The movie A Christmas Story is arguably one of America’s favorite holiday films. Over the years, this modest little movie has grown into a Yuletide perennial.
The movie “A Christmas Story” might never have been made had it not been for another, decidedly less reputable comedic creature – “Porky’s.” That’s right. One of the most beloved holiday movies largely owes its existence to an infamous, unabashedly crude teen comedy.
In the late 1960s, “A Christmas Story” director Bob Clark was driving to a date’s house when he happened upon a broadcast of radio personality and writer Jean Shepherd’s recollections of growing up in Indiana in the late ’30s and early ’40s. Clark wound up driving around the block for almost an hour, glued to the radio until the program was over.
“My date was not happy,” Clark said, but he knew right away he wanted to make a movie out of the stories, many of which first appeared in Playboy magazine and were collected in Shepherd’s 1966 book, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.”
Clark’s adaptation, however, didn’t happen overnight. At the time, he was a journeyman director who specialized in low-budget B movies. For years Clark tried to find a studio to finance the film. But none were interested. Nevertheless, Clark held on to his ambition to bring Shepherd’s stories to the screen, and, in 1981, he directedPorky’s. Which became a hit at the box office. Suddenly he had some clout to bargain with. In the wake of that hit the studio wanted a sequel to Porky’s. Clark agreed to make a sequel if the studio agreed to let him do “A Christmas Story” first.
The modestly budgeted little comedy opened in 1983 the week before Thanksgiving on fewer than 900 screens. The film took in about $2 million its first weekend and double that Thanksgiving weekend – solid business for the time. The movie was getting strong word-of-mouth support. But, MGM hadn’t counted on the movie receiving much success and did not schedule distribution to more than the opening screens for the lead up to Christmas.
Thus A Christmas Story disappeared from theatres. Abruptly elbowed into the theatrical void by the bigger seasonal studio movies of the day, most notably Scarfaceand Christine. Ultimately, A Christmas Story collected about $19 million at the box office. It was a good showing, but not great.
At the same time, however, home video and cable television were just beginning to grow in popularity, and A Christmas Story crept into the mainstream through videotape and cable broadcasts. The rights to the movie were sold in 1986 to Warner Bros. by MGM as part of a 50-movie package deal. In fact, MGM practically gave the movie away when it tossed A Christmas Story into the deal in order to simply meet the 50-movie quota agreed to. The cable network TNT first aired its 12 showing, 24-hour marathon as a stunt in 1988, but popular demand turned stunt into tradition. The annual marathon (now aired on TBS) starts every Christmas Eve and attracts more than 40 million people who tune in at some point to watch. A Christmas Story is now one of the most popular holiday movies of all time earning a place along side “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
At the holiday season, our thoughts turn gratefully to those who have made our progress possible.
It is in this spirit that we say... Thank you and best wishes for the holidays and happy New Year.