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Cleveland, Oh– “Closer. Closer!” I say to my husband, motioning in the direction of the French-laced leg and fringed hemline. “Would you just touch it already?”
Who would’ve thought, after all these years, I’d have to beg him to get near it?
Christmas after Christmas, my husband’s family has gathered around the television and laughed hysterically through repeats of the movie A Christmas Story.
Now here we were at the actual house where parts of the movie were filmed, standing in the living room an arm’s length away from the famous leg lamp (won in the movie by “the old man” as a “major award”), and my husband Ish was acting like he wanted nothing to do with it.
Even if, like me, you have never seen the movie in its entirety, chances are someone in your home considers it a classic.
This holiday season marks the 25th anniversary of A Christmas Story. In the film, Ralphie – a precocious misfit played by Peter Billingsley – wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but his mother fears he will “shoot his eye out.” Hilarious hijinks ensue (cue: eye rolling) and in the end Ralphie gets the gun and proves his mother was right … sort of.
The house we’re standing in was the one used in all the exterior shots in the movie (including the classic final scene). And judging by the 60,000 visitors who have passed through its doors since they opened in 2006, my in-laws aren’t the only ones who find the movie funny.
Count Brian Jones among the movie’s fans.
The 32-year-old San Diego native turned his childhood love of the film into a lucrative business. When his dreams of being a fighter pilot were dashed after he failed the sight requirements, Jones began making and selling replica leg lamps (www.redriderleglamps.com).
In 2005, when the two-family apartment house in Cleveland went up for sale on eBay, Jones paid $150,000 for the property and then spent 10 months and $250,000 more to renovate the house to match his all-time favourite movie.
The rest is history.
Lest you think my husband, his sisters and the two men who run this shop are the only die-hard fans, you should know that every November over the American Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 28-29), an A Christmas Story convention brings people from around the globe out to the simple yellow house with green trim.
This year, in celebration of the 25th anniversary milestone, original actors will be back in town, two documentaries about the film will debut and rides will be offered in the original Canadian fire truck used in the film.
Year-round tours offer visitors a chance to take photos throughout the house while a guide explains the various rooms and special touches, as well as access to the museum and gift shop across the street (where mini replicas of the leg lamp in night-light form sell for $15).
“I find people who are of the retiring age like (the house) because in many ways it is similar to what they grew up with,” says our tour guide. And because the house is a renovation, not a restoration, guests can go to town re-enacting their favourite scenes.
“Everyone likes to climb under the kitchen sink,” she says, referring to a popular scene from the movie.
The items in the museum across the street are less hands-on. All have been purchased, collected or donated to the museum. The walls are lined with Warner Bros.’ archive shots of the film and actors have donated their own snapshots of fun in between takes. Original costumes from the Chinese restaurant chop suey scene, Randy’s “I can’t get my arms down” snowsuit and anything else that could be damaged or stolen are protected behind glass.
While many of the cast members have already made a visit to the museum, “Ralphie” remains a holdout. What, you may be asking, ever happened to that pudgy little guy with a penchant for guns?
Turns out he did all right.
“He went on to be an executive producer of some small movies you may have heard of,” museum executive director Steve Siedlecki says with a grin, “like Iron Man and The Break-up.“
And yet, despite what everyone has gone through to make this moment possible, my husband is standing stone-faced, a full foot away from the lamp others would kill to touch.
It takes a few minutes of begging and cajoling but I finally make it happen: the husband and the lamp in one shot. His fears that I’ll somehow expose his obsession to the world subside as I snap another shot by the Christmas tree and yet another by the film-family portraits on the stairs.
“See?” I say as I shut down the camera and pat him comfortingly on the back. “That wasn’t so bad.”
Heather Greenwood Davis’ visit was subsidized by the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland.
Heather Greenwood Davis is a Toronto-based freelance writer.