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 nine-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, in a previous interview with Buzzfeed. “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 flagpole, 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!”
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 six 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, IN — 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, snow-covered house and glistening icicles. You realize that’s all made magic.”
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