Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Story (1983)

Ralphie: I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
Mrs. Parker: No, you'll shoot your eye out.

It's the 1940s and Ralphie has to convince his parents, his teacher, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect gift!

On November 18, 1983, both Canada and the US would get to see the premiere of what would one day become one of the best and beloved Christmas movies of all time: "A Christmas Story".  It wasn't expected to be a big hit and was only released by MGM to 886 screens in the United States alone.  MGM had another film released that day which was "Yentl".  "Yentl" beat out its competition which was understandable since it starred Barbra Streisand, but "A Christmas Story" did considerable better than the two other films that opened that same weekend: "Amityville 3-D" and "A Night in Heaven".  Ranked as the 39th highest earning film of 1983, "A Christmas Story" grossed over $19.2 million.

In 1982, director Bob Clark directed a teen-sex comedy called "Porky's".  Bob's success with that film allowed him the ability to make a movie he wanted to make.  Without "Porky's", there wouldn't have been "A Christmas Story".   "A Christmas Story" was based on Jean Shepherd's book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" who helped to write the screenplay along with Bob Clark and Leigh Brown.  In this film, Jean Shepherd does the narration of Ralphie as an adult.  Jean Shepherd and Leigh Brown had a cameo in this film...

Remember that scene where everyone is lined up to see Santa in the department store?  Jean Shepherd is the irate man waiting in the Santa line who said to Ralphie, "Young man.  Hey, kid!  Just where do you think you're going?"  The woman standing behind Shepherd is his wife and co-writer, Leigh Brown.  Bob Clark wanted in on the cameo fun, too... he was Swede, the dim-witted neighbor, who marvels at the Leg Lamp from outside.

The key characters in "A Christmas Story" were the family members.  Peter Billingsley played Ralphie, Melinda Dillon as Mother Parker, Darren McGavin as The Old Man Parker, and Ian Petrella as Randy.

"A Christmas Story" was shot at various locations throughout Cleveland, Ohio and Ontario, Canada.  Here is a plethora of other fun bits of behind-the-scenes/making-of information for you...

1.  Jean Shepherd's book "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash", which the film is partly based on, is a collection of short stories that Shepherd wrote for "Playboy" magazine during the 1960s, including the ones about the tongue sticking to the flagpole and eating Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  The subplot of the mangy dogs constantly harassing The Old Man was taken from another of Shepherd's short story collections, "Wanda Hickey's Night Of Golden Memories and Other Disasters."  In that book, the character of Ralph is about 17 years old.

2.  Director Bob Clark mentions in the commentary on the 2003 DVD that he worked with writer Jean Shepherd for nearly ten years on the concept of "A Christmas Story" before the film was made.

3.  To find an American city resembling an Indiana town of the 1940s, director Bob Clark sent his location scouts to 20 cities before selecting Cleveland, Ohio.

4.  Actor Wil Wheaton auditioned for the role of Ralphie.  He went on to star in "Stand By Me", "Toy Soldiers", and, most notably, Wesley Crusher in the TV Star Trek series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation". 

5.  The character of Ralphie was supposed to be 9, but Peter Billingsley, who played him, was 12 at the time.

6.  According to director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, "The Old Man".  However, Clark didn't learn of this until later and the studio didn't want to pay Nicholson's fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget.  Regardless, Clark said that Darren McGavin was still the better choice and was born to play the role.

7.  The people of Cleveland were incredibly cooperative during filming, donating antique vehicles from every corner of the city.  These vintage vehicles helped to enhance the authenticity of the production design.

8.  During the filming in downtown Cleveland, the antique automobile club members, whose cars were used, were given a route to follow on Public Square.  They were instructed to continue circling the square until otherwise instructed.  Road salt was a major concern for the car owners and the cars were pressure-washed after each day's filming and parked underground beneath the Terminal Tower.

9.  Red Ryder was a character from comic books and radio in the 1930s/40s, akin to popular western heroes like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Lone Ranger.

10.  The LOOK magazine used by Ralph Parker to insert his Red Ryder promotion for his mother's observation was a December 21, 1937 edition with a cover featuring Shirley Temple pouring tea for Santa Claus.

11.  White Sox player Bill "Bullfrog" Dietrich (Bill Dietrich) is mentioned as being traded.  He was traded to the White Sox in 1936 and from the White Sox in 1946.  Since the family drives a 1937 Olds, it would imply it was the 1946 trade.  This would be consistent with the soldiers present at Higbee's corner window in the movie opening, since the war may have just ended.  However, war-era versions of the decoder badge were paper due to the shortage and Little Orphan Annie was off the air well before 1946.

12.  Mrs. Parker's memory is correct.  The Lone Ranger's nephew, Dan Reid, rode a horse named "Victor".  Victor was the offspring of the Lone Ranger's horse, Silver.

13.  For the scene in which Flick's tongue sticks to the flagpole, a hidden suction tube was used to safely create the illusion that his tongue had frozen to the metal.

14.  When the character of Scut Farkas first appears, the "Wolf" music from Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" plays in the background.  The name "Farkas" is derived from the Hungarian word for "wolf".

15.  The Parker's Oldsmobile is a 1937 Model 6, four-door sedan with Indiana license plate 56 498.

16.  The piece of music that plays after Ralphie says "fudge" and after the lamp breaks for the second time, is the opening of "Hamlet" by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

17.  According to Peter Billingsley in the DVD Commentary, the nonsensical ramblings that Ralphie exclaims while beating up Scut Farkas were scripted, word for word.

18.  Don Geyer, who played the Scarecrow, was the head of Display and Fixtures at Higbee's Department Store / Dillards.  Santa's throne in the movie is one of the actual chairs owned by Higbee's and used annually for Santa.  After Geyer's death in 1999, his co-workers reported seeing him on the loading dock where he used to smoke, and a few claim they heard his voice on the overhead paging system.

19.  The Chinese restaurant is named Bo Ling's.  There is a neon sign across the top of the storefront that reads "Bowling", except the "w" is not lit.

20.  The film was released just before Thanksgiving and became a surprise hit.  By the time Christmas rolled around, the movie had already been pulled from most theaters because it had been "played out".  After complaints were lodged at the theater owners and the studio, the film played on select screens until after the first of the year 1984.

21.  Ralphie says that he wanted the "Red Ryder BB Gun" 28 times.

22.  An elaborate fantasy sequence - in which Ralphie joins Flash Gordon to fight Ming the Merciless - was filmed but dropped from the final cut.

23.  Although now the film is considered a Christmas classic, at the time -- according to Peter Billingsley -- not many major studios were interested in a Depression-era story about a little boy wanting a BB gun for Christmas.  Billingsley also stated in an interview that director Bob Clark had to agree to make a horror film for the studio in order to get "A Christas Story" made.

24.  "A Christmas Story" inspired the creation of hit TV series, "The Wonder Years" (1988).  

25.  There is a behind-the-scenes documentary called "Road Trip for Ralphie".  It follows two mega-fans on a two-year quest to locate and visit every location used in the movie.  Along the way, they uncover Miss Shields' chalkboard from a dumpster, discover all the movie's costumes hidden in a Toronto warehouse, track down the antique fire truck seen in the movie and visit the forgotten location of the actual Chop Suey Palace.

26.  In 2005, the original home used for the exterior shots of the family home was put up for auction on eBay.  An avid fan of the movie, Brian Jones, purchased it directly from the seller for $150,000.  Jones then spent the following year restoring the home to the way it looked on screen.  The exterior was completely restored and the  interior was renovated to match the interior of the home shown in the movie (parts of the interior were actually filmed in a Toronto studio).  On November 25, 2006, the home finally opened its doors as a tourist attraction.  Jones spent close to $500,000 in preparation for this grand opening.  In addition, he also purchased the house next door and converted it to a gift shop and museum dedicated to the film and the house.

27.  Ralphie's house was an actual house and has turned into a museum for fans to walk through.  It is located at 3159 W. 11th St. in Cleveland, Ohio.  The school he attended was an actual school as well: Victoria School, St. Catherine's, Ontario, Canada.  As for the Chinese restaurant, it is located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 744 Gerrard Street East.

28.  "Clarkworld" (2009) is a heart-warming documentary about the director of  "A Christmas Story", Bob Clark.  The documentary's director, Deren Abram, worked with Clark for over a decade before Clark and his 22-year old son, Ariel Clark, were killed by a drunk driver in April 2007.  May they both rest in peace.

And now you know.

In 2012, a staged musical adaptation of this movie opened on Broadway.  One of the co-producers was Peter Billingsley, who, of course, played "Ralphie" in the movie version.  As an adult, Billingsley transitioned into producing such movies as "The Break-Up" (2006), "Four Christmases"(2008), and "Iron Man" (2008).  "A Christmas Story: The Musical!" was the first stage play or musical he produced.

Below are pictures of the key characters followed by picture stills following the sequence of the film itself.  After that, you'll find pictures of the inside and outside of the actual house turned into a museum as well as Peter Billingsley standing outside a place that staged his production.  Enjoy!


Here are the picture stills of the film...

And now the museum...
Ralphie as Adult: [narrating] Next to me in the blackness lay my oiled blue steel beauty.  The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive.  Gradually, I drifted off to sleep, pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.

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