It’s the countdown till Christmas, and one of my favorite things about the holiday season is the 1983 comedy, “A Christmas Story.” The movie follows a young man named Ralphie Parker in his quest for the ultimate Christmas present, an official Red Ryder BB Gun, with a compass in the stock, and this “thing that tells time.” Fantastically written and narrated by Jean Shepherd, the film includes a cavalcade of characters, including bullies, elves, Black Bart, and of course, The Old Man. Ralphie’s dad, played by the late Darren McGavin, who positively makes the movie. In an effort to provide some behind the scenes info, here is a list of 12 things you might not know about “A Christmas Story.”
12. Memorize This. Ralphie and his buddies, Flick and Schwartz, face off against the terrifying bully Scott Farkus, and his toadie Grover Dill. During one scene, Ralphie chooses fight over flight and beats up the bully. The whole time he’s beating on the much bigger Farkus, he’s exclaiming a stream of nonsense syllables in place of actual profanity. Actor Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie, noted in DVD commentary that every single syllable of that scene was scripted by Sheppard, along with Leigh Brown and Bob Clark.
11. The Joker was almost The Old Man. Prior to casting McGavin, Jack Nicholson was given the script and showed interest in the part of The Old Man.Clark pushed hard for McGavin, and the studio never offered Nicholson the role, fearing the amount he’d ask to appear in the film. (Whew! Can you imagine anyone other than McGavin in this role? Nicholson? Jack “The Shining” Nicholson? Kids wouldn’t sleep for a decade if they saw that!)
10. Cleveland Street is in…Cleveland! Clark sent scouts to 20 different cities before deciding on the set for the film’s town of Hammond, Indiana. The city was, of course, Cleveland. In the film, the Parkers live on Cleveland St.
9. Many of the antique cars in the film are authentic. A car club in Cleveland turned out to be very helpful to creating the authentic feel of the 1940’s-era film. The owners of these authentic cars were asked a few times to simply circle the blocks during filming to simulate traffic. Concerned about salt exposure on their rides, the car owners were quickly pacified by the filmmakers. Each car was power washed and parked under cover following a night of filming.
8. You, too, can bask in the warm glow of electric sex. You can’t talk “A Christmas Story” without including The Old Man’s major award, the famous leg lamp. Mr. Parker wins a contest, and his prize is a sexy, plastic woman’s leg, wearing fishnet stockings and a high heeled shoe, that doubles as a lamp. It becomes his pride and joy, and Mrs. Parker’s nemesis. The battle that follows is one of the all-time best. The iconic leg lamp is available in full size, scale models, ornaments, even a light-up tie. If the leg lamp is part of your Christmas spirit, you can express it any way you desire. Check out this link for some details.
7. Red Ryder was real! Red Ryder was a comic and radio character who existed in the 1930’s and 1940’s. He was a Western hero akin to Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger. Ralphie mentions that he wants the Red Ryder BB gun 20 times in the film.
6. Higbee’s was haunted! Higbee’s department store is the scene for Ralphie’s disastrous attempt to convince Santa to bring him the Red Ryder BB gun. Higbee’s was a real department store in Cleveland, and the chain was bought in 1992 by Dillard’s. Ron Geyer (who plays The Scarecrow in “A Christmas Story”) was the head of display and fixtures at the store. Following his death in 1999, several co-workers claim to have seen him on the loading dock where he used to smoke, and to have heard his voice over the intercom. The store closed for good in 2002.
5. More of us watch “A Christmas Story” every year. 2011 will mark the 15th year in which TNT/TBS has aired the film for 24 straight hours beginning on Christmas Eve. Here are the estimated number of viewers who watched the film during its 24-hour window over the years: 2002 – 38.4 million, 2005 – 45.4 million, 2008 – 54.4 million. Considering the expanding number of satellite and cable channels, along with football, holiday specials and other broadcasting, that’s not too shabby.
4. We wish the best to those who are no longer with us. Several of the key members of the cast and crew are no longer with us. Shepherd passed away due to natural causes in 1999. His famous radio show still plays on Sirius XM satellite radio on the Radio Classics channel. Clark was tragically killed in 2007, along with his son, by a drunk driver, in California. Celebrities who worked with him share their feelings in the very deep documentary, Clarkworld. McGavin passed away in 2006, at age 83, due to natural causes. Jeff Gillen, who played the red-nosed Santa, died in 1995 from a heart attack.
3. Two Mega-Fans saved a piece of Christmas history. Tyler and Jordie (what else?) Schwartz, two huge fans of the film, made their own documentary in 2008, where they traveled to 15 sites, visited every location used in the original film, and relived many of the scenes. During their visit to the Victoria School in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, they rescued Miss Shields’ blackboard from a dumpster, just before the school was renovated. They also found a ton of wardrobe hidden in a Toronto warehouse, and discovered the fire truck used in the “tongue stuck to the flagpole” scene. Read all about their fanatical dedication and their fantastic journey at Road Trip for Ralphie.
2. We owe it all to “Porky’s.” Clark had been in talks with Shepherd for years to make a film version of his Christmas stories, but no studio was interested in a war-era film about a boy who wanted a gun for Christmas. Clark wrote and directed the rauncy teen comedy, “Porky’s” which was released in 1982. The film earned over $100M on a $4M budget (and made Kim Cattrall a fantasy for a generation of guys). With that leverage, Clark was able to get the studio to agree to produce “A Christmas Story.”
1. The house used in the film is still alive, well, and better than ever. In 2005, Brian Jones bought the house, renovated it and turned it into a museum with tours, gift items, memorabilia and more from the film. The location, aptly named A Christmas Story House, opened on November 25, 2006, and has hosted fans of the film every winter since. For more info, check out the official site.
What’s your favorite scene, or even your absolute number one favorite line from the film? You start. I promise to play along.
All the best to you and your family this wonderful holiday season. We’ll be watching at 8pm on Christmas Eve. I know you will be, too.