Artist Mark Klaus loves this time of year, and his 6,000-square-foot museum offers visitors a closer look at some of their favorite holiday movie memories. Lynne Thompson
Mark Klaus’ dream began with a fake frosted doughnut — a foam-and-resin decoration that hung on a Christmas tree in the opening scenes of the big-budget film version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Hinckley-based sculptor was so intrigued by an eBay listing for a paper-thin slice of the movie prop to initiate an exchange of e-mails with the seller. When Klaus learned she was planning to slice all five Grinch doughnuts for charity, he immediately offered to purchase the ornaments before she took a knife to them.
“When I held one of those doughnuts in my hand, I thought, Wow! This is really cool. I wonder how much of this kind of stuff you can find out there,” Klaus, now 46, recalls.
The answer can be found at Hollywood Christmas Movieland, Klaus’ 6,000-square-foot museum of holiday movie memorabilia at the Westfield Great Northern Mall in North Olmsted. He has amassed what Klaus estimates as more than $1 million worth of items — enough for him to bill it as “the world’s largest privately held collection of Christmas movie props and costumes.”
The stash of Grinch movie props, which includes the Grinch’s 16-foot-long sleigh and Martha May’s outrageous engagement ring, numbers more than 700 pieces. Other collectibles include the window-display sleigh and reindeer from the opening scene of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street and the 9-foot fiberglass Frosty the Snowman Tim Allen hoisted atop his house in the 2004 flick Christmas With the Kranks.
“I just don’t quit,” Klaus says of his search for memorabilia to fill the museum, which first opened in Broadview Heights last year.
Klaus’s museum is as much about presentation as content. Costumes from the 1999 TV version of A Christmas Carol, for example, are in the storefronts of a 19th-century London street set while the uniforms worn by waiters in the final Chinese-restaurant scene of the 1983 favorite A Christmas Story are housed in a pagoda-shaped case. “Snow” falls on visitors as they pass the Miracle on 34th Street display, and original commercials for ’50s, ’60s and ’70s toys play on old TVs.
Perhaps no one is better suited to assemble such an attraction than the Seven Hills native. There’s his name, spelled “like Santa Claus with a ‘K’ ” (“I did not change it,” he insists), and St. Nick-like appearance. And, of course, there’s his art — limited editions of cold-cast porcelain works, ranging from $20 ornaments to a $65 manger set, sold on TV shopping channel QVC.
“When I was a kid, I would dress up as Santa Claus on that last day of school before Christmas vacation,” he says. “I would buy candy canes with my own money, take them to school and give them to all the kids.” The gig continued through high school, when Klaus began offering free Christmas Eve “run-bys,” sprints by the homes of friends and relatives who arranged to have their children at a window to get a glimpse of the real Santa Claus.
More Clevelanders might know him for Live From the North Pole With Mark Klaus, a series of variety-style radio specials he wrote, produced and hosted on WHK and WTAM in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Klaus says the motivation for all of his endeavors is the same: to create a unique holiday memory for children and adults.
“There’s something lost in the convenience of having Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on DVD or turning on cable and watching Elf in July or August,” he says. “Those moments aren’t as special as they once were. If I can bring that to people, then I’ve done my job.”