A CHRIST­MAS STORY

THE AC­TORS RE­VEAL SWEET MEM­O­RIES OF MAK­ING THIS HOL­I­DAY CLAS­SIC

Closer Weekly - - Contents -

To cel­e­brate the film’s 35th an­niver­sary, its stars re­veal funny on-the-set se­crets.

Though it’s been 35 years since it pre­miered, more than 50 mil­lion peo­ple still tune in an­nu­ally to the 24-hour A Christ­mas Story marathon on TBS. This nos­tal­gic film, told through the eyes of 9-year-old Ral­phie Parker, who des­per­ately wants a Red Ry­der BB gun for Christ­mas, has be­come a cher­ished part of many fam­i­lies’ hol­i­day tra­di­tions. “Peo­ple keep watch­ing it over and over,” says Peter Billings­ley, who played Ral­phie. “It just doesn’t go away.”

Look­ing back, none of the film’s child ac­tors re­al­ized that A Christ­mas Story had the po­ten­tial to be­come as beloved a sea­sonal fa­vorite as It’s a Won­der­ful Life and Mir­a­cle on 34th Street. “This was a small film — even the stu­dio who made it had no faith in it,” Scott Schwartz, whose char­ac­ter Flick mem­o­rably gets his tongue stuck to a frozen flag pole, tells Closer.

The low-bud­get, 10-week shoot pri­mar­ily took place in Canada. “It looked ter­rific, but it was re­ally cold — like 25 be­low with the wind chill,” re­calls Scott. To keep warm, the boys kept heat packs in their mit­tens and long johns and dove into wait­ing cars the minute the cam­eras stopped rolling. “We didn’t have trail­ers,” Scott ex­plains.

The bit­ing chill caused wet gloves to freeze — which added a bit of re­al­ity to a scene where Ral­phie beats up his play­ground neme­sis, Skut Farkus. “Ral­phie’s mit­tens slapped the be­jeezus out of me,” Zack Ward, who played Skut, tells Closer with a laugh. “They were frozen solid so it was like be­ing slapped with a frozen pork chop! The blood [in the scene] is fake but the bright red cheeks are mine!”

CHILD­HOOD MEM­O­RIES

Di­rec­tor Bob Clark, who fought his stu­dio to bring A Christ­mas Story to the big screen, went to great lengths to cre­ate a re­al­is­tic tale of grow­ing up through the lens of 1940s nos­tal­gia. “Bob cut out parts of the set’s floor so that the cam­era could get low enough to give a true child’s per­spec­tive,” re­mem­bers Zack, who calls the film’s “un­apolo­getic hon­esty” one of the rea­sons it re­mains in so many hearts.

And al­though A Christ­mas Story takes place in De­cem­ber, the film tran­scends the hol­i­day sea­son. “It’s a fam­ily movie that’s about a re­la­tion­ship be­tween a fa­ther and a son,” says Scott. “It’s also a multi­gen­er­a­tional film; if you’re 6 or you’re 78, it doesn’t mat­ter.”

It crosses other bound­aries, like na­tion­al­ity and re­li­gion, too. “I know a lot of Jewish and Mus­lim peo­ple who love the movie,” notes Zack. “It con­nects to peo­ple be­cause the movie isn’t about get­ting a BB gun, it’s about earn­ing your fa­ther’s re­spect.”

In the years since its 1983 re­lease, the film has only grown more pop­u­lar. Scott notes that a life-size statue of his char­ac­ter Flick with his tongue stuck to a flag­pole stands in Ham­mond, Ind. — the home­town of au­thor Jean Shep­herd, upon whose novel A Christ­mas Story is based. “There’s [not many] bronzed stat­ues of ac­tors around the world, but I’m one of them,” he says.

Zack also re­mains grate­ful to have been a part of A Christ­mas Story. “My fa­vorite mem­ory was see­ing the ex­te­rior of the house on Cleve­land Street in Ohio. Ev­ery other house on the street had brown, dead grass, but one was cov­ered in fake snow and fake ici­cles. It was re­ally breath­tak­ing — the beau­ti­ful, per­fect, snow­cov­ered house and glis­ten­ing ici­cles. You re­al­ize that’s all made magic.”

— By Louise A. Bar­ile

“I’ve had 4-year-olds come up to me who are huge fans of A Christ­mas

Story.”

— Zack Ward

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