Reliving the holiday favorite “A Christmas Story”
(CBS News) ‘Tis the Season for “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 film whose memorable story is being re-told on Broadway. Mo Rocca sets the stage:
If “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” are the frankinscense and myrrh of Christmas movies, then the gold may very well be 1983’s “A Christmas Story.”
If you haven’t seen “A Christmas Story,” well, it’s the tale of 12-year-old Ralphie Parker. Set in 1940s Indiana, it’s something of a cockeyed look at Christmas.
Ralphie’s dad obsesses over a leg lamp he won in a contest. (“It reminds me of the Fourth of July!”) A pack of dogs makes off with Christmas dinner. And Santa is anything but jolly.
“I’ve read where you’ve called it the ‘Seinfeld’ of Christmas movies – what do you mean by that?” asked Rocca.
“Well, in some ways it’s the commitment to the mundane,” said 41-year-old Peter Billingsley. If he looks familiar, that’s because he played Ralphie.
“It’s those simple little things that drive you crazy around Christmas. It’s not the big ideas. It’s, you know, trying to get the tree and trying to get your little brother to eat, trying to cook a turkey, all those things.”
Now Billingsley is one of the producers of “A Christmas Story” – the Broadway musical.
Twelve-year-old Johnny Rabe plays Ralphie, and 10-year old Zac Ballard is Ralphie’s younger brother Randy – the one who memorably pigged out on mashed potatoes.
“I never want a stunt man to do that,” Ballard said.
“What’s your motivation?” Rocca asked.
“What do you mean by ‘motivation’?”
“I don’t even know what I’m asking,” he replied. “Whatever you’re doing, it’s great.”
This family favorite was originally a series of stories by radio commentator Jean Shepherd in, of all places, Playboy magazine.
The stories became a book, which then became a movie.
When asked what the number one thing is people say when they come up, Billingsley said, “‘That’s my family’ or ‘You were me’ or ‘That’s my mom,’ ‘That was my dad.’ And it seems like that Midwest area is relatable to everyone in the country. It feels kind of like everyone’s street.”
The movie wasn’t a box office hit, but then cable TV turned it into one of the greatest comeback stories ever told. A 24-hour marathon on TBS, watched by almost 50 million people last year, has been playing since 1997 – making it the yule log of Christmas movies.
Fans of the film, known as “Ralphies,” include Brian Jones.
In 2004 he found on eBay the Cleveland house used as Ralphie’s home. He bought it sight unseen. He did not tell his wife.
“How long did it take for your wife to forgive you?” Rocca asked.
“The day I opened it” as a museum, Jones said. “When she saw we had a line down the block, like four or five people wide. Then she realized I wasn’t as crazy as I seemed.”
Open to the public since 2006, the home is a shrine to Ralphie, with pilgrims lining up around the block to visit.
There’s a leg lamp in the window, and a kitchen sink visitors can hide under, just like Randy did.
“People will try and squeeze there. I can fit under there. I’m 6’3″, about 200 pounds. So I still fit.”
That is what you call a super fan.
Jones helped pay for the house by selling – you guessed it – leg lamps.
Of course, the leg lamp also made it into the Broadway musical, along with a show-stopping tap-dance number.
And if the young cast of the musical is any indication, “A Christmas Story” still has legs.
When asked who had seen the movie before they appeared in the musical,many members of the kids’ ensemble raised their hands.
“Tell the truth – was there anyone here who really wasn’t a fan of the movie?” Rocca asked.
Jeremy raised his hand: “I’m Jewish!”
When asked what he thought the message of the movie was, Luke said, “It’s one big family that’s crazy and then at the end, and they all say it’s crazy, but it comes to one thing called love.”
Zach offered another take: “It’s also a heartwarming story. I think it’s the best Christmas story ever!”