Archive for November, 2008

Visit the Christmas Story House and step into the holiday classic’s 1940s world

November 30th, 2008 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article in St. Pete Times

By Sean Daly, Times Staff Writer 
In print: Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Red Ryder BB gun and a bowling ball, both Christmas gifts in the 1983 movie, are props in the interior re-creation of A Christmas Story House. The movie’s interior shots were filmed on a soundstage.
The Red Ryder BB gun and a bowling ball, both Christmas gifts in the 1983 movie, are props in the interior re-creation of A Christmas Story House. The movie’s interior shots were filmed on a soundstage.

The home is located in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.
The home is located in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.

Bob Clark, who directed Porky’s, fought to get A Christmas Story made. The studio said okay, but only if he also made Porky’s II.
[A Christmas Story House and Museum]
Bob Clark, who directed Porky’s, fought to get A Christmas Story made. The studio said okay, but only if he also made Porky’s II.

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Twenty-five years ago, at the quiet end of Cleveland Street, a round-faced rapscallion with endangered blue peepers gazed from the window of his house and dreamed of the perfect Christmas gift:

An official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, a blue-steel beauty with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time.

You go, Ralphie Parker.

And now, in front of that same mustard-yellow two-story with the wraparound porch, dinged-up mailbox and horseshoe door knocker announcing “major awards” — fra-gee-lay! — another round-faced kid gazes into that same window and dreams of that same gift.

Reel life, meet real life.

Ralphie Parker, meet Raul Gomez.

“I like that BB gun,” says 13-year-old Gomez, who lives a few doors down from that working-class home made famous in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story. The house is now a life-affirming tourist destination, a must-see for any fa-ra-ra-ra fan of the film.

Raul’s home isn’t that different from Ralphie’s old joint, although the “Latinos for Obama” sign is certainly a modern touch. Every day, Raul rides his orange bike down the sidewalk and stops in front of the movie house, the one with the fishnetted leg lamp in the front window —behold, the leg lamp! — which stays illuminated 24/7/365.

Raul and his family love the flick. “My mom says if it’s on 10 times, she’ll watch it 10 times,” he says. But despite living so close, Raul has never been inside the house, which draws people, day and night, to the blue-collar neighborhood of Tremont.

A few years ago, a San Diego businessman bought the house on eBay, sight unseen, for $150,000. He then spent another $250,000 having it restored. More than 600,000 people have made the pilgrimage here since A Christmas Story House opened in 2006.

And every day, Raul watches hundreds, sometimes thousands, of fans pay to enter, to get a whiff of nostalgia, to peer out the side window at the Bumpus house — the Bumpuses! — and listen for those howling hounds.

Raul won’t give up his dream of getting in there, though, especially when I tell him that Ralphie’s BB gun is still inside. I saw it myself, across from the Christmas tree with that crooked star on top. Ralphie’s bar of Lifebuoy, the soapy penance he chomped on after blurting out “the queen mother of dirty words,” is in there, too. With teeth marks.

Raul nods, smiles. He likes that. He wants to get in. He wants that BB gun. And why not? Whether it’s the 20th century or the 21st, fiction or fact, the Ralphie Parkers of the world should never give up.

• • •

I’ve come to Cleveland to pay my respects to the Old Man. I want to sit in his chair. I want to touch his blue bowling ball. I want to shake my fist and bulge my eyes and howl unintelligible threats at the neighbor mutts.

I also want the ultimate in yuletide bragging rights. That’s right: I’ve been to his house.

When A Christmas Story first came out, I was all about Ralphie and his Red Ryder. I’m 38 now. I have kids of my own. I have a car that sounds like it has a giant ball of aluminum foil lodged under the hood. I pay my bills and I complain about my sports teams.

I’m not about Ralphie anymore. I’ve become the Old Man, portrayed so brilliantly, so churlishly in A Christmas Story by Darren McGavin.

Not a fingah!

For the three of you out there who don’t spend great chunks of your holiday season watching A Christmas Story, it’s a subtly subversive comedy about the Parker family — the Old Man, Mrs. Parker, sons Randy and Ralphie — as they maneuver the times, trials and clinking furnaces of Christmas in 1940s Indiana.

A Christmas Story didn’t last long in theaters. But thanks to the power of cable TV and DVDs, a quarter-century later the film rivals Snoopy and the Grinch as the holiday season’s most beloved TV draw. TBS hosts an annual 24-hour marathon (this year’s begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 24). The movie has become a veritable goldmine of quotables.

Oh fuuuudge!!

It is sweet and sepia-toned. It is painfully, unmistakably, unerringly us. That’s also why I’ve come to Cleveland. Because in the screwy year 2008, we need A Christmas Story more than ever.

Despite the Indiana “locale” in the script, most of the movie was shot on a soundstage in Toronto. But for a few sweet weeks, director Bob Clark and his film crew set up shop in Cleveland, specifically downtown at Higbee’s department store (where Ralphie braves Santa and his elves) and at 3159 W 11th St. (a.k.a. Cleveland Street in the film).

Only exterior shots were filmed at the house, including Ralphie’s battle with Black Bart in the back yard and the Old Man’s sidewalk presentation of the leg lamp. But owner Brian Jones, 32, has done his best to match both the outside and the inside of the house to what you’ve seen 2,000 times on your TV.

As you drive down the tree-lined street and see the house for the first time, it fills you with such ridiculous joy, some folks (yeah, okay, fine, some folks like me) get misty-eyed. And when you finally walk up those steps, onto the green porch, and through the front door of A Christmas Story House, it is nothing less than going home.

• • •

In the years after the movie crew left, the house on W 11th Street lost serious cinematic magic. Drug dealers moved into the neighborhood. Houses were abandoned, boarded up. But Jones, a longtime fan, was undeterred.

Vinyl siding came down. Paint went up. There was no staircase in the original house, no way for boys in deranged bunny pajamas to trundle down the steps. That’s the first thing you see when you walk in: a wide yellow staircase opening up onto a leg-lamp-illuminated living room. The Philco radio is playing old tunes. The Old Man’s bowling ball gleams under the Christmas tree lights.


The Parkers’ 1940s-style kitchen was re-created and made fully functional, with a Maytag wringer washer, a GE icebox and an old gas stove, which now sports a plastic turkey awaiting canine catastrophe. Local contractor Mike Foster got so involved in the Christmas Story project, he demanded that the kitchen tiles in the movie match the ones in real life. He had to hand-cut dozens of 12- by 12-inch tiles to 9-by-9.

But the transformation is brilliant. The details are irresistible. When I open the small cabinet under the kitchen sink, PR rep Emily Vincent laughs, “Everyone does that!” I’m looking for Randy, of course, who hid under there when he thought the Old Man was “going to kill Ralphie.”

After a short talk, tour guides allow guests to browse the house on their own. It’s fun, like a scavenger hunt. In the upstairs bathroom, you’ll find that bar of Lifebuoy with the bite marks. Tour guide Dale Drottar, a 58-year-old retired cop, was in charge of the dental authenticity. “When I bit down, it stuck to the back of my teeth,” he says. “It was dripping on my tonsils. Horrible stuff.”

The back yard might be the coolest place at A Christmas Story House. The original shed, where Ralphie imagined picking off baddies, is still intact. (The door opens, so walk on in.) Peer over the back fence, and you’ll see an old steel mill, which was written into the original script.

Jones also bought three houses across the street, razing one and turning the others into a gift shop (Old Man action figures, leg lamp night-lights) and a museum for memorabilia, which includes Flick’s goggles, Miss Shields’ chalkboard and Randy’s tragically binding snowsuit. There’s also the door from Ralphie’s classroom. It was Room 3.

• • •

When A Christmas Story House opened on Thanksgiving weekend 2006, 4,300 people were waiting to get in. “The first day it opened, I had to drive around the block 12 times looking for a parking space,” says neighbor Dash Combs, 25.

The house has transformed the street. If the folks next door ever want to sell, Jones has even considered turning the Bumpus house into a B&B. Someday, A Christmas Story House could turn into A Christmas Story Land. And more than likely, fans will come for that, too.

Lisa Vosbury, 36, drove from Binghamton, N.Y., to see her ailing father, her own Old Man. It’s been a tough trip. She needed a smile. So she came here. “It looks exactly like the movie,” she says beaming. She wanders around the property, a small, goofy grin curling her mouth. “Oh, it’s just about the simple things,” she says of the movie’s allure. “We can relate to it on all levels, right?”

Diehard fans, called “Ralphies,” come at all hours to bask in the glow of that leg lamp. Huge crowds are expected for this year’s 25th anniversary. This weekend, there’s a Christmas Story convention at the Renaissance Hotel, right next to the Higbee’s building, now a visitors center. Thousands of Ralphies will descend on the city, giddily attending such events as A Christmas Story: The Musical! and “Character Look-alike Contest.”

A scattering of actors will also be in town, although none of the major players will attend. Bob Clark, Jean Shepherd and, alas, “Old Man” Darren McGavin have all passed away. Melinda Dillon, who played the mom, has declined invitations to visit. And Ralphie himself, Peter Billingsley, is now a Hollywood producer (Iron Man) who prefers to keep his past right where it is. Rumor has it the original bunny suit and Red Ryder are in his mom’s attic.

The movie doesn’t need actors to sell it, of course. Grandfathers and fathers and sons and brothers own the movie now. And as they descend upon A Christmas Story House this holiday season, bundled-up neighbors will be there to greet them, selling cookies and Ovaltine.

2008, meet 1940.

Snow will be falling. Music will be playing. And if you happen to meet a boy named Raul selling his own wares, you’ll know what he’s saving his money for. Wish him a Merry Christmas. And tell him not to shoot his eye out.

Sean Daly can be reached at or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at

Trivia | How well do you know A Christmas Story?

We triple-dog-dare you to delight your friends with these behind-the-scenes tidbits.

• Ever wonder how they got poor Flick’s tongue to stick to that frozen flagpole? Special-effects techs used a painted PVC pipe with a small vacuum inside.

• The snow falling outside the house on Cleveland Street was all artificial. So they moved the shoot to Toronto, where the white stuff was plentiful and free.

• Three leg lamps were used during the making of the film. Two were shattered, and no one knows what happened to the third.

• The chubby neighbor on the sidewalk who compliments the Old Man on his “major award” was played by the movie’s director, Bob Clark. The snotty man at Higbee’s who sends Ralphie to the back of the Santa line is Jean Shepherd, upon whose book the movie was based.

 The original Christmas Story script was pretty blue. The Old Man’s fantastical profanity, especially as he fixed his lousy furnace, was in fact four-letter cursing. Higbee’s would only allow the crew to film in the department store if the language was cleaned up.

Sean Daly, Times staff writer


A Christmas Story 
House and Museum

Master Ralph Parker’s residence, at 3159 W 11th St., is five minutes from downtown Cleveland in the Tremont neighborhood. Admission is $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5.50 for children (ages 7 to 12) and free for ages 6 and under. It’s open year-round Thursday through Sunday, and also on Wednesdays to Dec. 31. (The leg lamp stays on all day, all night, all year.) Entrance to the museum and gift shop are included in the price.

No food is available at the attraction (well, except for some chocolate leg lamps in the gift shop). For an authentic taste of Cleveland, try Sokolowski’s University Inn (1201 University Road; (216) 771-9236), a Polish landmark a few minutes away. Sokolowski’s provided the turkeys in A Christmas Story, but you’ll want to go with the pierogi platter.

For information on A Christmas Story House and Museum, go to www.achristmasstory or call (216) 298-4919.

For travel and hotel accommodations in Cleveland, go to or call toll-free 1-800-321-1004.

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Christmas Story fans celebrate 1983 film

November 29th, 2008 by Ralphie

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Fans of the holiday movie “A Christmas Story” are celebrating the film’s 25th anniversary with a convention and trips to the house where the movie was made.

About 4,000 fans are attending a convention in Cleveland honoring the movie this weekend, which includes tours of the house in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.

The 1983 film, an adaptation of Jean Shepard’s childhood memoir of a boy in the 1940s, was set in Indiana but largely filmed in Ohio. The film starred Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, a young boy determined to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

The film was a modest theatrical success, but critics loved it. It eventually joined “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” as one of the Christmas films audiences watch year after year.

“It’s a film about being a kid and looking back,” said Brian Jones, who owns “A Christmas Story House” and the neighboring museum.

The convention at the city’s Renaissance Hotel features actors who starred in the movie, three documentaries about the film and the original 1938 fire truck that drove to the rescue in a famous scene in which a child is dared to stick his tongue to a frozen flagpole.

Scott Schwartz, 38, played that kid named Flick whose tongue gets stuck on the pole. Schwartz, who spent two weeks in Cleveland shooting the film, said the city has vastly improved since then.

“It’s a much better place,” he said. “You have the baseball stadium, the Cavs, the stores.”

The widow and children of Jeff Gillen, who played the movie’s scary and worn-out Santa Claus, traveled from Miami to attend the convention. Gillen died in 1995, a dozen years after the movie was filmed.

His wife, Arlene, and children, Phil and Elana, joined other fans of the movie in the hotel lobby on Friday morning.

“It is unbelievable that a movie has touched the lives of millions of families,” said Phil Gillen.

Mark and Becky Tompkins traveled 600 miles from LaPorte City with their children, 9-year-old Madison and 5-year-old Brandon.

The family decorates their home with scenes from the movie and even took a family photo around the “leg lamp” – the infamous prize that Ralphie’s dad wins in a newspaper contest.

“It’s a Christmas movie that you can watch and relate to,” Mark Tompkins said. “Everyone, whether they want to admit it or not, really wanted a special gift one holiday.”

Christa Puskar of Everson, Pa., said she has tree ornaments and board games based on the movie and buys Lifebuoy soap, the brand used by Ralphie’s mother to wash his mouth out after he swears in the film.

Puskar also keeps the television on for the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story,” which begins airing on Christmas Eve on TBS.

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Never-ending ‘Story’

November 28th, 2008 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article

Friday, November 28, 2008

1″It’s really cool,” said Siedlecki, 29, a 1997 Brunswick High School and 2002 Baldwin-Wallace College graduate. “I was mainly looking for something to put on my resume to say, ‘Yeah, this is what I did.’ I never expected to run the place. Now that I am, it’s like the little things you do in life you never how they may come about. It was a simple e-mail and this is what came about.”

He added, “The more I think about it, the more I’m glad I sent that e-mail.”

That simple e-mail was sent to fellow “A Christmas Story” enthusiast Brian Jones, who purchased the actual house, located at 3159 W. 11th St. in the Cleveland West Side neighborhood, used in the filming of the movie. Opened in 2006, A Christmas Story House & Museum, along with an annual convention, has proven to be more of a success than the two men ever dreamed.

“When Brian and I first started this, and we were talking about how things are going to go, we expected it to be busy, but we weren’t sure how quickly it would take off,” Siedlecki said. “Now it’s definitely taken off quicker than we ever would have imagined. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve surpassed 70,000 people since we opened. It’s something that more and more people get turned on to every year. We’ve seen our attendance going up each year, so it’s definitely grown in popularity and it isn’t something you’ll see dying off anytime soon.”

Considering this year marks a quarter of a century since the movie’s release, Siedlecki created the “A Christmas Story 25th Anniversary Celebration & Convention,” which takes place today and Saturday at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel.

Among the highlights are appearances by eight original cast members — Ian Petrella (Randy), Scott Schwartz (Flick), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Dwayne McLean (Black Bart), Patty Johnson (Head Elf) and Drew Hocevar (Male Elf) — as well as the premiere of three “A Christmas Story”-based documentaries — “ClarkWORLD,” “Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold ‘Christmas Story'” and “Roadtrip for Ralphie” — and rides in the original fire truck used in the movie during Flick’s famous tongue-on-the-flagpole scene.

There will also be a preview of the upcoming “A Christmas Story — The Musical” production, which appears to be headed for a Broadway run.

In the spirit of the Red Ryder BB gun, a BB gun range — weather permitting— will be set up at the museum. (Please, don’t shoot your eye out.)

Even though actor-producer-director Peter Billingsley has yet to appear at this annual holiday event, Siedlecki said that won’t keep fans from attending. In fact, this year he expects roughly 3,000 people from all over the country to visit the museum and the convention.

“We see people come through the doors every day, and it’s not just one particular demographic that loves the movie,” Siedlecki said. “We see people coming in with their grandparents, their kids and themselves. We see three generations of people that can relate to the movie. It’s people who grew up in the 1940s, people who were around when the movie came out in 1983 and then you have the ones who are turning their kids onto it.

“So there are three different generations that are coming here and all see something different about the movie that they may relate to.

I don’t see things changing in the future because all of the people who come here turn their kids onto it, and it’s just a cycle that will keep on going.”

A Christmas Story House & Museum is located about five minutes from downtown Cleveland at 3159 W. 11th St. in the Tremont neighborhood. 

It is open year-round on Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Through Dec. 31, the house is also open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Tours of the house run every 30 minutes. 

Regular admission tickets are $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5.50 for children (ages 7 to 12) and free for children ages 6 and under. 

For more information or for directions, visit or call (216) 298-4919.

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25 years, 25 questions: ‘A Christmas Story’ marks a quarter-century

November 28th, 2008 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article

by Michael Heaton/Plain Dealer Reporter

Friday November 28, 2008

Ralphie will forever remain young, though the film about his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun turns 25 this year.ONLINE EXTRAS

How to get the full “Christmas Story” experience



This year marks the 25th anniversary of the cult holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” The timeless and semi-autobiographical story of young Ralphie’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun (based on author Jean Shepherd’s childhood) caught the nation’s imagination because of its nostalgia and humor. Devotion to the 1983 movie was even more intense in Cleveland.

That’s due in large part to the fact that although set in Indiana, a good deal of the movie, including the exteriors of “the house,” was shot on West 11th Street and Public Square.

Today, that house is a museum devoted to the film — and one of Cleveland’s most popular tourist destinations. Combined with marathon showings of “A Christmas Story” every Christmas Eve on TBS, that means it’s pretty hard to stump Clevelanders when it comes to movie trivia.

So as our holiday gift to you, in honor of the big 2-5, we’ve put together some trivia about the house and the movie for aficionados to chew on. For the hard-core fan, we hope we found at least one factoid that eluded you. And if all this information is new to you, well, maybe it’s about time you saw the movie … again.


Twenty-five things you probably don’t know about “A Christmas Story” — but should


Could McMurphy really have pulled off the Old Man?

1. Jack Nicholson was originally offered the role of the father in the movie, which eventually went to Darren McGavin. 

2. The story’s author, Jean Shepherd, has a cameo in the film as an irritable department store customer who tells Ralphie to head to the back of the line.

3. Even though the house, 3159 West 11th St., appears in the film, almost all the interiors were shot elsewhere on a soundstage.

4. Shepherd’s Christmas stories originally appeared in Playboy magazines in 1965 and 1967.

5. Two years before directing a “A Christmas Story,” Bob Clark had a hit with “Porky’s.” (On a sad note, Clark and his son Ariel were killed in a car accident in California in 2007.)

6. Brian Jones bought the “A Christmas Story” house for $150,000 in 2004 and spent $250,000 to fix it up.

7. In 1983, the movie made a respectable $19 million at the box office.

8. The annual “A Christmas Story” marathon on TBS attracts 40 million viewers.

9. The school where Flick gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole was filmed in Ontario, Canada.

10. More than 70,000 people have been through the house in Tremont. They have come from all 50 states and more than a dozen other countries.

11. Director Clark has a cameo as clueless neighbor Swede.

12. West 11th Street has been honorarily named Cleveland Street because of the movie.

13. All the elves in the movie were Cleveland locals.

14. The filmmakers determined that the exact model of Red Ryder BB gun — Ralphie’s dream gift– never existed. A model was created for the movie.


Surrounded by a sea of extras at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland, Mary Steenburgen appeared in “My Summer Story,” a sequel to “A Christmas Story.”

15. The “A Christmas Story” sequel, “My Summer Story” (released at the box office as “It Runs in the Family”) was also shot at the house on West 11th Street in 1994. It features an almost entirely different cast, including Charles Grodin as the Old Man, Mary Steenburgen as Ralphie’s mother and Kieran Culkin as Ralphie. 

16. A Christmas Story House and Museum and gift shop employ 12 people seasonally.

17. Two marriage proposals were made in the house, and one couple was married there in 2007 wearing 1941 period clothing.

18. An eBay auction awards the winning bidder the opportunity to spend a night in the house on Christmas Eve. Bidding is ongoing.

19. A 1938 Oldsmobile touring sedan that was in the parade scene in the movie sits in the garage behind the gift shop.

20. Is that really snow on the ground in the movie? No. It’s firefighting foam. Actors and crew slipped and slid around on the stuff during filming.

21. After the scene in which Ralphie drops his f-bombs, his mom washes out his mouth with soap. Lifebuoy soap to be exact. And yes, they sell the soap imported from England in the gift shop.

22. After the movie was shot, the house became a rental, and many different people lived there until it was bought and restored by Brian Jones.

23. According to locals on staff at the A Christmas Story House, before the shooting of the movie, the house’s basement was home to many an illegal cockfight.

24. Author Shepherd is the movie’s narrator.

25. Jim Moralevitz, who played the role of the deliveryman who brings the leg lamp crate to the house, was a local extra who still lives on the street. 

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A Christmas Story: Ralphie’s pals are coming to Cleveland

November 28th, 2008 by Ralphie


Link to Original Article


Can A Christmas Story really be 25 years old?

The iconic 1983 holiday film about Ralphie Parker and his dream of getting a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa is marking a big anniversary this month.

At the A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, a celebration Nov. 28-29 will feature a reunion of the cast, including Scott Schwartz, who played Flick, the kid who got his tongue stuck to the flagpole, and Ian Petrella, who played Ralphie’s little brother Randy.

”People don’t realize the movie is 25 years old,” says Steve Siedlecki, executive director of the museum. “It’s only been popular for 10 years or so, when they started showing it on television.”

Even if you can’t make the party today, Nov. 28, you can visit the house anytime.

The plain, clapboard two-story home was used for all the exterior shots in the movie. Now, it’s a lovingly restored museum containing A Christmas Story props, costumes, memorabilia and photos.

Purchased in 2004 by A Christmas Story fan Brian Jones, the house has been restored to the yellow-with-green-trim color it had in the film. Jones opened it as a museum in November 2006.

The gift shop across the street sells everything from leg lamps to decoder pins to talking Ralphie dolls.

About 35,000 people visit per year, Siedlecki says.

A Christmas Story premiered on Thanksgiving 1983. It starred Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, the boy whose greatest Christmas wish was a Red Ryder BB Gun. His dad was played by the late Darren McGavin. Cleveland was chosen for part of the filming, director Bob Clark said, because it most resembled 1940s Indiana.

Like Trekkies, the most avid fans of A Christmas Story have a nickname, too — Ralphies. That could include many Americans: When TNT runs its A Christmas Story marathon each year, an estimated 40 million people tune in at least once.

The museum and house are at 3159 W. Eleventh Street in Cleveland. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and noon -5 p.m. Sundays. From Nov. 26-Dec. 31, the house also is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays for the holiday crowds.

Admission is $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5.50 for children ages 7-12 and free for younger children.

For the celebration Nov. 28-29, a $40 ”Ralphie Pass” can get you into most events, ”but if you just want to meet and greet the actors, that’s $10,” Siedlecki says.

For more, see or call 216-298-4919.

And be sure to drink your Ovaltine.


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Film buffs salute cult classic

November 27th, 2008 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article

Niagara residents will help mark 25th anniversary of A Christmas Story


Cleveland’s Steve Siedlecki stood in front of the former Victoria School on Niagara Street earlier this year and felt he’d come full circle.

The school-turned-women’s shelter was the final piece of Siedlecki’s journey through the real world of the 1983 cult classic film, A Christmas Story, partly filmed in St. Catharines.

“It’s cool. It made my experience,” said Siedlecki, executive director of A Christmas Story House and Museum in Cleveland.

“Going up there made the whole experience full circle. I’ve seen everything for it. It’s complete.”

The Cleveland museum’s new Canada Room displays photos of the former school along with an original chalkboard, door and coat hooks for fans to delight in.

This weekend, 4,000 of those film buffs are expected to flock to Cleveland for the film’s 25th anniversary celebration and convention.

The participants include three St. Catharines residents who were at Victoria School during the filming and will participate in a panel discussion about behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Dozens of children at the school were paid $1 and used as extras in the movie about a boy named Ralphie in 1940s Indiana who longs for a Red Ryder BB gun.

“It’ll be the start of the Christmas season,” said retired Victoria School teacher Anne Dean, who’s on the panel and bringing her scrapbook of class journals, photos and calls sheets for scenes and schedules.

Dean, who helped organize students during the shoot, said she remembers the time well. “It was very different, something like that happening in a school setting.”

Members of the Chippawa Volunteer Firefighters Association will also be attending the convention and offering rides on the historic fire truck used in a key scene.

In the movie, the 1938 pumper brought firefighters to the school to rescue Ralphie’s classmate, Flick, whose tongue was stuck to a flagpole.

“Everything is fit and polished to go,” said Chief Gord Chase, whose members Ken Prohaszka and Ray Anderson will deliver the truck. It’s travelling on a flatbed in plastic wrap to protect it from damage on the highway.

Chase said that since publicity began about the truck going to the convention, people from all around the world have visited the fire hall.

“It’s like Star Trek,” Chase said. “We’re all flabbergasted. It’s a big deal and we’re overwhelmed people know so much about it.”

Convention-goers will also get a chance to meet actors from the movie, visit the restored Cleveland house used for external shots and is now part of the museum, enjoy a character look-a-like contest and see premieres of film-related documentaries.

One of those films, Road Trip for Ralphie, follows former Port Colborne resident and mega-fan Tyler Schwartz and his fiance Jordie Smits as they visit the film’s locations.

It was Schwartz who showed up at former Victoria school as it was being renovated for Gillian’s Place and pulled the chalkboard, door and hooks out of a dumpster for the Cleveland museum.

Schwartz, who lives in Oakville and works in marketing at a software company, not only produced the documentary, but has also opened an online store for leg lamps — a key prop in the classic film.

He’s also been co-ordinating things on the Canadian side for the convention.

A Christmas Story continues to grow in popularity and Schwartz said he has no idea when the interest will peak.

“Right now it’s pretty big,” Schwartz said, “and this is the time of year people are thinking about it.”

There are ornaments, cards, bandages, clocks and other merchandise on the market, while a Christmas Story Broadway musical is in the works.

Siedlecki said it’s a movie people of all ages can relate to and enjoy, as he’s discovered when visitors go through the restored house.

“You can come here and act out one of those scenes in the home that brings back memories,” he said.

“No matter what age, there’s something for everyone in that movie.”

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Ladies, be ready to water some plants …

November 26th, 2008 by Ralphie

Link to Original Article

ALL AGLOW: Jordie Smits, who compiled the fan film, …
By Angela Blackburn, Oakville Beaver Staff
Nov 26, 2008
emember Ralphie? The boy who wanted a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas — his “old man” who won a major award … a leg lamp that Ralphie’s mom ostensibly broke while watering a plant … as the story goes.Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Ralphie, his little brother, his old man, neighbourhood bully Scut Farkas, the hillbilly neighbours, the fire department rescue of a friend’s tongue frozen to a school flag pole and Ralphie’s elusive Red Ryder BB gun.Just ask Oakville’s Tyler Schwartz. Of course, you’d have to reach him this weekend at a convention in Cleveland, Ohio celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Christmas classic A Christmas Story.

That’s where the 33-year-old Schwartz and his fiancée Jordie Smits, 26, are launching their fan movie, Road Trip for Ralphie.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is Jean Shepherd’s 1966 collection of short stories upon which the 1983 movie was based.

While the movie was one its director Bob Clark wanted to do for some time, it wasn’t until he achieved success with Porky’s that he was able to.

It starred the late Darren McGavin as The Old Man and Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, who was told by everyone that if he got his Red Ryder he would shoot his eye out.

The film became a holiday favorite years after its theatrical release and is celebrated annually on cable in the U. S. with a daylong marathon.

Former Oakville resident and special effects director Martin Malivoire worked with Clark on both Porky’s and A Christmas Story and now there is another Oakville tie to the Christmas classic.

Schwartz and Smits spent two years researching the film’s shooting locations — documenting their adventure in a 90- minute film calledRoad Trip for Ralphie.

“I don’t want people to think I’m a fanatic,” said Schwartz, a marketing professional who sheepishly acknowledges his DVD is not a big budget production (as A Christmas Story itself wasn’t), but a fan movie, and stresses he began as an average fan of the 1983 flick.

He and Smits met eight years ago when they were both working at Sherkston Shores summer resort. As Christmas rolled around, the couple that hails from the Niagara Region, discovered each liked A Christmas Story.

“In 2002, I got my first DVD copy of the movie and it became a tradition that Jordie and I would sit down and watch it,” said Schwartz.

Then Schwartz heard of Brian Jones who bought Ralphie’s house from the movie on eBay. He has restored it to the way it was in the movie and renovated inside to mimic the Toronto stages on which interior scenes were filmed.

Jones’s Ohio-company operates A Christmas Story House and Museum, and gift shop, in Cleveland and has an online leg lamp company.

However, A Christmas Story, which has achieved cult classic status south of the border, was filmed to a great degree in Canada.

“That led me to wonder about all the stuff that happened in Canada, what it would look like nowadays,” said Schwartz.

Ralphie’s school was Victoria School in St. Catharines. It became a women’s shelter and on the day Schwartz called it, he discovered it was to be gutted to accommodate the transition — the very next day.

He was invited to help take part, and in exchange, take whatever he could manage.

He took his video camera and obtained the blackboard and door to Ralphie’s classroom — donating both to the Cleveland museum.

Schwartz then began to track down more — and again took his video camera.

Thunder Thighs Costumes in Toronto is one of the largest costumers in Canada and where Schwartz and Smits sifted through the huge warehouse to unearth those used in the film.

Schwartz said its owner was not convinced anyone would have more than a passing interest in the movie — until the owner of the U. S. museum flew in to buy all the costumes.

“I think she just thought we were a couple of wackos,” he said, adding people get a charge out of seeing, say, the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz or in this case, the snowsuit worn by Ralphie’s little brother Randy (in which he is so tightly wrapped he can’t put his arms down and his exasperated mom retorts, “Well, just put them down when you get to school.”)

Schwartz said the Chop Suey Palace — where Ralphie’s family has Chinese turkey after the hounds from their hillbilly neighbours make off with their turkey — is a popular French restaurant in Toronto whose owner was unaware of its appearance in the movie.

“If you stand outside and look at it, you’d say, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Chop Suey Palace,’” said Schwartz, adding, “It (the DVD) was just a crazy idea that blossomed into something of its own.”

He attended the first convention when the blackboard was added to the museum and saw what an impact the movie has made on Americans.

It’s similar to Star Trek where people attend the convention dressed as their favourite character. Fanatic fans are known as Ralphies. This weekend’s convention will feature actors from the film including Canadians Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Dwayne McLean (Black Bart).

“There are literally thousands of people obsessed with the film,” said Schwartz.

Digging up information about it was not easy however.

Schwartz said he contacted the film’s location manager, however, time and the low budget nature of the film did not make it stand out, even to those involved.

Most of the information about the Toronto filming was dug up through Toronto City Hall archives of filming permits.

Schwartz and Smits chose to recreate the tongue frozen to the flagpole scene for the cover of their DVD.

Smits said that apart from the scene in which the lamp gets “broken,” one of her favourites is when Ralphie’s little brother hides in a kitchen cupboard and his mom gives him a glass of milk to drink while inside.

“Whether you’re a kid in the ’40s, ’50s or ’90s, everybody finds something true to their own childhood,” said Schwartz.

Adults tend to buy what they want, but for kids, Schwartz said, Christmas Day is like winning the lottery.

“There’s something special about when the old man comes through and says, ‘Hey, go look behind that desk,’” said Schwartz of the Christmas morning scene when a forlorn Ralphie, who believes he didn’t get his Red Ryder BB gun, is told to go find a present that is still hidden.

Though Road Trip for Ralphie took two years to complete as regular life kept intruding, it premieres this weekend and will be available for just under $20 on the online business Schwartz is now operating.

The U. S. museum, which has not shipped to Canada, has Schwartz heading its Canadian leg — from Christmas decorations to calendars and his DVD ( ). Most popular is the leg lamp — the “major award” Ralphie’s father receives for doing a newspaper puzzle, a “prize” the old man reveres, the kids are intrigued by and Ralphie’s mom detests. It finally meets its demise as Ralphie’s mom waters a plant.

“The most popular item is the leg lamp, the major award. Everybody seems to want to buy one for their dad,” said Schwartz.

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Making Movie Memories

November 25th, 2008 by Ralphie


My friend John (he’s the Fire Chief at the flagpole) and I were hired as 

drivers for the street scene in front of Victoria school.  We were all told 

to vary the order of the cars each time we turned for another run by.  It 

made for some fancy manoeuvering at the corners!

At one point, a parked car had to be relocated.  It was black and had a nice 

fresh covering of snow on it; the driver was told “don’t lose the snow”.  He 

couldn’t use the wipers to see, nor close his door for fear of disrupting 

the snowflakes.  We walked alongside to hold the door open and guide him.

All communication there was by walkie-talkie; they were using three 

different frequencies, and one

crewman was carrying three units.  It was his job to relay messages from one 

group to another.

A car that was needed in a scene for continuity went missing. Dave, the “car 

boss” gave John and me the keys to his Austin Mini and told us to go looking 

for “the big brown Chev and get it back here now!” We found it two blocks 

away; the guy had driven away to mail a letter!  The car had stalled and 

wouldn’t turn over.  He produced a big rope and said “it always starts on a 

tow”.  I looked at the Chev, which was about three times the size and weight 

of the Mini, and figured we should try, considering the urgency.  So, we 

tied the rope onto the Mini’s bumper, not noticing the bumper was bolted to 

the trunk lid which was held on by two little hinges and the latch.  I eased 

out the slack and took off.  The Mini was wound out in first gear when Mr 

Chev popped the clutch.  It felt like we were yanked backwards, then with a 

big bang, we shot forward!  I looked in the mirror and saw the trunk lid 

flying through the air and Mr Chev standing  on the brake pedal trying to 

stop and miss the lid coming at him!  The Chev was running and back to the 

school it went.

When I got back to the school, I was sent to wardrobe to dress as a 

bystander for the flagpole scene.  The coat they gave me had a bright pink 

lining, and buttoned the wrong way- it was a woman’s!  The lady said “no one 

will notice”.

The red lights on the police car were truck stoplights bolted to suction 

cups and stuck on the roof.  The cop driving made a bunch of unsuccessful 

attempts to bring the car in and stop where the director wanted it.  

Finally, they put a sandbag on the road (you can see it under the front 

wheel), that would stop the car at the right place.  So they rolled in again 

and stopped.  Perfect.  The cops got out, slammed the doors and the lights 

fell off.

I earned about $18. from the movie.

Trivia: The Fire Chief’s hat has the letters RNFBA. This is for the Regional 

Niagara Fire Buffs Association, a local benevolent group that operates an 

emergency canteen service for the Fire Department.

Trivia:  The tire changing scene took place in St. Catharines on Glendale 

Ave adjacent to the Welland Ship Canal; you can see the lift bridge in the 


Regards, Bill Dwyer

Bill Dwyer from A Christmas Story


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TJ Johns in the Bunny Suit

November 24th, 2008 by Ralphie

Pink Bunny Suit Pajamas are now available in our gift shop.

Good afternoon,

When my family and I visited the A Christmas Story House back in July, I had a wonderful idea. Every year, my place of employment has a costume party on Halloween. I told my wife it would be fun to go as Ralphie in the bunny suit. She agreed it would be hilarious. But, where would we find said costume? We agreed we would have to make it. That means, SHE would have to make it.

So, I had yet another reason to watch the movie…for “research” this time. J Then I began looking for the perfect fabric and other materials needed to replicate Ralphie’s loathed Christmas gift. When I would find the right fabric, it was either ridiculously expensive or there was not enough in stock. So, literally the week before Halloween I found the perfect fabric, at the best price, and at the oddest place. I found it at the local Kroger grocery store. They had pink fleece-type throws with just the right amount of plush to give the right look.

So, I bought about 4 or 5 of them and Sharon went to work, sewing like crazy. Attached is the coolest costume I think I have ever worn. I even bought myself a pair of glasses and cracked the left lens for authenticity. Of course, “Old Blue” was by my side.

It is such a cool costume that just last week I bought a mannequin, so I can put it on display for the holidays. It will definitely be near the Leg Lamp…which will be prominently displayed in the front window.

TJ Johns

ralphie bunny suit

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‘A Christmas Story’ convention to premiere documentaries about director, film

November 23rd, 2008 by Ralphie

 Link to Original Article

Director Deren Abram hiked into the Florida swamps to find the lost film location where Bob Clark filmed “Porky’s.” Abram’s documentary “ClarkWORLD” examines Clark’s eclectic career, which included “A Christmas Story,” sex comedies, movies about talking babies and horror. “ClarkWORLD” is one of three documentaries premiering at the upcoming “A Christmas Story” 25th Anniversary Celebration and Convention on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28 and 29.

Nostalgic nods to Christmases past weren’t the only films the late Bob Clark directed. Zombies, slashers and sex-starved teens were in his repertoire, too.

A new documentary, “ClarkWORLD” sheds light on Clark’s career, including his trademark movie, “A Christmas Story.”

“ClarkWORLD” is the centerpiece of the “A Christmas Story” 25th Anniversary Celebration and Convention. The event unites actors from the movie and fans at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel and A Christmas Story House and Museum in Tremont.

The convention — Friday-Saturday, Nov. 28-29 — premieres three documentaries.

A group of “Christmas Story” fans visiting the Christmas Story House and Museum explain why the film is a must-see in “Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold ‘Christmas Story.”

In addition to “ClarkWORLD,” convention-goers can hear from the child actors in “Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold ‘Christmas Story’,” and follow two super-fans as they track down the movie’s locations and memorabilia in “Road Trip for Ralphie.”

Look for details in the Nov. 28 Friday! Magazine, or go to

“A Christmas Story” follows 9-year-old Ralphie, who desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas. The movie, based on stories from Jean Shepherd’s book, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” stars Peter Billingsley as Ralphie and the late Darren McGavin as the Old Man.

The Christmas Story House is the Tremont location where scenes were filmed. Fans have flocked there year round since it opened in 2006.

“ClarkWORLD” is the convention’s culminating event. Director Deren Abram examines the highs and lows — financially and artistically — in Clark’s eclectic career. His credits include such diverse fare as “Porky’s.”

Abram was a teen when “A Christmas Story” was filmed, but later he worked as Clark’s production designer on “SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2,” “The Karate Dog,” “I’ll Remember April” and “Blonde and Blonder.”

Clark, 67, and his son Ariel Hanrath-Clark, 22, died last year in a car collision in Los Angeles caused by a drunken driver. Proceeds from the Cleveland screening will go to the local chapter of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Abram, who lives near Chicago, coped with his friend’s death by making “ClarkWORLD.” It was therapeutic to interview others who had worked with Clark, such as Kim Cattrall, Jon Voight and Denise Richards, he said. They remembered Clark as a mischievous guy who was extremely prepared on the set.

A television interview with an adult Billingsley and Clark serves as a thread tying the film together. Billingsley morphs from chubby-cheeked Ralphie to the executive producer behind this summer’s blockbuster “Iron Man” and the upcoming comedy “Four Christmases.”

Actor Scott Schwartz, who played Flick — the boy who gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole — in 1983’s “A Christmas Story,” talks to director Bill Szarka, left, for the behind-the-scenes documentary “Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold ‘Christmas Story.’ ”

“Christmas Story” fandom hits the highways in “Road Trip for Ralphie,” a documentary produced by Canadian fans Tyler Schwartz (no relation to “Christmas Story” actor Scott Schwartz) and Jordie Smits. They spent two years tracking down the film’s shooting locations.

They recovered costumes, Miss Shields’ chalkboard and items used in the film as the school was being gutted. Their treasures will be displayed for the first time at the convention. “Road Trip” screens Saturday.

Director Bill Szarka compiled interviews with young cast members in “Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold ‘Christmas Story.’ ” It screens both days.

Szarka gathered footage at last year’s convention, focusing on families who have made the movie a holiday tradition.

The actors talk about how they were cast, the fun they had on the set and the secret of how filmmakers got little Randy’s arms to stick straight out in his snowsuit (styrofoam blocks in his underarms).

“Shooting Your Eye Out” reveals fantasy sequences that were cut from the film. One scene showed Black Bart and his henchmen robbing Santa, but the footage has been lost.

“That must have been unbelievable,” Bill Szarka said.

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