Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The world of Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story, The Musical! is very different from life today.

Televisions were very rare. Instead, radios and newspapers provided an information lifeline for Americans. Whole families gathered around the radio to listen to news broadcasts and popular programs like “Little Orphan Annie,” quiz shows, mysteries, dramas, music and sports.

Before Harry Potter, Ralphie and his friends might have read books like Daniel Boone and Make Way for Ducklings. But one of the most popular forms of entertainment was found at the local movie house where films like National Velvet, Lassie Come Home, Flash Gordon, Roy Rodgers and Superman costs about 25 cents and included a cartoon. A candy bar costs five cents.

Because personal computers were decades away from being conceived, there were no cell phones or email, Xbox or Wii. One of the earliest computers, the ENIAC was completed in 1945; it weighed 30 tons and was two stories high. A small portion of the computer is pictured to the left. Many of the toys, activities and historic events mentioned in A Christmas Story, The Musical! are unheard of today.

Here is a brief glossary to help you better understand Ralphie’s world.

Red Ryder BB Guns were the preference of Red Ryder, a fictional comic book cowboy in the 1940s, but the Red Ryder air gun, with its lever-action, spring piston, smooth-bore barrel, adjustable iron sights, and a gravity feed magazine with a 650 BB capacity was a real product and highly desired by many American boys. The Red Ryder Range Model Carbine Action BB Gun in the movie A Christmas Story was a fictional model from Jean Shepherd’s’ imagination; it included components like a compass and timepiece which were never a part of a Red Ryder prototype. The “Buck Jones” Daisy air rifle did have a compass and sundial in the stock and could have served as an inspiration.

To see Ralphie, played by Clarke Hallum, sing a song about how much he wants a Red Ryder BB Gun, watch the video clip below.

The Little Orphan Annie Show was one of the first 15-minute daily radio serials made for children. The show was sponsored by Ovaltine and ran from 1930 to the early 1940s. It was inspired by the daily American Comic strip by Harold Gray about a young orphan girl, her dog, Sandy, and her guardian Daddy Warbucks. They encounter many adventurous predicaments sometimes including gangsters, spies and kidnappers. The show was also known for its opening theme song sung by Pierre Andre.

Ovaltine is a brand of milk flavoring created in 1904 in Switzerland and is still available today. The powdery mix, made of sugar, malt extract, cocoa and whey, is often mixed with warm or hot milk. As a sponsor for “The Little Orphan Annie Show”, Ovaltine offered secret decoder rings in exchange for proofs of purchase.

Decoder rings similar to this one were all the rage during the golden age of radio, lending an air of participation to popular radio shows like “Little Orphan Annie”.

Shirley Temple Dolls were manufactured by Ideal Toy and Novelty Company and were fashioned after Shirley Temple, the child star known for her films like Bright Eyes, Heidi and The Little Princess.

Lionel Trains were electric toy trains and model railroads that were embellished with hand-painted details and authentic elements. Elaborate train displays were often featured as part of department store Christmas displays and a Lionel train set was routinely found under the tree on Christmas morning. This photo is of an all-metal Lionel steam engine from around 1938-1942.

The Dionne Quintuplets, born in Canada in 1934, were the first female identical quintuplets to survive infancy. While multiple births are today subjects of television shows like “Jon and Kate Plus 8”, 75 years ago, they were a medical rarity. From their birth, public interest in the Dionne quints was insatiable. The babies became a popular phenomenon and were put on display to the public. Dolls and other souvenirs were created and sold with their likenesses.

Open Road for Boys was a popular boy’s outdoor adventure fiction magazine from 1919 to 1950 that featured advertisements for model airplanes and Red Ryder products.

Jujubes were a candy drop created in 1920 and are still available today. Originally it was a hard candy that you had to suck on and the original flavors were lilac, violet, rose, spearmint and lemon.

-Used with the permission of Kansas City Repertory Theatre

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