Buffalo’s Christmases Past: Channel 4’s Santa Show

By Steve Cichon

From 1948 to 1973, the children of Buffalo knew who the one, true Santa was — and it was the guy who read their letters on Channel 4.

During most of the 25 years the show aired, Hengerer’s sponsored the show to run from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve for 15 minutes on weekdays, a little longer on Saturdays. In 1956, the show that delivered approximately 50,000 letters to Santa through its run became Buffalo’s first locally-produced show regularly presented in color.

Two men played Santa on Channel 4. Announcer Ed Dinsmore was the first St. Nick from the show’s inception until his death in 1954. Station program director Bill Peters — who was also known on the Van Miller Show as Norman Oklahoma — played Santa from 1954 until the end of the show’s run 19 years later.

Santa, however, was barely the star of the show. Forgetful the Elf, played memorably by WBEN copy writer John Eisenberger, was there for the entire run of the show from 1948 to ’73. Not only was the elf he played forgetful, but he was silly. Most shows revolved around Forgetful trying to paint Santa’s sleigh with polka dots, or trying to convince Santa to get rid of his “old fashioned” red suit for something as bit more modern. Hundreds of times through the show’s quarter century, Forgetful was seen greasing up the reindeer’s antlers, with the hopes of making them go faster.

This clip is the only known remaining video from the long run of the Santa show. It’s not from the broadcast of the show– but from 8mm home movies shot by a Channel 4 crew member.  This brief video shows Peters as Santa, Eisenberger as Forgetful, and Brook as Grumbles.

The soundtrack for the film is Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” which was used as the show’s theme song. It was also frequently used during the Christmas season by WBEN’s legendary morning man Clint Buehlman.

No full episodes or even short clips of this show — which ran for 25 years — are known to exist. The show was usually presented live, and recording was a more costly and difficult endeavor than it is today.

Santa and Forgetful had plenty of helpers through the years, all of whom — just like Peters and Eisenberger — had other jobs around the station. Grumbles the Elf was played by executive director Gene Brook and then floor manager Bud Hagman. Another director, Warren Jacober, played Freezy the Polar Bear. There were countless other puppets and guest stars, but none rising even close to the popularity of Eisneberger’s Forgetful.

The show ended along with Bill Peters’ death in 1973. Eisenberger died in 1984 at the age of 72.

Eisenberger as Forgetful and Peters as Santa. (Buffalo Stories archives/Steve Cichon collection)


Remembering WBEN-TV’s Visit With Santa (And Forgetful the Elf)

By Steve Cichon

Santa's WorkshopBUFFALO, NY – Alternately known as “A Visit with Santa,” “Santa’s Workshop,” or some combination thereof, The Santa Show brought the magic of the north pole into Buffalo living rooms on WBEN-TV from 1948 to 1973. The show ran for 15 minutes daily at 5pm from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and was the brainchild of WBEN-TV pioneer Fred Keller.

Santa was played by two men during the show’s 25 year run. Ed Dinsmore played the Jolliest of Elves from 1948 until his untimely death in 1954. WBEN staffer Bill Peters stepped in, and played the role for 19 years. Besides the Big Man, Warren Jacboer played “Freezy the Polar Bear,” both Gene Brook and Bud Hagman played “Grumbles the Elf,” and, arguably the most memorable cast member was Forgetful the Elf… as played by Johnny Eisenberger for nearly the entire run of the show.

The program was simple by our modern day TV standards– most of the 15 minutes consisted of Santa reading letters from WNY boys and girls. But its long run– and the feelings it engendered– makes it an all-time Buffalo classic.

Channel 4 helped deliver, on average, 50,000 letters a year to Ol’ St. Nick. The show was the first regular program broadcast in color in Buffalo starting in 1956.

The Two Men who Played Santa

Ed Dinsmore: Santa 1948-1954
Bill Peters: Santa 1954-1973



Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com
Reformatted & Updated pages from staffannouncer.com finding a new home at buffalostories.com