For many families, it’s just not Christmas until the whole family has gathered around to watch A Christmas Story, the endearing and enduring holiday classic based on the memories of author Jean Shepherd.
The way the story goes is that director Bob Clark was driving when he heard Shepherd reading from his collection of short stories “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” on the radio. Clark loved the stories so much that he drove around the block for almost an hour until the show ended. He reached out to Shepherd and they worked together for nearly 12 years to tell their Christmas story. The movie was released in 1983 with Peter Billingsley starring as Ralphie, the little boy in 1940s Indiana who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas even though everyone tells him he’ll shoot his eye out. Thanks to the film, watching Shepherd’s family traditions has become a tradition of its own around the world. Here are some things you may not know about the movie and its stars, even if you’ve watched the film 100 times and know all about Bumpus’ hounds, Ovaltine, and “I can’t put my arms down!”
1. Jack Nicholson was very interested in playing Ralphie's dad.
Director Bob Clark sent Nicholson the script, and Nicholson reportedly loved it, but his salary was too much for the film’s modest budget. Instead, Clark opted for the lesser-known actor Darren McGavin, who was best known at the time for his work in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
2. In real life, the Bumpus’ dogs didn’t eat the family’s Christmas turkey.
In Shepherd’s real life, the next door neighbor’s pack of mangy mongrels did break into the family home and swipe their dinner, but it didn’t happen at Christmas—it happened at Thanksgiving.
3. Ralphie really, really wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun
The numbers don’t lie and, according to Mental Floss, Ralphie says he wants the Red Ryder BB Gun 28 times throughout the course of the movie—or once every three minutes and 20 seconds. You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!
4. The Wonder Years was inspired in part by A Christmas Story.
The beloved nostalgia-fueled television show The Wonder Years was intentionally told in the style of A Christmas Story with the narrator looking back at his life. As further proof of the shows’ interconnection, Billingsley appeared in an episode as one of Kevin Arnold's roommates.
5. A deleted scene showed Ralphie wrestling with Flash Gordon’s foe.
In the film, Ralphie spends a lot of his time daydreaming about all the lives he could save with his Red Ryder BB gun. In a deleted scene, Ralphie and his beloved BB gun not only stop the bad guys, but save the universe, too. In the scene, he fights Flash Gordon’s archenemy Ming the Merciless on a distant, alien planet. Sounds like a great reason for Santa to bring Ralphie that gun.
6. “Ralphie” still owns the bunny suit.
Actor Peter Billingsley told Parade magazine that he couldn’t bear to part with a few of the movie props, including the original Red Ryder BB gun, the cowboy suit he wore in the film, and, of course, the pink "bunny pajamas" Ralphie received for Christmas.
7. The film had three sequels
Three films tried to capture the nostalgic glory of A Christmas Story, but sadly none of them quite managed it. The first one was a 1988 made-for-TV movie called Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss starring Jerry O'Connell as 14-year-old Ralphie, who is excited about his first job. My Summer Story hit theaters in 1994, starring Kieran Culkin as Ralphie, Mary Steenburgen is his mom, and Charles Grodin as his dad. Finally in 2012, A Christmas Story 2 was released. The film picked up where A Christmas Story left off with a now 15-year old Ralphie, desperate for a used 1939 Mercury Eight convertible for Christmas.
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8. Ralphie made a cameo appearance in Elf.
If you watch Elf carefully, you may spot Billingsley in an uncredited role as an elf.
9. A Christmas Story was turned into a Broadway musical.
Billingsley helped bring A Christmas Story, The Musical to Broadway after seeing a production in St. Louis, Missouri. Guessing he was smitten after seeing the leg lamp kick line.
10. The leg lamp is real and fabulous.
You can send someone a classic—and classy!—leg lamp for Christmas or any occasion that requires a Major Award.
11. You can stay overnight at the house.
The Cleveland home was sold on eBay in 2004 for $150,000 and a fan named Brian Jones snapped it up. He restored the house to its movie glory complete with boxes of Life Buoy soap and a leg lamp glowing in the window. He also put in a museum, stocked with some of the original props and costumes from the film, including Randy's snowsuit, and a gift shop that sells decoder rings, bunny suits, and Oh Fudge!, which takes its name from what Ralphie yells while helping his father change a tire. Best of all? Fans can even stay overnight and see if Santa brings them a Red Ryder BB gun in the morning.