Ladies, be ready to water some plants …

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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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