According to Peter Billingsley, not many major studios were interested in a story about a little boy in the 1940s who wanted a BB gun for Christmas. Billingsley said the studio agreed to make this film if Bob Clark agreed to make a horror film.
In 2005 the original home used for the exterior shots of the family home was put up for auction on eBay, and avid fan of the movie Brian Jones purchased it directly from the seller for $150,000. Jones then spent the following year restoring the home to the way it looked on screen. The exterior was completely restored and the interior was renovated to match the interior of the home shown in the movie (parts of the interior were actually filmed in a Toronto studio). On November 25, 2006, the home finally opened its doors as a tourist attraction. Jones spent close to $500,000 in preparation for this grand opening. In addition, he also purchased the house next door and converted it to a gift shop and museum dedicated to the film and the house.
Darren McGavin ad-libbed the profane rants while fighting with the furnace. He said he speaks gibberish the entire time because it was almost impossible for him to ad-lib angry words without actual profanity. He did this in order to ensure a "PG" rating.
The film was released just before Thanksgiving and became a surprise hit. By the time Christmas rolled around, the movie had already been pulled from most theaters because it had been "played out". After complaints were lodged at the theater owners and the studio, the film played on select screens until after the first of the year 1984.
The film's setting is a town in Indiana, but was actually filmed in Cleveland, Ohio.To find an American city resembling an Indiana town of the 1940s, director Bob Clark sent his location scouts to 20 cities before selecting Cleveland, Ohio.
The people of Cleveland were incredibly cooperative during filming, donating antique vehicles from every corner of the city. These vintage vehicles helped to enhance the authenticity of the production design. During the filming in downtown Cleveland, the antique automobile club members, whose cars were used, were given a route to follow on Public Square. They were instructed to continue circling the square until otherwise instructed. Road salt was a major concern for the car owners and the cars were pressure-washed after each day's filming and parked underground beneath the Terminal Tower.
According to director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, "The Old Man". However, Clark didn't learn of this until later and the studio didn't want to pay Nicholson's fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget. Regardless, Clark said that Darren McGavin was still the better choice and was born to play the role.
Clarkworld (2009) is a heart-warming documentary on "A Christmas Story" director Bob Clark. The documentary's director, Deren Abram, worked with Clark for over a decade before Clark and his 22-year old son, Ariel Clark, were killed by a drunk driver in April 2007.
A behind-the-scenes documentary called "Road Trip for Ralphie" follows two mega-fans on a two-year quest to locate and visit every location used in the movie. Along the way, they uncover Miss Shields' chalkboard from a dumpster, discover all the movie's costumes hidden in a Toronto warehouse, track down the antique fire truck seen in the movie and visit the forgotten location of the actual Chop Suey Palace.
Debate exists about when the film takes place. The Wizard of Oz (1939) references point to 1939, but the decoder ring points to 1940. The calendar on the wall during the first dinner sequence has December 1st on a Friday, which happened in 1939. However, Bing Crosby's version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town was released in 1943.
Jean Shepherd's book "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash", which the film is partly based on, is a collection of short stories that Shepherd wrote for "Playboy" magazine during the 1960s, including the ones about the tongue sticking to the flagpole and eating Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The subplot of the mangy dogs constantly harassing The Old Man was taken from another of Shepherd's short story collections, "Wanda Hickey's Night Of Golden Memories and Other Disasters." In that book, the character of Ralph is about 17 years old.
According to Bob Clark and the Daisy Rifle historians on the documentary on the history of the Red Ryder BB Gun on the Special Edition DVD, the model rifle as described by Ralphie in the film is a mistake. When Jean Shepard originally wrote the story of Ralphie and his gun for the story "In God We Trust... All Others Pay Cash", he had written about the gun based on his childhood experiences but had mis-remembered the details of the Red Ryder BB Gun. Specifically, the weapon did not have a compass or "This thing which tells time" (As Ralphie refers to the sundial). Those features were a part of another BB Gun model made around the same time. According to Clark, no one realized this mistake until it came time to produce the gun for the film and they were informed by the Daisy Rifle Company of the error. So the gun in the film is actually a custom made hybrid to match Sheppard's recollections.
When they filmed the scene in the Chinese restaurant, Melinda Dillon was purposely given the wrong script, and everyone was in on it. She had no idea that the duck would still have its head and the first time she saw it was when they were filming. Her reactions during the entire sequence were not scripted, which is what director Bob Clark was going for.
Don Geyer, who played the Scarecrow, was the head of Display and Fixtures at Higbee's (now Dillards). Santa's throne in the movie is one of the chairs owned by Higbee's that Santa used every year. After Geyer's death in 1999, his co-workers reported seeing him on the loading dock, where he used to smoke, and a few claim they heard his voice on the overhead paging system.
It has long been thought that The Old Man's first name was "Hal". When The Old Man is in front of the house admiring his major award/lamp, his neighbor, Swede, comes up to him and says "Damn, hell, you say you won it?" Some fans believed that Swede said "Damn, Hal..." leading them to believe that "Hal" was The Old Man's first name. But according to the script, Swede actually says, "Damn, hell," not "Damn, Hal".
The 2013 publication "A Christmas Story Treasury" by Tyler Scwartz includes a number of collectible items in a plastic pocket at the back of the book. One of these items is a facsimile of the Western Union telegram received by The Old Man announcing that his major award will be delivered. The Old Man is identified on the telegram facsimile as "Frank Parker."
The movie is set in Hammond, Indiana. References include: Harding School, on 165th St. where Flick stuck his tongue to the flagpole, Goldblatt's department store, Griffith, which borders Hammond, Cleveland St., and Hohman Ave. Jean Shepherd grew up in Hammond.
Parts of the movie, including the Christmas tree shopping scene, were filmed in Toronto, Ontario. One of Toronto's trademark red trolleys can be seen driving by the shot of the outside of the tree lot.
In 2012, a staged musical adaptation of this movie opened on Broadway. One of the co-producers was Peter Billingsley, who as a child played the lead role of Ralphie in the movie. As an adult, Billingsley transitioned into producing such movies as The Break-Up (2006), Four Christmases (2008), and Iron Man (2008). "A Christmas Story: The Musical!" was the first stage play or musical he produced.
The Orphan Annie radio decoder pin that Ralphie receives is the 1940 "Speedomatic" model, indicating that the movie takes place in December, 1940. Different decoder badges were made each year from 1935-1940. By 1941, the decoders were made of paper.
Tedde Moore was eight months pregnant at the time of filming. Miss Shields could not be shown as an unmarried mother in the 1940s, so the filmmakers padded the rest of her to match her belly, making her just appear stout.
"Schwartz" says he's going to get his old man a "Flit gun" for Christmas. A Flit gun is a hand-pumped sprayer that resembles a coffee can attached to a bicycle pump. It's used to spray insecticide, specifically Flit, made by Esso (now ExxonMobil). Flit guns were used in comedy routines by The Marx Brothers, and mentioned in Ernest Hemmingway's "Islands in the Stream."
Since Jean Shepherd is listed in the opening set of credits, but is not in the more comprehensive end credits, the opening credits are used first in the IMDb cast list, followed by those in the end credits not yet in, as required by IMDb policy on cast ordering. In addition to being credited as "Ralphie as an Adult," Shepherd also is uncredited as the Narrator/The Man in Line for Santa/Santa.
The real house used during filming can be found at 3159 W 11th Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Pictures and a "Street View" of the house can be seen on Google Maps. A nearby street that intersects with W. 11th St is Rowley Avenue, one block south of the location shown on Google Maps.
The shooting script for the film reveals that the old man's first name is Frank. No first name is provided for Mrs Parker. The book "A Christmas Story Treasury" by Tyler Schwarz includes a facsimile of the Western Union telegram announcing that Mr Parker is the recipient of a major award. The telegram is addressed to Frank Parker.
Little Randy gleefully receives a toy zeppelin as one of his Christmas gifts. However, when the Hindenburg exploded in May 1937, it made zeppelins instantly unpopular and effectively ended lighter-than-air travel. Since the year on Ralphie's decoder pin places the story in 1940 and thus after the Hindenburg disaster, it seems unlikely that Randy would want a toy zeppelin or his parents would be interested in buying one. In fact, in 1940 it might not have even been possible to get one. The original toy zeppelin is in the Christmas Story museum house, and according to their research, the company that produced it closed in 1931.
Throughout the film, adults are constantly trying to discourage Ralphie from getting a BB Gun with the phrase "You'll shoot your eye out!" This warning is in fact a very common injury among children who own BB Guns. Unlike full size, bullet-loaded guns and rifles, where a bullet cannot ricochet unless it hits a certain types of hard surfaces and only at certain angles, the round BBs often ricochet off of targets with greater ease and are often compounded by the fact that kids stand too close to their intended targets, thus leaving them open to such injuries.
While reading the newspaper at the kitchen table, the "Old Man" angrily mentions that the "Sox traded Bullfrog". This is a reference to longtime Chicago White Sox pitcher Bill Dietrich, whose nickname was Bullfrog. He pitched during the 1930s and 1940s. Dietrich was never traded from the Sox, he was released September 18, 1946. He then played with the Philadelphia Athletics.
There is a debate about when the film takes place. Evidence seems to point to 1939 because of The Wizard of Oz (1939) references. However, if you look at the calendar on the wall (during the first dinner sequence), you can clearly see the first of December falls on a Friday. December 1st fell on a Friday in 1939, not 1940 as was previously accepted. But Bing Crosby's Version of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town wasn't released until 1943. It was also suggested that The film could have been set in 1941, according to the reference made by Mrs Parker to Mr Parker about an upcoming game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. These two teams met in a playoff game on December 14, 1941, a Sunday. It was their only playoff game against each other until January 23, 2011. The only previous time these two teams met during a regular season game in December was December 10, 1933. Throughout the 1940s the second game of the regular season between these two teams all occurred in November, the two latest being mid-November in 1942 and 1948. To add to the debate of what year the story is supposed to take place in. In the scene in which the family is opening their presents, Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters can be heard on the record player or radio singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", which was recorded on September 27, 1943. Further evidence as to the year of the film's setting comes from the decoder ring which has the year 1940 imprinted on its side. This can be seen when Ralphie is decoding the message in the bathroom.
While "Little Orphan Annie" is sponsored by Ovaltine and Ralphie's first coded message is "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine," prior to and after the making of "A Christmas Story", Peter Billingsley was the spokesperson for Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, playing the character "Messy Marvin".
The fact that the original story was supposed to be somewhat autobiographical further complicates debates about when the film is set. Most agree the film is supposed to be set sometime between 1939 (Wizard of Oz reference) and the early 1940s (music and cars). However, Jean Shepherd was actually born in 1921, so would have been nine years old in 1930.
1939 was the last year that Ovaltine sponsored the Little Orphan Annie radio program. By Christmas of 1940, Orphan Annie was sponsored by Quaker Puffed Wheat Sparkies. Also, in the toy stores there are merchandising tie-ins to Snow White, which came out in 1937, and The Wizard of Oz which premiered in 1939, But there is no merchandise related to Walt Disney's Pinocchio, which would be expected if the movie were set in 1940.
White Sox player Bill "Bullfrog" Dietrich (Bill Dietrich) is mentioned as being traded. He was traded to the White Sox in 1936 and from the White Sox in 1946. Since the family drives a 1937 Olds, it would imply it was the 1946 trade. This would be consistent with the soldiers present at Higbee's corner window in the movie opening, since the war may have just ended. However, war-era versions of the decoder badge were paper due to the shortage and Little Orphan Annie was off the air well before 1946.
In early December of 2008 there was a contest to see who could portray the best Ralphie, whether in a pink bunny suit or his winter apparel, in celebration of the movie's 25th anniversary. They revealed the house in Cleveland where the movie was filmed.
Was released for the first time in IMAX 70/15p film format, exclusively at the IMAX Theatre in Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington on December 17th, 2016. The screen-size is 89×66 ft, and may be the last film shown before the theatre is torn-down by the city council.
The band used during the Christmas parade before Ralphie visits Santa is the marching band from Revere High School. Revere a school district within Summit County, just south of Cuyahoga County, home to the city of Cleveland where the movie was filmed.
The Salvation Army Band at the beginning is playing Christmas carols from an authentic book of carols arranged for Salvation Army brass bands called "Carolers Favorites", originally arranged by a Erik Leiden. However, this publication wasn't released until 1953, some 13 years after when the movie was set to take place.
The Old Man is reading the Sunday color comics on Christmas morning while waiting for dinner. The only Sunday Christmas in that period was 1938. That works for the Snow White and Mickey Mouse characters that appear in the film, but it's too early for the Wizard of Oz characters that show up when the boys see Santa.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Ralphie tells 3 grownups (his mother, his teacher, Santa) he wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, and they all turn him down. However, the one person he never thought to ask, his father, is the one who gave him the gift.
While Ralphie works on his decoder pin, a comic strip is shown under his paper. It's a Smokey Stover comic, created by Bill Holman. He began the strip in 1935, and it was widely distributed via the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. Interestingly, there was a running gag through the Smokey Stover comics of signs with nonsensical gibberish on them--not altogether unlike Ralphie and his father's nonsensical speech when angry.
The line to see Santa stretches all the way to Terre Haute. It is about 150 miles South of Hammond, Indiana on US 41. It is where Larry Bird played basketball for Indiana State University. The original bottle for Coca-Cola was made in Terre Haute. In 2016, Terre Haute had a Christmas parade with the movie as It's theme.