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Posted: 12/23/2003 6:34:01 PM EDT


www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/7557579.htm

'Christmas Story' Marks 20th Anniversary

ANTHONY BREZNICAN
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The phrase "You'll shoot your eye out!" has become as synonymous with the Christmas season as Scrooge's "Bah, humbug!" and Santa's "Ho, ho, ho!"

For 20 years, this warning has defined the holidays for doe-eyed 9-year-old Ralphie Parker in the movie "A Christmas Story," as his mother, his teacher - and even Kris Kringle - reject his plea for one particular Christmas present.

That would be, in his words, an official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range-model air rifle with a compass in the stock "and this thing that tells time."

"It catches the truth," said director Bob Clark, who spent 14 years trying to make the film. "It's about the American sense that there is something great in our destiny, and Ralphie's is to get that BB gun with a compass in the stock."

Over the years, the modest little movie has grown into a Yuletide perennial and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a new DVD, featuring reminiscences from the now grown-up star Peter Billingsley.

Meanwhile, this year marks the sixth annual marathon broadcast of the movie on the TNT cable channel. (Starting Christmas Eve at 6 p.m. EST.) TNT started its 12 around-the-clock showings as a stunt in 1988, but popular demand turned it into a tradition. An estimated 38.4 million tuned in at some point to watch it last year.

"Probably about 10 years ago, when it started getting mentioned in the same breath as `It's a Wonderful Life' - and people weren't disagreeing with that - that's when I realized, `Wow, this thing might be around for a really long while,'" Billingsley, now 32, told The Associated Press.

But how did "A Christmas Story" begin? What made it a seasonal phenomenon? And where does it go from here?

The truth is: "A Christmas Story" didn't start out as a Christmas story.

The series of vignettes in the 94-minute film - war with the yellow-eyed school bully, The Old Man's gloating over a garish "leg lamp" in a fishnet stocking; the triple-dog dare of sticking your tongue to a frozen flagpole - were short stories from radio storyteller Jean Shepherd's 1966 collection "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash."

Among them was the tale about Ralphie wanting a BB gun for Christmas, which became the centerpiece of the movie.

While driving to a girlfriend's house in 1968, director Clark said he became enthralled with one of Shepherd's fireplace-cozy radio narrations. Clark repeatedly drove around the block - keeping his unknowing date waiting - while Shepherd finished the story.

For the next 14 years, Clark tried to persuade a studio to finance a film based on the stories of Shepherd, who died in 1999 at 78.

But nobody in Hollywood was interested.

Clark made a series of horror B-films in the 1970s ("Deathdream" and "Black Christmas") and wrote for "The Dukes of Hazzard" TV show before landing on a hit.

His rowdy 1981 sex comedy "Porky's," which cost only $4 million to make, collected a whopping $105 million. Suddenly the writer-director had some industry clout.

"They didn't want to do the movie. Nobody did," he said. "But they said, `Let the idiot do the movie. Give him some money so he'll get up and do another "Porky's."' That's the only reason `A Christmas Story' got made."

Apart from Ralphie, the movie's other major role was the father - known not as "Dad" but as "The Old Man."

The suddenly popular Clark shopped the part around to a few curious Hollywood big-shots - including Jack Nicholson. (Imagine that alternate-universe version for a moment.)

Ultimately, the part went to Darren McGavin, a cult-favorite for his TV role as a reporter who investigates the supernatural in "Kolchak: The Night Stalker."

Although he was not the first choice, McGavin proved he was the best choice - bringing a boyish musicality to the character, crossed with the grumpy scowling of a well-practiced curmudgeon.

McGavin, now 81, suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago and was unavailable for an interview.

At 60 when the film was made, he may have seemed a little old to have such young sons - but don't all adults look much older from a child's perspective?

"I can't tell you how many people come up to me and say, `You know, he's just like my dad,'" said his daughter, Graemm Bridget McGavin. For her, it's the same thing.

"This is the closest to him of any of his roles," she said, adding with a laugh: "He was TOUGH."

Billingsley, who was also the Messy Marvin kid from 1980s Hershey's chocolate syrup commercials, was a veteran child star but "A Christmas Story" presented him with new challenges.

The then 12-year-old Billingsley had to carry the whole movie, but had very little dialogue. Most scenes required him to look cute and thoughtful while Shepherd provided narration.

"A lot of it's instinctual. You just try to figure out how you can stay as real as possible without overdoing it," he said.

He still remembers the bitter winter of Cleveland, where they filmed many of the snowy exterior scenes. "I remember going outside and shooting the gun - the part where I nearly shoot out my eye - and I start to tremble and cry a little bit, which was very real because it was so cold and I was in my PJs," he said.

The film opened in 1983 the week before Thanksgiving, and collected about $2 million from 600 theaters - solid business for the time. That take doubled on Thanksgiving weekend and the movie was getting strong word-of-mouth support.

But MGM hadn't counted on much success - and didn't schedule any more screens for the lead-up to Dec. 25.

"I thought, `Well, in the weeks before Christmas we're going to clean up,'" Clark said. "But I got a call from the head of distribution, who said: `I've got a surprise for you.'"

And the movie disappeared from theaters.

Ultimately, it collected about $19 million at the box office. Good, but not great.

The advent of home video and ubiquitous showings on television earned "A Christmas Story" a place as a holiday tradition alongside "Miracle on 34th Street" and "White Christmas."

In fact, a recent unscientific survey of 7,200 people by the Internet Movie Database placed "A Christmas Story" as the most beloved holiday film of all time. It had 19.3 percent, while "It's a Wonderful Life" was second with 15 percent.

Warner Bros. now owns the film, and Clark is on a crusade. He wants the studio to reissue the movie on the big screen next Christmas season and is trying to rally fans to contact the studio.

In the meantime, with repeated showings on television, does the grown-up Ralphie ever sit down to watch the little-kid Ralphie?

"Over Christmas, when the family gets together, it invariably gets turned on," Billingsley said. "And yeah ... I'll sit down and watch."
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 6:55:51 PM EDT
A great flic...and yes it is the definitive Christmas movie now.

It hits so close to home for me too.

We'll be watching!

Link Posted: 12/23/2003 6:57:04 PM EDT
Thanks for this one, Airwolf!

I remember the first year this came out. I was 7 or 8 years old. My father took me to see it 4 times, not because I asked but because he liked it that much too! I am glad to see that this movie is becoming a classic. I laugh through the whole thing every year.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:02:38 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/23/2003 7:45:20 PM EDT by Jim_Dandy]
I remember the first year this came out. I was 7 or 8 years old.
View Quote

Oooooh!!! Aren't you an old salt!!!! Only another 37 years until social security.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:04:18 PM EDT
I saw it when it first came out, and just about every year since then.

I'm so happy they finally came out with a quality anamorphic DVD.  Will probably watch it tomorrow night.  Damn great film.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:06:08 PM EDT
Such great dialogue...

"And the Old Man weaved a cloud of profanity that is still hanging over Lake Erie to this day"

I got the DVD last year. ALthough my Christmas's took place decades later, so much of the story considers to resonate.

My brother-in-law is getting the leg lamp this year for Christmas.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:14:47 PM EDT
I love it when they have the 24hr marathon.  You flip thru the channels and always land back there.  That's real Americana...
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:27:30 PM EDT
I Love this movie. It's real Americana. I watch it several times a year during the Christmas season. Someday when I have kids, I believe this movie will be right up there with "It's A Wonderful Life" as a great Christmas Classic for them to enjoy.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:42:43 PM EDT
"I triple dawg dare you."
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:48:39 PM EDT
This movie is an American Icon.  I love it!  

[dad]"Fragile, Must be Italian!"[/dad]



That movie and National Lampoons Christmas movie  are staples!

"It was an ugly tree anyways Gris!"  

Link Posted: 12/23/2003 7:51:27 PM EDT
"It's a major award!"

"Fra-gee-lay!"
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 8:10:54 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Jim_Dandy:
I remember the first year this came out. I was 7 or 8 years old.
View Quote

Oooooh!!! Aren't you an old salt!!!! Only another 37 years until social security.
View Quote


Thank God I won't need it and will just have to contribute so old farts like you can keep their dentures clean and their diapers changed. Go back to the pit, or better yet, go outside and juggle some running chain saws, Grandpa.

Oh yeah, and read the CoC.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 8:13:57 PM EDT
Thank God I won't need it and will just have to contribute so old farts like you can keep their dentures clean and their diapers changed. Go back to the pit, or better yet, go outside and juggle some running chain saws, Grandpa.

Oh yeah, and read the CoC.
View Quote

Oooooh!!!! Oooooh!!!!! Please don't tattle on me!!!!!
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 8:22:39 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Jim_Dandy:
Thank God I won't need it and will just have to contribute so old farts like you can keep their dentures clean and their diapers changed. Go back to the pit, or better yet, go outside and juggle some running chain saws, Grandpa.

Oh yeah, and read the CoC.
View Quote

Oooooh!!!! Oooooh!!!!! Please don't tattle on me!!!!!
View Quote


[:K]
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 8:25:00 PM EDT
Originally Posted By bigjuice:
[:K]
View Quote

The first step is for you to admit it. Very good, only eleven more.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 8:43:29 PM EDT
This movie is one of my favorites.  On the 24 hour marathon, I always wait to watch Ralphy pummel the ever living shit out of coon hat boy.  Thats my highlight of the movie.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 9:14:24 PM EDT
"Ohhhh ffffff...uuuu...ddd...gggee"

Link Posted: 12/23/2003 9:22:00 PM EDT
Originally Posted By Balzac72:
This movie is one of my favorites.  On the 24 hour marathon, I always wait to watch Ralphy pummel the ever living shit out of coon hat boy.  Thats my highlight of the movie.
View Quote
Ah ... the Scut Farkus affair.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 9:29:31 PM EDT
Has to see it soo many times in school, I hate that movie.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 9:37:04 PM EDT
Every year, those of us that have to work on Thanksgiving throw in some money and get a dinner together.  Then we sit around in the conference room, throw "A Christmas Story" and "Christmas Vacation" into the department "training" VCR, and eat.

Due to an unfortunate resemblence, I have now become known as "Ralphie."  The phrase "You'll shoot your eye out" has been said more than once at range quals.

Dave

"Jingre bers, jingre bers, jingre ar the way..."
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 9:52:54 PM EDT
Christmas would not be complete without it. I love that movie.
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 11:25:17 PM EDT
There was a sequel dealing with a vacation to a beloved (in memory of the old man) camping/fishing cabin in the north woods.  As might be expected the trip was filled with a variety of challenges.  It was good.  But a summer vacation to a cabin just doesn't resonate the way this does.

They also made a movie of another one Shephards anthologies.  "Wanda Hickey and the Phantom of the Opean Hearth"  was pretty good too. Shows up once in awhile on PBS.  http://www.flicklives.com/Magazines/Playboy/69_Jun/June_1969.html  refers
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 11:36:29 PM EDT
Link Posted: 12/23/2003 11:37:33 PM EDT
I used to like this movie until it started being played 20 or more times every Christmas week.  Some years there will even bea freaking day long marathon of the show.

It got old real fast...kinda like a good song on the radio that is played into the dirt.
Link Posted: 12/24/2003 1:15:54 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/24/2003 1:21:45 AM EDT by wetidlerjr]
Originally Posted By SS109:
Such great dialogue...
"And the Old Man weaved a cloud of profanity that is still hanging over Lake Erie to this day"
I got the DVD last year. ALthough my Christmas's took place decades later, so much of the story considers to resonate.
My brother-in-law is getting the leg lamp this year for Christmas.
View Quote


Although the exteriors were filmed in Cleveland, I believe the film was set in Indiana and it was Lake Michigan as the author, Jean Sheperd, was from Hammond IN. [:D]




[devil]



Link Posted: 12/24/2003 1:46:33 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/24/2003 1:49:01 AM EDT by raven]
[cue wolf theme from Peter and the Wolf]

The stuck-tongue-on-the-metal resonated the most with me. But my parents just poured hot water to free my tongue.  They didn't rip me away from the rail.
Link Posted: 12/24/2003 2:54:53 AM EDT
Someone got it for me on DVD last year for Christmas, I saw it first year it came out in theaters and probally every year since.
Link Posted: 12/24/2003 3:15:55 AM EDT
ah the way we wish it was or the way we want to rember it major mind fu@@k? big brother brainwashing ? he!! maybe i am parinod
Link Posted: 12/24/2003 3:16:49 AM EDT
heck maybe my child hood just sucked
Link Posted: 12/24/2003 4:50:47 AM EDT
"Randy lay there like a slug - it was his only defense."
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