Though I have never aspired to be an actor, life has brought along a few such opportunities. Our eighth grade class presented a really stupid (but fun) one-act hillbilly comedy and I enjoyed roles in high school plays.
Other opportunities came along outside of school. When I was 16 the Kamrar Commercial Club hired me to play Santa Claus. Donned in Santa apparel, I was to ride into town in a horse-drawn sleigh and hand out bags of candy to the townspeople.
Santa looked rather awkward that year considering his suit was not long enough. If I hadn’t worn jeans and a flannel shirt under the red and white outfit that day, Santa would have mooned his fans.
The roads were clear of snow that December Saturday so Santa rolled into town in a horse-drawn wagon. I belted out jolly “ho-ho-hos” as I handed out bags of Christmas goodies.
My mother brought my baby sister, then three years old, to see Santa. When I handed her a bag of goodies and asked what she wanted for Christmas she turned to Mom and exclaimed, “That isn’t Santa. It’s Arvid!”
When you can’t fool a three-year-old, it’s time to hang up the beard. I have never played Santa again.
Several years later, while working in Webster City, I received a phone call from the local fire chief. He asked if I would play Smokey the Bear for a fire safety poster contest awards ceremony to be televised during a Romper Room show on the Fort Dodge TV station that afternoon. Who could refuse an opportunity to play an American icon? A few hours later I was crawling into (a very large) Smokey the Bear costume in a TV station store room.
This costume fit well but it was heavy and under the studio lights it was stifling. Smokey persevered and gave each little boy and girl his full attention and a nice certificate. Another few minutes under those hot lights, though, they might have been stompin’ out a smokin’ Smokey.
By the way, that TV station went off the air several years later. I swear Smokey had nothing to do with its demise.
A few more “acting” opportunities came along when we lived in Sioux City. For a couple of seasons I was the radio and television voice of Feedlebomb the Horse, the mascot for a horse racing track nearby in Nebraska. Audio tracks were recorded in a radio studio and added to animated TV commercials in a television production studio.
For one campaign, Feedlebomb had to step out of character on camera. I found myself slipping again into a warm animal costume and performing under sweltering television studio lights. (For the record, I was the horse’s head!)
The recording session went well, in spite of exposing my face to the camera, and the commercial was televised for several weeks. It was a bit of a hoot when little kids stopped me on the street and exclaimed, “Hey, you’re Feedlebomb!”
I decided the meager talent fee I was paid wasn’t worth it, however, when a really strange adult bellowed, “Hey, Feedlebomb!” whenever he saw me on downtown streets months after the campaign had ended.
My last paid “acting” job involved another non-human character. One afternoon I played the T.N. Bee, a bumble bee mascot for a Sioux City bank. The bulbous black and yellow body and over-sized round head fit okay but the leggings were too short. The ad agency friend who had hired me had to run to a nearby men’s store to buy a pair of king-size over-the-calf black socks so the T.N. Bee would not expose his pasty white hairy legs.
A couple of hours of scaring babies and enduring pokes and jabs from ornery kids later, I got to thinking that the acting life may not be for me. At least not as a bear, a horse or a bumble bee. Besides, I’ll bet Paul Newman never had to play an animal or an insect. Or cover his face. (But then I recognize I’m not Paul Newman.)
I’ve been retired from these little “acting” jobs for more than 30 years now and happily so. However, if Steven Spielberg were to call…