A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic
A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines (ECW Press, $29.95)
By Stuart Nulman
When Bob Clark’s film “A Christmas Story” was released on November 18, 1983, it played for three weekends and grossed only $18 million before it faded from view and made way for subsequent holiday season blockbusters “Yentl” with Barbra Streisand and “Scarface” with Al Pacino. In fact, with the exception of Siskel & Ebert, it wasn’t even a favorite of the critics.
However, by the time it aired on HBO two years later and was released on home video, “A Christmas Story” began to gain popularity amongst viewers; however, it wasn’t until 1990 when the cable channel TNT began airing the movie as part of its Christmas holiday schedule, and then throughout Christmas Day on a continuous marathon loop, that its cult status began to develop.
These days, “A Christmas Story” has become a must-see holiday season tradition, along with other Christmas movie classic as “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Carol” (1951 version), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947 version) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. And the comic misadventures of young Ralphie Park (ca. 1947) and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, as well as the infamous leg lamp, bully Scut Farkus, the tongue on the cold flag pole, the pink bunny suit, brother Randy’s new way of eating meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and the expression “You’ll shoot your eye out” has made new generations of viewers laugh out loud every Christmas time.
What has made this low budget yuletide comedy such a cult classic exactly 30 years after its initial release? It’s all explained in entertaining fashion in the book A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic.
The book traces the origins of “A Christmas Story”, which goes back to humorist Jean Shepherd, who gained a cult following with his radio show during the 50s, 60s and 70s and his ability to tell original humourous stories that dealt with his past in the form of his alter ego Ralphie Parker, which ended up in print in 1966 with his best selling anthology “In God We Trust, All Other Pay Cash”. One of Shepherd’s devoted fans was Canadian-born director Bob Clark, who was determined to make a movie based on some of the Ralphie stories that made up the book.
The second part of the book deals with the making of the movie, and thanks to interviews that were conducted with many of the surviving cast members including Zach Ward (Scut Farkus), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Scott Schwartz (Flick) and Ian Petrella (Randy), the reader gets an incredible first hand account of what went on behind the scenes on the making of the movie and its iconic scenes (in which many of them were filmed in Toronto and on location in St. Catherines, Ontario), and there’s plenty of rare behind the scenes and on location photos and original artist sketches of different set and prop designs – even the leg lamp – that certainly complement the text. An interesting story about the production was the one main problem that Clark had to face throughout most of the shoot, which was Jean Shepherd’s constant presence on the set, and his endless interference with the script and suggestions to the young actors were too much, and forced Clark to have him banned from the set.
The third part of the book deals with “A Christmas Story”’s newfound status as a cult classic, and how it lead not only to a Broadway musical (which is now played over 100 times a year to sold out crowds by several theatre companies across the United States), but also a string of merchandise (including different sizes of leg lamps), and thanks to the efforts of superfan Brian Jones, purchased the structure that acted as the Parker house in Cleveland (which was used for several scenes and mostly exterior shots), refurbished it back to its 1940s splendour and turned it into a museum that’s solely dedicated to the movie, which has quickly become a popular year round tourist attraction (even Ian Petrella lived in the Christmas Story House for a year as its resident celebrity and conducted tours there, told backstage stories and sold autographed photos).
The book is a real treat for those who enjoy watching “A Christmas Story” around this time of year and never fails to be entertained by this hilarious slice of life of a young boy’s experience of growing up as seen through the sights of a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with the compass sin the stock; at least you don’t have to worry about shooting your eye out!
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.