A Christmas Story seems like one of those films that was always part of our cultural heritage. Every Christmas, TBS broadcasts it in a 24-hour loop, phrases like “you’ll shoot your eye out” have entered the lexicon, and tchotchkes like the infamous leg lamp sell in large quantities online. Because of the film’s ubiquity, viewers can take for granted what went into getting it made. Writer Caseen Gaines (with the assistance of Jean Shepherd scholar Eugene P. Bergman and actor Wil Wheaton) lifts the curtain on the making of this beloved feature with the book A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic.
Gaines takes on the film from all angles. He writes about the source material, the careers of writer Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark, the film’s production and its theatrical release, and the amazing second life it received on cable and home entertainment. However, he foregrounds the fans’ relationship with the film. The book opens with a visit to the “Christmas Story House” in Cleveland, in which visitors to the Parker manse visit the film’s primary location, mingle with cast members, and play at re-enacting their favorite scenes. From there, he traces the birth of A Christmas Story through the radio broadcasts and nonfiction books of Jean Shepherd, and through director Bob Clark’s chance exposure to Shep’s oeuvre.
Like many books on iconic feature films, A Christmas Story writes extensively about the efforts of director Bob Clark, particularly his work in getting the film made. Though Clark’s Porky’s movies made millions of dollars for 20th Century Fox, he faced a number of challenges in attracting the interest of studios and distributors. Gaines describes these roadblocks in a suspenseful manner. Even though the film got made, readers might still cringe at the preproduction hassles that Clark and his cohorts experience.
While Gaines does justice to Clark’s directorial efforts (as well as his occasionally contentious working relationship with Jean Shepherd), he also allows many of the supporting players to describe their work on the film. Chapters devoted to Angry Elf Patty Johnson’s audition and Flash Gordon Paul Hubbard’s deleted scenes give the reader a well-rounded view of the film’s production.
Since A Christmas Story had a brief theatrical run in 1983, Gaines spends the balance of the book depicting the love its fans have for the film. He credits frequent cable TV broadcasts with developing its fanbase and legacy. A few of the final chapters take an in-depth look at the Christmas Story House and Museum, and the efforts Brian Jones has made to preserve many of the costumes and props that appeared in the film.
A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic is clearly written as a love letter to the fans, complete with behind-the-scenes photos, as well as illustrations by Ian Petrella (who played Randy Parker). Caseen Gaines’s prose moves quickly and he does an adept job of taking readers through the many aspects of the film. Fans of A Christmas Story will definitely want to check this out.
A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic was published on October 15 by ECW Press.