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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Christmases past, we've explored your favorite Scrooge and "It's a Wonderful Life." Somehow, though, we overlooked the movie that began as a radio story about Ralphie and his lust for a Red Ryder air gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO PROGRAM)

JEAN SHEPHERD: It was the second ad that actually did the trick on me. It was late November, and the Christmas fever was well upon me. I thought about a Red Ryder air rifle in all of my waking hours, seven days a week, in school and out. I drew pictures of it in my reader, in my arithmetic book, on my hand in indelible ink, on Helen Weather's(ph) dress in front of me, in crayon. For the first time in my life, the initial symptoms of genuine lunacy, of mania had set in.

CONAN: The great broadcaster Jean Shepherd, in 1974. Nine years later, he helped adapt that monologue into the now-classic film - I triple-dog-dare you to call with your favorite moment from "A Christmas Story." Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the cycles of our lives, but first our favorite film buff, Murray Horwitz, joins us here in Studio 3A. Happy holidays, Murray.

MURRAY HORWITZ, BYLINE: Happy holidays to you, Neal.

CONAN: And this is another one of those classics that would have been largely - have vanished without cable TV.

HORWITZ: I think that's probably true. It beats, what was it, WPIX in New York that used to show the Yule log just burning. Now I think it's TBS that shows it 24 hours a day, shows "A Christmas Story." And I really don't think there's a more deserving film for capturing American Christmas and what it's about. And it's a comedy.

CONAN: It's a comedy, but it is also one of - there's a million pictures with voiceovers. This is the one that works.

HORWITZ: Yeah, no, it's really true. And you're quite right. I think it's interesting, you pinpointed right at the beginning the reason for the success of this thing and for the durability of it, and it is Jean Shepherd. Jean Shepherd is a writer and storyteller well-known to you and me. He was mostly localized in New York.

He improvised a great many of his stories on the air, on WOR, but he also was published in Playboy magazine, and there's - one of the many delicious ironies about this movie is the fact that the stories on which it was based were first published in Playboy, I think almost all of them.

But he is an underappreciated, under-sung writer, and he's the reason for it. But as much as it depends on the writing and on Jean Shepherd's narration - he appears in the film off-camera as a narrator - it really, I was astonished, Neal, looking at it again, it's the images that stick with you. I mean, it's the pictures.

Shepherd's narration is incessant, but the pictures are what really get the laughs and hit us hard, Flick's bandaged tongue, that shot out the window when the teacher, Mrs. Shields, sees him stuck to the flagpole. The little brother Randy in that Michelin Man snowsuit writhing on the ground trying to get up, watching him eat like a pig. Those are these - they're these images that don't have any narration or even dialogue around them that really make it an unsentimental Christmas card.

CONAN: Unsentimental - well, yes and no. I mean, it's a Norman Rockwell picture of an America that never was.

HORWITZ: I'm not sure. I mean, I'll tell you what. I'd be willing to argue that one with you. I think it has, like a lot of the best - like Dickens at his best, like Twain, like (unintelligible), like some of the great humorists, it has a real hard edge of sentiment, but it's never bathetic. It never - I mean, I'm hard pressed to find a moment, maybe our listeners will disagree, when you really cry in this movie.

CONAN: There's a lot of crying in the movie.

HORWITZ: There's crying in the movie, but the one that makes - oh my gosh, look at that poor little - I mean, there's always - they always let you know that it's going to be OK, that these are the real trials and tribulations of a real nine-year-old kid, but it's going to be cool. I mean, he's going to turn out all right.

CONAN: We want to hear your favorite scene from "A Christmas Story." Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. We'll start with Sally, Sally with us from Denver.

SALLY: Hi, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SALLY: When I was a kid in Philadelphia in the late '50s, Jean Shepherd's show used to bounce in late at night, and I would be in bed, and my mom would be sitting in my room, and we would listen to it. And we heard the original "Christmas Story" the first time he told it, I think.

HORWITZ: Wow.

CONAN: Bounced down the Jersey Turnpike and over the Walt Whitman Bridge.

SALLY: Right, exactly. I don't think there was even a Walt Whitman Bridge at the time.

HORWITZ: What was your reaction? I mean, did you know it was a classic then?

SALLY: Well, it was a classic in our house because whenever anything came up that was difficult or challenging that I wanted to do, and my mom wasn't sure, the first thing out of her mouth would be: You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

HORWITZ: Right, right.

SALLY: For years and year, yeah.

HORWITZ: And Sally, I agree with you. See, she brings up a good point, Neal, about the Norman Rockwell, the America that never was. First of all, I think Norman Rockwell painted a lot of the America that was, and also I grew up not in the '30s and '40s but in the '50s in a neighboring state, Ohio, where actually a lot of the - a lot of the film was shot in Cleveland.

I grew up in Dayton, and I had a grandmother who would always say don't do that, you'll put an eye out. I mean we didn't have a furnace that exploded, but a lot of that was my house.

CONAN: Sally, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

SALLY: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Amalio(ph). Am I pronouncing that correctly?

AMALIO: Yes, Neal, Amalio.

CONAN: In Naples, Florida. Go ahead, please.

AMALIO: Correct, yes, sir, thank you very much to you for all you do, Neal. I listen quite often.

CONAN: Well, thank you for that.

AMALIO: You are welcome. Yes, I mean, this movie essentially, it defines the holidays for my family. And when it's on 24 hours a day, it's on. We're - originally I'm from the Cleveland area, the near-West side, where a lot of the picture was shot, as Murray stated. And just to see the steel mill in the background, (unintelligible) the neighborhood.

HORWITZ: Right, Higby's Department Store.

AMALIO: Every block has a group of (unintelligible) running around.

CONAN: Your favorite scene, though?

AMALIO: My favorite scene is when Ralphie's mom makes him confess to where he heard the bad word from, and rather than throwing his father under the bus, he blames his best friend Flick.

CONAN: Well, we have an excerpt from that sequence we'd like to play for you, where we learn that Ralphie has a sometimes, well, learned from his father, salty language.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

SHEPHERD: (As Ralphie) For one brief moment I saw all the bolts silhouetted against the lights of the traffic, and then they were gone.

PETER BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie) Oh fudge.

SHEPHERD: (As Ralphie) Only I didn't say fudge, I said the word, the big one, the queen mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word.

DARREN MCGAVIN: (As The Old Man) What did you say? That's what I thought you said.

CONAN: That's - interesting email we have from Peter in Laughton, Oklahoma. I think he agrees with you, Amalio: My favorite scene, when mom grabbed the soap after sending Ralphie to bed and tasted the soap after she washed his mouth out.

HORWITZ: Right, right, it's a beautiful moment. By the way, I think it's not Flick whom he throws under the bus, it's his friend Schwartz who gets thrown under the bus. And...

CONAN: We're going to throw Flick under the bus later in the program.

HORWITZ: Later on we'll hear from Flick, but it's - and there's that wonderful scene. Some of my most - some of the most horrific scenes in the movies are where you don't see what's going on, you hear what's going on. I mean, it happens in "Klute" with Jane Fonda, you hear a murder on tape. It happens in "M," the Fritz Long classic, when they're beating up the security guard.

And it happens in this movie when the unfortunate Schwartz is beaten by his mother, and Ralphie hears it through the telephone.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Cathy(ph), Cathy with us from Jacksonville.

CATHY: Hi, my favorite scene happens to be when they are - he gets the box, the father wins the contest, and he wins that beautiful lamp, ladies' (unintelligible) and they look at the word (unintelligible) fragile, and then he smiles and says fragile. And then he says, goes, oh, it must be Italian. And course there's a sequence later on when the mom accidentally breaks the lamp.

CONAN: Accidentally on purpose.

HORWITZ: Right, we're not sure exactly the motivation for the breaking of the lamp, whether it was accidental or on purpose.

CONAN: And of course later there is a confrontation between the parents over the fragile lamp.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

MCGAVIN: (As The Old Man) (Unintelligible) you were always jealous of this lamp.

MELINDA DILLON: (As The Mother) Jealous of a plastic lamp?

MCGAVIN: (As The Old Man) Jealous, jealous because I won.

DILLON: (As The Mother) Ridiculous. Jealous, jealous of what? That is the ugliest lamp I have ever seen in my entire life.

SHEPHERD: (As Ralphie) Now it was out.

MCGAVIN: (As The Old Man) Get the glue.

DILLON: (As The Mother) We're out of glue.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: Does he say it? No, he just says we're out of glue on - you used up all the glue on purpose. There is really nothing subtle about this movie. It's one of the amazing things about it. And the music you just heard was part of it. And very often they'll use classical music.

You remember whenever the bully appears, you hear the wolf music from Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." But it all works out somehow.

CONAN: Darren McGavin, you look at some of the acting, Darren McGavin, he did a lot of parts, this is one of his best.

HORWITZ: It really is, and this is the one where really he etched himself - I mean, he was Mike Hammer, I think, wasn't he?

CONAN: I think so, yes.

HORWITZ: He played Mike Hammer in a TV series. But he really etched himself...

CONAN: I think later the Night Stalker too.

HORWITZ: I think - I'm not sure. I think that may be right. I think that may be right. But he - we're not television here, we're only film. But he - this is where he etched himself into the national consciousness. And what's interesting is at least one source I looked at said that he was - Bob Clark the director thanked his lucky stars that his first choice for the part either turned it down or couldn't do it.

And that was Jack Nicholson. And I think Nicholson would have given an air of menace to dad that we don't really need. Darren McGavin is over the top, but he is everybody's dad. I mean, he's really - you know, dad's this bumbling jerk who somehow saves the day always.

CONAN: Here's an email from Erin: My husband and I are such huge fans of the movie, we were married at the restored "Christmas Story" house museum four years ago.

HORWITZ: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: We proudly display our leg lamp in our front window all year long.

HORWITZ: Oh, that's great, that's great. That makes me - well, now, how many - and let's be plain here. How many films have that kind of an effect? You know, people live their lives around this movie.

CONAN: A few but not many, and I believe the leg lamp also shows up on the set of "Pardon the Interruption," the (unintelligible) show on ESPN. It's become an American icon.

HORWITZ: It's an icon.

CONAN: They now manufacture these things.

HORWITZ: That's true. It's a little bit like the red Swingline stapler in "Office Space." Swingline did not make a red stapler. The prop department just painted a stapler red. And now because of the demand, Swingline has to make a red Swingline stapler, so...

CONAN: We're talking about one of our favorite holiday movies, "A Christmas Story." When we come back, Scott Schwartz who played Flick will join us. We'll ask him how many takes he spent with his tongue stuck to that flagpole. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. "A Christmas Story" is a holiday classic, and the film is perhaps best known for a dare gone wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

SCOTT SCHWARTZ: (As Flick) I'm going, I'm going.

SHEPHERD: Flick's spine stiffened, his lips curled in a defiant sneer. There was no going back now.

SCHWARTZ: This is nuts. Stuck, stuck, stuck. Stuck, stuck!

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

CONAN: What's your favorite scene from "A Christmas Story"? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Murray Horwitz, our favorite film buff, is here, and that tongue-tied character you just heard named Flick in the movie, played by Scott Schwartz, who joins us now from his office in Los Angeles. Scott, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION. I'm so sorry to laugh at your pain.

SCHWARTZ: Well, good afternoon, everybody.

HORWITZ: Good afternoon. And I would have nominated you, Scott.

SCHWARTZ: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Does your tongue still hurt?

SCHWARTZ: You know, it healed up a few days ago, just in time for the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: How did they film that sequence?

SCHWARTZ: It was a plastic pole. It wasn't real. And they put a little hole in it about the size of your pinky nail, and there was a suction tube with a motor that was in the snow buried so you couldn't hear it, and just like a vacuum cleaner, if you put your hand on the vacuum cleaner, it's just phht, and you get stuck.

HORWITZ: Wow, so your tongue really was stuck?

SCHWARTZ: To some degree.

CONAN: And how many times - how long did you have to stay there?

SCHWARTZ: It took us about 11-and-a-half hours to shoot that.

CONAN: Oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHWARTZ: And if that wasn't bad enough, we actually had to shoot it twice. The first time we did it, the film came out dark. They developed it dark, and they nicely came to me and said, listen, we have good news and bad news. The good news is you're going to be with us a few more days. The bad news is we've got to go out there and do it all over again.

HORWITZ: Oh, my gosh.

CONAN: Now, it sounds like you were getting paid by the day.

SCHWARTZ: By the week. It is what it is.

CONAN: OK, had you done a lot of acting before "A Christmas Story"?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah, actually "Christmas Story" was the third film I had shot in a year. I did a film called "The Toy" with Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason, and then I came home, and a month later I was doing a film called "Kidco," which is a little film for 20th Century Fox, and six weeks later I was doing "Christmas Story."

CONAN: Sounds like a pretty good year. You must have been in dozens of films since then.

SCHWARTZ: I've done a few things here and there over the years, you know, just different reasons. Puberty kind of hit and changed my face. I lived in New York. I was not an L.A. boy going to all the networks and doing pilot season and all of that. So it kind of happened the way it happened.

CONAN: Sure, and it does for everybody, but I wonder, do you now sit and watch it?

SCHWARTZ: I don't watch the whole thing. I watch bits and pieces. Being a kid, having a film, you have to watch it with your parents, your aunts, your uncles, your cousins, you brother, your sister, your best friends, their families. So about the 600th time, I just - I can't do it anymore.

CONAN: I can get that.

HORWITZ: I understand.

CONAN: You get - it's just a little tiresome.

HORWITZ: May I ask you a question? I've got ask you, Scott: Tell me something about Bob Clark, because Bob Clark was in some ways one of the most successful film directors in history. I mean, you don't think of him in the same breath as, you know, Federico Fellini or Alfred Hitchcock, but he not only did this film, which has a life way beyond what one would have expected of a holiday film in the early '80s, but also directed one of the - maybe to this day the top-grossing Canadian film of all time, which was "Porky's," which I think of as a kind of warm-up for "A Christmas Story."

He didn't have as good a cast nor as good a story as he had in "A Christmas Story," but, you know, he was actually later in his career nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and he also directed some perfectly dreadful, awful movies. What was he like to work with, and what's your appreciation of him as an artist?

SCHWARTZ: Bob was a one-of-a-kind kind of person. The things that he did, I mean, you go - before "Porky's" there was a film called "Black Christmas" that he did, which is a very, extremely low-budget horror picture. And right after he did that, as it came out, he had a meeting with a small director named John Carpenter.

And John had seen "Black Christmas" and came up with this wacky idea to do a Halloween movie, and it just - the scheduling wasn't right for Bob, but he actually helped John Carpenter do some things to create "Halloween."

HORWITZ: Wow.

SCHWARTZ: And then of course "Porky's" comes out, which was completely opposite, and he does that, and for - I think it was a $3 million budget, $2 million budget, it makes $105 million in the early '80s.

HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

SCHWARTZ: So I mean, again, just unbelievable. Now, "A Christmas Story" comes to be because of "Porky's," because Bob had the pull at MGM, and they wanted to do "Porky's II" right away, and Bob said absolutely, no problem, right after I do "Christmas Story." And they said, well, no, no, no, no, we want you do "Porky's II."

He said no, I'm doing my movie, "Christmas Story," then I'll do "Porky's II." He basically blackmailed them into making this film.

CONAN: If recollection...

SCHWARTZ: And not a kinder, friendlier soul could anybody ever meet.

CONAN: And had his priorities straight. I think "Christmas Story" has lasted longer than "Porky's II."

HORWITZ: And he actually refused to direct "Porky's III." So, I mean, he was not without integrity. We should mention that very, very tragically, he died with his son in a terrible car accident. He was hit by a drunk driver in 2007. But he's got this gift that we all keep enjoying every holiday season.

CONAN: And Scott Schwartz, thank you so much for sharing some time with us.

SCHWARTZ: Oh, my pleasure. Everybody have a happy and healthy holiday, Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. Everybody be well, be blessed and be safe.

HORWITZ: And you, too.

CONAN: Thanks, Scott. And, of course, one thing we've all learned since then: Never, ever, ever put your tongue on the flagpole.

HORWITZ: In the wintertime.

CONAN: That's right. Here's an email from Don: I directed the play in 2008, and it was an absolute joy. It has such a childlike innocence, it's hard not to love the story. My favorite scene is the fantasy scene when Ralphie goes blind from eating too much soap.

HORWITZ: Right, that's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: When he comes in as a kind of blind guy in a trench coat, and it's every kid's fantasy of parents' remorse: Oh, we're sorry for the way we treated you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Let's go next to Steve(ph), and Steve's with us from West Haven in Connecticut.

STEVE: Hello. I have two quick things to say. This isn't my favorite scene, but I've just got to say, one of the features of that film was the way that the profanity of the father was handled. I thought it was hysterical, and it was so creative, and it was done so well. You could tell he was swearing and cursing, and boy, was he ripping mad and frustrated, but you never heard a swear word. I wish you had an audio take of that.

And moving on to the reason I called was my favorite scene, and the effect of this is doubled by the fact that I heard your guest say no one, it's hard to find a spot where you cry during that movie, my favorite scene is where Ralph beats up the bully, and it made me cry because I had been bullied in my childhood, and just the – and the surprise of his ferocity and the way he, you know, becomes victorious over the bully, it's just amazing. And I'll get off the air, thank you very much.

CONAN: Thank you very much for the call. And this bully, well, this is the bully-qua-bully.

HORWITZ: The uber-bully.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

ZACK WARD: (As Scut Farkus) Listen, jerk, when I tell you to come, you better come. What, are you gonna cry now? Come on, cry-baby, cry for me. Come on, cry.

CONAN: And of course, as our caller mentioned, Ralphie finally plucks up his courage, remembering the humiliation of leaving his friend Flick, abandoning him to the fates, and gets it back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

SHEPHERD: (As Ralphie) Deep in the recesses of my brain, a tiny red-hot little flame began to grow. Something had happened. A fuse blew, and I had gone out of my skull.

CONAN: Oh, that is the ultimate vindication.

HORWITZ: It really is, and I have to say, unlike our caller Steve, as a kid who was, you know, bullied a fair amount when I was little, I exalted at the scene. I'm not crying. I'm like, yeah, get him, Ralphie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to John(ph), John with us from northern Minnesota.

JOHN: Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

JOHN: My family grew up listening to Jean Shepherd broadcasting from the Limelight on radio in New York, and we were a transplanted Illinois family. So the most I've ever laughed in my entire life, where it hurt, was listening to a Jean Shepherd show. But my favorite part of the movie was, again, the character of Dad that Darren McGavin played, because he was our dad.

I mean, that's the way the dads of that time were. You know, they went out - the only time we saw them was when they came home from work, and they went right back. I loved it. (Unintelligible) to this day.

HORWITZ: There are a couple points you bring up that are important. For those of our listeners who don't know Jean Shepherd because he was mostly, as I said, local New York and also because now he's been off the air for many years, it's worth researching him. There are recordings.

I hope there are air checks because he used to essentially improvise, I think, on WOR. At 9 p.m., you would hear him give the news. He would - I think he'd give the news, but he'd certainly read commercials. And around it all, he would weave this story.

JOHN: Right.

HORWITZ: And when it came up to the top of the hour at 10 o'clock, he would sometimes wrap the story up in, like, two sentences.

CONAN: Right.

HORWITZ: But you've just been on a wonderful ride with him the whole time.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call.

JOHN: You're welcome.

CONAN: And you're there in Minnesota. Stay away from the flag poles, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOHN: OK.

CONAN: This is an email we have from Brian: By far, my favorite scene is Ralphie and his brother visiting Santa. When he finally gets up the nerve and Santa replies - well, this is - he gets up to Santa, and then he panics, a little stage fright, flop sweat, goes down the slide and clambers back up.

HORWITZ: He forgot what to ask for.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie) No, no. I want an official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot-range model air rifle.

JEFF GILLEN: (As Santa Claus) You'll shoot your eye out, kid. Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho.

BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie) Ah!

CONAN: There's a few little parts in the movie I would have killed to play. That's what...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: Santa Claus (unintelligible). Well, actually, Jean Shepherd appears - there's a little cameo of Jean Shepherd. You may remember when Ralphie first goes to see Santa, he starts to mount the steps. And there's this old guy in a beard - not old guy - middle-aged guy who says, hey, kid, where do you think you're going? And he said, I'm going to see Santa. He says, this is where the line stops. It begins back there. That's Jean Shepherd, who appears in this movie. The other point that our caller John made was about Darren McGavin, who is everybody's father. And I can't tell you how many times, in my own life, I now come down the stairs in a cheap sweater and feel like I am Darren McGavin in "A Christmas Story."

CONAN: This is from Joe: I have always used the reason for anything my two boys, now 18 and 20, have wanted and said, no: you'll shoot your eye out, even if it is something like an ice cream cone.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: This is from Will: I just wanted to let you know that our wonderful old, but refurbished neighborhood theater, the Riverview, is showing the "Christmas Story" for three days this week at a reduced price of $2. Popcorn will be $1. I've never seen the movie, but I grew up in the '40s, so you can bet I will be going.

And that's - excuse me. That's not from - that's will. It says, will see it soon. It says it's from Diane.

HORWITZ: Diane, not Will. Well, Diane, you're in for a treat.

CONAN: We're talking...

HORWITZ: I hope we haven't ruined it for you.

CONAN: Well, no, no. Don't - we'll not tell you how it comes out. We're talking with our favorite film buff Murray Horwitz about "A Christmas Story," and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's go to Holly, Holly with us from Cornelius in Oregon.

HOLLY: Hey. You know, my point was really just made about Jean and the limelight. I worked with him at WOR.

CONAN: Oh, really?

HORWITZ: Oh, wow.

HOLLY: (unintelligible) at WOR, where I was an intern. And he used to drag me to the limelight, probably because I was young and laughed at anything, although you could not not laugh at him.

HORWITZ: I wouldn't think so.

HOLLY: And the part about his being a storyteller, a raconteur, I think he really was the prototype of things like The Moth and the ones out here in the Northwest that I participate in. This guy could start - he could just look out the window and say, oh, Mount Hood looks beautiful today. And 40 minutes later, he'd get back to that, but you had been on such a journey with him.

HORWITZ: Yeah, yeah.

HOLLY: He was remarkable. And I don't understand, with how popular the movie is, how little-known he is. And, you know, there's a project for somebody. You'd make a fortune releasing it, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: I think so. I couldn't agree with you more. I do understand that when he died, which is in the last few years, by the end of his life, I think he was very bitter and very cynical, which I well believe. It's too bad. But I met him once when I first came to New York in 1973, but - and he was generous - had a generous spirit and very warm. Was your experience of him like that, working with him?

HOLLY: Oh, absolutely, and laughing all the time. He was a little zany, a little bizarre.

HORWITZ: Right.

HOLLY: And, you know, I was 23, 22 at the time, so I was just prime target for him. But it made the office fun. He was warm and sweet and funny, and he'd go out of his way to make this little lowly intern feel like she belonged to the place.

HORWITZ: Yeah. And you also got to work with Bob and Ray, I guess, huh?

HOLLY: I did.

HORWITZ: Oh, my gosh. You were living the life.

HOLLY: Oh, it was just fabulous. And, by the way, I can't say I actually have a favorite scene. I love it, but I am giving my son a leg lamp night light.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: I hope he's of age.

HOLLY: Oh, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Holly, thanks very much for the call.

HOLLY: Thanks. Bye.

CONAN: Here's a tweet from Cataclysmic(ph): The horrible pink bunny outfit is my favorite "Christmas Story" scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: Here's a twisted listener.

CONAN: Yes. And, again, another recommendation from June Bug(ph) and Mary Alaverde(ph) : the leg lamp and the line, fragile, it must be Italian.

HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

CONAN: It's time for me to pick my favorite scene, and it's another radio scene.

HORWITZ: OK.

CONAN: And this, of course, is as he's listening to the broadcast and using his decoder to get the secrete message.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "A CHRISTMAS STORY")

SHEPHERD: (As Adult Ralphie) I was getting closer now. The tension was terrible. What was it? The fate of the planet may hang in the balance.

DILLON: (As Mother) Ralphie, Randy's got to go.

BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie) I'll be right out, for crying out loud.

SHEPHERD: (As an adult Ralphie) Gee, almost there. My fingers flew. My mind was a steel trap. Every pore vibrated. It was almost clear. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

BILLINGSLEY: (As Ralphie) Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch.

CONAN: Another washing-your-mouth-out moment.

HORWITZ: Right.

CONAN: Murray, we have to ask for your favorite line or scene or...

HORWITZ: Yeah. My favorite moment, really, is just one line. I mean, I think it's a brilliant line. You said that if - you would have killed to play the part of Santa Claus. Santa's greatest line, as he's waiting for the next kid to come with a wet seat to sit on his lap, he says: I hate the smell of tapioca.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: Maybe it's a little dated, but anybody who grew up in the '50s will recognize that line.

CONAN: Well, here's a nomination from Patrick in Pensacola: My mother had not had a hot meal for herself in over 15 years.

HORWITZ: That's right. Every time mom sits down to eat, somebody asks her to get up and get something else. And, of course, that's what women were supposed to do.

CONAN: And this is, finally, from Steve in Fayetteville: While snowed in in a motel on Christmas Eve, hopped up on cough syrup, I fell asleep with the cable channel alternating between "A Christmas Story" and "It's a Wonderful Life." I drifted in and out of consciousness. When I awoke on Christmas morning, I was convinced every time you heard a bell ring, an angel got a Red Ryder BB gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORWITZ: And that's a merry Christmas.

CONAN: I understand it's going to be a musical now.

HORWITZ: There is a musical. I think it's playing in Chicago right now. And it's had some success. As one of our listeners mentioned, it was dramatized and turned into a play that you can see in community theaters and regional theaters all over the country.

CONAN: Murray, thanks very much for dropping by, as always. And again, happy holidays.

HORWITZ: Happy holidays.

CONAN: Murray Horwitz, TALK OF THE NATION's favorite film buff. He joined us here in Studio 3A. Whether you're already thinking about New Year's resolutions or exulting in the return of Brussels sprouts to the farmers market, cycles - natural and artificial - shape our lives. Adam Frank explains how and why in a moment. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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