Posted on December 1, 2022 by Hunter Hulbert – Community
Bob Lee puts smiles on the faces of people as mall Santa in Short Hills and Deptford. Photo courtesy of Audubon Santa
When Bob Lee graduated from Santa Claus training school, he never imagined his new career as jolly Saint Nick would lead to another new career in television, movies and commercials, including a recent co-starring gig with Mr. Mucus, the green-faced, oval-shaped booger-man mascot of Mucinex. Plot spoiler: Mr. Mucus saves Christmas, and Santa is able to deliver the presents.
In October 2020, Bob retired from the Brooklawn School District in Camden County after 29 years as a music and technology teacher. The former president of the Audubon School Board, he’s always had a flair for the dramatic. He’s a former professional opera singer and has run several marathons and triathlons. In his first year as Santa at The Mall at Short Hills Mall, he experienced plenty more drama. During one of his first mall shifts, a little girl urinated while she sat on his lap. A woman whose husband had recently passed visited the Santa display at the mall. She was carrying an urn with ashes, explaining that her husband had always loved Christmas and she wanted to give him one final visit with Santa. “The woman with her husband’s ashes really choked me up. Santa Claus school doesn’t teach you what to say in that situation. I just tried to be as comforting and supportive as I could be for the woman,” Lee said.
There were innumerable little boys (and a few little girls) who reminded him of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” and asked Santa for potentially dangerous toys meant for much older kids. And there was a little girl named Christina who wrote a letter to Lee’s website, Audubon Santa. Christina was worried about the pandemic and asked Santa if there would be Christmas that year. His reply, reminiscent of the famous 1897 editorial that appeared in The New York Sun newspaper, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” was picked up by the media and published on Thanksgiving 2020 on NJ.com.
Lee balances the role of mall Santa in New Jersey along with auxiliary roles in movies. Photo courtesy of Audubon Santa
While working at The Mall at Short Hills, Lee was approached by an agent who suggested that he seek representation to play Santa and other characters on a larger stage. Married for 36 years, he recalled, chuckling, “When I told my family I wanted to play Santa at the mall, they were supportive. But when I told them I was going to sign with an agency to pursue other acting opportunities, my son looked at me like I was an escapee from a place with very high walls.”
Lee signed with Gale Holvey, agent and owner of the Applaud Talent Agency. Since then, he’s appeared as Santa on “Shark Tank,” where Barbara Corcoran tweaked his long white bead to see if it was real. (It is.) Lee also has appeared as Santa in many TV commercials. In a recent commercial for an energy company, he was a mad scientist bearing an uncanny resemblance to Gene Wilder from “Young Frankenstein.”
Lee poses with Barbara Corcoran of ‘Shark Tank.’ Photo courtesy of Audubon Santa
Lee has also also landed many non-Santa roles in television series and movies. He said, “They generally cast me as a mad scientist, pirate, a motorcycle gang member, a mountain man, a homeless person or someone else on the outskirts of society.
“I’ve done a few horror movies,” Lee said, “including the fifth movie in a Hollywood blockbuster franchise that was filmed recently on the campus of Drew University. I can’t legally tell you the name yet, but it’s a major film in the horror genre.” He also played the character “Uncle Bob” in the ultra-horror flick “Human Hibachi,” a story about cannibalism in which Uncle Bob comes across his nephew and a few of the nephew’s friends roasting a woman on a spit in the woods and decides to join them for dinner. The movie won the 2021 best film award at the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival.
Lee on the set of ‘Tender Days.’ Photo courtesy of Audubon Santa
Lee’s also appeared in the HBO series, “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “The Mare of Easttown” and movies such as “Squatter,” “Tender Days” and “The Unhoused.” While Bob has a steady workload in commercials in Philadelphia and New York City, the acting opportunities have been coming faster now, and the roles are bigger. “I never imagined any of this happening. In the beginning, all I wanted to do was to play Santa Claus in the mall. But I’m being offered really interesting parts. I had never thought of myself as an actor, but I guess the acting bug can bite anyone — even Santa Claus — at any age,” he said.
As busy as Lee has been with acting, commercials and Santa Claus appearances, he still maintains a limited Santa schedule at the Deptford Mall this holiday season. “I love being a mall Santa. Even if I wind up with a leading role in a Hollywood movie, I’ll never forget where this Santa got his start.”
John Kellmayer was a New Jersey school district superintendent for 17 years. He teaches at Stockton University and is the author of nine books.
Congratulations Bob. This is really unbelievable.
Very nice article, Bob! I knew you when… Congratulations!
FABULOUS… To say I know a local celebrity how exciting is that?… Best of luck and all of your future endeavors Bob… Used to see you running past me I thought to myself he’s onto something!
So happy for you…
Used to work with bob, actually his manager as Santa. Gotta tell you he is the only reason I was able to function on some days with how stressful it is to get everything perfect for the kids. He knew how to make everyone smile and was an amazing friend.
Very impressive. Congrats, Bob.
Great story! Keep it going, Santa! ❤️ 🎅
Congratulations Santa!! You’re one heck of an actor and a pretty good commissioner. 😉
Congratulations Bob! Randy and I look for your photos and enjoy reading about your accomplishments all the time.
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JUST IN JERSEY