<i>Miracle</i> Revived On 34th Street

To the young at heart, Macy's Christmas windows in New York City may seem like the work of elves rather than a backstage theater crew of tattooed techies. But as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Martha Teichner reports, it was at Spaeth Design, a place you might call a body shop, that Macy's window designers Sam Joseph and David Spaeth would meet every Monday for months at precisely 10 a.m.

In this surreal Santa's workshop, like two mad scientists, Joseph and Spaeth would inspect progress on a race of small bionic creatures they were creating: creatures whose sole purpose would be to endure 300 hours of perpetual motion, the duration of the holiday shopping season.

In 1899, Macy's was the first department store in the U.S. to use mechanical figures in its Christmas windows. But it has been decades since the last time they decorated their windows that way. So, for the Millennium, the world's largest department store decided to bring them back.

"This is something special," says Joseph. "There is no merchandise in these windows and it's sort of like our gift to the city and the world."

The choice of a theme was obvious: Miracle on 34th Street, the 1947 Christmas movie classic about whether Macy's Santa Claus was the real Santa Claus.

"I was really worried about Natalie Wood, because 20th Century Fox was really worried about Natalie Wood's appearance in this thing," Joseph continues. "Right now she doesn't have any hair, so it doesn't look quite like her, but I know her face so well from this movie that I know they really captured her in this scene."


CBS
Assembling the cast for a wooden, mechanical performance of
Miracle on 34th Street

From Natalie Wood's head to Thelma Ritter's body, Sam Joseph works his way through the cast.

One of Joseph's qualifications for the job is the fact that he sees reality as one long succession of movie scenes.

"When it comes time to design a window, you have to think out of the box, you've got to think it from another world, and the movies usually take me there," he says.

The Miracle on 34th Street project merely focused his viewing.

"I've watched it 100 times," Joseph laughs. "It is one of my favorite Christmas movies It is a tradition for me."

So in the rather eccentric little drama of creation, the movie freak is joined by David Spaeth, who has equally unusual qualifications for taking over the family display window business. "I worked in the aerospace industry for about fiv years," says Spaeth. "I went into flight controls, which involves linkages and pulleys, and all kinds of little actuators, which is exactly what we're using here to make the figures moveso it's not quite the same tolerances as those we used on the F-14's I worked on, but it's the same principle."

In the movie, Maureen O'Hara is in charge of events like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But in real life, that person is Jean McFaddin.

McFaddin grew up in Lufkin, Texas, dreaming of becoming Greta Garbo. "What's exciting is, you prove miracles really do happen on 34th Street," she says.

The miracle she is referring to now is the one in which 6,676 registered participants will tap dance together in front of the store to achieve a new world's record.

Or perhaps she really means the miracle in which she gets through the Thanksgiving Day Parade and survives until the Christmas windows are finally unveiled.



©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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