November 30th, 2013 by Ralphie
It was hardly a box-office smash when first released 30 years ago, opening across the country in only about 900 theaters.
It grossed a little more than $19 million, placing it just below “Breathless” and just above “Max Dugan Returns” on a list of top movies of 1983.
It was no “Return of the Jedi.”
And yet, since then, “A Christmas Story” has taken off like few movies have — thanks to video and a TBS television marathon — evolving into a feel-good Christmas classic that warms hearts and feeds a love of nostalgia (even though Jean Shepherd, whose writings inspired the movie, claimed to despise the notion of nostalgia) without being sappy or serious.
It’s a Christmas movie that actually has us rooting on the pursuit of material gain – in this case, Ralphie’s desire to own a Red Ryder BB gun – and looking forward to it being consummated. Even if Ralphie does nearly shoot his eye out.
Better still, for Cleveland, the movie has fans beating a path to a 19th-century Victorian house in Tremont where the exterior shots of Ralphie’s house were filmed.
Brian Jones, a fan of the movie from San Diego, bought the house at 3159 West 11thStreet and in 2006 A Christmas Story House & Museum opened. The inside of the house has been renovated to replicate the set used in the movie. And as part of the movie’s 30th anniversary celebration, the backyard is being fixed up to look more like it did when Ralphie imagined himself with a Red Ryder BB gun fighting off Black Bart.
The house, museum and brand-new gift shop now employ about 25 people, said Angela Dickerson, the chief operating officer who was employee number two when she helped out with the first restoration fundraiser in 2005.
Other scenes from the movie were shot at the old Higbee’s department store in downtown Cleveland, including Ralphie’s memorable climb up Santa Claus mountain, which ended with him being kicked down the slide after finally summoning the courage to ask Santa for a Red Ryder BB gun.
In a nod to that scene, Mark Klaus features a Santa Claus mountain at his Castle Noelattraction in Medina, Dickerson said.
Just as the Christmas season accounts for a large chunk of a retailer’s annual sales, nearly half of the house and museum’s 50,000 annual visitors come in December, Dickerson said. And they come from all over the world, as a push-pin map in the museum will attest. Recently, a group of about 15 young women from South Africa stopped by, Dickerson said.
Part of the movie’s universal appeal is that it doesn’t have religious overtones. It’s based on Jean Shepherd’s book of short stories called “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and was directed by Bob Clark. It has spawned a musical and a play.
“A Christmas Story” is running at Cleveland Play House through Dec. 22, after having been on hiatus for a while, and “A Christmas Story, The Musical” is at the Near West Theatre after first appearing on Broadway.
Now that’s a modern way to celebrate a movie that has stood the test of time.
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