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"A Christmas Story"
25+ Years Old and Still Going Strong
by Jim Clavin

The kids are now settled in school. They have finally given in to the fact that their teacher is really not the fire-breathing dragon they thought he or she was. When they came running home from school that first day, loaded down with new books and the assignment to cover them all for the next day, they told horror stories about their teachers. Now the teachers are “okay, I guess” and just give too much homework, cutting into their playtime. Of course you give them the same lecture that your parents gave you about the importance of education and they are probably thinking the same thing you thought at the time – “Yeah, yeah, can I go out to play now?”
Back to School

Trains are out - Playstation is in
Times have changed, but kids really haven’t. The toys are different now, the Lionel Trains have been replaced by Playstation. Record players are replaced by computers with chat rooms and playing MP3s. Skates no longer fall off your shoe halfway down the block – they ARE the shoe. Baseball cards have taken a back seat to Yu-Gi-Oh cards and never find their way onto the spokes of your bicycle held firm with a clothes pin. Kids on the other hand still manage to find mischief at every turn, and continue to want more than they get. The clothes get torn, the knees get skinned, and there is still the occasional black eye, compliments of the local bully. 
This is why “A Christmas Story” now celebrating its 20th anniversary, has become the new 'holiday classic' in recent years. Both the parents and the kids can relate to this movie. The timeless events that unfold can be shared by both as if they were occurring just yesterday. They bring back memories of childhood to the adults and seem like everyday events to the kids. What kid today doesn’t break out in a fistfight with another or dare his friend to do something he shouldn’t? The ‘old man’ may not be fighting the furnace or sporting a leg lamp, but he does have his car to bark at, or a sports trophy he wants to display in the most unlikely places.
Timeless Events

When I was your age...

Many people don’t realize how much we look back and recount our days as feckless youths. We are always saying to our kids, “When I was your age…” or “I remember the time when I had one of those.” Even in conversations with friends or associates at work a conversation will seldom pass in which we don’t ‘look back’ at earlier times.
Jean Shepherd, who wrote “A Christmas Story” also narrated it and played a cameo role in the department store scene where Ralphie and Randy go to see Santa. He was the man who says to Ralphie, “Hey kid, the line starts back there”. The movie is based on Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash” first published in 1966. It was a collection of short stories which were originally published in Playboy Magazine. But many of these weren’t put into print until they told to an audience first. Shep, as fans refer to him, had a radio show on WOR in New York from 1955 to 1977. In the early years he would be on the air for four and a half hours every night, then he was on Saturdays and Sundays before finally settling into a forty-five minute Monday to Friday format in 1961. In 1964 this was expanded to Saturday nights where he did a 2 hour live broadcast at the Village Limelight in New York.

Jean Shepherd writer and narrator plays a cameo role along with his wife and producer Leigh Brown

Jean Shepherd at his WOR microphone in the 60's
Photo copyright Fred W McDarrah

Over these radio years he would enter the studio, sit down behind the microphone and talk, sometimes talking about trips he took to Australia, the Middle East, and even Peru where he spent time in the jungles living with a tribe of headhunters. At other times he would talk about people, what made them tick, how the world was changing, and quite often he would tell a 'kid' story. He would always start out saying "I was this kid see…" and then tell a story about him and his friends Flick, Schwartz and Bruner. Stories like how they almost got shot stealing melons from a melon patch, or how they got Flick to stick his tongue to a flag pole in the dead of winter, going through garbage dumps, chasing after girls, working as mail boy at the steel mill. The stories were endless. He also liked to tell stories about his days in the Army when he was in the Signal Corps like the time someone put a buzz bomb in the radar unit.
No matter what topic he talked about, it always captured your attention. You may not give a hoot that the chief export of Bolivia is tin, but when Shep told it to you, it was something you suddenly wanted to know. All throughout the New York listening area, kids would hide their little transistor radios under their pillows at night just to secretly listen to him after their bedtime. They would lay in the dark snickering at his stories, only to have their mother yelling from the living room, “What are you laughing at? Get to sleep!”

The Transistor Radio
and Pillow
The only way to listen!

Night People and their book

He developed a following of loyal listeners back in the 50's which he referred to as his "Night People", that would go out and perform a ‘milling’ in front of a store or an empty lot. Just go there and stand – waiting. He once had his listeners going to book stores asking for a book called “I, Libertine” by Frederick Ewing. There was no such book, having been invented by Shep and his listeners. It soon was in such demand that Ballantine books agreed to publish it and the book was written hastily by Shep and Theodore Sturgeon.
When director Bob Clark (“Porky’s”) first read “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash”, he knew that he wanted to do a movie based on it. He contacted Jean Shepherd and expressed his interest in doing a movie from the book, but it took almost ten years to happen. Studios weren’t interested, but when his movie “Porky’s” became a hit, he had the leverage needed to get MGM to allow him to make “A Christmas Story” in exchange for doing another Porky's movie.

In God We Trust
All Others Pay Cash

Cleveland filming locations
"Today" photos courtesy Robert Butler

Filming began in January 1983 in Cleveland Ohio where the local department store, Higbee’s, was re-decorated for the Christmas season to the amazement of the patrons. Outside the weather was not being cooperative and Cleveland was having a mild winter. This required the crew to provide their own snow for the exterior shots – made from potato flakes, shredded vinyl and fire fighter’s foam. Other filming took place in Toronto Canada and St Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Filming was completed in March of 1983.
The movie was slated for release on November 20, 1983 and opened on 886 screens. On opening weekend it grossed $2,072,473 and had a total gross of $19,294,144, a far cry from that year’s leader “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” which grossed  $309,125,409. MGM was betting on it’s release of “Yentl” for the holiday season and did not promote ACS substantially.

Opened November 20, 1983

The long road to success

A new 2 disc DVD will join the other versions

It wasn’t until it came out on video and began to be shown on television during the holidays that the movie was ‘discovered’. It has been available in letterbox and pan and scan formats on laser disc, VHS, and in the pan and scan format on DVD. A new 2 disc DVD version was released by Warner Home Video featuring the widescreen version along with cast interviews, trailers and many other features.

Even the toy market gets into the spirit with the introduction of a complete line of items from action figures to tree ornaments - yes, even the famous leg lamp is being offered in two sizes. NECA - National Entertainment Collectables Association - is handling the line. They've been around since 1996 and specialize in high quality licensed collectibles. 

For the first time - toys

Broadway Books has released "A Christmas Story" in hardcover. The movie was based on the book "In God We Trust - All Others Pay Cash" by Jean Shepherd with some ideas from his 2nd book "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters". This new release combines the chapters from both books into one.
Even the toy market gets into the spirit with the introduction of a complete line of items from action figures to tree ornaments - yes, even the famous leg lamp is being offered in two sizes. NECA - National Entertainment Collectables Association - is handling the line. They've been around since 1996 and specialize in high quality licensed collectibles. 

For the first time - toys

For 2012 we see the first attempt at a sequel since "My Summer Story" in 1992 in the making of "A Christmas Story 2". It will be released October 30, 2012 directly to Blue-Ray DVD featuring a whole new cast. Ironically David Stern

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