Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Best Santa Claus in the World": Schenectady's Frank Mauro

Frank Mauro acts the part of Santa Claus at the Carl Company department store in 1951. From Larry Hart Collection. 

When the Carl Company closed its doors in Schenectady, one sentiment written in a memory book made available to the store's customers in the weeks before the store's closing read, "The Carl Company had the best Santa Claus in the world!" This sentiment could likely have referred to Frank Mauro, who acted as Santa for the Carl Company for three decades.

The interior of the Carl Company department store during the holiday shopping season, ca. 1950. From Larry Hart Collection. 

Frank Mauro was born in Italy and moved with his parents, Louis and Antonetta, to the United States in 1910. By 1919, the family had moved to Schenectady. Mauro's first publicity as an artist came in 1921, when he was mentioned in a Schenectady Gazette article about a kite-making contest in Pleasant Valley Park: "Frank Mauro, a young contestant, has been amusing a large crowd with his comic cartoons. Every day a different cartoon appears on the bulletin board and it pays to read them over, as they often are scenes happening in the park." He was then only 15 years old. He began his working life at G.E., where he worked until he established his used car dealership, Mauro Auto Sales, in 1936. He married Rose Furlano that year, and the couple went on to have two children. Mauro would continue to work as an auto dealer until his retirement in 1984.

Mauro's commitment to art and entertainment ran through his entire life, and he often drew in public to entertain others. A 1932 Gazette article described Mauro's efforts in drawing crowds to the Carl Company during a sale of fur coats: "at 11 o'clock a young man in painter's smock stepped into the window, adjusted a big easel and went to work drawing quickly on the big sheet of paper. The crowds soon gathered. He drew and there appeared an amusing fat boy and his little dog. Quickly lettering a message at the top of the paper the artist, Frank F. Mauro, introduced his cartoon boy, Dick Doolittle Dunn and dog. After that the sheets were filled with pictures of Dick in different amusing poses always saying something about the Carl fur sale . . . All the time the artist, Mr. Mauro, was drawing quickly and cleverly so that the succeeding scenes seemed like a moving picture. It amused the crowds greatly and many of the women and girls stopped in to see the bargains in coats which the store was offering." Mauro copyrighted his images of newspaper-boy Dick Doolittle Dunn and his dog Fido that year, and continued to draw them for years. Historian Larry Hart notes that the duo appeared in local publications, but in searching newspapers and other documents in our library, I have not yet come across any of Mauro's work.

This photo of Mauro in his later life appeared with his obituary in the March 13, 1987 Schenectady Gazette. Below his photo and name, it read "Was a Carl Co. Santa." Image obtained via Google News Archives.  

During World War II, Mauro painted shop windows and billboards to promote the sale of war bonds to Schenectadians. In 1942, in preparation for "Tank Week," a week-long drive to sell war stamps and bonds to fund the purchase of an ALCO-made M-3 tank for General MacArthur, the Schenectady Gazette highlighted Mauro's artwork: "Some of the stores in the city began to take on a tank week atmosphere yesterday when Frank Mauro, local artist, started decorating windows with a water color outline of one of the big tanks. Thus far he has been engaged to decorate 35 windows and hopes to do more if time will permit. He is doing this work without charge as his contribution to the campaign." Gazette editorial column writer "Van" wrote that Mauro also made sketches of Dick Doolittle Dunn in support of the war bond effort in Crescent Park over the course of several months. Van also added that in addition to his talents as an artist, Mauro was "an A-1 yarn spinner and is seldom seen without a cigar in his mouth."

Mauro was especially engaged with sharing his love of cartooning with local children. He began teaching cartoon classes for children and regularly giving cartooning demonstrations during the 1930s and headed a local Cartoon Club. During the summer of 1949, he gave free cartooning classes to children nearly every day of the week at 13 of the city's parks and playgrounds, reaching nearly 500 local kids. He often was featured as an entertainer at the Schenectady Hobby Show and Central Park Play Day and other local festivals and holiday celebrations. During the 1950s, he brought cheer to children in Sunnyview Hospital through his sketches and cartoons. Cartooning even followed him to his place of business; a 1950 Schenectady Gazette article noted that between 35 and 40 youngsters gathered every day after school to receive a quick sketch from Mauro or have him look at their drawings. Mauro said he enjoyed having the children visit and that it wasn't a hindrance to conducting business -- if a customer came in, the children would wait.

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