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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


France coming back to Berlin; performer playing Santa Claus

(Dec. 3, 2015) Ed France is not your usual small town person. Among other things, he has performed for three presidents and joined a trio of circuses during a performing career that spans nearly six decades.
On Saturday, the 74-year-old Berlin native will return to his hometown to greet children as Santa Claus at the visitor’s center on 14 South Main Street.
He is the son of the late Ned France, the former owner and operator of Uncle Ned’s Bargain Fair on Mill Street, a well-known shop famous for its colorful proprietor.
“Everybody called him ‘Uncle Ned,’” France said of his father.
At the age of 4, France moved to nearby Bishopville, where he said he was “brought up and raised on a chicken farm.”
Five years later, he moved to Baltimore with his grandparents. He started performing in public at age 15, playing Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in shopping centers and “five-and-dime” stores.
“I got involved in the entertainment business because of my father doing magic,” he said. “My father was a quite famous escape artist, and he started showing me tricks and I started getting involved with doing magic and doing kids’ birthday parties at an early age.
“I thought, ‘wow – this is a fun part-time job,’” France added. “It was having fun and getting paid for it at the same time, plus entertaining people and making them happy.”
In the 1970s France worked with stars like Bob Hope, Joey Heatherton and Ray Charles, and regularly took part in the annual Easter Egg Roll at the White House in Washington, D.C.
He remembers meeting Jimmy Carter for the first time while playing “Uncle Sam” during a Bob Hope Bicentennial show in Baltimore in 1976.
“At that time, Carter was running for president,” France said. “He came backstage with his security people during the intermission and he happened to see me and said, ‘Hey, what do you know? I can really say I met the real Uncle Sam.’”
Carter introduced himself, shook hands with France and insisted he call him “Jimmy.”
“I told him I had just done the Easter Egg Roll at the White House back in April, entertaining on the stage there,” France said. “He said, ‘Well, I’m going to make you a promise – if I get to be president, you call the White House and I’m going to see about inviting you and having you there in my term.’”
Carter was elected on Nov. 2, 1976 and sworn in the next year. A few months later, France got a phone call while performing in York, Pa.
“The operator that paged me said, ‘Hey, Ed, you’re not going to believe this – someone’s on the phone from the White House,’” he said.  “I can honestly say that’s one president that I know personally that kept his promise.
“I went there and did the show and it was very nice,” France continued. “I’ve entertained for Nixon and Agnew, and I was there for Gerald Ford and his wife, and we had a very nice luncheon where President Ford came over and talked to me about pheasant hunting.”
France worked for 28 years in Baltimore area hospitals, although he kept up with his juggling and magic shows on the side.
Then, on a whim, he up and joined the circus.  
“I worked for three different circuses and did juggling and plate spinning, and I had a dog act and worked as a clown,” he said.
When traveling became too cost-prohibitive, France returned to his day job, although he eventually retired from that to focus on performing full time, forming a company called Creative Productions.
“I’m like a one-man shop,” he said of his current role. “I have a DJ business, I do weddings and banquets, I do Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, I do George Washington for George Washington Birthday sales, and I’ve entertained at the White House off and on for several years.”
France said he particularly relishes the role of Santa Claus because of the reaction he gets from children. It’s a role and a responsibility he takes very seriously, dating back to the six-week Macy’s training program he took part in during the early part of his performing career.
“The kids sit there and they look at you and tell you what they want for Christmas, and they are so serious,” he said. “They actually believe in you and they’re pouring their hearts out. To look in their eyes – that’s just something that you can’t put a price on.”
On Saturday, he will return to Berlin for the first time in more than six years and will greet children from noon to 3 p.m.
“What I’m looking for is a good turnout of kids – I’m there for the kids,” he said. “When I come to Berlin, I’m looking to meet and greet all the kids and all the adults – young and old – that want to come see Santa Claus.”