Monday, December 28, 2020

Department Store Santa Visits

 It may very well be one of the most iconic scenes of all cinematic history--that of a young Natalie Wood sitting on the lap of a man in a red suit, trimmed with white fur cuffs, and telling him that her mother told her there is no such person as Santa Claus. I'm referring, of course, to the 1947 movie, Miracle on 34th Street, with Maureen O'Hara, one of my favorite actresses of all-time starring as jaded Doris Walker, which I've seen a few times. I've also watched the 1994 remake more times than I care to admit. But one version of this beloved classic that I had never seen before was the one starring McDonald Carey and Teresa Wright. In fact, I didn't even know that it existed until I clicked on the option to watch it on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, fully expecting to see Maureen O'Hara, with her fiery hair (although the film was in black and white) and words. Rather than being disappointed when Teresa Wright appeared instead, though, I was intrigued. The story was the very same--with almost the exact same dialogue. And, as usual, I was quickly drawn into it.




Because a good story will do that whether it's in literary or cinematic form.




As I watched the scene where young Susan visits Santa Claus and challenges his real identity unfold, a writing dilemma that I had been facing was suddenly solved. I'd begun a new project in which my young and impulsive heroine is being set up for a marriage of convenience by her father as a way of protection. She is an artist who has been invited to show her paintings in New York--but being from Denver, in 1885, her father doesn't feel comfortable sending her alone. He is too busy to go with her--plus, as a widower, he has a new lady friend he's secretly courting--shh! If his daughter could marry her childhood friend, then the problem would be solved.


The first chapter of this story was going well--but I was having a hard time making it seem believable. After I watched Miracle on 34th Street, my entire thought process changed, and I decided to make the opening scene be about my heroine's father cajoling her into playing the part of Mrs. Clause next to her childhood nemesis, who would be playing the part of Santa.  The idea grew in my mind and I wondered, did big department stores like Macy's in New York exist in the West in 1885? Probably not, but it still would be fun to write a scene in which the heroine was less than thrilled to be performing such a duty next to her nemesis.

To my surprise, though, when I looked up the question of department stores, several did exist during that time period. The first department store in America was called Arnold Constable and it was founded in New York, 1824. It started out as a small dry goods store, but by 1857 it was moved from Pine Street to a place called Marble House. Over the next century, this department store would trade locations a few more times before it closed its doors permanently in 1975. However, other department stores sprung up, including Marshal Field's in Chicago, enhancing the overall shopping experience of consumers in the late 19th century by introducing elevators and animated displays in the windows during Christmastime.

Building my own scene with my hero and heroine playing the parts of Santa and Mrs. Claus was so fun! I absolutely loved the idea of having the two of them bantering, as you can read here in this excerpt from A Christmas Groom for Maddie.

A boy of about five looked up at him in awe. “Are you really Santa Claus?”

“Ho, ho, ho. Yes, young man. And what is your name?”

“Terrence.” The boy’s eyebrows crinkled and he asked, “Why aren’t you at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas?”

“My elves are carrying on in my absence while I’m here visiting with you. Wasn’t that nice of ’em?”

Terrence’s head bobbed up and down like a jack in the box that had just sprung out of its confinement. “Yep. You must have lots of helpers.”

“I do. Couldn’t do all of this without them.”

Terrence fixed his eyes on Winston’s fake beard. “Can I feel your beard?”

That wouldn’t be a good idea at all. “I’m sorry, son. The only person who’s allowed to touch Santa’s beard is Mrs. Claus. Ho, ho, ho!”

As soon as he said it, Winston knew he was in trouble. Maddie froze, then slowly turned to face him, her eyes narrowing dangerously. Winston should have apologized. Or at least been scared. Instead, he opened his mouth and blurted, “Isn’t that right, Mrs. Claus?”

He didn’t really expect her to react. After all, they were in front of a hundred kids with their parents either shopping or standing close by. So when she sauntered over to him, the folds of her velvet dress swaying with her hips, his eyes grew round and the air around him seemed to shrivel up and wither away. Leaning over so that they were almost face to face, she slowly placed a hand on his cotton beard and—tugged. The elastic bands on either side of the fake beard stretched as the beard came away from his face.

“Hey, what are you—”

She let go just as his hand darted up to stop her. His fingers clamped around her wrist. For a second, he forgot about the beard. The only thing he wanted to focus on was her warm skin.


Maddie’s lips twitched. Straightening her body, she put one hand on her hip and quirked an eyebrow. “Yep. Only Mrs. Claus is allowed to do that.”

The little minx!


But this is only the beginning of the story. As Maddie's father works to try to convince her to marry Winston, it's up to Winston himself to win her over. His chance comes when someone tries to damage her paintings. Can the two of them discover who it is in time for Christmas? Will they be able to put aside their past hurts and anger to discover a love that has always existed between them? A Christmas Groom for Maddie is a Pinkerton Matchmaker companion tale, and it revisits a beloved character by readers of An Agent for Sarah and An Agent for Amaryllis. In this tale, Maddie is all grown up and must learn to trust Winston and put others' needs before her own. 




I hope that you will treat yourself to A Christmas Groom for Maddie. With a swoony but sweet romance (along with a romance between two side characters) and a light mystery to solve, it's the perfect blend of holiday cheer!



1 comment:

  1. Julia, I always wanted to look like the young Maureen O'Hara. A lot of my heroines do. This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. I also enjoyed the musical when it came to the Dallas State Fair Musicals. Nice post.


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