YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

L.A. at Large

A Hunk With a Christmas Presence

A sizzling Santa is chosen from among a group of potential ho-ho-ho'ers to bring holiday cheer to adults at the Beverly Center


Rick Edwards couldn't find his $175 Armani sunglasses. He searched under chairs, on tabletops, inside a caterer's warming tray. He even stuck his head underneath a raised stage where minutes earlier the 33-year-old former Chippendale dancer stood victorious, Christmas-wrapped in a red banner as Hunky Santa 2002.

But as St. Nick's studly alter-ego--6 feet tall, 175 pounds, cropped brown hair, chin stubble and beefy biceps--Edwards faced his first image crisis as Santa. He was shamefully shadeless.

After all, this was L.A.--not the humbling North Pole--where the Beverly Center's sun-kissed rooftop terrace, the Hollywood sign in the distance, made for a fitting backdrop for the mall's recent third annual Hunky Santa pageant of pecs and personality. The winner begins his yuletide rule the day after Thanksgiving and only works nights--all the better to indulge the Santa fantasies of giddy grown-ups.

"We mostly get young, single people and a large population of gays shopping here. We practically have no kids," said Barbara Bach, the center's marketing director who came up with the Hunky Santa idea.

We're not talking your grandfatherly St. Nick. Think St. Narcissus. The 11 chiseled contestants did, many of whom couldn't resist falling in love with themselves as they passed by glass doors and saw their tattooed, tanned and toned reflections--and often teased the audience with, well, their assets.

No wonder the crowd of 100 acted at times as if they were there to see "The Full Monty." Instead, they settled for flex and the city as the hunky hopefuls--most of them actors and models--chased the chance to reach the rank of almost famous, even as an alternative Mr. Claus.

Outgoing Hunky Santa, Richard Peters, 31, landed a theatrical agent--after years of unsuccessfully trying to get one on his own--and is busy with soap opera acting and modeling for fitness magazines.

"I had fun with the whole experience," Peters said about playing the part last year for kids as well as adults, most of them single women and a fair share of gay--and bold--men. "One guy came up to me wearing a boa and sat on my lap. Hunky Santa has to be an open-minded guy," he said.

And prepared for anything, which explained why contestants this year, unlike in the past, were put on the spot with zany stunts to perform.

Darren Rick hopelessly Hula-Hooped, unable to rotate his hips with enough momentum to keep the toy up.

Jason Grutter attempted to spell "draggle." "D." Pause. "R." Pause. "A." Pause forever. Look at your feet. Stare at the judges. Make puppy eyes at host and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, who took pity and announced: "That's good enough!"

LaGrande Powe, whom Vilanch quickly nicknamed "The Big One," handily completed 25 push-ups, halfway through raising a leg behind him. He later placed third runner-up.

And a blindfolded David Rountree, who nailed first runner-up, beat the clock as he jumped into a Santa suit. He struggled with drawstring pants, which kept dropping to his ankles. But ever the quick thinker--hey, he teaches at Los Angeles Trade Tech College--Rountree cleverly executed a handstand to loud applause.

The men also answered questions--sometimes bordering on the risque--from a panel of five judges. Naturally, none of the responses was about wishing for world peace. And a few were right up there in the Anna Nicole Smith where-did-I-leave-my-brain-today department.

For Joe Galvan, a shoe salesman: "How would being Hunky Santa change your life?" Answer: "I'd get to wear tank tops all the time."

For Rountree, came the query "Boxers or briefs?" Answer: "It depends on what time of the year. But, sometimes I just go commando."

For Shea Pesz, "What do naughty people get for Christmas?" Answer: "Well, Hunky Santa is very forgiving, so I'd give naughty people forgiveness."

For Cyrus Siminpour, who claimed second runner-up: "What makes you the best candidate for Hunky Santa?" Answer: "I have a jolly attitude. I'm open-minded," and then quickly lifting his shirt, he shouted with glee (what else?), "I have a great six-pack!"

The crowd played into his hands. Um, make that, abs. "You're a hottie!" shouted a young woman who was too embarrassed to reveal her name but confessed, "I believe in Santa again! Oh, yeah, baby!"

Got a Date Out of It

Pam Potts, 23, who just moved to L.A. from Missoula, Mont., even made a date connection with contestant No. 4, brown-haired, blue-eyed Jason Miller, 24, who swiveled his pelvis like Elvis when asked, "How would you convince a shy person to sit on your lap?"

"Now that guy has talent," Potts cracked, who gave her phone number to Miller. "I thought he was hilarious, great-looking and the best candidate for the job. You can't go wrong if you're hooked up with a Hunky Santa finalist."

Los Angeles Times Articles