Archive for December, 2006

Step Into the Set of ‘A Christmas Story’, December 15, 2006, ABC News Nightline

December 15th, 2006 by Ralphie

Link to Article

How an Ordinary-Looking House in Cleveland Became a Tourist Attraction

On West 11th Street in Cleveland, the line of camera-toting tourists stretches around the corner. A man in an orange vest directs traffic. It is an unlikely sight in this neighborhood, which borders on a steel mill and has definitely seen better days.

Brian Jones poses with his Red Ryder air rifle outside the renovated home which was used in the in the movie(Amy Sancetta/ AP Photo )

The tourists come from as far away as Texas and Arizona to make their own walk-on appearances in the house where the film “A Christmas Story” was set. The quirky holiday movie about a young boy’s obsession with a BB gun now rivals seasonal favorites like “The Grinch” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Now, thanks to a 30-year-old California man’s obsession with the film, the Cleveland house has become the city’s hottest new tourist destination.

“It’s like seeing a movie star, and it feels like you stepped onto the set and that you’re actually reliving the movie when you come to see the house,” said Brian Jones.

Jones bought the house — sight unseen — on eBay for $150,000.

“The first time I got here I felt like I was on the set. I’m running around like a little kid,” he said.

Jones brought “Nightline” inside the mustard-colored three-story home, and it felt strangely familiar.

The Old Man’s coat rack, the waist-high wooden radio where Ralphie and brother Randy listened to the Orphan Annie show. It’s all here.

The Leg Lamp

And there, shining in the window — is the leg lamp. The “major award” won by Ralphie’s Old Man and scorned by Ralphie’s mother — the glowing replica of a woman’s shapely leg, adorned in fishnet stockings and a high-heeled pump, and wearing a fringed lampshade as a skirt.

Few props in moviedom have had this kind of stature … this kind of glow, if you will.

“It all started with the leg lamp,” said Jones, a former Navy officer who dreamed of going to flight school but couldn’t pass the vision test. Like the bespectacled Ralphie character in the movie, Jones’ eyesight isn’t good. As a consolation, Jones’ parents built him a prop from his favorite movie — a leg lamp.

When it came time for Jones to leave the Navy, that gift took on new meaning. “It hit me one day like an epiphany. I should sell leg lamps.”

Jones’ wife thought he was crazy — until the unusual business started making a six-figure profit.

Open for Business

Now Jones has used the proceeds of leg lamp sales to help renovate the house — watching the film frame by frame, so that contractors could re-create the movie set inside the house. It wasn’t easy, since the interiors were shot on a Canadian soundstage.

For instance, the stairway on which Ralphie reluctantly models his pink bunny suit pajamas didn’t exist in the house.

“We actually had to re-create this part,” said Jones. “They look exactly like the stairs in the movie, right down to the spindles.”

Jones paid close attention to the authenticity of every detail. Each of the brown and white tiles on the kitchen floor had to be hand trimmed.

“We actually had to cut these down from 12 by 12,” the size that’s made now, “because in the 1940s the tiles they made were 9 by 9.”

Outside, the line of tourists grows.

Travis and Lisa Campbell drove 2½ hours with their 8-month-old daughter, Zoe.

“I was relieved. I wasn’t the only person out here,” said Travis Campbell.

Hardly. Since the “Parker House” opened for business three weeks ago, more than 10,000 movie buffs have lined up for the $5 tour.

They recite lines from the movie, and snap an endless number of photos — posing in the living room with the leg lamp.

“Fra-jee-lay, it must be Italian,” said one woman, quoting the Old Man’s famous line from the film.

‘We’ve Touched Something in the Heart of the People’

Jones also bought the house across the street and turned it into a museum and souvenir stand, where he sells his leg lamps for $199 apiece.

Fans can also buy Xeroxed copies of the script for $40 and original pieces of siding from the house for $60.

Photos from when the movie was shot adorn the wall.

A glass case displays the toy blimp Ralphie got for Christmas, along with his cartoonishly restrictive snowsuit in which he whined, “I can’t put my arms down.”

Bob Clark, who co-wrote and directed the film, is not surprised at the popularity of the movie or the house.

“We’ve touched something in the heart of the people, and I think it’s the craziness, the integrity, the realness of the movie.”

Outside the house, locals who played small roles in the film mingle with the crowd, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

“I had no idea we would be riding the wave all these years. It’s absolutely incredible,” said Patty LaFountaine, a local actress who played one of Santa’s sadistic elves. “Who would have ever thunk it?” exclaimed Jim Marelovitz, who lived down the street and played a bit part — literally — in the film.

“You could only see a side view as I come in the door,” he told a group of movie fans. Marelovitz pushed the hand truck that delivered the infamous leg lamp.

‘It’s ‘A Christmas Story’ …

This brings us back to Brian Jones and his unusual career.

“It will work out. It’s ‘A Christmas Story.’ How can it fail? Everyone loves ‘A Christmas Story,’” Jones figured.

He figured right. From the size of the crowds, Jones is obviously on to something.

His affection for the house and the movie helped to re-invigorate this neighborhood.

Cable did the same thing for the film. When “A Christmas Story” first opened in 1983, it was hardly a box-office hit.

The film premiered just before Thanksgiving and didn’t even last until Christmas in theaters. Critics thought it was too sarcastic. One reviewer called it “as authentic as wax fruit.” But that was before Turner Classic Movies and other cable channels started airing “Christmas Story” marathons — leaving a younger generation of fans stuck on this unusual film.

Twenty-three years after the movie’s lackluster release, Jones has reaped the rewards.

“Do you believe this?” he said, gesturing toward the crowd with a broad smile.

Take that, movie critics.

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Countdown with Keith Olbermann interview from inside A Christmas Story House

December 12th, 2006 by Ralphie

Leg Lamp and Keith Olberman

Keith Olberman with the Leg Lamp in his office

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Recreating ‘A Christmas Story’ for Tourists in Cleveland, NY Times

December 4th, 2006 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article

CLEVELAND, Dec. 4 — If Denny Renz were a boy again, he said, he would love nothing more than to re-enact Ralphie Parker’s childhood.

David Maxwell for The New York Times

Mr. Jones has now opened the house to tours.

Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

Brian Jones, with a Red Ryder air rifle, started a business that sold the leg lamp made famous in “A Christmas Story.”

 

He would crawl under the kitchen sink the way Ralphie’s brother, Randy, did to hide from Mr. Parker, their father in the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” He would swing from the tree in the backyard, he said, dodging imaginary BBs fired from Ralphie’s coveted “official Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action range model air rifle.”

“I’ve never seen this house before, but it’s like I grew up here,” said Mr. Renz, 62, who drove 103 miles from Fairview, Pa., to see the home here where exterior shots of “A Christmas Story” were filmed.

Though originally panned by critics as a dark depiction of the holidays, “A Christmas Story” has earned status as a movie classic, rivaling long-time seasonal favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Now fans from as far away as Los Angeles and Phoenix are flocking to a gritty Cleveland street overlooking a steel factory to visit the Parker family house restored to its movie glory.

A San Diego entrepreneur, Brian Jones, bought the house sight unseen on e-Bay for $150,000 in December 2004. He grew up watching “A Christmas Story” every year with his family. After Mr. Jones failed the vision test required to become a Navy pilot, his father tried cheering him up by building him a lamp with a woman’s leg as the base, similar to the one that enchanted Ralphie’s father in the movie.

Mr. Jones loved the gift so much that he started manufacturing copies of the lamps himself. Complete with fishnet stocking and a black high-heeled shoe, most lamps sell for $139 each; more than 7,500 have sold. Mr. Jones used the proceeds to cover the down payment on the house.

“When I first saw the house, there was snow on the ground, and I started running around the backyard,” said Mr. Jones, 30. “It felt like I was a little kid again.”

Unlike the Parkers’ single-family home in the movie, the Cleveland house was a duplex. (All the movie’s interior scenes were filmed on a sound stage in Toronto, Mr. Jones said.) Previous owners had installed modern windows, and covered the original wood siding with blue vinyl.

Watching the movie frame by frame, Mr. Jones drew plans of the Parker home. He spent $240,000 to gut the interior and transform the house into a near-exact copy of the movie set. (Darryl Haase, a tour guide, apologizes that the new stairwell is a few inches narrower than the one where Ralphie modeled his pink bunny pajamas.)

“Now I watch the movie and I catch myself looking at the background for anything we’re missing in the house,” Mr. Jones said.

To make the home feel more authentic, Mr. Jones hopes to install a stereo that recreates the sounds of Mr. Parker in the basement, swearing at the furnace. He briefly considered a Cleveland businessman’s offer to blow artificial smells of food, including Mrs. Parker’s cooked cabbage, through the house’s heat ducts.

Mr. Jones borrowed $129,000 to turn the house across the street into a museum and gift shop. Displays include the comically immobilizing snowsuit worn by little Randy, who famously cried, “I can’t put my arms down!”

Fans can buy a copy of the movie script for $40. Chunks of the house’s original wood siding cost $60.

About 4,300 people toured the house on opening weekend in November, Mr. Jones said. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under. He has no official attendance projections, but expects at least 50,000 visitors a year.

In a city starved for jobs and tourist dollars — the Census Bureau ranked Cleveland as America’s poorest big city in 2006 — the house has sparked a miniature tourism boom. For $159 the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel offers “Christmas Story” packages, which include overnight accommodations for two, tickets to the house and the movie playing continuously on the room television set.

Patty LaFountaine-Johnson, an actor from Cleveland, sews red-and-green felt hats like the one she wore as an elf in the movie. Autographed, they sell in the gift shop for $35 each. “A veritable steal, made personally by the elf from hell herself,” Ms. LaFountaine-Johnson said.

At C&Y Chinese Restaurant, the official restaurant of the “Christmas Story” house, waiters copy the movie’s Christmas turkey scene by taking a roasted duck to customer’s tables, where they chop its head off with a giant cleaver. The promotion has doubled the restaurant’s weekend sales to over 1,000 people a day, said Jimmy Fong, the manager.

“Before last month, I never heard of this movie,” Mr. Fong said. “Now I’ve seen it over 100 times. I like it very much.”

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A Christmas Story House on Today Show, December 4, 2006

December 4th, 2006 by Ralphie

The “Today” show’s Bob Dotson reports on Brian Jones and his wife, Beverly, who bought the Cleveland home that was the setting for the popular holiday movie.

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