It’s not unusual in my home to watch Christmas movies in June, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hunker down on A Christmas Story. Much like the ubiquitous “Last Christmas” sing-a-long, A Christmas Story just kinda runs in the background all season long.
This classic movie has been beloved in my home ever since it was released back in 1983—yes, fans, A Christmas Story is now 40 years old. Written by Hoosier Jean Shepherd, directed by Bob Clark, and starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, and Darren McGavin, the story takes place in fictional Hohman, Indiana—based on Shepherd’s real hometown of Hammond, Indiana. The house and neighborhood in which Billingsley’s character Ralphie Parker lives reminds me of the 1920’s and 30’s style homes of my own childhood neighborhood in Indianapolis. The downtown square, the windows of Higbee’s Department Store, Warren G. Harding Elementary School, blown fuses, the trials of winter—everything from two-feet high snow to furnaces to cumbersome snowsuits to NOT putting your tongue on cold, metal flagpoles—are straight out of my childhood.
According to Scott Schwartz, who plays Flick in the movie, Ted Turner’s secretary was responsible for the movie reaching the beloved status it has today. The movie was a box-office flop but had a small cult following (me, my two older children and a few others, including Turner’s secretary it seems). She suggested A Christmas Story as part of the MGM package of films that Turner was buying and then suggested he turn it into a television marathon at the holidays. Once that happened, lines like, “I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle!” and “You’ll shoot your eye out!” became part of American pop culture lexicon.
In 2004, a fanatic California fan named Brian Jones decided to buy the 1895-built home in Cleveland, Ohio, that was used as the Parker home in the movie and open it to the public. Jones, who found the house which is located just outside of downtown Cleveland for sale on EBay, said it took him about 10 seconds to decide to buy it. He paid $150,000 for the property and then spent another $250,000 restoring it to look like it did in the film, including gutting the inside and reconfiguring it to look like the movie set of the home. He also bought the house across the street to use as a movie memorabilia museum. Both opened in November 2006. A gift shop, in a third home, was added about a year later.
Today, the yellow and army-green trimmed house is known as A Christmas Story House and is a popular tourist destination in the working-class Cleveland neighborhood where it is located. Nearly 80,000 people pay the reasonable admission and walk through the house each year. Across the street, the A Christmas Story House Museum features original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos. Among the props and costumes are the toys from the Higbee’s window, Randy’s snowsuit and zeppelin, the chalkboard from Miss Shields’ classroom and the family car. You can even spend the night at the house, as well as the Bumpus’s house next door which was more recently purchased as part of the tourist attraction.
For more A Christmas Story locations in Cleveland, you can see the Higbee building, which still stands in downtown Cleveland. For other locations, you will have to go further north to Canada. The Christmas tree shopping scene and many of the interior shots of the house, were filmed on location or in a soundstage in Toronto. Ralphie’s school exteriors were filmed at Victoria School in St. Catharines, Ontario.
Recently the A Christmas Story House has come under new ownership. Josh Dickerson promises that the house will remain the same and continue to be the beloved attraction it has long been.
A Christmas Story House is open year-round, seven days a week from 10am to 5pm, with extended hours in November and December. Guided tours run every hour beginning at 10:15am. For more information, visit the A Christmas Story House online at achristmasstoryhouse.com.
To end my A Christmas Story House blog, here are a few more of my favorite lines from this classic film—in no particular order:
“Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.”
“He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny!”
“Where’s Flick? Has anyone seen Flick?”
“Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!”
“I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.”
“Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl.”
“Randy lay there like a slug! It was his only defense!”
“NOW it was serious. A double-dog-dare. What else was there but a “triple dare you”? And then, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple-dog-dare.”
“Strange. Even something as momentous as the Scut Farkus affair, which it came to be known, was pushed out of my mind as I struggled to come up with a way out of the impenetrable BB gun web, in which my mother had me trapped.”
“I can’t put my arms down!”
“It’s a Major Award!”
“In our world, you were either a bully, a toady, or one of the nameless rabble of victims.”
“The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE.”
“There has never been a kid who didn’t believe vaguely but insistently that he would be stricken blind before he reached 21—and then they’d be sorry.”
“Ralphie, you’re lucky it didn’t cut your eye! Those icicles have been known to kill people.”
“My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years.”
“Oooh fuuudge! Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.”
“Oh, my God, I shot my eye out!”
“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.”