Archive for December, 2013

A look inside A Christmas Story House and Museum: Leg lamps, decoder rings, bunny suits and a fascinating neighbor who was on the set

December 6th, 2013 by Ralphie

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by Laura DeMarco

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We have Higbee’s to thank for “A Christmas Story.”

Or so goes the local legend about the 1983 holiday classic — partly filmed in Cleveland and wholly loved in our fair town.

Director Bob Clark was looking for a Midwestern city to stand in for author Jean Shepherd’s hometown of Hammond, Ind. The city needed 1940s-looking houses – and a historic department store for the parade and Santa line scenes. He sent out 100 letters to stores.

Only Higbee’s responded. So Clark chose Cleveland for his cinematic labor of love. He chose the Tremont neighborhood for the Parker family house because he had loved how it looked in the 1978 film “The Deer Hunter.”

These are just two of the fun facts about the 30-year-old film I learned on a recent visit to the A Christmas Story House and Museum in Tremont, ground zero for fans of what has become an international cult classic.

The house, museum and onsite gift shop are the starting point for devotees of the movie about little Ralphie Parker’s solitary dream of getting a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas.

Nestled in a working-class residential neighborhood at the corner of West 11th Street and Rowley Avenue, and overlooking the belching steel mills, the house looks very much like it did in the film, set sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s. There’s even a glowing Major Award, er, leg lamp, in the front window.

It’s just like you’ve stepped into the Parkers’ world – I half expected to see Randy toddling around in his snowsuit and Mrs. Parker cooking up her turkey in the kitchen.

Except that only exteriors were filmed at the Cleveland house, in addition to the Higbee’s and Public Square scenes. This was in part due to the fact that no snow fell in Cleveland in January 1983 when filming was slated, and in part due to Canadian actress Tedde Moore’s (Miss Shields) pregnancy. So they moved up to Ontario – where the snow was free, not a costly effect – for additional outside shots and soundstage work.

Fortunately for Cleveland fans, house and museum owner Brian Jones has re-created the inside of the Parkers’ house since he bought the home on West 11th Street in 2006.

Downstairs in the vintage house, visitors are greeted by the Parkers’ decorated tree. “Go ahead, crawl under the sink like Randy, or lie down in the boy’s bed – it’s all interactive,” says a tour guide. Upstairs, some guests on our tour did just that – others were fascinated by the bathroom, which featured Ralphie’s decoder ring AND a bar of Lifebuoy soap.

The backyard, where scenes WERE filmed, looked just like the movie. All that was missing were Ralphie and his gun.

While the house was fully interactive, items in the museum across the street were under glass – for good reason. Jones has amassed a large amount of memorabilia from the film since opening the house.

“A lot of it finds me,” he says. “People who worked on the film read about the house and call me up and say, ‘Guess what I’ve got?’ ”

Items include stills from the movie and clothing including the Old Man’s (Darren McGavin) coat, Mother’s (Melinda Dillon) robe and housecoat, and Randy’s (Ian Petrella) snowsuit. The coolest collection, though, may be the antique toys used in the Higbee’s window sequence, including the Toy Tank.

But the best part of the museum isn’t a what, it’s a who: Jim Moralevitz.

Moralevitz, 73, has lived two doors down from the Christmas Story House since he came from the hospital as a newborn.

He lived there in 1983 during the filming and became quite involved: He’s the guy who delivers the leg lamp. He also became friends with McGavin and a de facto caretaker for the kids on the set.

Today, Moralevitz still lives two doors down – and almost every day, he sets up a chair in the museum near his personal memorabilia collection and shares his stories.

And they’re great, like the one about how he and McGavin used to shut down the Rowley Tavern at night, then go back to his trailer for a nightcap , finally ending up sharing breakfast while he would listen to the actor recite his lines.

Or the one about how Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) and some of the other kids were missing from the set, and he found them chasing an alley cat behind his house, stopping them before the young actor could get his face scratched.

“I’m there every single day, greeting people from all over the world,” says Moralevitz, a retired salesman/polka band leader/Eastern Europe tour guide. “People really appreciate meeting someone who was there during the movie. It was a great pleasure for me to be involved, and I love to share my stories.”

So, how did he end up delivering the leg lamp?

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he says, “eating pierogi at the Rowley, and the casting director came in and hired all four of us who were in there.

“I never knew I would have such an important role, or that the movie near my house would lead to this Ralphie cult. As I like to say, ‘whoda thunk it?’ ”

Perhaps Christmas Story House owner Brian Jones.

“It’s just a really good movie about childhood and growing up and Christmas,” he says. “It’s a great, real story about being a kid.”

A Christmas Story House and Museum is open seven days a week, year-round, at 3159 West 11th St. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Call 216-298-4919 or emailinfo@achristmasstoryhouse.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.Monday through Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Tours of the house run every 30 minutes. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children (ages 7 to 12) and free for children ages 6 and under. More info: achristmasstoryhouse.com.

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Here’s your chance to sleep in ‘A Christmas Story’ house

December 5th, 2013 by Ralphie

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Thirty years after A Christmas Story made the Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun, leg lamps and an apple-cheeked kid named Ralphie staples of the holiday season, die-hard fans can bid on a chance to spend two nights at “Ralphie’s house.”

The house, in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, was featured in exterior shots of the movie, which has become a cult classic, thanks to heavy seasonal rotation on cable. The house was purchased 13 years ago by Brian Jones, who created A Christmas Story House & Museum and hosts an annual convention for fans. (They call themselves Ralphies.)

The house museum features 1940s toys and props and costumes from the movie, along with a newly expanded gift shop selling, among other souvenirs, leg lamps.

As in past years, true fans can bid for a chance to spend two nights in the house. Bidding on eBay runs through Monday and includes a third night at The Renaissance Hotel Cleveland and $800 in extras. Proceeds benefit the neighborhood’s restoration project.

Other A Christmas Story specials: Red Roof Inn’s three Cleveland-area lodgings have “Ralphie Rates” that include admission for two to A Christmas Story House, discounts at its gift shop, and a free appetizer at Bac Chinese Restaurant. Rates start at $89.99.

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A Christmas Story tour: Where to celebrate the movie’s 30th anniversary in Cleveland

December 5th, 2013 by Ralphie

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By Laura DeMarco

A Christmas Story Leg Lamp at Bac

The A Christmas Story House and Museum is not the only way fans can celebrate the film’s legacy in Cleveland. Read on for a guide to all things “A Christmas Story”– just don’t shoot your eye out.

A Christmas Story House and Museum:Open seven days a week, year-round, at 3159 West 11th St. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. Call 216-298-4919 or emailinfo@achristmasstoryhouse.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Tours of the house run every 30 minutes. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children (ages 7 to 12) and free for children ages 6 and under. More info: achristmasstoryhouse.com.

A Christmas Story House & Museum Gift Shop: Newly expanded to 3,500 square feet, the mega shop includes everything you could ever want to know, wear or see from ACS, including: bunny jammies, Red Ryder air rifles, Lifebuoy soap, board games, elf hats, Flick’s cap, DVDs, books, magnets and leg lamps galore. There’s even a sexy leg-lamp dress for the ladies.

Public Square: Higbee’s is long gone from downtown – along with the rest of the department stores – but the store that played such an important role on- and off-screen in the history of “A Christmas Story” has come alive again for the holidays. For the second year in a row, the Horseshoe Casino has re-created “Holidays at the Higbee,” transforming 15 ground-floor windows in the former store space into the way the Parker family would have seen them.

While you’re in the area, look up at the facade and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which remain unchanged from the way they look in the film. The Terminal Tower looks a little different itself, though. Through December, a giant leg lamp will be projected nightly on the facade – part of Forest City’s new Step into Cleveland campaign.

Fun fact: Julie Matthews, who worked as a casting director on the film, said originally they had a very hard time lining up enough extras to fill Public Square for the parade scene: “So I got the word out to the TV stations and everyone I knew, and we filled the streets. But Cleveland wasn’t used to having movies made here in those days – there’d be a lot more buzz about it now than there was then.”

Climb Santa Mountain at Castle Noel: You can’t get into Higbee’s these days, but you can relive Ralphie’s climb back up Santa Mountain to grumpy St. Nick at Medina-based Christmas super-experience Castle Noel, 260 S. Court St. Info atcastlenoel.com.

“A Chinese Christmas Dinner”: Want the full ACS experience? Top off a visit to the house and museum with a visit to Bac Asian American Bistro & Bar in Tremont, the official ACS restaurant, where you can order your very own “Chinese Turkey,” aka Peking Duck, head and all, through the end of the month – just like the Parker family. Or, just use your ticket stubs from the house and museum for 10 percent off your bill. Bac is at 2661 West 14th St., Cleveland; 216-938-8960. The original Chop Suey Palace featured in the film, by the way, was in Toronto, where filming headed after Cleveland.

Leg lamp Twitter hunt: Follow A Christmas Story House on Twitter (@acshouse) for clues on where leg lamps are hidden in the Cleveland area. Check in when you find one for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

On the big screen: See “A Christmas Story” the way it was meant to be seen, whenCleveland Cinemas hosts two special 30th anniversary screenings: 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Cedar Lee Theatre (2163 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights); and 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at the Capitol Theatre (1390 West 65th St., Cleveland). $5. 

A Christmas Story hotels: Want to stay the night downtown, or visiting from out of town? Stay at the historic Renaissance Cleveland Hotel – known as Stouffers back in 1983, when the cast and crew stayed there – and you’ll be just steps away from the decorated Higbee’s window. Rooms begin at $109; call 216-696-5600.

Or head to the burbs, where four Red Roof Inns (Independence, Willoughby, Westlake and Middleburg Heights) are offering special Christmas Story packages. The Ralphie Rate, beginning at $89.99, includes two tickets to the house and museum, 15 percent off in the ACS gift shop and a free appetizer at Bac. Call 1-800-733-7663.

Christmas in the Christmas Story House: Want to pose by the leg lamp, loll by the Christmas tree and open presents in your pink bunny jammies Christmas morning, hide under the sink like Randy and shoot BBs – but don’t shoot your eye out – in the Parkers’ back yard? You can! A Christmas Story House and Museum is holding aneBay auction for two nights (including Christmas Eve) in the house for four guests, plus your very own fra-gee-lay leg lamp, air rifle, a night at the Renaissance Cleveland and much more. The bidding, which closes Monday, Dec. 9, was close to $4,000 as of press time. Proceeds will go to the Christmas Story House Neighborhood Restoration Project.

24-hour marathon: What would Christmas Eve be without the ACS marathon? BO-ring. Turn to TBS at 8 p.m. Dec. 24 and let the fun begin.

Turn the page on “A Christmas Story Treasury”: Canadian ACS superfan Tyler Schwartz has written THE book, the definitive history of the Christmas classic. Schwartz, a Toronto native who also directed the 2009 fan film “Road Trip for Ralphie,” not only has compiled a rich, interview-filled history of the movie. His multimedia tome also includes audio from the Old Man and author Jean Shepherd, recipes from Mrs. Parker and the Chop Suey palace, a Major Award telegram, and even Ralphie’s Christmas essay – C+? $24.95, available at the ACS book store, Target, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com as well as area stores.

Movie mania: “A Christmas Story” first took off on Beta – remember that? – not the theater, so it’s only fitting there are several other DVD sequels and fan films (of varying quality, true). They include “My Summer Story” (1994), filmed in Cleveland and reuniting Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark, but with Charles Grodin as the Old Man, Mary Steenburgen as Mother and Kieran Culkin as Ralphie.

Also: “A Christmas Story 2,” a straight-to-DVD 2012 film by Brian Levant about a teenage Ralphie who only wants a 1938 Mercury convertible for Christmas; “Clarkworld,” a 2009 doc about Bob Clark that included much on ACS; and “Road Trip for Ralphie,” Tyler Schwartz’s fan film about tracking down sites in Cleveland and Canada used in the film. All are available at the ACS gift shop.

Your very own Major Award: In honor of the 30th anniversary of “A Christmas Story,” Positively Cleveland has launched a leg lamp contest. Yes, you too can win your own Major Award. To enter to win the full-sized 50-inch leg lamp, all you need to do is to take a photo of a festive Cleveland event, attraction, food or beverage – “whatever defines the holiday season for you.” Then, upload your photo to the “Win a Leg Lamp” tab on Positively Cleveland’s Facebook page or hashtag the image to #HomeinCLE on Twitter or Instagram. Entries will be accepted through Dec. 31. You may enter more than one picture. Each time a new picture is posted, your name will be entered. One winner will be selected at random to receive a 50-inch leg lamp.

“A Christmas Story” Leg Lamp fun run, Saturday, Dec. 7, Public Square: The 5K and 10K race entries are sold out, but you can still join in the fun run, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Public Square. Get a nice hot cup of Ovaltine when you cross the finish line. Really.

“A Christmas Story,” Cleveland Play House, through Sunday, Dec. 22: The Cleveland Play House reinvents one of the most popular shows in its history at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre. Expect to see footie pajamas. Plain Dealer theater critic Andrea Simakis calls it an “entirely new ‘Story,’ with a fresh cast, director and, most dramatically, a completely reimagined set designed by Robert Mark Morgan.” Tickets are $25-$72. Go to clevelandplayhouse.com or call 216-241-6000. Note: “A Christmas Story, the Musical,” at Near West Theatre through this weekend, is sold out.

 

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30th anniversary celebrated at Ohio home of ‘A Christmas Story’

December 2nd, 2013 by Ralphie

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CLEVELAND – Fans of the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” still can’t get enough of its quirky humour and heart-warming family theme and are relishing this season’s 30th anniversary celebration.

Hundreds stood in line Saturday to get into the Ohio home in Cleveland, where some of the movie was filmed and 9-year-old Ralphie dreamed of getting an air rifle for Christmas. The story’s 1940s trappings are all there: the iconic leg lamp, a typewriter and globe, a BB gun range in the backyard.

At a hotel in the city’s Public Square, some of the original cast members signed autographs. And thousands were thrilled during the city’s annual winter festival when a gigantic image of a leg lamp was projected onto a tower.

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