‘Christmas Story’ fans to convene in Cleveland, Post-Gazette, Nov 04, 2007

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‘Ralphies’ gathering on Thanksgiving weekend
Sunday, November 04, 2007
A leg lamp glows in the window of “A Christmas Story” House and Museum in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Brian Jones has restored the three-story, wood-frame house to its appearance in the movie and it’s open for tours.

If you identify with Ralphie Parker, the 9-year-old Midwestern boy who longed for a BB gun, you may wish to spend Thanksgiving weekend in Cleveland with fans of the movie “A Christmas Story.”

That’s when your fellow “Ralphies” will meet actors who played in the 1983 cult classic, tour the restored Cleveland home used in the movie and enjoy a Christmas dinner, just like the Parker family, at the C & Y Chinese restaurant.

“It helps you relive the movie. The [restaurant] owner even bought uniforms that look just like they do in the movie,” said Brian Jones, the California man who bought, renovated and opened “A Christmas Story” house in Tremont, just outside of Cleveland’s downtown.

Parked in the home’s driveway will be the restored 1937 Oldsmobile touring sedan used in the infamous scene where Ralphie utters a four-letter word while helping his father change a tire. Fans will even be able to shoot BB guns in the back yard of “A Christmas Story” house.

The convention will be held Nov. 23-24. So far, the Renaissance Hotel in Cleveland has sold 150 convention packages that include an overnight stay, breakfast, trolley transportation to Tremont, a tour of the famous house and a meet-and-greet session with the movie’s cast members.

Notably absent from the convention will be Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie Parker. Now a television producer, Mr. Billingsley has not shown any interest in reliving this part of his career. But the actors who played Randy, Flick, Scut Farkus, Grover Dill, Miss Shields and the evil elves will be there. Darren McGavin, who played the curmudgeonly father “Old Man,” died in February 2006.

The convention, Mr. Jones said, was a natural because actors enjoyed coming out and signing autographs when “A Christmas Story” house, museum and gift shop opened nearly a year ago this month.

“Why not ‘A Christmas Story’ convention? There are so many fans!” Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview from his native San Diego.

More than 35,000 people have toured “A Christmas Story” house since it opened.

“We had a steady crowd in the summer months, which was kind of a surprise,” Mr. Jones said.

Among the most ardent Ralphies is Tyler Schwartz, a Canadian public relations consultant who will discuss at the convention his adventures in making a documentary about all the places associated with the movie.

“He has been to a building where the Christmas tree lot was. He has been to the original spot for the Chinese restaurant,” which is in Canada, Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Schwartz also found the Canadian school where the classroom scenes were filmed and obtained a chalkboard and coat rack and donated them to the museum that is across the street from the “Christmas Story” house.

The film is set in the 1940s. Ralphie’s decoder pin is the 1940 Speed-o-matic. His dad’s car registration is dated 1940. Mrs. Parker’s copies of Look magazines date from the late 1930s.

Visitors often ask Mr. Jones to autograph everything from pieces of aluminum siding to leg lamps, a kitschy “special award” that Ralphie Parker’s father receives in the movie.

Before he bought the famous house in Cleveland, Mr. Jones started a business called Red Rider Leg Lamps. He founded the company after learning that his eyesight would prevent him from becoming a naval pilot.

“It’s a fun joke, if you know the movie. I think it’s catching on as a Christmas decoration. We sell a couple thousand each year. All the local businesses will put them up in Tremont. I still have a dream that every window throughout America will have a leg lamp,” he said.

Recently, Mr. Jones spent $20,000 to buy the 1937 Oldsmobile touring sedan, which, he said, cost less than his Toyota Tacoma. He paid a vintage expert in Canton, Ohio, about $5,000 to restore the chrome, paint it black and fix the back seat.

“When I bought the house, a gentleman contacted me and said, ‘I have the car used in the movie,’ ” Mr. Jones recalled.

Mr. Jones, whose wife is expecting their second child on Jan. 2, also has expanded his real estate holdings in Cleveland. Just across 11th Street from the house that served as the Parkers’ home, he bought a blue house and turned it into a well-stocked gift shop. That move has allowed him to expand the museum, which is nearby on the same street.

Besides an exhibition about the restored Oldsmobile, Mr. Jones said, “We’re getting some more pictures from the Warner Bros. vault.”

Mr. Jones and his employees have added more touches to the Parker home, such as a wax turkey that looks and smells real, children’s toys and a Canadian phone known as a blooper that was used in the movie.

“Someone made a kitchen table and chairs that look like the one in the movie. He drove it up from Kentucky or Tennessee for free,” Mr. Jones said.

Marylynne Pitz may be reached at 412-263-1648 or mpitz@post-gazette.com.

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