Wednesday, both The New York Times and CNBC's Countdown had the story of how the guy whose company manufactures lamps in the shape of a woman's leg has expanded into the tourist business. He bought the Cleveland house that served as the principal movie set for "A Christmas Story," restored it, and now charges admission. He also bought a house across the street, which is now a gift shop and museum; you can buy a leg lamp, a BB gun, a decoder ring, and so on, just like the "Field of Dreams" movie set in Dyersville, Iowa, where you can buy T-shirts, balls, vials of dirt, and walk into the cornfield. The mail order leg lamps sell especially well every December.
"A Christmas Story," with its cynical and dark view of the holidays, has taken its place as an American holiday season touchpoint next to "It's a Wonderful Life," and "Miracle on 34th Street." Brian Jones, of the Red Ryder Leglamps company, expects 50,000 visitors each year, at $5 for adults, $3 for kids. There is an official Chinese restaurant, a hotel package, and many other tie-ins.
What bugged me is the Times article never mentioned the name of Jean Shepherd, the movie's writer and narrator, whose radio monologues were the source of all the movie's scenes. At least Olbermann's coverage paid some tribute to Shep, ending the show with his classic: "Keep your knees loose."
Paul's tribute to Shepherd over a year ago focused on "Creeping Meatballism," Shep's all-encompassing rant on midbrow culture. It was the post that first led me to delurk and comment here. You can tell I wasn't editing WaxingAmerica yet by the number of times Paul misspells Shepherd's name.
Sadly, Shep was, in his own view, a failure in show biz. "A Christmas Story" was not a box office hit, and his 30-year career in radio, his books, many magazine articles, several public TV series, and other movies never made it as big as Shep thought they should. If you are a Jean Shepherd fan, there's a very comprehensive book I highly recommend: "Excelsior, You Fathead! - The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd," by Eugene B. Bergmann.
If, like me, you listened to Shep spin his stories over the radio as you fought sleep on school nights within the very large range of New York's WOR in the 1950's - 70's, get some tapes or CDs of airchecks. There are lots of downloads, too, but the best way to listen is in bed, just like you used to do. Listening to him murder the commercials, and disrespect the station breaks and management is worth the price of the tapes alone. But when you hear him skewer LBJ, or Mayor Lindsay, or report his experiences listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, or traveling with the Beatles for Playboy, you remember that "A Christmas Story" was a compilation of a half-dozen of his thousands of stories and performances, and was a minor manifestation of his genius.
- Barry Orton
Barry did not know this when he wrote this post, but last week I went on eBay and purchased the leg lamp nightlight and the Christmas tree ornament much to Sara's chagrin. When it arrived, I opened the package and I felt just like the dad. - Paul Soglin
The leg lamp nightlight, left, stands about 3 1/2," the ornament is about 2 1/2" high.