It took more than a quarter of a century for what were the beginnings of "A Christmas Story" to become a Christmas classic, and what a long, strange trip it was. It was a quest as arduous as Ralphie Parker's quest for the official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle -- and much more ironic.
"A Christmas Story" became a Christmas classic because of its gentle humor, its warm-hearted nostalgia, and its loving focus on family.
Yet there is a good chance that the film never would have been made without such then scandalous works as 1960's Playboy Magazines and "Porky's," the raunchy teen comedy from the early '80s.
Jean Shepherd wrote both the stories that would become "A Christmas Story," and co-wrote the film's script. He started out telling the nostalgic stories of growing up in small-town Indiana on radio, but eventually was convinced to turn some of them into short stories -- short stories that he later convinced Playboy to buy and publish. Later he would publish these stories in short-story collections.
It would be elements that he took from these stories that would grow into "A Christmas Story."
Director Bob Clark was a fan of the stories. Hollywood was not.
Clark, who had directed several films, including the excellent Sherlock Holmes film "Murder by Decree," kept trying to talk studios into turning Shepherd's warmhearted stories into a film, but while admitting the material was touching and funny, Clark has said that they also told him it wasn't edgy enough to appeal to modern audiences.
Studio predictions that the film would lose money at the box office derailed Clark's attempts to create a movie from the stories -- until "Porky's."
When Clark decided to make a raunchy low-budget, high school comedy -- part of which focused on a classmate named Pee Wee who was desperate not to be the only one of his friends not to lose his virginity before graduating -- American studios once again turned him down, and he wound up getting funding from Canada.
Made on a shoestring budget, the film went on to become the highest-grossing Canadian film in history.
When he went back to the studios about making Shepherd's stories into "A Christmas Story," the huge financial success of "Porky's" convinced them to fund the movie -- even though for years they'd said it would be a box-office flop.
Clark contacted Shepherd and the two collaborated on the film. Shepherd not only wrote the script, but narrates the film as the adult Ralph Parker. If you want to see what he looks like, you can. In the famous scene in which Ralphie visits the department store Santa, Shepherd plays the man who points Ralphie to the back of the incredibly long line.A final irony: The film did flop at the box office. Like "It's a Wonderful Life," it wasn't until the movie had left theaters and started being seen on TV screens that most people discovered how good it actually was.