to trial and he was put away) every other year Nick would come to Springfield to help a character who was having a crisis of faith. Be it Josh (Robert Newman) finding out his wife Reva had a baby with his brother years before; Rick (Michael O'Leary) torn between two girls; he was there to provide solace, and to show them-cliched I know-the true meaning of Christmas.
Looking back now I think it was just brilliant of Pamela Long (GL's head writer at the time) to create Nick as this angel figure on the show. Even in real life Christmas can be an overwhelming time. This morning I cried out of nowhere. It was a combination of many things; Christmas, knowing my cat Felix isn't coming home, and the events in Connecticut. Yet all you can do is keep on going on. What choice do we have?
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries