At work: Martin Kurland, mall Santa

Social Security retiree first took up clowning

  • Marty Kurland talks to John Robert Conrad during a session at the Shops at Kenilworth in Towson, where Kurland has worked two of the past three years. He also worked at Arundel Mills for the second year in a row.
Marty Kurland talks to John Robert Conrad during a session at… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
December 27, 2009|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $10,000 per season

Age: 73

Years on the job: 3

How he got started: Fifty years ago, a friend asked Marty Kurland to fill in as a clown to entertain at an event. Kurland did, and he loved it. For the next 30 years, he performed as a part-time clown and later as a magician at birthday parties, events and school happenings.

He also worked at the Social Security Administration full time as an administrative assistant, trainer and policy writer. Here he formed a clown club where he and fellow employees would perform at Social Security events and later at other government events like the annual White House Easter Egg Roll and the Christmas party for children of diplomats.

When he retired from the Social Security Administration, he went to work as a full-time entertainer, starting his own business called Children's Entertainment Co. He now works mostly as a magician and also teaches magic.

Twelve years ago, he began playing Santa Claus for private events and at area malls. This is the second time in three years that he's worked as the Santa at the Shops at Kenilworth and his second year at Arundel Mills.

Typical day: Kurland said he works about 40 hours a week as Santa Claus at the Shops at Kenilworth and Arundel Mills. Most of this work is during the week, reserving weekends for private functions.

During the holiday season, which starts in early November and runs through December, he estimates he puts in a total of about 60 hours a week.

As the mall Santa, Kurland says, he can see up to 1,000 children a day.

Each session takes only a few minutes, with an average of two to four photographs taken. If there's not a line, he likes to spend additional time with the children.

"I'm a nice and somewhat silly Santa. I enjoy doing it," Kurland said. "I'm not doing this because I need to. I'm doing it because I love it."

The job is physically demanding, especially when children won't sit for the photograph or are afraid to sit on his lap. He said crying no longer fazes him.

"I don't particularly like it, but it's part of being a child. A fear is natural," Kurland said.

He never promises anything when it comes to children's Christmas wishes. As for the "are you the real Santa?" question, he uses the strategy of finding out the child's name and turning the question around. So if the child's name is "Charlie," he'll ask him, "Are you the real Charlie?"

The beard: Kurland starts growing his beard in July. He said children often tug on it gently to make sure it's real. Come Dec. 25, he shaves it off.

"That's my annual gift to my wife."

Advice to parents: To keep the kids happy before they get to Santa's lap, Kurland says they should make sure they're fed, dry and not too tired.

Extra suits: He's had to deal with children throwing up on him and infants with leaky diapers.

"I never know what's going to happen."

To be on the safe side, he owns and travels with three Santa suits.

The good: "I enjoy when a kid does a 180: When they are afraid, and I'm able to comfort them."

The bad: "It's hard when the child doesn't want to be there and you have to hold them because you're afraid they'll hurt themselves."

Most-requested toys: Electronics like a Nintendo DS and iPods.

Philosophy on the job: "I'm here to do a job. I want to make the child happy, and if the child is happy, the parents are happy."

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