Monica Harvey will attend 25th anniversary celebrations of popular Christmas film
Posted By KARENA WALTER STANDARD STAFF
To this day, Monica Harvey still meets people who say, “You’re in that Christmas movie!”
Harvey, 36, figures she doesn’t appear ALL that different from how she looked 25 years ago.
What is surprising is that the film A Christmas Story — the tale of a boy whose only desire is a Red Ryder BB gun — became such a cult classic.
“We didn’t really have an idea the movie was going to be a success,” said Harvey, who played an extra in the movie filmed at her St. Catharines school in 1983.
“Who would have thought 25 years later they’d still be playing it?”
Harvey will be one of the extras attending the movie’s 25th anniversary reunion and celebration on Nov. 28 and 29 in Cleveland. The city is home to A Christmas Story museum and was the location for some of the filming.
Organizers are planning a panel discussion featuring anyone who attended the former Victoria School on Niagara Street at the time of the filming. Classroom and outdoor scenes were shot at the school.
The weekend of events also includes the unveiling of a chalkboard from the former school, tours of the museum, a meeting with the actors and screening of a documentary.
The Chippawa Volunteer Fire Department will be bringing its historic fire truck, which was featured in the movie, to the convention and offering rides.
A Christmas Story was a low-budget movie that has increased in popularity over the decades, spawning memorabilia such as ornaments, figurines, lunch-boxes and leg-shaped lamps like the one seen in the film. There are also Internet fan sites.
“It’s going to be a Niagara-focused weekend, with the unveiling of the chalkboard and the Chippawa truck,” Canadian organizer Tyler Schwartz said.
Schwartz said even people who weren’t in the movie will want to attend the event if they are film fans or from the Garden City.
Set in 1940s Indiana, A Christmas Story follows the dreams of Ralphie and his longing for a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle.
Producers chose St. Catharines for scenes because they needed a location that wasn’t flanked by highrises and could double for the 1940s.
About 75 students at Victoria School were chosen for outdoor schoolyard shots and 20 as extras in Ralphie’s classroom — in reality an empty science room. Children were given $1 each and the Lincoln County Board of Education was given $3.50 for every hour of service per child, which was used to buy school computers.
Harvey (nee Klein) was lucky enough to be in Ralphie’s classroom and in the famous winter flagpole scene. The scene involves a boy who sticks his tongue to the metal pole and has to be rescued by firefighters.
“The director told us to look like we’re in shock,” Harvey said. “Watch him, pay attention and be like you’re doing it in real life.”
Harvey remembers wearing long johns under a jacket for the outdoor scenes because she lost her nylons.
The flagpole was rigged with a suction device to keep the actor’s tongue in place. The extras got to try it out.
Krista Walters (nee Warriner), another Victoria School student chosen for the outdoor scenes, remembers trying to keep warm.
“We walked in the snow for about four hours for all this filming and then when we saw the movie, we weren’t in it,” she said, laughing.
Being cut didn’t hurt her enthusiasm, though. She’s kept mementoes such as journal entries and newspaper clippings, although her mother threw out a jar of coveted potato flakes that were used as snow on the set.
“We didn’t realize back then it was filmed all over,”Walters said.
“We just knew the stars were at our school and they fed us lunch and snacks.”
Retired Victoria School teacher Anne Dean said everybody at the school was involved in the film in one way or another.
“It was so hectic and the kids were so excited,” said Dean, who helped to organize the student extras and to get them in costumes, while also teaching her classes.
She said a bell was rung at the school when filming started to let students and teachers know they had to stay out of the halls and be quiet.
Dean plans to go to the Cleveland reunion and will be sharing stories on the panel.
And she has some extra insight. As a volunteer at women’s shelter Gillian’s Place, which is located in the former Victoria School, she’s seen the school before and after renovations.