|Higbee's in downtown Cleveland during the filming|
of 'A Christmas Story'
What is it about this film that so captures the imagination of Clevelanders? And I don’t mean in the way it captures the imagination of overtired parents and children coming down off a candy cane buzz sitting in front of TBS on Christmas Eve.
I mean how Bob Clark’s now classic film, based on Jean Shepherd’s classic story, is now part of the very fabric of
It is true that some of the film’s most iconic scenes - the outside of Ralphie’s house and the backyard where he shoots his eye out, the Christmas parade and Ralphie’s tragic visit to Santa Claus (“Ho …. ho ….. ho.”) - were filmed here. But the bulk of the movie was shot in
the story is set in fictional Toronto . Hohman,
Still. Doesn’t matter. A Christmas Story is
through and through. How did this happen? And why is it so? Cleveland
‘You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.’
Dennis Tennant says it’s because the film reminds him of what it was like being a kid. “I still want a Red Ryder BB gun,” he says. (Full disclosure, the Copley,
, resident is my Old Man.) Ohio
|Ralphie takes aim.|
“Well, it’s not like we have any recent memories of World Series or Super Bowl victories,” suggests Jeremy Negrey. Negrey, a life-long suffering
sports fan, lives in .
“We cling to what we’ve got: Peter Billingsley and Scottie Schwartz.” Shaker Heights
Could that be it? Does our city collectively yearn for the kind of admiration folks give this holiday favorite? Possibly. Probably. But there’s more to it than that, right? Because we feel this film is a part of us.
‘If Higbee thinks I’m working a minute past 9 …’
“It’s the downtown scenes with Higbee’s,” says Clare Cottrill, a Cleveland-based content strategist. “We Clevelanders love that stuff.”
Ivan Schwarz, director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, agrees.
“It’s Higbee’s,” he says. “Those scenes are a historical reminder of what
was like back then. The movie is
giving us a chance to look back at our own history.” Cleveland
Higbee’s, founded in 1860, was the downtown department store where A Christmas Story’s famous Santa Claus scenes were shot. Legend tells that the film, made in 1983, asked the department store to keep its iconic Christmas decorations up through February for filming. Fans of that scene have the opportunity to visit Santa and slip down a replica slide at Castle Noel in Medina, Ohio, about 30 minutes outside the city.
|You can visit Ralphie Parker's house the next time you're in Cleveland|
“Having A Christmas Story House in
gives the city
one more cool and fun thing to be proud of,” says Brian Jones, owner of A
Christmas Story House. “Who doesn’t love the movie? And being able to say
our hometown is featured in Cleveland ’s
favorite Christmas movie is pretty cool.” America
In 2005, Jones bought the Tremont,
home that was used as the exterior set of the Parker house in the film - on
eBay, no less. Then he renovated it, turned the inside into a replica of the
movie’s interior sets, and invites fans to tour the landmark. And fans come -
from all over the world. Ohio
‘The folklore of
“How can you not swell with pride when you see your city lit up in its holiday best?” says Bill Watterson, another
transplant. As an actor, Watterson has appeared in several shorts, and has
worked in production roles on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Hollywood
Wasteland. “There we are, in all our snowy industrial glory, at the center
of one of the most universally appreciated holiday tales of all time. I will
never tire of spotting our town, no matter how many repeat viewings. I can’t
get enough.” L.A.
“It does such a great job of capturing Christmas in the
of yesteryear,” adds Ed
Ackerman, a Cleveland-born and West Coast-based actor. “The story might
take place in Cleveland Indiana, but the shots of
downtown are unmistakably .
Clevelanders watch the movie and know that those wintery cityscapes and homes
are, in fact, the same homes in which they grew up.” Cleveland
A Christmas Story is a flickering home movie, then, for those of us in
Northeast Ohio. An opportunity to experience our fair
city during a simpler time. Or, as a dear high school friend, Spencer Medvick,
says, “the trip to downtown, a big part of my past, and a huge part of my
parents’ past, is reflected in the movie and brings the past forward.” Makes
sense. But is that all?
‘The theme I’ve been waiting for all my life’
“I think it’s got to do with how recognizably middle-of-the-map Ralphie’s story is,” says Jeff Talbott. Talbott plays the older Ralphie Parker in Playhouse Square’s stage rendition of A Christmas Story. The play, based on the film, ran seasonally for five years until its hiatus in 2009. It’s back in 2013 for the film’s 30th anniversary - and getting rave reviews. Catch it before it ends Dec. 22.
|Jeff Talbott (left) as the older Ralphie Parker in|
Playhouse Square's 'A Christmas Story'
“Entertainment shows us so much about the (East and West) coasts, but this kid’s quest is all about life out here in the Middle,” says Talbott. “And it’s a good, good life.”
Maybe, then, it’s a combination of the film’s iconic scenes, scooped from the very memories of Clevelanders like you and me, and the film’s steadfast
“The real reason people from the
area have embraced the film is the same reason people everywhere have embraced
it. The film’s appeal is universal,” says Mark Dawidziak,
award-winning author, biographer, teacher, lecturer and television columnist at the Cleveland Plain
Dealer. “Starting with the autobiographical writing of Jean Shepherd,
the movie brilliantly constructs the world of a child waiting for Christmas and
hoping for that one most-desired gift. Cleveland
“The child’s-eye view of the world, which we see through the eyes of young Ralphie Parker, zeroes in on all the grand triumphs, stumbles, hopes, dreams, disasters, fears, injustices, thrills, disappointments and, yes, terrors. But it’s through the eyes of an adult Ralphie, our narrator, that we see this is truly a celebration of family. So there’s something in this film that everyone can relate to and respond to, whether he or she is from
or not. The magic doesn’t begin or end at the Cleveland city limits.” Cleveland
Wow, right? Dawidziak knocks it out of the park. It’s how the film tempers the power of a child’s hopes and dreams with the reality of growing up and how we all - every one of us – relate to that.
‘I had one when I was 8 years old’
Maybe for Clevelanders, I would add, that’s how our life seems to go all year round. From our childlike hopes and dreams for a championship sports dream to the reality of “there’s always next year,” we never really give up, never stop moving forward, despite the setbacks.
Rust belt? No problem. Now we’re a hub of medical miracles and digital technology. Declining downtown? How about a gastronomic adventure so amazing its driving (yet another) downtown renaissance.
“This film came out right before the cable and home video boom of the mid- and late-1980s,” adds Dawidziak. “The culture wasn’t as, well, noisy as it is now. And this was the last Christmas movie that, like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, had a shot at reaching a mass audience, cutting across all borders.
“That kind of magic is hard to come by these days. And maybe the realization that some of the magic was created here boosts the power of the film’s spell a little bit in
In other words, we’re Ralphie, stopping ourselves in the midst of our slide, determined to crawl back up and get what we want – know, inevitably, that we’ll probably shoot our eye out.
But that’s okay. We’ll get right back up and aim high again.