“A merry ‘Christmas Story’ ending”, March 30, 2005, The Plain Dealer

A merry ‘Christmas Story’ ending

Magic of ‘Christmas Story’ returns Cleveland’s early Christmas present
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Amanda Garrett

Plain Dealer Reporter

The captain of a U.S. amphibious assault ship heading to the Middle East noticed the oddball eBay listing halfway around the world.

Someone in Cleveland was auctioning the Tremont house that served as a backdrop for the nostalgic holiday classic “A Christmas Story.”

The captain told a surface warfare officer, who jokingly e- mailed her husband in California saying he should buy the house since he was such a fan of the movie. And almost faster than you can say “You’ll shoot your eye out,” he did.

Now Brian Jones – who had never before visited Cleveland – plans to turn the West 11th Street rental into “A Christmas Story” museum.

“It’s great to do something fun for a living,” Jones, 29, said this week during a telephone interview from his San Diego office.

For those few who haven’t yet stumbled across the annual 24-hour holiday marathon of “A Christmas Story” on cable TV, the movie focuses on Ralphie – a young, bespectacled boy growing up in the 1940s – and his earnest quest for an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle.

Filmed mostly in Canada, the 1983 Christmas classic also features lots of snowy Cleveland.

Among other things, Ralphie visits a particularly malevolent Santa in the now-defunct downtown Higbee’s store; and his family lives in the 1895 Tremont house Jones bought in December for $150,000.

Why would a former West Coast Navy man with a degree in aerospace engineering sink so much money into such an offbeat project in the Midwest?

That’s a whole other story:

It all started, Jones said, when he and his parents watched “A Christmas Story” on TV one year. They joked about all the characters’ foibles and laughed at all the ridiculous childhood scenarios that were universal, no matter when or where you grew up.

“Everyone got caught saying ‘Oh, fudge’ at least once,” Jones said.

Time passed. And one day after Jones graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, he received a large wooden crate marked “FRAGILE.”

Jones said he didn’t make the connection to the movie at first. Then he opened it. A life-sized woman’s plastic leg covered in fishnet was inside. A fringe lampshade sat on top.

It looked just like the leg lamp Ralphie’s father so proudly displayed in the front window of his family’s house in “A Christmas Story” – much to his wife’s consternation.

Jones’ parents, it turned out, had gone to the garment district in Los Angeles, bought different pieces and assembled the lamp for him as a joke.

“Everyone loved the leg,” Jones said. “My mom said someone could make good money selling them.”

More time passed and when Jones left the Navy and began interviewing for corporate jobs, employers wanted him to relocate to the East Coast.

But he didn’t want to leave San Diego because his wife is stationed there. Then it dawned on him how to make a living. On April 9, 2003, he launched RedRiderLeglamps.com – a largely online venture that sells replica lamps from the movie for $139.99, plus $35 shipping and handling.

So far, he has sold about 3,000 of the curvaceous 45-inch-tall gams. A bulb under the shade lights up, but so, too, does the leg.

And that brings us back to the amphibious assault ship bound for the Middle East where Jones’ wife, Beverly, serves as a surface warfare officer.

“Beverly thought I was going to get a real job after the Navy and that the leg lamp thing would be a hobby,” Jones said. “I think she thought the same thing with this house.”

The starting eBay price for the four-bedroom house was $99,999. By the time Jones learned of the auction, people had pushed the bidding to about $115,000, he said.

Not to be outbid, Jones called the owner and offered him a sort of triple-dog dare, a la “A Christmas Story.” Take the house off the market and Jones would fork over $150,000.

The deal was made and Jones flew to Cleveland for the first time Dec. 27. He steered his rental car directly to the house.

It wasn’t the deep yellow color with the green-trimmed windows that he remembered from the movie. Someone had covered it with gray vinyl siding and in stalled new windows.

“Notafinga!” as Ralphie’s dad might say.

Before the museum can open, Jones said he must hire contractors to undo all of the remodeling.

Ultimately, Jones envisions the museum as a working house that mirrors the movie set. He said he has been talking with the actor who played Flick, the kid who accidentally froze his tongue to a flagpole (Scott Schwartz). Schwartz suggested a bed-and-breakfast.

Whatever happens, Jones said admission to the museum will probably be free. He hopes to make money by opening an on- site gift store selling things from the movie like Ovaltine, Little Orphan Annie decoder rings and what else?

Leg lamps.

Or as Ralphie would describe them: “The soft glow of electric sex.”

You can see the house at achristmasstoryhouse.com.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

agarrett@plaind.com, 216-999-4814

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