Moment of Indiana History

A Christmas Story

Holiday rituals around the country often include tuning in for the 1983 film A Christmas Story . Although it wasn’t a hit at the box office, the MGM feature has assumed its place alongside such holiday classics as Miracle on 34 th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life , thanks to an extended life on TV. For over a decade, the TBS cable network has been broadcasting the movie for an annual twenty-four-hour marathon beginning on Christmas Eve. A Christmas Story brings together elements of stories written and told by Hoosier humorist, author, and radio personality Jean Shepherd.

“Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid” (published as a chapter in In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash ) and “Flick’s Tongue” (a radio anecdote), along with other stories, provide fodder for the film’s screenplay, the collaborative effort of Leigh Brown, director Bob Clark, and Shepherd himself. The movie draws upon the raconteur’s Depression-era childhood in Hammond, Indiana, renamed Hohman in Shepherd’s prose and the picture—in homage to early city residents Ernst and Caroline Hohman. The movie also references Cleveland Street, where Shepherd’s childhood home is still standing, and Harding Elementary School, which he attended. In addition to playing a cameo role in the film, Jean Shepherd also provided the film’s narration, from the adult perspective of its protagonist, Ralphie Parker; Parker, incidentally, being  Shepherd’s middle name.

The film’s plot centers on Ralphie’s desire for a Red Ryder BB gun, displayed in the window of Higbee’s department store—most likely based on Goldblatt’s in Hammond. Ralphie also covets, and manages to obtain, an artifact with an implicit Hoosier connection—a decoder pin he earns from listening to Radio Orphan Annie . The radio drama, broadcast on NBC from 1930 to 1941, was based upon Harold Gray’s long-running comic strip Little Orphan Annie , originally inspired by the poem by Indiana’s beloved bard James Whitcomb Riley.

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