Book vs Film: A Christmas Story

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It has been 30 years since the movie A Christmas Story came out and I think I’ve seen it almost every year since its release. But it wasn’t until just a couple weeks ago that I read Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which A Christmas Story is based on.

Shepherd’s book is a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories that he wrote for Playboy in the 60s. What struck me right away was how great Shepherd’s writing was. I thought his description of kids getting bundled up to go outside (pretty classic scene from the movie) was particularly good:

“Preparing to go to school was like getting ready for extended Deep-Sea Diving. Longjohns, corduroy knickers, checkered flannel Lumberjack shirt, four sweaters, fleece-lined leatherette sheepskin coat, helmet, goggles, mittens with leatherette gauntlets and a large red star with an Indian Chief’s face in the middle, three pair of sox, high-tops, over-shoes, and a sixteen-foot scarf wound spirally from left to right until only the faint glint of two eyes peering out of a mound of moving clothing told you that a kid was in the neighborhood.”

I also loved reading the book because it was interesting to see which scenes were cut from the movie and which were added in. For example, in Shepherd’s original story, Ralphie receives bunny slippers from his Aunt Clara, but in the movie they changed it to a full outfit, knowing that making him look like a “deranged Easter bunny” would probably get bigger laughs from the audience. I think they were right.


I’ve also learned that even though Shepherd often started his stories with “I’ll never forget that time”, he actually admitted that his tales were purely fiction. “None of them are based on any – the families are all – I’ve created a mythical family, like Faulkner created a mythical country.” (source)

It’s also interesting that it took about six months to finish work on the script for the movie adaptation, and when it was done nothing happened. Executives weren’t exactly excited about the idea of next-to-unknown director Bob Clark making a quirky Christmas movie set during the Depression. They didn’t think audiences would like it. But then Bob Clark directed Porky’s, which went on to become the fifth highest grossing film that year. A Christmas Story was pitched to studios again and this time they went for it. Not only did Clark work on the film for nothing but he even contributed some of his own cash to the production. And I’m thankful that he did.

So what’s the moral of this post? Without Porky’s we wouldn’t have the movie version of A Christmas Story. And without A Christmas Story we wouldn’t have this version acted out by hot dogs. Merry Christmas everyone!

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