Friday, December 11, 2009

Gus Bernier ("Uncle Gus")

It's that time of year when what has become depressing about the holiday season triggers memories of holiday seasons past when the holiday season was the Christmas season and hardly anybody was afraid to utter the phrase, "Merry Christmas."

Now, when you utter the phrase, you are being bold and defiant.


Oops, there's another un-utterable holiday phrase!

And it's his birthday!

I digress.

So as I fight, fight, fight to return this time of year to its former stature (i.e., better than Thanksgiving), I remember a guy who contributed greatly to making Christmas Christmas for me back in the day.

Gus Bernier. Just a guy who pretty much ran the old WMUR TV station in Manchester in the fifties and a bit into the sixties. I got the impression he showed up in the morning, opened the door of the station, cranked up the broadcasting equipment, and then did everything until he went home, probably after eight or nine in the evening. He did the news and weather, I'm pretty sure about that. And he had a kiddie show, called "The Uncle Gus Show," which ran a while.

But the reason I remember him, and the reason I bring him up today, is that I believed he was Santa Claus.

Yeah, I said "believed."

Sometime in December each year when I was extraordinarily young, Gus did himself up as Santa, sat behind a WMUR desk, and transformed himself. The show would open, as I recall it, with what had to be a miniature igloo or something being dusted by WMUR snow. There was a window in the igloo and the camera zoomed in to the window, then opened up on Gus as Santa. He had an elf, named Ooglook (forgive the spelling, I have no idea), who could have been a man or a woman, and who had the voice of a bursting steam pipe. Bernier's voice was perfect--booming, happy, blustery. He would spend the first part of the show talking to us kids, directly into the camera, as if each of us was his own personal visitor. The television was like Santa's lap, and, since he came on at about 5:00, we watched and listened as we had dinner, or "suppa" as we called it back then.

After this, he would go to his workshop, and show us (and our parents, who, in those days, had "suppa" with the kids) all the new toys he and his elves had "built" at the North Pole. For some reason, which we kids neither understood nor tried to understand, he would tell us (and our parents) that if we wanted to take a closer look at the toys he had built, all we (and our parents) had to do was visit his "friends at Mattel" or wherever. Sponsorship taken care of.

And that's pretty much it. He was as believable a television character as any of the greats--Ed Norton, Barney Fife, Archie Bunker, Cartman--and when I woke up as a very young child and found gifts under the tree, it was this guy I believed had visited the house the night before, left the gifts, ate the cookies and milk.

To me, that's an astonishing accomplishment for an actor.

Well, making me believe, I mean. The cookies and milk--any actor could do that. Most would.

Thanks, Gus.

Merry Christmas.


  1. Jim and I were just talking about this!

  2. Hi Jack, What a great memory watching Santa every evening after supper on Channel 9. My brief research looking for Uncle Gus, reminded me of other local TV shows, such as, Captain Bob, Rex Trailor, Major Mudd, Romper Room, and Bozo. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

  3. I have been a Santa close to 40 years.I played the roll as the Singing Santa at the Rockingham Mall,Salem N.N.for about 8 years and now I perform as the Singing Santa at the Mall of Waycross ,Waycross Ga.

    Gus Bernier in my mind was my mentor.He was so believable to the point as a child I faithfully watched him on WMUR TELEVISION every night and would do so with such antisipation because he had the gift to make you think he truly was the real deal.Of course Gus didn't sing where as I do and I have incorporated this novelty into my program and I also dance with many children that faithfully come see me each and every year at the Mall.The gift of being a goodwill ambassador Comes from God. But it was Gus Bernier who helped me as my mentor to be the best and most believable Santa a child could come and see.If he only new just how important he was to a child like me back when not knowing this to would be a gift that he was apart of in planting that seed in me .Tho I never met Gus Bernier I will always be internally greatful for his contributions to me a s a child and and as years passed what would turn out to be years and years of trying to be the best Santa hope fully a child would see.Thank you Santa and Uncle Gus for a gift that you instilled in me. Ho Ho Ho !!!!!!!! Frank Skinner/Wycross Ga.

  4. "God Bless Gus Bernier...he was truly a saint and an angel to alot of kids...and a good weatherman."

  5. I remember being on the show one time and being "interviewed" by Gus. I was a member of the Spacetown Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps and was trying to "drum up "interest in other kids joining.
    I guess wonder bread was one of the sponsors because on each show one lucky kid got to take home a loaf. I was not one of them.

  6. I remember Santa on WMUR Do you know who the mailman was that Santa use to call. iT was Tom Tom

    Ray Philibotte
    Goffstown NH

  7. I miss the innocense of that era. I would love to see those shows again!

  8. It's too bad that nobody seems to have, even a photograph, of Gus being Santa... or of Oogluk. If you remember right, there was this trough that hung from the ceiling. Every night he would have the trough pivot down and letters would dump onto his desk.

    I remember one time that the tray came down, hitting him on the head. This caused his hat to slide off, which revealed him. My mother, being clever and quick said that she had diverted my attention going, "Look! out in the corn field! What IS that?"

    I looked, of course, and thus never actually saw it happen. By the time I had looked-back - it was over. I only know about it because Ma told me, years-later, what had happened.

    After he was done he'd say, magically, "Up, Up and AWAY!" with a great Santa chuckle. He was the only one I ever saw who could make 'Ho, Ho, Ho," actually SOUND like laughter.

    After the letters had dumped onto his desk, he would go through them and read the letters to Santa from actual kids who had sent them in.

    I would say that Oogluk was, most-likely, a girl. (her) voice was extremely high and piercing. It is rather strange that nobody has ever come forward and said, "I was Oogluk on that show."

    Uncle Gus was so many helpful things. Not only did he do News; he was the weather man, did the Uncle Gus show where he'd have kids see how many states they could name on a US Map, also played a cartoon called, "Tom Terrific and his Mighty Dog Manfred"... as well as Popeye the Sailor cartoons and others.