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The Untold Truth of A Christmas Story

Thanks to TBS' annual 24-hour marathon of the classic comedy A Christmas Story, the movie's become as inextricably connected to Christmas tradition as tinsel on trees and Santa's sleigh bells. Nearly every line in the movie has become a catchphrase, from the classic "You'll shoot your eye out, kid" to the less-repeated jokes like "fra-gee-lay! It must be French!" Still, you might know all the lines and all the jokes, but how much do you really know about the classic film? Here's the untold story of America's favorite Christmas movie.

It's based on a book of vignettes originally published in Playboy

"I'm only reading it for the articles!" is an oft-used excuse for owning Playboy magazines, but they genuinely have had some incredible pieces by incredible writers over the years (including science-fiction icon Ray Bradbury). It's also the magazine where Jean Shephard first wrote his memoir-esque vignettes about growing up in Indiana. The stories were eventually collected into a collection called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which became the basis for A Christmas Story as we know it now.

So, yes, Hugh Hefner did contribute to the birth of A Christmas Story (which makes the stocking-clad lamp scene even funnier), but another famous name was also instrumental to Shepherd's writing: Shel Silverstein, the famed children's book author who created The Giving Tree. Silverstein transcribed Shephard's on-air stories and encouraged him to collect them into a book.

In fact, A Christmas Story being created as the result of a nudie magazine and a children's book author is kind of the perfect analogy for the amorphous puberty that the movie showcases, so it's a perfect fit.

There've actually been two sequels to the original movie

So if A Christmas Story is based on a series of vignettes of childhood, then why weren't there more movies that explored other aspects of Shepherd's childhood? Well, actually, there have been sequels, they've just had the misfortune to be mediocre follow-ups to a movie that is shown around the clock during Christmas season.

It Runs In The Family (originally entitled My Summer Story) was intended as a direct sequel to the original, even though it was filmed almost 11 years later, necessitating new actors for almost the entire cast (except, oddly enough, for Ralphie's teacher Miss Shields). Still, the presence of returning director Bob Clark and the benefit of using the same source material meant the sequel wasn't too bad, all things considered. As to why it never caught on the way the original did, audiences may have been too put-off by the new cast, or maybe comedic stylings had changed too much in the ensuing decade between releases.

That movie sequel, however, fared better critically than the direct sequel to the original released in 2012, A Christmas Story 2, which aged Ralphie up to a teenager. Unlike the original and It Runs In The Family, it wasn't based on Shepherd's writing, and it received a critical thrashing, so maybe it's better not to think about it.

"Ralphie" has become a big success in Hollywood alongside friend Vince Vaughn

It's often hard for child actors to move on to healthy careers following a major role in a successful movie; fans have a certain idea of what you're like based entirely on a fictional character, and the long working hours of film sets sometimes keeps young actors away from less showbiz-centric careers. That's why it's nice to celebrate when a young actor makes it to adulthood relatively unscathed the way Pete Billingsley (aka Ralphie) has done.

Billingsley kept acting, and eventually befriended Vince Vaughn when they were working together on a CBS Schoolbreak Special in 1990, and together the two friends created a production company, Wild West Picture Show Productions. Billingsley's made cameos in a few of Vaughn's movies since, including The Break-Up and Four Christmases, and they've stayed friends throughout the years. And speaking of Christmas, he just can't seem to escape his involvement with wintery wonderlands, since he was also a producer of another classic Christmas movie, Elf.

Speaking of Billingsley's production work, he's also played a hand in a genuine cultural shift…

Peter Billingsley helped create the superhero mega-franchise

While audiences often take for granted just how many superhero movies are released yearly, it wasn't always like this. In fact, in the early 2000s, the idea that audiences would flock to see the shared-universe adventures of colorful heroes referencing deep minutiae of comic books would've been laughable. Sure, there was the odd superhero movie that audiences loved—Batman, Superman: The Movie, and Blade, just to name three of the best—but connecting them between movies was a pipe dream.

That all changed with the success of Marvel Studios' Iron Man, which reinvigorated the career of Robert Downey Jr., re-established Marvel properties in audiences' eyes, and showed studios that there was absolutely a demand for character-driven superhero movies that connected to other movies. Without Iron Man, there's no The Avengers, no Guardians of the Galaxy, and arguably no Justice League

Welp, Peter Billingsley was on the ground floor as an executive producer for Iron Man! That makes him at least partially responsible for the current feast of superhero movies and even the modern-day franchise model. That's a long way to come from "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

A Christmas Story only exists because of Porky's

A Christmas Story is widely beloved, and even among people who don't consider themselves fans, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can't name at least a few of its classic lines. Less beloved and fondly remembered is director Bob Clark's other successful movie, Porky's. The story of a group of high school boys desperate to lose their virginity, the film's grossly honest writing and wild hijinx served as a Rosetta Stone for hundreds of movies that would come later, from American Pie to Superbad.

While Porky's seems like a far departure from A Christmas Story, the latter movie wouldn't exist without the former's success. Clark had been a fan of Shepherd's work for years but couldn't secure funding for a film adaptation for In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash without a proven success. Porky's was the answer to his prayers. In his own words: "They would laugh at me. After Porky's, they didn't laugh anymore."

It's a pretty unorthodox strategy to prove your ability to direct an all-ages coming-of-age comedy by making a film about a group of high schoolers who try to hire prostitutes, but you can't argue against the results.

Wil Wheaton was almost Ralphie

While it's almost impossible to imagine other actors playing the famous roles in A Christmas Story, thousands of child actors auditioned for the part of Ralphie, including nerd icon Wil Wheaton. Billingsley had been the first audition that Clark saw for the lead role, and, convinced that he shouldn't just hire the first actor he saw, the production ultimately saw thousands more, only to ultimately choose Billingsley after all.

While it was a shame for Wheaton, he speaks fondly of the audition, specifically the memories he has of his dad: "I can still see my dad, in all his permed, mustached, corduroy-pantsed, 1983 glory, helping me understand how badly Ralphie wanted that BB gun. It's a really happy memory, because my dad and I didn't do too many things together when I was a kid, and I always loved it when he'd take me on an audition."

Jack Nicholson was a favorite to play The Old Man

According to the DVD commentary, Jack Nicholson was a strong contender to play The Old Man and was even interested in the part. Clark had lobbied hard for Darren McGavin, but the studio, interested in attaching any sort of big name to a project they already had little faith in (as evidenced by the Porky's paragraph up above), kept pursuing Nicholson. Ultimately, it came down to money, with the studio intimidated by Nicholson's famous high-salary demands.

While that was probably for the best, considering how strongly Clark had lobbied for McGavin (who's performance in the movie is easily a standout), it's hard not to wonder what Nicholson would have done with the scene where The Old Man chases a pack of raving dogs out into the streets after they steal the family turkey.

There's a statue of Flick licking the pole

Of all the scenes in A Christmas Story, arguably the most famous scene is when Ralphie's friend Flick, spurred by the famous "triple dog dare," licks a frozen pole and gets his tongue stuck. Firstly, yes, this is absolutely possible to do. It was even proven in an episode of Mythbusters, so amateur A Christmas Story re-enactors are encouraged to use a prop instead of a real frozen pole.

The fun facts don't stop there: A Christmas Story is famously set in Indiana, and the city of Hammond, Indiana, celebrated that heritage with a bronze statue of Flick licking the pole, immortalized for all to see. While we're not quite sure what the freezing point is of bronze, we'd advise readers not to test whether the statue is as famously freezable as the pole in the original scene, so maybe keep your tongue to yourself.

There was a dream sequence featuring Flash Gordon and Ming The Merciless that was ultimately cut from the film

Ralphie spends nearly the entire movie absolutely obsessed with getting a genuine Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, despite the adults around him "tsk-tsking" the danger of it. When he finally gets it, there's a quick fantasy sequence of him using the BB Gun to shoot some villains in the backyard before he almost actually shoots his eye out just like all the adults had always warned him throughout the film.

What most don't know is that there were actually going to be an even more extensive fantasy sequence where Ralphie teams up with sci-fi pulp hero Flash Gordon to fight arch-nemesis Ming The Merciless. The scene was even partly filmed but was cut from the final edit of the movie. Comparing the homey, Indiana aesthetic of the final movie with the above image of a colorful alien galaxy, the producers probably made the right decision to excise it from the final product. However, had the Flash Gordon scene had the vocal stylings of Freddie Mercury, well, maybe we'd agree that we as a society missed out on something truly great.

Zach Ward was never meant to be the bully

Another famous scene (although if we're being fair, what scene in the movie isn't at least a bit famous?) in A Christmas Story is when Ralphie, pushed to the brink of his patience by the aggressive attention of bully Scut Farkus, savagely fights back against the redheaded menace.

Zach Ward, who played the perfectly named Scut Farkus, was never actually meant to be at the receiving end of Ralphie's flying fists; instead, he was supposed to play the toadie to Yano Anaya's Grover Dill. When the two boys arrived on set, Clark switched them on the fly, landing Ward in the most memorable role of his career.

Ward, surprised to be suddenly in the bully role (and experiencing some real-life bullying of his own), decided to make Farkus as pitiable and silly as possible: "Playing the role of Scut was revenge on the jackholes who were my bullies. I got to imitate them, and in that imitation really belittle them. Because, if you look at Scut, there's really no moment where he looks cool. He's just a big douchenozzle. And then you see him at the end where his hat's knocked off, he's bleeding, he's just a stupid kid."