Christmas in Dallas will feel a little less bright this year after the death of longtime Dallas resident John Hardman, who delighted generations of families with his puppeted portrayal of Scrooge at the NorthPark center each holiday season.
He died Wednesday after battling cancer, surrounded by loved ones. He was 80 years old.
The Advocate sat down with Hardman for an interview in 2006, in which he told us about falling in love with puppeteering at the age of 8 when he attended his first ever Ringling Brothers Circus.
“The sideshow was a Punch and Judy show, and I was amazed one person could do that,” he said at the time. “I started fiddling with it. I grew up in Wichita Falls where there wasn’t much to do. I raided the library and did what I could; it started as a hobby, went with me all through high school and college.”
And thus a lifelong love was born. Hardman dedicated his entire life to the art, collecting more than 1,000 puppets along the way.
His beloved Scrooge character was born in the 1970s, when the NorthPark Center launched a new holiday attraction. With the craggily-faced Scrooge puppet leering down at people from the window of his perch, Hardman would poke fun at shoppers, his sharp wit enchanting the audience. Famously, in his first set as Scrooge, he pinpointed a man wearing green plaid pants, riffing on his obvious lack of style. It turned out to be Raymond Nasher, owner of the luxury shopping center.
Hardman told the Advocate the secret to his humor was picking the right targets.
“[Scrooge] loves thrifty people,” he said. “But he never pokes fun at women. Because you don’t get laughs that way, you get more picking on the men.”
His family was dedicated to the arts. His wife, Patti Hardman, was a longtime theater teacher at Woodrow Wilson. John Hardman was also the magician behind the World on a String exhibit at the Texas State Fair, which carried on this year even though he was very ill from his disease.
The family has asked that donations be made to the Pediatric Center at Texas Oncology. Funeral service details will be included in this story when they become available.