My Dinner With Santa
By Bill Murray
Never before has the world seen such a merry meeting. Claus. Murray. Brandy. Naughty. Nice. Naughty. The historic Equire Santa summit.
How often do the giants—the true giants, the All-Timers, the icons, the capi di tutti capi—get together? Not often. Not really often enough. In these days of manufactured stardom and celebrity du jour, hardly ever. That’s why Esquire asked these two guys—these two monsters—to get together, mano a Santa, for a little Noel nosh and Yuletide yammer. The place: Bistro Latino, 1711 Broadway, New York, New York. Santa had the paella. Murray had a salad. Brandy was served.
Claus: Have you ever been a good boy?
Murray: As good as I’ve ever been.
Claus: I’m not imposing my own standard of goodness. I can’t do that. By your standards, have you been good?
Murray: I say yes. But this good or bad thing—do you know when I’ve been sleeping? Do you know when I’m awake?
Claus: I’m a saint. I have, like, second sight. I see you.
Murray: I can’t believe I’m sitting here with Santa. I mean, you’re god.
Claus: Oh, right. Don’t even start with that. Like I’d ever be here if it weren’t for Jesus. Give me a break. I’m just following the footsteps, baby. Ever hear of a fella by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? Yeah. He makes Santa Claus of the North Pole look like a pygmy. I’m a pygmy.
Murray: But how do you do it? I mean, the whole enchilada, year in and year out? How do you keep it fresh? For yourself?
Claus: I have a practice that I’ve developed over the centuries. Look, I can’t force myself to get into the Christmas spirit. I can’t just walk out there and—bang—feel all Christmassy somehow. So I start buying things for myself. Something nice. Something a little expensive—just a little bit of bling on it. The one that really works is to walk in into Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. If you can walk in there and find something, as a man—A, you had to walk up to the second floor, so you’re already moving, and B, it’s gotta cost you a little money. This year, I bought myself a nice flask.
Murray: I’ve been meaning to do this for one friend of mine—I want to get him a little armored suitcase, one of those steel-cased things. Everyone can use one of those.
Claus: You’ve got one?
Murray: A couple of ‘em, yeah.
Claus: To give somebody a nice suitcase is never a bad idea. Not a knapsack, not a duffel bag—a suitcase. A nice one.
Murray: I have a brother who gives socks for Christmas. He gives socks. Every year, I get a pair of socks from him.
Claus: Nice socks?
Murray: Yes. He lived in a dry gulch where the world of socks and shoes became extremely fascinating, and he felt that everyone needs a good pair of socks, and why not limit his gift-giving to something that everybody needs? He thought there was something humorous about it. So he gives socks. The first year I had money, I really went shopping. I got really caught up in it. I bought all my brothers sets of luggage, and I bought ‘em winter coats from Giorgio Armani—winter coats. And I got a pair of socks from this brother. I could tell by the look on his face that he was having a moment in front of himself, so I thought, Well, next year it’ll change. But it didn’t—he’s continued to give socks.
Claus: Mmmm…yeah. I know that feeling.
Murray: I’m not an ungenerous person; I don’t resent it. It’s just sort of a head-scratcher.
Claus: Is this Brian?
Murray: Let’s just say a brother.
Claus: It’s Brian, isn’t it? I know—it’s Brian.
Murray: Yes. Oh, yes. Brian gives socks. He’s the only one who would stick with it and think it’s funny.
Claus: When I’m on the street out there, I see the people walking. They’re on their way somewhere. They forget that the Christmas spirit is all around. It’s happening, right there. They’re not on their way to meet the Christmas spirit; they’re not on their way to perform the Christmas spirit, act it out, or to witness it, but it’s in them, right there, and it’s capable of manifesting at any second. If you wake up to it, it’s here. It’s right here, right now.
Murray: You’re large, Santa. You’re huge.
Claus: People always say, Don’t you wish Christmas was all year round? But people don’t have that kind of intensity all year round. They couldn’t possibly do it all year round. The Christmas spirit exists every day of the year, but people just aren’t made to take that intensity for more than a couple weeks a year.
Murray: Those glasses are great—kind of a David Crosby thing.
Claus: You know Crosby?
Murray: Not really. I saw him on the new Hollywood Squares yesterday.
Claus: There’s something frightening about that show.
Murray: There always was. I wasn’t gonna flip until I figured out who everyone was. Crosby was an easy one. There’s somebody named Kim Fields. Who the hell is Kim Fields? No idea.
Claus: Totie’s granddaughter?
Murray: If that would’ve worked, I’d go with it. Totie Fields is one of my benchmarks for a lot of things. There was a standard of show business. After the amputation, I saw her—it had to be Vegas. A small room in Vegas. Her act was rough. I mean, it was rough. It was a blue act. Pickled with quarts of schmaltz. Her finale was, she’d sing this song, some piece of original material written for her. She was working on a stool. “Any fields that Totie Fields can land on/Long as I’ve got a leg to stand on.”—and she’d try to get up on her one leg and the wooden one. Oh, she staggered. There was one more line, but it was designed to be drowned out in the applause.
Murray: She had a wheelchair pusher, but when she’s finished, he doesn’t push her out. He backs her out. He’s backing her into the wings, and she’s waving thank you and goodnight. Kept me awake for hours.
Murray: That’s the benchmark. Those are the formative moments, Miss Totie Fields.
Claus: How’s Rushmore doing? I’ve heard nice things.
Murray: It just goes to show you—you take no money for a job and it turns out good.
Claus: No money?
Murray: No money. I took a flier. I think they paid for my hotel room, but it was like “If it does okay, you’ll be okay.” Which never means anything. But I liked the script so much, I just said, I’ll do this. Anybody who can write this knows exactly what he’s doing. I’d like you to give Wes Anderson, the director, enough money in his next budget for an aerial shot—just a little copter shot. He really wanted this one helicopter shot, and Disney wouldn’t give him the money. Just wouldn’t give him the money. Every day, he was talking to the studio about this helicopter shot.
Claus: That’s Disney—no shame.
Murray: They’re tough in the shame area. There’s a very powerful shame filter at the gate to the place.
Claus: I saw Eisner on one of the morning shows. They asked him to name the Seven Dwarfs. He wouldn’t even try. Refused to even try.
Murray: You’d think he’d know. I mean, they are on the pillars that hold the fucking building up. He sees them every day.
Claus: You know ‘em?
Murray: Ah…Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy…Doc…
Claus: That’s the tough one, Doc. Okay—that’s five.
Murray: Let’s see…Mookie?
Claus: Close. You know the one about what’s pink and has seven small dents in it?
Murray: Yep. I had a good line this morning. I met a woman who photographed celebrity dogs for a book, and she told me that Ralph Lauren’s dog is named Rugby. I said, Yeah, but his real name is Stickball.
Claus: You know what I liked? Scrooged. That’s a quality piece of work.
Murray: Thanks. That reminds me of a story—not repeatable, but I’ll tell you. We’re creating a TV show of Scrooge, starring Jamie Farr, with Buddy Hackett as Scrooge. We’re shooting in this Victorian set for months, and Hackett is pissed all the time, angry that he’s not the center of attention, and finally we get him to the scene where we’ve gotta shoot him at the window, and he’s saying, “Go get my boots,” or whatever. The set is stocked with Victorian extras and little children in Oliver kind of outfits, and the director says, “All right, Bud—Just give it whatever you want.” And Hackett goes off on a rant. Unbelievably obscene. He’s talking—this is Hackett, not me—about the Virgin Mary, a limerick sort of thing, and all these children and families…the look of absolute horror, and the camera’s still rolling. You can hear it, sort of a grinding noise. And the director says, “Anything else, Bud?”
Claus: Ho-ho-ho. Classic. That guy’s a lump of coal with legs. By the way, I saw What About Bob on TV the other night, on cable. I liked it.
Murray: It was a good premise. I’ve had lots of good premises.
Claus: What happened?
Murray: The critics. When they’re right, they’re right for the wrong reasons. And they’re usually wrong. I was at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards one year—they called me up when somebody canceled two days before the thing, and asked me to present some awards. So I went, and one of the funniest film moments I’ve ever had was when they introduced the New York film critics. They all stood up—motley isn’t the word for that group. Everybody had some sort of vision problem, some sort of damage—I had to bury myself in my napkin. As they kept going, it just got funnier and funnier looking. By the time they were all up, it was like, “You have been selected as the people who have been poisoned—you were the unfortunate people who were not in the control group that didn’t receive the medication.”
Claus: You’re a funny guy. I mean, funny. This was nice—I’m so glad we got together. I’ve got to grab a cab to LaGuardia and head back. The season’s starting.
Murray: You’re the man, Claus. You. Are. The. Man.
Claus: Let me get the check.
Murray: Put it away. You’re in New York. Don’t even—no. Forget about it. It’s autumn—you don’t even exist. Get out of my town. This is my town—get away.
Claus: Fine. I’ll put a few bucks down for the trip.
Murray: Put it away, Claus, hey! He takes your money, I’ll rip this place apart. Get away. Get outta here. Look—when we go to the Arctic, your treat.