Cleveland Played Big Role In Telling 'Christmas Story'

Published: Dec. 27, 2001 at 10:16 PM EST
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CLEVELAND - The movie "A Christmas Story" is a holiday classic that was shot primarily in Cleveland, and so, almost 20 years later, 19/43 News' Paul Orlousky decided to revisit the movie that has become a piece of Americana.

From the opening credits, you recognize Cleveland's Public Square -- home to a Christmas holiday parade. It's supposed to be Indiana or any town in the Midwest during the 1940s.

Higbee's Euclid Avenue window was decorated with toys of the era.

The Cleveland Salvation Army band played, the Ohio Boys Choir sang along with the Holy Trinity Baptist Church Ensemble from East 131st Street and the 1983 Parma and Revere high school bands were in the film's parade.

The Christmas parade sequence was filmed on Public Square on Jan. 19, 1983. It was an unusually warm winter, much like the one we're in now. The little snow seen on the streets was filled in with soap bubbles to make it stand out more. To accommodate film shooting, the decorations were kept up nearly until March.

Peter Billingsly played Ralphie -- the boy who would do almost anything to make sure that he got a Red Rider Carbine Action 200-Shot Lightening-Loader Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas.

"It was great because we started shooting at the end of Christmas, and they kept Downtown Cleveland decorated with wreaths and trees for us, so it was like a two-month Christmas," Billingsly said. "Shooting in Higbee's was great."

A local child actress played one of the other children in the long line to see Santa. Elyssa Olgyn, who now works on the news assignment desk at WOIO, befriended Billingsly.

"We'd hang out, and he had a pinball machine in his little dressing room, and we'd go and play that and roam around the store," Olgin said. "We had a lot of fun."

One of the hidden treasures of the movie is the home on West 11th Street that was home to Ralphie and his family. The current occupant is Mark Codespoti.

"People pull up, they sit there, they sit there, they get out, and next thing you know, there are people out in the street with a camera taking pictures," Codespoti said.

The home remains a tourist attraction because of the film's ever-growing popularity.

"We were just trying to make the best film we could, and people have just fallen in love with it," Billingsly said. "It's been pretty amazing to watch it kind of grow and grow."

Over the years, people have driven past the house and even gone as far as to take pieces of the fence outside as souvenirs. Codespoti said that the most frequent question he is asked is, "Can we come over and watch the movie with you at Christmas?"