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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