Every year I look forward to the marathon showing of the 1983 classic, A Christmas Story. Though set in the ’40s, watching the exploits of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun reminds me of snippets of my childhood. I received my Red Ryder when I was about 10. I recall shooting it for the first time under the back porch light. The sun hasn’t even risen on a chilly Christmas morning, yet I couldn’t wait to fire that BB off into a cardboard box target.
“My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master.”
A Christmas Story also harkens fond memories of my adulthood. The movie would run continually throughout Christmas Eve and I even adopted the term “Old Man” as a term of endearment for my dad when he was alive. Even more ironic is the day when it was just mom and me celebrating Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. No beheading of a duck took place but we did do serious damage to some crab legs.
While visiting Cleveland recently, I jump at the chance to visit the house where the movies’ filming took place. At first, the place doesn’t have the same feeling when it’s sunny and 80 degrees out but the house with the fishnet leg lamp in the window is unmistakable.
I just miss the last hourly tour so I duck into the nearby 110-year-old Rowley Inn for lunch. The restaurant serves as a hub for makeup and wardrobe during the movie’s filming.
“I Triple Dog Dare You!”
The tour starts in a gift shop across the street and it’s a hoot seeing many mementos featured in the movie mass produced for the gullible tourist. Not only are the leg lamps available but also Red Ryder BB guns, bunny suits, decoder rings, and $10 bars of Lifebuoy soap.
As the tour is about to start, an attendant announces that bunny suits are available to rent for photo ops. I can’t pass this up and jump at the opportunity to don a suit for a quick pic with the rack of BB guns
“He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny”
Just as I wiggle into the suit the announcer signifies the tour has now begun in front of the gift shop. Now realizing I’m the butt of a joke as I am expected to participate in the tour in costume. I’m lagging behind the group and bound across the street to the house. It’s a choppy shuffle as the costume is about 2 sizes too small. A 6’3″ 220lb pink bunny rabbit doesn’t escape the attention of now honking motorists as I hop to the adjacent curb.
A young gal who couldn’t have even been born when the movie was released gathers us on the front porch and begins rattling off dates and stats of how the house come to be selected for a movie set and details on its listing and $150,000 sale on eBay before being restored as a tourist attraction. I notice most of the tour-goers are more focused on laughing and photographing me. It’s all in good fun.
“Fraa-jeel-aay! Huh! Must be Italian!”
Upon entering the house, I am surprised at how small it is. Most of the interior shots took place in a studio in Toronto, but I am immediately in awe of all of the little details from the movie that are on display. I have to laugh when right inside the front door is the infamous wooden crate holding The Old Man’s grand prize.
The living room is to the right of the door and looks just as it did in the movie. There is the old-time upright radio where Ralphie tunes in Little Orphan Annie. A lighted Christmas tree is in the corner complete with the rats’ nest of wires required to light it. Under the tree sits a bowling ball and even a can of Sminoz wax. Of course, the leg lamp is proudly on display in the front window.
The guide completes her history presentation and the house becomes free range. We are allowed to explore and immerse ourselves in the place. I ditch the bunny suit and head to the kitchen. I can practically smell the turkey cooking and am on the lookout for the Bumpus hounds. With no hounds in sight, I venture upstairs.
“I found that Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heavy, but with a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy, on the other hand… (Yechh!)”
At the top of the steps, I find the bathroom of the mouth soap washing scene. It too is just as I remember it. But it’s the phone on the nearby wall that grabs my attention. You can hear the conversation of the mothers lamenting over Ralphies dropping of the F-bomb (only he didn’t say fudge) that precipitated the mouth cleansing.
The house tour wraps up and we head back across the street to the museum. This small house contains many artifacts from the movie: costumes, photos, and details of scenes that didn’t make the movie. The showpiece of the exhibits is the official Red Ryder BB gun enshrined in a glass cabinet.
As I am admiring the Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock that tells time, I begin daydreaming about my Red Ryder glory days and wiping out Black Bart’s gang. Only to be rudely awakened by the guide who interrupts “You’ll shoot your eye out!”