Not that anyone would skip a bath, of course, but the morning once-over-lightly simply won't do for a man sitting inside a heavy, hot suit for 7 or 8 hours, with children climbing on and off his lap, Zink said.
The Santas also were told to encourage good habits among the children. Urging that teeth be brushed, vegetables eaten and rooms cleaned scores major points with the parents and grandparents who bring the children to Santa.
"Use Santa leg lifts" was another piece of advice. Picking up 40- or 50-pound children can injure Santa's lower back. Extending the leg, levering the child onto it and then hoisting the leg upward to lap level spares Santa a trip to the chiropractor.
Another word of caution: Santa should not speak of "your mother" or "your father" to a child unless the small one points to a nearby adult and clearly says something like, "That's my mommy." In a time of one-parent families, or stepfathers and stepmothers, speaking of a "mother" or "father" who turns out to be absent from home can reduce a child to tears. The term "folks" is much safer.
But, above all, stay in character. Don't run wind sprints from your Santa chair to the bathroom. Don't yell at the children. Santa is an old gent. He walks slowly. He speaks softly. He always keeps his humor.
That's not the easiest thing, Hahn said. "I've had kids who are actually repulsive. I had one kid come up last year and say, 'I'm gonna rip your beard off. I know it's fake.' All I could do was laugh. Fortunately, his parents took care of him, but I couldn't slip out of character."
Larry Bischof of Mountain Center, near Idyllwild, has been a Santa for 9 years and told the first-time Santas that "if anyone ever grabs your beard, just yell 'ouch' as loud as you can and they'll let go."
Another Bischof tip: Glue that beard on tightly with tape having stickum on both sides. One side adheres to the beard, the other to Santa's face. "I've lost the hat," Bischof said, "but I've never lost the beard."
Nearly all the class was devoted to the donning of the uniform and how to keep it clean. Western provides two sets of white gloves. Santa washes one pair each night and wears the other one the next day. The synthetic beard can be washed with Woolite, but use only tepid water. Hot water will straighten the curl.
A North Hollywood man who declined to give his name for fear the Screen Actors Guild might learn about this other job, said he performed as Santa 25 years ago at the Santa Monica Pier, then picked the job up again last year at age 50, again for the money. And his motivation this year? The same: "The writers strike knocked a lot of work out of professional actors. We've got to make a living."
Also in it for the money was Lester Lindvig, 21, of La Habra, who just finished school at Fullerton College and hopes to enroll soon at USC to study film.
Lindvig said he was "just in between jobs and needed some temporary work. And I love Christmas and children and have a lot of fun with entertainment-type stuff." Lindvig said that when the agency heard he had worked at Disneyland in starring roles as Goofy and the wolf that pursued the three little pigs, they were happy to have him.
Although he said he enjoyed "working mime and characterization-type things" at Disneyland, playing Santa "will be a lot more difficult because with the Disney characters you have to act larger than life with those costumes."
"And with the Santa character, he's already larger than life to begin with, so it's a matter of trying to calm myself down a little bit to play an older, jolly-type character rather than this energetic Goofy or . . . chasing after little pigs or whatnot.
"I'm looking forward to getting out the first day and experiencing it because I haven't done it before," said Lindvig, who added that he doesn't know where the agency will send him to recite his ho-ho-hos.
If Lindvig is lucky, he will be spared the problems of the Santa whose dog sled ran off without him.
As Nancy Clayton of Western Temporary Services told it, a few years ago an Alhambra shopping mall decided to promote the Christmas season with six Alaskan huskies pulling a sled with Santa seated inside. Santa "didn't really want to get on" because, for one thing, the woman working with the dogs was not very experienced.
To show Santa how easy it would be, the trainer decided on a practice run while Santa watched. But instead of heading down the driveway, she went through the parking lot, Clayton said. The parking lot had speed bumps.
"The dogs are 6 miles down the street and she's sitting on the ground with a wrist broken in three places and a broken leg, and Santa's wife--who is 8 1/2 months pregnant--is going, 'Thank God, he wasn't on the sled.'
"That was the last time (the shopping center) decided to do anything stranger than having Santa walk into the center."