Christmas at Lakewood Center almost went up in flames on December 22, 1951 -- at least according to Don Rochlen, the public relations manager of the Lakewood Park Corporation, developer of the Lakewood mall and the 17,500 houses soon to surround it on all sides.
The Los Angeles Examiner captioned the obviously staged photo (taken after the flames had subsided):
"Help! Santa Claus, bring the first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. Rudolph is in trouble." Yes, Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was really red hot. In fact, the rosy proboscis, which has made Rudolph the most famous of all reindeer, was on fire. You see, it all happened while Rudolph was making a pre-Christmas appearance atop Butler Brother's department store in Lakewood Park (California). Rudolph was the victim of sabotage when a short circuit started a fire in his sniffer, which in this case as a large red light bulb. Passers by, including a few worried youngsters, were startled when Rudolph gave out a miniature explosion amid a shower of sparks and smoke. No serious damage resulted, except possibly to Rudolph's dignity. And Santa Claus, who left his post in the toy department to help extinguish the blaze that was confined to Rudolph, said the animal, red nose and all, would be back in shape in time to help him make his Christmas deliveries.
Is it me, or does the 1951 version of Santa seem lean and kind of unkempt, not like the well-padded department store Santa of today? That beard wouldn't fool a baby.
Maybe Santa was still recovering from the fire emergency.
Defenders of reindeer still exist, as I noted in this item from December 2011: The Few. The Proud. The Reindeer Guardians.
Among the milling throngs of Santas at SantaCon 2011 were puzzled tourists, laughing children, and many forms of post-modern irony.
For the Los Angeles Times (in words and pictures), the irony seemed uppermost: boozing Santas, bummed Santas, Santa vixens, and Santas straight from Tim Burton's imagination. (Photos of the 2013 SantaCon are here.)
When my friends Mary Alice and Liam McLoughlin unexpectedly encountered Santas at Union Station as they poured out across Alameda Street, they found far more sweetness than snark. They also found one of Santa's unsung helpers.
His mission, he said solemnly, was to ensure the safety of Santa's reindeer. He gave Mary Alice and Liam a smart salute: To Protect and Serve Carrots.
This holiday season, may all your reindeer be fire-proof and the guardians of your happiness always on duty. And may we all have a safe 2014.