CLEVELAND - “A Christmas Story” premiered 30 years ago this weekend. Today it’s a holiday classic but in 1983, it was considered a bit of a flop.
"Basically it was pulled out of theaters in a few weeks," said Steve Siedlecki, executive director of A Christmas Story House & Museum.
“A Christmas Story” faced stiff competition during that holiday season: “Scarface,” “Silkwood,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Amityville 3-D” were among other films competing for movie dollars that year.
With a budget of $4 million, it took in $16 million in its short run. Flop, you say?
“Nobody was ready for another Christmas movie,” he said. “It got most of its money earned right here in Cleveland from people who wanted to go see it from being filmed here."
The film, set in Indiana in the forties, chronicles Ralphie Parker’s struggle to get his idea of the perfect Christmas present - a BB gun.
Locations on Public Square , inside the former Higbee’s department store and outside of a home on West 11th and Rowley Avenue (one block south of Clark Avenue) were used in filming.
The flagpole scene outside of a school and the Chinese restaurant were among locations filmed in Ontario, Canada.
The Cleveland winter that year was very mild. Snow-making machines from Boston Mills and Brandywine ski resorts were put into service to make snow. Soap suds were used in some scenes on Public Square to take the place of snow.
The film faced a very short schedule, shot in early 1983 and released in November of the same year.
Director Bob Clark loved the project and wanted to make sure it was made.
“It was his baby,” said Siedlecki. “He really loved the movie. He loved the storyline, so he really tried to get it out there, filmed and released in the same year.”
Actor Peter Billingsley attended the film’s local premiere at the Richmond Theater in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs.
Its introduction to the small screen is where Clark’s creation would make its way into Americana.
“It really wasn't until it came onto cable television that it really gained its popularity with VHS tape at the time, going on to the cable and eventually the 24-hour marathon,” Siedlecki said.
Turner Broadcasting would run the movie continually for 24 hours on one of its channels each holiday season.
Warner Brothers took advantage of the film’s resurgence to launch a special collection for the film’s 20th anniversary in 2003.
“It takes on a life of its own. Not only do more people want to watch it on TV but it's become a tradition to come and visit now too,” Siedlecki said.
One of those fans, making a pilgrimage to Cleveland to pay homage to the film, is Patricia King.
"I watch it all day long on Christmas Day and once it starts on Christmas Eve and evening while I'm wrapping presents,” said Patricia King. “I have a DVD and I put that in before it comes on all day.”
King, from Baltimore, visited A Christmas Story House & Museum with her husband. She said she was the envy of her friends and family, many of whom wanted her to buy items at the museum’s store.
Brian Jones, from San Diego, bought the house used for exteriors of the movie and opened it for tours in 2006.
The home was renovated to mimic the interior scenes from the movie.
Siedlecki said the Tremont neighborhood attraction employs as many as 25 people in peak seasons with almost the same number working in a nearby warehouse handling orders for merchandise, such as the famous leg lamp.
“Thousands and thousands of movies have been released, but to be able to go and see where that movie was filmed and visit its museum is a very unique experience.”
A new expanded gift shop, across from the Parkers fictional home, opened three months ago.
Last August, the “Christmas Story” complex of museum, store and home began a new schedule, now open seven days a week.
A Christmas Story Convention will take place at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland Thanksgiving weekend.
The following weekend, the Christmas Story 5K/10K run will take place. Runners will run to the house and to locations from the movie. Participants are asked to dress as their favorite character from the movie. The race takes place Saturday, Dec. 7 at 9 a.m.
Tours of the home are scheduled every 30 minutes.