The - A Christmas Story - House
TV screen Christmas is often set in implausible places we'd nonetheless like to be: Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life, Whoville in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They're imaginary, of course -- and that makes them slightly less magical than the Parker house from A Christmas Story. It's real, and visiting it is the closest you can get to being inside a beloved Christmas movie (unless you have a spare $2.4 million to buy the Home Alone house, Winnetka, IL).
Turn at the end of Rowley Avenue and there it is! The mustard yellow exterior with the fir green trim, the string of lights along the porch roof, the lady's leg lamp proudly displayed in the living room window for all the neighbors to see.
There's even a touch of star power, for hanging out at the house full-time during the peak summer and winter holiday months is Ian Petrella, who played kid brother Randy in the film. "I was only eight," he said, flashing his show-me-how-the-little-piggies-eat smile. "Nobody ever recognizes me."
For those unfamiliar, the house was occupied by the Parker family in 1983's A Christmas Story, a film based on stories by humorist Jean Shepherd. Set in 1940, it follows young Ralphie Parker's frustrating quest for his dream present: an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. The film supposedly took place in Hammond, Indiana, but the house -- instantly recognizable from the outside -- is in Cleveland.
Walking around inside the "A Christmas Story" house is a double shot of Yule-fuel to anyone hooked on Christmas video. The sacred symbols of the film are all here (replicas, of course, since they're unprotected from adoring hands): the Red Ryder gun, the packing crate stenciled FRAGILE, the bright red bar of Lifebuoy soap in the bathroom. Hanging from a coat rack is the cowl with bunny ears from Ralphie's "pink nightmare" pajamas. We instinctively put them on -- everyone does -- and Ian winced. "Are you sure you want to do that? I don't know when they've been washed."
In the kitchen, which has been remodeled to match the film down to the red-checked linoleum on the floor, tourists love to crawl under the sink and pose for photos inside the cabinet as the timid Randy.
The holiest of holies is, of course, the "major award" lady's leg lamp, a shapely limb wearing a stiletto heel and a fishnet stocking, topped with a fringed lampshade. Driving by the house after dark can be beatific, as the lamp in the window is kept on at night.
People who've spent perhaps too much time watching A Christmas Story frame-by-frame recognize that the house interior, unlike the exterior, isn't a perfect match. That's because the interior was never used in the film; those scenes were made up, on Toronto sound stages. In 2004 the A Christmas Story house was a completely different, normal house inside. Then it was purchased, gutted, and transformed over two years into its cinematic doppelganger.
A walk across the street takes you to the A Christmas Story Museum. This is the true reliquary of the film, where fans can see original props and costumes displayed behind glass. There's Randy's toy Zeppelin and his "I can't put my arms down!" overstuffed snowsuit; the coonskin cap worn by bully Scut Farkus; the casts of the fake wax teeth worn by the kids in Miss Shields' classroom. According to Ian, Ralphie (played by Peter Billingsly) still has the original pink bunny suit, "and he's not coughing it up." There are no surviving lady's leg lamps from the film; all three were destroyed during production.
A U.S. map on the wall encourages museum visitors to pinpoint their hometowns. It's nearly invisible beneath a sea of pushpins from Chicago to Atlanta to Boston, with additional blobs covering Florida and every major city west of the Mississippi. In other words: where there are people, there are fans of "A Christmas Story." A steady stream of them drove up during our visit, hopping out of cars to pose for snapshots with friends in front of the house. "It's like this every day," said Ian. "People have a real personal connection; they feel like it's their movie. If I introduce myself it's like they're meeting an old friend. 'Hey! Haven't seen you in a while!'"
"But they still call me Randy because they don't know my name."