'A Christmas Story' fans encounter BB gun, leg lamp and half-eaten soap at house where holiday favorite was filmed

By Michael Schuman

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4 2013 12:20 p.m. MST

CLEVELAND — The shapely woman’s leg, or to stay within the 1940s time period, gam, with a lamp on top and tackier than the pinkest of pink flamingos, sits right where it should — in the living room window. Across the room from the Parker family Christmas tree is a half unwrapped Red Ryder BB gun.

Yet when I discovered the circa 1940s lady’s hat box in the closet of the upstairs bedroom, I called out to our guide, “My mother had hat boxes just like that in her walk-in closet.” To which he replied, “That’s the type of thing we hope to hear from people here.”

A Christmas Story House, in the working-class Pembroke section of Cleveland, is the actual house used for exteriors in the holiday season classic, "A Christmas Story," Jean Shepherd’s autobiographical tale of 10-year-old Ralphie Parker, his quest for a BB gun for Christmas and the adventures that transpired around him and his little world.

Who can forget the scenes where Ralphie’s father, aka “the old man,” chased the neighbor’s mutts out of his way as he entered his home? That scene was shot here. Remember Black Bart and his gang of bad guys climbing the backyard fence in Ralphie’s fantasy sequence? That was filmed in the backyard. Ralphie’s kid brother, Randy, falling in the snow while trying to escape the neighborhood punks? That happened on this street, which happens to be West 11th Street in the real world, as opposed to the reel world.

Forget the fact that the interior scenes were filmed in and around Toronto. The movie producers wanted to replicate Shephard’s boyhood steel town neighborhood of Hammond, Ind. They found it here in Cleveland. And today, the house’s interior is decorated to look as much as possible like Ralphie’s home in the movie, right down to the school composition book next to his famed glasses on the desk in his bedroom, in which he printed in crude letters, “What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. I think everybody should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They’re very good for Christmas. I don’t think a football is a very good present.”

To which his teacher wrote the same admonition his parents gave him: “You’ll shoot your eyes out,” and gave him a C+ for his efforts.

Some people disconnect when they hear this is not where the interior shots were filmed. On the other hand, there are those such as Claire Kingsbury, visiting from Ocala, Fla., who said she had to see the home for sentimental reasons. She said, “This was my dad’s favorite movie. He would watch it and say things like, `We sat in chairs like that all the time when I was in school. I also had a teacher who took our toys and put them in a drawer, and we never got them back.’ ”

Targeting those memories stuck in the recesses of our brains, or in our parents’ brains, is a main reason for replicating Ralphie Parker’s house, which explains the guide’s excitement when I recalled that my mom had a hat box like the one in the upstairs closet.

And nothing in the house was used in the movie, so visitors can sit on the furniture. So I sit in the comfy chair by the console radio, next to a standing ash tray, something else my parents had in our house when I was growing up. I pick up a copy of a 1940 edition of the Chicago Tribune as the sounds of "Little Orphan Annie," “brought to you by Ovaltine,” emanate from the nearby Philco.

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