Thomas Tolbert says he's proud to be 'Santa'

9:25 AM, Jul 26, 2012   |    comments
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ROSWELL, Ga. -- Disney World visitors expect to find a cast of characters when they enter the park -- Mickey, Minnie, maybe Pluto. But Santa Claus?

That's part of the problem. He's not a Disney character, but Roswell resident Thomas Tolbert plays the role so well, the park was concerned that on his recent visit, folks might think he were a cast member.

Even when we caught up with Tolbert at Summer's Landing senior living community where he works,  he was wearing a red and white striped shirt with furry cuffs.

"I committed when I grew the first whisker that I would give up some privacy, but I would be Santa 24/7, 365 days a year," Tolbert said.

Tolbert wasn't wearing a red suit when he went to the park.  Instead, you might say he went Santa-casual, wearing a Hawaiian Santa shirt one day and a white lace-trimmed shirt the other.  Even without the suit, Tolbert says he drew a crowd.  He says kids and even Disney cast members wanted a photo with him.

Tolbert says he didn't invite the attention, but he didn't avoid it either. Disney says he booked his restaurant reservation one night under the name "Santa."

Disney's policy says adults cannot wear costumes of actual Disney characters, masks, clothing with objectionable material on it, torn clothing, or revealing attire. Tolbert argues Santa is not a Disney character, so even if he were in a red suit, it shouldn't be banned. 

But in a statement to 11alive, a Disney spokesperson said, "The guest was asked to change his attire because it was disruptive to our operations and confusing to our other guests, particularly children who asked to take photos with him. He was not asked to leave, instead, we tried to work with him so that he could continue his visit."

Tolbert says a Disney employee pulled him aside and asked him not only to change his clothes, but to deny his identity.

"He said I had to inform anybody that came up to me that I am not who you think I am. I am on vacation and please get away from me or leave me alone," Tolbert said.

Disney denies making such a statement but does say it asked Tolbert to be a bit more low-key about his claim to fame. For the fuss, it offered his family passes to return another day.

Even with the wardrobe change, Tolbert says it didn't make a difference.

"I said the shirt isn't what makes it. It's the face, it's the feature and it's in the heart that makes a Santa," he added.

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