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Ho! Ho! Huh?! Santa Fired From Job at Mall : Employment: He’s told his natural beard was too yellow and drew complaints. Dying the hair just didn’t work.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a hearty “Ho! Ho! Ho!,” Richard Lintz dares suspicious children to yank on his beard if they don’t believe the man in the red suit is the real thing.

But Lintz, who grew his beard so he wouldn’t have to wear a fake one while playing Santa Claus at shopping centers, claimed Wednesday he was fired from his job at the Mission Viejo Mall because mall officials complained his facial hair just wasn’t snowy white enough.

“In the four years that I’m doing this, I’ve had nothing but compliments on my beard,” said Lintz, who said young children point at him and yell “Santa!” even when he’s not in full holiday dress.

“I can’t believe this has happened to me. It’s Christmas and I’m out of a job.”

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Officials at the Mission Viejo Mall confirmed they fired Lintz over the color of his beard because several customers complained the beard was too yellow. Efforts to use cosmetics to whiten the growth failed, so Lintz had to go, mall spokeswoman Isabel Dixon said.

“We received some customer complaints,” Dixon said. “We asked that the beard be taken care of. Apparently that was not done. We asked that he be replaced and he has been.”

Lintz said he worked for the Mission Viejo Mall last year--without any complaints about his beard. This year, he said he took up his post in the mall’s center the day after Thanksgiving and immediately faced grumblings from mall officials that his beard was tinged with too much yellow.

He said he even tried beauty products.

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“I was sitting there gagging on the dyes and fumes. It’s a little bit whiter, but I guess they’re still not happy. What can I do? I’m a natural blond.”

Lintz, a Los Angeles resident, said he went home Tuesday night to a cold message: Don’t bother coming back to work.

Wearing a fake beard was never offered as an option, he added.

“But even if they asked me to, I would have said ‘No.’ There’s nothing wrong with my beard.”

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Several mall-goers said Wednesday that they recalled Lintz as a Santa who could coax the crankiest kid into smiling for the camera.

“Bah, humbug! to them,” said Jessie Allens of Mission Viejo, who brought her 3-year-old daughter to the mall for a picture with Santa Claus. “That’s not the Christmas spirit.”

“I remember him from last year; he was a very good Santa,” said Kathy Aldrian of Dana Point, who brought grandson Nick to the mall for his annual holiday picture.

Several of Lintz’s co-workers said they were upset by the firing but declined to comment out of fear for their jobs. Other mall employees were also disappointed.

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“I can’t believe it,” said Edward Lara, who works in a fast-food restaurant in the mall where Lintz sometimes ate. “It’s especially sad that it’s the holiday.”

Lintz, who gives his age as “over 60,” said he began playing Santa about four years ago when he fell on hard times and was trying to make ends meet on his Social Security check. He said he found he had a knack for the job.

“When you’re looking at 5,000 kids a season, you can consider that work,” he said. “But I make it fun. I’ve got lots of toys and goodies, so when I have a kid who doesn’t want his picture taken, I know what to do: Be gentle, get their confidence and then we go from there.”

Lintz said he is trying not to be depressed over losing his job. He said he has a few other side jobs as Saint Nick, but the Mission Viejo Mall was his main source of income.

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“I have to look at it and say, ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles,’ ” he said. “I think I’ve been done wrong, but what can I do?”


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