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A Christmas Story: 10 Behind-The-Scenes Facts From The 1983 Holiday Classic

peter billingsley a christmas story
(Image credit: MGM)

In the nearly 40 years since its release, A Christmas Story has become one of the most beloved holiday movies and its annual 24-hour marathon on TBS and TNT has become a tradition for millions of households. And as you sit down with your family and try to beat your record of most consecutive viewings of Bob Clark’s adaptation of a few of Jean Shepherd’s short stories, there’s a good chance you will want to know how some of the classic scenes in one of the most popular Christmas movies came to be.

 Well, look no further as we have compiled a list of the most interesting behind-the-scenes facts from the making of A Christmas Story drawing from director commentary tracks, documentaries, and various interviews. And don’t worry, you won’t shoot your eye out…

The Christmas Story cast

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Although Set In Indiana, A Christmas Story Was Filmed In Cleveland And Toronto

The events of A Christmas Story all take place in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, but the movie was actually filmed in two different cities, neither of which were in the Hoosier State. In the commentary track on the home release of the 1983 Christmastime classic, director Bob Clark explained that all of the exterior shots were filmed in Cleveland, Ohio, including the downtown square seen in the opening sequence and again the parade laster in the movie (the scenes were filmed just after the holiday and so the production didn’t have to set up any Christmas lights).

All of the shots inside the Parker home and the school, however, were shot in Toronto, Canada. In the commentary, Peter Billingsley admitted that this setup sometimes made it difficult because there would be extended breaks between the exterior and interior shots of a single scene.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

All Of The Snow In A Christmas Story Had To Be Made For The Production

Practically every exterior scene in A Christmas Story features snow-covered ground (or snow falling like in the final sequence), but there was one problem, there was no snow in the forecast in Cleveland. In his commentary track, Bob Clark revealed that the production brought in snow machines to make large quantities of fresh powder for the shoot. The neighbors who lived on the street where all the exterior shots of the Parker house were filmed gave the crew the OK to run the machines through the night so that the location would look like a winter wonderland.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Bob Clark Initially Passed On Peter Billingsley Because He Thought The Actor Was Too Obvious Of A Choice For Ralphie

It is hard to imagine anyone but Peter Billingsley taking on the role of Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but that was almost the case. In his commentary track on the film’s home release, Bob Clark admitted that although he was very high on Billingsley when he first auditioned, the director thought he was “too obvious” and went on to have around 8,000 kids read for the part. At some point, Clark realized that Billingsley was the way to go and went back to his original idea of casting him.

Scott Schwartz in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

The Hilarious Flagpole Scene Was Pulled Off Thanks To A Hole And A Vacuum Tube

The triple-dog dare flagpole scene is not only one of the most memorable scenes from A Christmas Story, it’s also one of the most iconic moments in the history of cinema. And although it looks like Flick’s (Scott Schwartz) tongue was actually stuck to a frozen flagpole on the schoolyard, the gag was pulled off with the help of an ingenious as Schwartz (the actor, not the character of the same name) revealed during a 2017 conversation with Yahoo! Entertainment

They made a piece of plastic that they slid over [the flagpole]. It had a little hole in it with a suction tube that went into the snow --- you couldn't see it, it was a little motor, like a small vacuum cleaner, [and] the hole-opening [in the plastic] was about the size of your pinky nail. So when you put your tongue there or finger or whatever, it just stuck. I can make the sound effect, but you can't write that.

The scene, and the way in which it was filmed, just shows you how much Bob Clark and company were able to get out of such a small budget.

Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Jack Nicholson Was Originally Eyed For The Role Of ‘The Old Man’ In A Christmas Story

Mr. Parker, better known as The Old Man, was brought to life by the late Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story, but the role was almost portrayed by a different actor. In the director’s commentary on the film’s home release, Bob Clark revealed that at one point, the studio wanted to cast Jack Nicholson, but he was able to make a case for McGavin by telling them they would save money by not having Nicholson’s high fee on the books.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Peter Billingsley Shot The ‘Oh, Fudge’ Scene Both With And Without The Four-Letter Word

Another classic moment in A Christmas Story takes place when Ralphie attempts to help The Old Man change a flat tire on the way from the Christmas tree stand. In the movie, Ralphie says “Oh, fudge” but when filming the scene Peter Billingsley actually said “the queen-mother of dirty words,” the “f, dash, dash, dash, word,” as he revealed in commentary track accompanying the movie’s home release. Billingsley and Bob Clark discussed the scene at length and admitted that both ways were filmed to get the right mouth movements though they did cut before the word could be completed in the final version of the film.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Peter Billingsley Was Given Chewing Tobacco For The Cowboy Sequence

Although A Christmas Story is a series of vignettes, there is a narrative thread running throughout it, and that is Ralphie’s quest to get a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas. In his quest for the Christmas present of all presents, Ralphie fantasizes about being a sheriff defending his family from Black Bart and his gang. But the scene almost ended in disaster after the prop master gave Peter Billingsley actual chewing tobacco for the shot, as he explained on That Scene with Dan Patrick:

Well, they totally screwed up, Dan. The scene says he’s dressed as a sheriff. So I put the costume on. And the script says he’s chewing tobacco. Sure enough, the prop man, who’s responsible for the chewing tobacco, comes up to me with a pouch that says Red Man on it. I don’t know the difference, I said, 'What do I do with this?' He says, 'Here, jam it down in here. Don’t swallow, just spit.' So, I do it, we get ready to go, and about 15 minutes in, the world starts tilting. I start sweating. My stomach starts hurting, and I start throwing up. [Director] Bob [Clark's] like, 'Cut cut. What the hell is going on?' There was the prop man, 'Oh, I gave him Red Man, you know.' Bob says, 'What are you doing? He’s 12 years old!'

The entire episode is something Peter Billingsley can laugh about now, but anyone who has accidentally swallowed chewing tobacco knows it's not a pleasant experience.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Multiple Fantasy Sequences Were Cut From A Christmas Story Before Its Release

There are multiple fantasy sequences throughout A Christmas Story, but there were initially going to be more than what made into the final film. In the film’s commentary, Peter Billingsley and Bob Clark talked about several that were left on the cutting room floor or not filmed at all, including an additional scene with Miss Shields and another with Santa Claus on the roof. This came up again in Billingsley’s AFI Movie Club interview from 2020 in which he discussed a space scene with Flash Gordon that was actually filmed. The scene, which was cut early on, saw Ralphie protect the space hero with his Red Ryder, didn’t make the final cut because it deviated from the movie’s natural path a little too much.

The Christmas Story Cast

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Bob Clark Didn’t Let Peter Billingsley See The Leg Lamp Until Just Before The Scene Was Shot

You can’t talk about A Christmas Story and not bring up the legendary leg lamp that Mr. Parker won as a “major award” in a contest. In the documentary Another Christmas Story, Peter Billingsley revealed that to get his actual genuine reaction to the “electric sex” that was the lamp, director Bob Clark didn’t let him see it be pulled from the box until the cameras started rolling. Billingsley admitted that what was shown in the movie captured how he felt in that moment. The actor also laughed about the discussions that were held as to who was going to take it home.

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

(Image credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.)

Darren McGavin Improvised The ‘Deranged Easter Bunny’ Line

One of the most famous lines in A Christmas Story didn’t come from Jean Shepherd’s writing or Bob Clark’s adaptation but from one of the actors in the heat of the moment. During an appearance on In The Credits, Clark and Peter Billingsley got to talking about the scene where Ralphie puts on the bunny outfit his aunt made for him. During the back-and-forth, Clark revealed that The Old Man’s memorable line of “He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny” was improvised by Darren McGavin while they were shooting the movie.

The next time you watch A Christmas Story with your family, start quoting all of these behind-the-scenes facts and impress them with all your knowledge. And since you're here, check out CinemaBlend's 2021 Christmas movie and TV show calendar so you don't miss a thing this holiday season.

Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.