- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

LOS ANGELES — ‘Tis the season to be jolly, but Ruby Satterwhite doesn’t look too happy. She has driven all the way from Pacific Palisades to the crowded Beverly Center shopping mall to take her two sons to see Santa Claus.

To sit on his lap. Have their pictures taken. Whisper “PlayStation 3” in his ear.

But in place of the traditional jolly Old St. Nick — rotund belly, rosy cheeks, snow-white beard — is a buff, 20-something male model in sleeveless red and white fur vest, open at the rippling chest. His teeth are white as Chiclets. Next to him is his heavily made-up Candy Cane girl, a blonde, buxom Christmas version of a Playboy bunny.

Meet Hunky Santa, a chiseled, muscular testament to the Los Angeles lifestyle that hardly ever misses the opportunity to sell naughty, even during the holiday.

“Oh, my God, I can’t believe this,” said Mrs. Satterwhite, eyeing Hunky Santa’s getup. She’s in a mild state of shock. “I’m disappointed. I wanted to see the real Santa.”

Her 9-year-old son, Lucas, is scowling. Asked what he thought, he replied with a dismissive shrug. “His muscles are big.”

His mother is definitely peeved. “No way he’s sitting on his lap. I’ll have to find another Santa.”

In the weeks before Christmas, as shoppers prowl the malls, thousands of Santas appear in the grand courts, posing for photographs. It’s a big business, and sometimes a far cry from the Santas of department stores past.

There are Hispanic Santas, black Santas, female Santas and Bad Santas.

But only in Los Angeles is there a Hunky Santa. The name is trademarked by the Beverly Center, which introduced the concept six years ago. The center’s public relations representative explained that Hunky Santa appeals to a new generation: singles without children. “Is Hunky Santa a good draw? Yes, people come every year asking for Hunky Santa.”

In a town that sells lighted fake Christmas palm trees to deck the halls, tradition is for those square folks back East.

“It’s a unique aspect with L.A.,” said the muscular St. Nick, who actually goes by “St. Rick,” Santa’s son. He said his real name is Greg and that he won the title after an online vote at the shopping center’s Web site, www.beverlycenter.com.

He says his fans are “mainly guys, around this town. But a lot of girls come, too. We play it up. Make a good photo shoot. A lot of them get [the pictures] on CDs and copy them to their buddies. Especially if you’re sending a Christmas card back home East. It’s the ultimate L.A. Christmas. It goes hand and hand with the society out here.”

Which is? “It’s definitely fast-paced. A lot is about the exterior look.”

His parents are back home in Florida, “My dad thinks it’s a trip. My mom is kind of clueless about life out here. She’s like, ‘I don’t understand it, but go for it.’ ”

Hunky Santa only goes on duty after 5 p.m. Before that, the traditional Santa holds court. As for parents disapproving of the second Santa shift, Beverly Center marketing director Hillary Carr says, “We’ve had lots of kids sitting on Hunky Santa’s lap.”

There was a recent flap when model Janice Dickerson wanted to audition the hunky Santas on her cable-television show. She put out a press release, but the Beverly Center says the deal was scrapped. They alone hold the rights to Hunky Santa.

Sunday afternoons are reserved for pets. Jessica Matrasko, 31, a blond West Hollywood retail manager brought her toy terrier, Mischka, one recent Sunday. Patsy Ward, 31, has two dogs in tow.

Strolling by, shoppers do a double take.

“Very hunky,” said Cassandra Mann, 32, from Los Angeles. Would she sit on Santa’s lap? She laughs. “After a few drinks,” says her female companion.

“He’s very good looking,” said 27-year old Ha Nguyen, sales associate at the women’s boutique Cache in the fashion mall across the aisle. “I told all my girlfriends about him. But my boyfriend would kill me if I sat on some guy’s lap dressed as Santa.”

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