October 1, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
Thus far in my career, I have only been nominated for one Emmy Award. I was nominated as part of an ensemble cast for a WGN Christmas Special, “Mistletoe Bear’s First Christmas”. It was funded by Marshall Field’s as a Christmas Special to welcome Santa Claus to Chicago. The special was a big production for WGN. For many years, Uncle Mistletoe was Marshall Field’s Christmas character, and I grew up watching Uncle Mistletoe who primarily existed in drawn illustrations for advertising, dolls, Christmas ornaments, and Golden Books. The character was also used in conjunction with The Adventures of The Cinnamon Bear on WGN which was an episodic daily adventure. I always liked Uncle Mistletoe, and I thought I was the perfect actor to play the part on the special. I was pretty much a dead-ringer for him. So I pulled out all the stops in my audition, and I was thrilled when I won the part.
And that began a very interesting relationship for me with WGN and Bozo and Cookie. I loved working with Bozo and Cookie (Joey D’Auria and Roy Brown). We shot the special on the Bozo Stage during Bozo and Cookie’s hiatus from the show. The production was a big one for WGN. They hired a company to build special sets for the production which was something very unusual for WGN. Martha Webster was hired to play Aunt Holly who was Uncle Mistletoe’s wife, and we lived in the North Pole. A company called Those Funny Little People Enterprises was hired to build human size puppet costumes that actors could fit into and operate from inside the puppet. They were pretty unique and attention-getting. Only Bozo, Cookie, me and Aunt Holly wore costumes. Uncle Mistletoe had a black top hat, bushy black eye brows, and a red waist coat. But, the star of the show was Mistletoe Bear, a new plush toy that Marshall Field’s was marketing for the Holiday Season. Little People built a bigger than life-size costume of the plush toy, and an actor operated it from inside. WGN camera operators who shot the Cubs games shot the special.
Stepping onto the stages at WGN was a step back into time for me. Even though WGN was a major station, it had a very small town feel to it. There was a little cafeteria where all the WGN personalities and guests would eat. They shot live news shows at the station, too. But, this production had lots of actors in it, and much more was happening at the station than was normal. It was bursting at the seams with lots of actors each day, and the shooting schedule was longer than a Cub’s Doubleheader so the camera operators weren’t used to such long days. For one week, it was more like a little movie studio than WGN. We did lots and lots of takes (Cub games are all one take which was a new experience for the WGN cameramen.). The special was shot way before it would air in November so there would be time to edit the special. I used to do a lot of print work as Santa Claus so I was used to wearing fat suits to bulk me up to fit into red hot Santa Claus suits in the sweltering heat of July. But, my Uncle Mistletoe costume was very comfortable except for the fact that I had to be careful not to crush my wings if I sat down in a chair. (Uncle Mistletoe could fly. Aunt Holly didn’t have wings, so it was a mixed marriage of sorts.) When Bozo and Cookie visited Aunt Holly and Uncle Mistletoe in the North Pole, they wore scarves around their necks to keep warm. Acting cold on a stage filled with big lights creating heat was a difficult challenge because there wasn’t sufficient air-conditioning for the increased heat load. Making the audience believe it was winter was probably why the cast was nominated for an ensemble Emmy.
When it was time to shoot Mistletoe Bear’s first scene, no one could find the actor who was supposed to play Mistletoe Bear! The costume was lying on the floor, seemingly discarded against a wall. A frantic search began to find the actor. People searched the bathrooms, the cafeteria, and the parking lot, but no one could find the actor. But, then someone noticed the costume move. Everyone freaked! Then someone took the head off the costume! The actor passed out inside the costume because he got dehydrated. He had to be taken to the hospital and rehydrated. It was a pretty harrowing experience, but he was a trouper, and he recovered quickly. When he got into the Mistletoe Bear costume the next day, they added ventilation to the costume. But now we could only shoot shots of Mistletoe Bear from the front because an exhaust fan expelled the hot air in the costume near Mistletoe Bear’s butt. It was battery operated, and it made a lot of noise. So whenever Bozo, Cookie and I did a scene with the Bear, we had to shout our lines to be heard over the fan. We put earmuffs on Mistletoe Bear to justify our yelling which I thought was a stroke of genius. We didn’t win the Emmy, but Bozo logic always got laughs!