Touring the Christmas Story House

A Christmas Story

Tis the season for watching holiday movies. It’s practically a tradition, right up there with wrapping presents, trimming trees, and slurping down copious amounts of eggnog – spiked or otherwise. Wherever your tastes reside – be it Die Hard or Bing Crosby – we can all look forward to revisiting some of our favorite holiday-themed films each year.

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorites. A film that, as it turns out, I happen to have a regional connection to.

A Christmas Story came out in November of 1983. I missed the theatrical release (I was only eight at the time) and ended up discovering it maybe three or four years later when it aired on local TV. I instantly connected with it. I’ve always been fascinated with period pieces, and this film’s depiction of middle-class life in post-Depression 1940’s offered a window into that era unlike anything I’d ever seen before. That, combined with its genuine whit and likable characters, have turned it into a holiday staple that I enjoy to this day.

I would later come to learn that a good portion of it was shot in Cleveland, Ohio, which is not too far from my neck of the woods. In 2005, an entrepreneur purchased the house that served as the main character, Ralphie’s, home in the film and turned it into a museum. They spent a year painstakingly restoring it to look the same as it had in the film before reopening it for the public. Now dubbed, The Christmas Story House & Museum, it’s open for tours year round.

A few years back, I had the pleasure of visiting it around the holidays. The docents there were extremely knowledgeable about the home and the film, and were happy to share their expertise with me. Here’s a few neat little tidbits that I managed to pick up from that visit.

Cleveland was chosen as a primary filming location mainly because they needed a large department store to film in and the Higbee’s Department Store in Cleveland was one of the only places that would agree to let them shoot there. They left their holiday decorations up through January and February to accommodate the production. The filmmakers were happy because they didn’t have to strain the budget by changing anything. The store’s actual decorations still had a 1940’s feel to them.

  What you get when you say “Oh, fudge.” 

Higbee’s demanded that the movie remain family friendly. This had an effect on the “Oh, fudge” scene, which was originally written to have Ralphie uttering the implied F-bomb for real. The director had to change that scene to accommodate Higbee’s, and that’s why we ended up with the much funnier, and now iconic, “Oh, fudge” version.

The film was actually supposed to be set in a small town in Indiana. However, due to urban renewal efforts in the early 1980’s, many of the old neighborhoods in the Indiana area had been torn down and replaced with more modern structures. But Cleveland still had a lot of the older looking neighborhoods that the film’s time period called for. As the story goes, Jean Shepard (who wrote the original stories the film was based on and provided the narration throughout) drove around with the location scouts during pre-production looking for a home that resembled the one he grew up in. When they came upon this place, he immediately pointed it out, saying that it looked just like his childhood home. They then contacted the home’s owner and offered to pay him to use the house for filming, which is how it ended up being used in the movie.

  Ralphie hung out this window to shoot at Black Bart.

The house was used primarily for exterior shots. Most of the interior shots were done on a sound-stage in Toronto. Anytime you see a scene where they are in the house but looking outside (the Black Bart fight for instance) was shot there as well as anything that took place outside of the house. 

 

Look in the window to see a major award.

 

Thank you for joining me on this quick little blog tour of The Christmas Story House. If you’re ever in the Cleveland area, and looking for a neat little piece of holiday pop culture to visit, I recommend checking it out. Here’s a link to their website if you’d like to learn more. (link)

But before signing off, I’d like to leave you with one more little piece a trivia that I picked up during my visit.

The budget for A Christmas Story was just two and a half million dollars, two million of which went to the star, Darren McGavin (who played The Old Man). They were also considering…get this… none other than Jack Nicholson for the part. But since he had just come off of doing The Shining, it didn’t seem that he would be a good fit to play a dad in a light-hearted role like this. So the part went to McGavin who took a lion’s share of the budget and the whole thing was shot for just five-hundred grand.

Personally, I’m glad they went with McGlavin. He was born to play that part and worth every penny.

I hope you have a fun and safe holiday season. Wrap lots of presents. Hang lots of lights. Drink lots of eggnog – or whatever your libation of choice may be.

And don’t forget to enjoy a holiday film or two!