According to LEIGH BROWN, CREATOR AND ENABLER The Lives and Love of an Arty Village Chick by Eugene B. Bergmann, “Leigh Brown, from the early 1960s through the late 1990s, was the steadfast, all-purpose, vital element in the life and art of the raconteur and wit, Jean Shepherd.” As early as 1972, she would tell people “If we can ever get A Christmas Story made as a movie using the Red Ryder BB gun tale, he will have it made. It would be the ultimate perennial Christmas movie like It’s a Wonderful Life.”
She was so right.
Shepherd took the stories that he told on the radio and wrote in books and worked with his wife Leigh and filmmaker Bob Clark to make the stories “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” “The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again,” “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art” and “Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil,” as well as “The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds,” as well as the unpublished “Flick’s Tongue” into a movie.
Clark had first heard these stories on the radio in 1968 and worked for years to get this movie made.
What amazes me is that Clark made both the darkest holiday film of all time, the perfect Black Christmas, and this film, a movie that for many is the American Christmas film.
It wasn’t always that way.
The city of Cleveland wasn’t sure they wanted someone that made a seasonal slasher, much less Porky’s, to make a film in their town. Even the department store used for the film, Higbee’s, had a clause where vice president Bruce Campbell would be allowed to edit the script for cursing if they used his store. Ironically, the house used for a lot of this movie is on Cleveland Street, which is also the street name — in Hammond, Indiana — where Shepherd grew up.
It wasn’t an easy shoot. Clark had Shepherd banned from the set at one point for giving his young actor his own direction.
The movie did fine — $20.8 million on a $3.3 million budget — but then it went away. That’s what movies used to do.
But then, something small happened and grew.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s pre-1986 film library was bought by Ted Turner. He needed a holiday movie to show that they owned and didn’t have to pay the rights to. They started showing it in 1987 and at one point, showed it the entire day of Christmas. It became the holiday movie, replacing It’s a Wonderful Life, which ended its free run of being a public domain film in 1993 when Republic Pictures bought the rights to the original story it was based on, as well as the music in the film.
You may know the story of Ralphie, of the gun he wants, of the tongue on the flagpole, but maybe knowing all of the above will add to your holiday watch.