November 18, 2018 You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out: A Christmas Story Turns 35
It’s a major award! Thirty-five years ago, on Friday, November 18, 1983, the beloved Christmas classic A Christmas Story arrived to theaters and the rest is fragile (that’s fra-geel-lay) history!
Who does not know the story of little blonde-headed Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley: Sherman Oaks series, Iron Man 2008) who wants nothing more in the world than a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun for Christmas? He appeals first to his mother and then to his teacher, even to Santa Claus himself, and all anyone can say is, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Faced with the heartbreaking thought that the Man in Red might not pull through, Ralphie must survive a Christmas season full of disappointments, including, but hardly limited to, that ridiculous decoder pen from Little Orphan Annie. Along for the ride are his Mom Parker (Melinda Dillon: Harry and the Hendersons 1987, Magnolia 1999) and Dad (Darren McGavin: Raw Deal 1986, Billy Madison 1995) and kid brother Randy (Ian Petrella: Crime of Passion 1984, Once a Hero 1987), who does a great impression of a swollen tick.
If you did not know, A Christmas Story is based off Humorist Jean Shepherd’s 1966 semi-fictional novel, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash – which also inspired the 1994 film It Runs in the Family (re-titled My Summer Story), a continuation of the Parker family’s saga in which Kieran Culkin stars as Ralphie. But back to the original, Shepherd provided the voice for adult Ralphie, the film’s narrator.
Similarly, the casual movie fan might not know that there are three important cameos in the film: writer/narrator Shepherd appears in the department store scene, where Ralphie and Randy meet an unamused man waiting in-line. Additionally, Shepherd’s wife and a co-writer on the screenplay, Leigh Brown is the woman standing in line behind him. Director Clark – who was riding off his recent success with 1981’s teen sex Comedy Porky’s – appears as the Parker’s somewhat bumbling neighbor, Swede, who comes to ogle the glow of neon sex in the front window.
Speaking of that now iconic “major award,” a lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg wearing fishnet stockings might seem entirely random to most, but it was derived from a Nehi (which is pronounced “knee-high”) soda pop logo, a popular beverage at the time. Oh, and that infamous bb gun? It was a one-of-a-kind made for the film to fit the specifications of the story, in which Shepherd had unintentionally confused two different gun models.
As many fans already know, the house used in the film’s exterior shots is located at 3159 West 11th Street in the Tremont section of Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks to one truly die-hard fan, that home was purchased in 2005 and turned into a mecca for other fans from around the globe. Restored and reconfigured to provide a living museum to the beloved film, A Christmas Story House provides tours, overnight stays (at the Bumpus House next door), and, of course, a gift shop. And do not fret: yes, you can purchase your very own bunny suit from Aunt Clara!
Perhaps the biggest or, well, the only debate surrounding A Christmas Story is the year in which the tale is supposed to have occurred. We all know that the Parker’s live in a fictional offshoot of Hammond, Indiana, Shepherd’s real-life home town. However, the year in which the family is experiencing this disastrous Christmas is open to interpretation: all signs point toward 1938-1940, though there are inconsistencies throughout if you have a keen eye for and knowledge of that era. In the film’s DVD commentary, Director Clark stated that he and Shepherd aimed for an “amorphously late ‘30s, early ‘40s” aesthetic.
Curiously, it’s rumored that Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of Old Man Parker, and that Wil Wheaton is one of 8,000 young actors who auditioned for the role of Ralphie. Whatever the case, the main role went to 12-year-old Billingsley who, wonderfully if maturely, portrayed his 9-year-old character. In other cast news, Ralphie’s old tormentor, Scut Farkus (that would be Zack Ward, who was a real-life victim of bullying himself) is all grown up these days and writing, directing and still acting in a bevy of films. Just this year alone, he co-wrote and starred in the Horror offering Bethany, as well as starring in American Horror Story, Z Nation, and more.
Despite everything, if you think that A Christmas Story was an instant blockbuster success upon its release, you are wrong. When it arrived to theaters in November 1983, the film was only a moderate success and many theaters had already pulled it from their rosters before Christmas. Fortunately, over the years, the film took on a cult following that grew and grew, and today, A Christmas Story is one of the most-beloved, most-watched American Christmas Comedies. Who hasn’t stayed up late on Christmas Eve to watch at least six hours of the film on repeat on TBS’ “24 Hours of A Christmas Story”?
Its influence is undeniable and ranges far and wide across Pop Culture and beyond. It’s believed that the film’s narrative style is what inspired The Wonder Years, and its success clearly inspired the direct-to-video A Christmas Story 2. The year 2000 saw a stage adaptation of the film and, over a decade later, A Christmas Story: The Musical opened on Broadway. With Peter Billingsley as a co-producer, the musical went on to receive Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the theater. Just last year, Fox adapted this musical for TV and aired a three-hour-long extravaganza, A Christmas Story Live!.
These offerings are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg: there are A Christmas Story books and documentaries, and even songs loosely-inspired by the film (Fall Out Boy’s “Yule Shoot Your Eye Out” comes immediately to mind). So, with snow beginning to blanket the country and Thanksgiving just days away, now is the perfect time to sit back, get into the Holiday spirit, and enjoy your umpteenth viewing of this beloved favorite. Go for it – we triple-dog dare you!