Art Carney was the perfect Santa Claus

Art Carney made a career out of playing good-natured, likable characters. His face was just friendly. As Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, Carney was a more amicable, more optimistic counterpart to Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden. There's just a certain quality to Carney. A certain... jolliness, even.

While Gleason may have seemed the part, physically, it was Carney who was actually a perfect Santa Claus. He was a natural for the role and played Santa Claus on three separate occasions. To hear Carney tell it, he'd prepared his whole life for the role.

In December 1984, as viewers anticipated the upcoming The Night They Saved Christmas, Carney reflected on playing Santa Claus. It wasn't yet Christmas Eve, but it was the eve of Carney's third appearance as Santa. He'd previously played ol' Saint Nick in an episode of The Twilight Zone, before donning the red outfit along with the Muppets on a holiday special produced by Ed Sullivan.

"I was the last kid on the block to believe in Santa Claus," Carney told the Asbury Park Press. That same wonder comes across whenever Carney played Claus. 

Carney grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and fondly recalled memories of happy Christmas mornings.

"I can remember it just like it was yesterday," he said. "I was the youngest of six boys. The first thing in the morning, my father would go downstairs. Then he'd turn on the Christmas tree lights, holler upstairs and we'd all come running down. It was indescribable—the joy and the happiness we felt."

It was no wonder, then, that Art Carney spent so much joy spreading holiday cheer.

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