Moments of Comfort and Joy :...

Times staff writer

“Ho-ho-ho!” said Santa. “Gr-r-r-r-r-r!” replied Merv the terrier, straining at his red leash and planting his paws firmly on the carpet as he backed off from jolly old St. Nick.

“C’mon, sweetheart,” coaxed Carolyn Diliberto of Marina del Rey, who had brought the fuzzy, brown and white Jack Russell terrier to be photographed with Santa. She had rescued him 18 months ago from an abusive kennel and now, she said, “He’s going to be a portrait.” She winced. “A portrait in lack of cooperation. His real name is Willowall Merlin of Runamuck. Well named.”

Merv, still sizing Santa up, tried to wiggle off his knee. “He doesn’t like men,” Diliberto explained. Merv barked.

“A lot of them are afraid of Santa’s outfit,” said volunteer photographer Mildred Traeger.


“Ho-ho-ho! Hello, Lucy, that’s a good girl,” said Santa, encouraging a shepherd-akita mix with a red and green ribbon around her neck to settle down between his booted feet. “She does a ‘Stay,’ ” suggested Lucy’s owner, Denise Pearlman. Do a ‘Stay,’ sharply. . . .”

Denise and Ron Pearlman took their places on either side of Santa’s throne and smiled for the camera. As Traeger snapped the portrait, one of Santa’s helpers got Lucy’s attention with a squeaking rubber cabbage.

“This is our baby,” said Denise, stroking the dog’s head. “She had a bath for this.” Denise, a gymnastics coach, and Ron, a firefighter, had brought Lucy from Burbank for the photo shoot. As a family, they will be a Christmas card.

Throughout the day, the pet parade (by appointment only) continued at Petco in Santa Monica, which lent a hand to the nonprofit Friends of Animals Foundation for its sixth “Picture Your Pet With Santa” project. The basic photo cost $25, with the money helping the group to rescue and place abandoned dogs and cats.


Over three weekends, about 300 animal lovers brought their pets to pose with Santa. Among the immortalized were a bearded collie named Earnest and Gloria, an aged, one-toothed Siamese cat.

As a shivering Chihuahua wearing a rhinestone collar came into view, Traeger smiled. “I can imagine what they think,” she said. “That we’re all crazy and they’re humoring us.”

But it was for a good cause. Friends of Animals Foundation (P.O. Box 34-1230, Los Angeles, Calif. 90034) has lost its West L.A. shelter lease. With about 100 animals in its care, the group needs $25,000 to establish another.

“These are the lucky dogs and cats,” said Traeger, a Friends volunteer, of the groomed and beribboned mutts and purebreds. “This is the one happy time of the year for us.”


Nearby, volunteer Martha Wyss was signing in Maximilian, a scene-stealing blonde cocker pup. “Martha is the Mother Teresa of dogdom,” Traeger said.

“Santa” Sherman Figland is paid to pose with pampered children at such lofty locales as the Bel-Air Bay Club, but this stint was free, “for the girls.” Besides, he has birds, a dog and two rabbits at home.

Figland, who will turn 80 on Christmas Day, has been playing Santa for 27 years, six for Friends of Animals. He has yet to encounter a pet that made a social error on his Santa suit, but he said: “I’ve had babies puddle on me.”

Lane Karsh of Brentwood and daughter Dawn arrived with the odd couple, a sheepdog-springer spaniel mix called Patches and Bo, a Yorkshire terrier. Another couple brought a rabbit, a dog and two parrots, one of which kept trying to hide in Santa’s beard.


Santa was there to oblige all--well, almost all. “I won’t sit with a snake,” Figland said firmly. “I’ve never been able to warm up to a snake. One of those hippies brought in a great big python last year. I said, ‘Get out of here!’ “OK, Higgins, ho, ho, ho!” said Santa to a large, and very wary, German shepherd. Higgins’ owner, J.P. Miller of Playa del Rey, explained: “He thinks he’s going to the hospital.”

The parade continued. “Hello, sweethearts, Santa loves you . . . “

“What are they?” a puzzled Santa asked of one pair of mid-sized brownish dogs. They were Shiba Inus, a Japanese breed.

A dog of dubious lineage and friendly bearing snuggled at Santa’s feet. Traeger peered through her lens. The dog’s owner admonished her pet: “Don’t look so fat!”


About 150 of the star-struck, the curious and the charitable turned up at the World Cafe in Santa Monica one evening to nibble spinach pancakes, pesto pizza and brownies and to bid on clothing that once hung in star wardrobes. It was the first celebrity auction sponsored by Ocean Park Community Center as a fund-raiser for Turning Point, its shelter for homeless adults.

Up for bid was an eclectic bag of goods, including a dressing robe that had belonged to Joan Rivers, a “Moonstruck” script autographed by Cher, a hat that had been Willie Nelson’s and a “Fatal Attraction” poster signed by Michael Douglas.

“Bid with your heart tonight,” auctioneer Tom Herreid cajoled. Vivian Rothstein, executive director of the Community Center, reminded everyone that every $15 raised means one night’s shelter for a homeless person.

Even so, there were no takers for a straw hat worn by Larry Hagman on “Dallas” (minimum bid, $175) or a wig once worn by Elvira or, at $300 minimum bid, a pineapple headpiece worn by Bette Midler in “Bette Midler Live.” Also going begging were a shirt that had belonged to Desi Arnaz and pajamas worn by Bob Hoskins in the new movie, “Mermaids.”


A pair of white golf shoes, Size 9, autographed by Johnny Carson, went for $150 to a bidder who identified herself only as Cristina and who said she was a collector, not a golfer. She also bought the autographed copy of Michael Jackson’s “Moon Walk” book, which at $120 she considered a real treasure.

Claire Moran, who works at the shelter, had no intention of buying a puppy, but went home to her apartment with a pair of Australian Shepherd mixes, a package complete with grooming, shots and training, for which she paid $220.

“I just thought they were helpless,” Moran explained. “And it goes to a great cause.” She was already thinking of names, toying with Gibson for one. “They are Australian,” she said.

“Star Wares on Main” provided the celebrity togs, with profits going to the center. A beaded red Shirley Jones gown (Size 6) went for $100, but a beaded jeans jacket that belonged to Holly Robinson brought $230.


Bidding was brisk for a Christmas card with a signed original sketch of Harvey by James Stewart. It went for $220. But the high-ticket item of the evening, selling for $625, was a walk-on part on “Cheers.” When the last “Sold!” had sounded, the Community Center had netted about $4,000.

The happiest person in the room must have been the one in the rags-and-tatters clown suit with a rubber chicken flapping at one knee and a bat perched at the neck, an ensemble he described as “Pee Wee Herman Gone Wrong.”

Why had he just paid $625 for the “Cheers” walk-on? “Because I couldn’t get it any cheaper.” He introduced himself as Armando Creeper--no, not his real name “but I don’t talk about that.”

Armando’s credits include a video for “Fangoria Magazine’s Weekend of Horrors” and appearances at assorted haunted houses. As for his “Cheers” gig, he said, “I intend to show up like this.” Even clowns, it seems, have an angle.


The activity room at the Hollywood Senior Multipurpose Center was festooned with foil bells and red and green streamers. It was early afternoon and strains of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” filled the hall.

Guests were being reminded that L.A. Councilman Mike Roos’ office had provided the souvenir sipper bottles being distributed. One gentleman wanted to know, “Are you allowed to put Scotch in there?” He laughed, enjoying his own joke.

Dan Fagell and his combo segued into “Winter Wonderland.” Twirling and dipping, Emily and Patrick Lachicha of Long Beach, both septuagenarians, glided across the linoleum floor. The sequins on his red shirt sparkled; the skirt of her red dress swirled.

“Ladies’ choice!” Fagell announced, as the band swung into “I’m in the Mood for Love.” In the center of the floor, among the dancing pairs, four elderly women linked hands and moved in a slowly rotating circle. “There’s always a shortage of men,” said Claryce Russell, volunteer coordinator at the center.


Seated in a row of folding chairs against a mirrored wall, some of the “Alzheimer’s people,” as they are known in the center’s day-care program, smiled and tapped their feet to the beat. They couldn’t wait to dance again.

They could be distinguished from the others only by the small beepers attached to their clothing, to prevent them from wandering, as staff members put it. Pleasure was written on their faces. These events help keep them “within the here and now,” said Emma Kelly, who runs the Alzheimer’s center. “Those two, music and dancing, if nothing else, works.”

Boris and Christina, who both have Alzheimer’s, danced almost every dance together, and there was no cutting-in here. “We have cultivated a couple of romances in this place,” Russell observed approvingly. “The ladies like Boris.”

Never mind that the ladies’ dancing shoes were sneakers, their ball gowns polyester pantsuits. Their joy was contagious. A man polka-ed across the floor with a woman on each arm. The coffee and cookies were just fine, but the music. . . . Marco, 79, who has Alzheimer’s, was dancing a swing number with nurse Josephine Riley.


Shine On, Harvest Moon ... For Me and My Gal ... My Happiness ...

“I’m having a ball,” said John Vincent, 64, reed-slim in a Western-style shirt and striped pants. “These ladies won’t leave me alone.”

These Foolish Things . . . Don’t Get Around Much Anymore . . .

Writer David Horowitz (co-author, with Peter Collier of “The Kennedys--An American Drama”) had escorted his mother, Blanche, 82, to the dance. She had had a stroke and is in the day-care program.


“I dreaded this old folks stuff,” he said, “but this is a great place.”

Dancing with one of her clients was silver-haired Stella Solomon, assistant director of the day-care center. She wore a holiday sweat shirt, red with a big gold palm tree. Don’t ask her age, she said, laughing--"No one will ask me to dance any more.”

It was 3 o’clock and the crowd was thinning. “They’ve probably been up since 5:30,” Russell said.

As the band played “Bill Bailey,” David and Blanche Horowitz, holding hands, did a little jig step out the door.