Behind the Beard

| December 9, 2010

Santa MurrayMurray McCandless didn’t set out to be Santa Claus.

He already worked in pastoral ministry after graduating two decades earlier from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He’d made a name for himself as a professional auctioneer with a reputation for bringing compassion and passion to the podium, along with an uncanny ability to compel event attendees to open their hearts – and their wallets – at charity auctions.

And he had a gig as an on-air personality for a country radio station in Elizabethtown, which is exactly how McCandless found his calling as a “professional Santa Claus portrayal artist.”

While prepping for a broadcast, McCandless came across an Internet article about a Santa Claus “portrayal artist” who had insured his beard for an undisclosed six-figure amount. After talking to the world-renowned impersonator,,  McCandless was hooked and inspired, and in 2007 he transformed into Santa Claus, a process he now has down pat.

Santa Murray“It isn’t for the faint of heart, the sensitive of scalp or the weak of wallet,” joked McCandless, who has a kind demeanor and incredible blue eyes that – truly – seem to twinkle.

The 47-year-old begins a hair and beard bleaching process in early October that lasts several weeks and is anything but enjoyable.

“I usually get a full bleach three or four times and then two or three hairline touch-ups to get me through the season,” said McCandless, who often resorts to breathing out of straws while the product soaks into his beard, mustache and hair, lifting its color away until it appears silky and white.

“From then on, everywhere I go, I’m Santa. No matter what I’m wearing, I’m Santa,” he said. “It comes with the territory and if I want it to stop, all I have to do is shave.”

Very serious about playing Santa, McCandless has invested $7,000 of his own money in authentic Santa suits, including the classic Coca-Cola suit, Renaissance shirts, velvet vests, faux sable mink-trimmed cloak and Cossack hat, leather belts, brass bells, gold-plated script buckle and a Scottish kilt when he opts to be Santa McClaus.

North Pole“It’s a competitive business and setting yourself apart as a premier Santa takes time, effort, creativity and financial investment,” he said.
But it’s worth it, McCandless assured.

During his first season as a Santa, he made an appearance at a “Breakfast with Santa” and the “Light Up Elizabethtown” parade. He also agreed to do a pro bono appearance at a pet shop (something he won’t repeat), an appearance at a friend’s Christmas party in exchange for some photography work and did two appearances for a grandparent support group for $25 in Cracker Barrel gift certificates.

Oh – ho-ho – how times have changed.

Santa McCandless has since made appearances all over the region at some of the biggest events and is currently appearing at KaLightoscope and the Life-Size Gingerbread Village at the Galt House.

Murray McCandless in high school.

Murray McCandless in high school.

Modern Day Murray

Modern Day Murray.

“I love working with kids. Sure, I get my share of screamers and beard-tuggers along the way, but for the most part, I can roll with the punches,” said McCandless.

Speaking of that … “I’ve never been punched, but one youngster who was adamant about not sitting on Santa’s lap reared back and hit me on the chin with the back of his head. After that, we were both a little teary eyed.”

(For the record: McCandless does not advise parents forcing their kids toward Santa. Instead, the large man crouches down to their level and simply talks to them, which very often does the trick.)

McCandless joked that he’s the perfect person to play Santa, after all he started shaving at the age of 12 – after being told it’d help him grow a beard akin to the awesome facial fuzz worn by “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” star Dan Haggerty.

But he didn’t crack a smile when he talked about how portraying Santa Claus allows him to share God’s love and minister in a way he never has before – and not just to children.

“As Santa, I can go places that I couldn’t before. It’s a door-opener. It really brings people’s guards down,” McCandless said. “… Most people will tell me half their life history before they know it. There’s a part of adults that need this unconditional love. I think that’s what it is. I think that’s what I’m able to do.”

See Santa

You don’t have to go far to find two of The Voice-Tribune’s favorite professional Santa Claus “portrayal artists.”

Tags: , ,

Category: Cover Stories

About the Author (Author Profile)

Angie Fenton
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.

Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.

Comments are closed.