Bob Clark was one of those rare directors who could easily float in and out of genres. Starting his career in horror with Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972) and then continuing with the highly successful slasher film, Black Christmas (1974), Clark eventually made his financial mark with the blueprint for all teen sex comedies to date, Porky’s (1982); which, for 24 years was the highest grossing Canadian film ever. Its influence is a kind of six degrees of separation for some of my favorite Christmas time films.
I’m kind of a super nerd for research, so I hope I don’t lose you in the trivia.
So what do Bob Clark and a raunchy teen film from the 80’s have to do with Christmas movies you ask? A lot more then you think. Because of the success of Porky’s, the studio wanted Clark to helm a sequel. Clark agreed, but only if he could also make a film he had wanted to make since the late 60’s, immediately upon hearing Jean Shepherd’s recollections of growing up in Indiana in the late 30’s and early 40’s. Those memories were the basis for A Christmas Story (1983), a film we now get to watch for 24 hours straight every year because of a 50 movie package deal in which MGM basically gave the film away to Warner Bros. Coincidentally, the 24-hour marathon began as a joke on TNT back in 1988, but due to its popularity, it is now a tradition beginning on Christmas Eve (now on TBS) every year for the rest of time, or never again if you believe the Mayans.
Fun fact: Did you know that at one point Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Ralphie’s dad in A Christmas Story?
So where does this lead us? First off, A Christmas Story inspired the show “The Wonder Years” that was narrated by Daniel Stern, who appears in one of my other favorite Christmas films, Home Alone (1990). He also stars as Ralphie’s dad, The Old Man, in a let’s-not-mention-it-again-straight-to-video sequel to A Christmas Story, imaginatively called A Christmas Story 2 (2012). Secondly, Peter Billingsley (better known as Ralphie from A Christmas Story) grew up and became a film producer and occasional actor. He starred on “The Wonder Years” in two episodes as Micky Spiegel and later produced a film called Four Christmases (2008) – not on my list of favorites – starring Reese Witherspoon and his friends Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. More importantly, there was an uncredited appearance by Carol Kane as Aunt Sarah. Carol Kane starred in another of my favorite Christmas time films, Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray.
Fun fact: Peter Billingsley appeared in Elf (2003), directed by his good friend Jon Favreau, as Ming Ming, an elf supervisor.
Elf was originally offered to Ghost World (2001) director Terry Zwigoff, but he turned it down. The same year, Zwigoff helped the Coen brothers rewrite the script for another holiday favorite, Bad Santa (2003), which was originally supposed to star Bill Murray. Murray turned it down to star in Lost in Translation (2003), also starring Zwigoff’s actress from Ghost World, Scarlett Johansson. Johansson has her own place in the Christmas film lexicon, starring in Home Alone 3 (1997), one of the (too) many sequels to the original.
Fun fact: Michael Keaton was originally offered the role of Peter Venkman (that went to Bill Murray) and Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984). Keaton went on to work with Tim Burton on Beetlejuice and a pair of Batman films.
There is a scene in Elf that has Will Farrell’s character Buddy burping for 12 seconds, and surprisingly, that’s not Ferrell himself. Instead, the belch was provided by Maurice LeMarche, better known to cartoon fans as The Brain from “Pinky and the Brain.” On the show, LeMarche was often joined by Frank Welker, forever known to me as Megatron and Soundwave from the 80’s cartoon series “Transformers”, but also the person who recommended Howie Mandel for the voice of Gizmo in another holiday favorite of mine, Gremlins (1984). Steven Spielberg at one point had Tim Burton in mind as director for Gremlins, but passed due to Burton’s lack of feature film experience.
Fun fact: The theater that the Gremlins destroy is the same theater that Marty McFly runs into at the end of Back to the Future (1985) starring Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown.
Christopher Lloyd also starred in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as Judge Doom. He was joined in the film by a host of iconic cartoon voices, including Mae Questel, the original voice of Betty Boop (and also Olive Oyl). She was 79-years-old at the time of the film’s release. Just one year later, Questel appeared in the next of my favorite holiday films, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) as Aunt Bethany. The film also starred William Hickey as Uncle Lewis. Hickey also starred in another of my favorite holiday films, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) as Dr. Finklestein.
Fun fact: Kathleen Turner, the uncredited voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, was in the Bob Clark directed Baby Geniuses (1999) with Christopher Lloyd and Kim Cattrall, who was in Porky’s as Honeywell.
As most people are aware, The Nightmare Before Christmas was an idea created by the aforementioned Tim Burton. Catherine O’Hara, Kevin’s mom in Home Alone, plays the parts of Sally and Shock with Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) supplying the voice of Locke. Tim Burton didn’t direct The Nightmare Before Christmas because he was working on Batman Returns (1992), another of my holiday favorites. In Batman Returns, Paul Reubens has a cameo as the Penguin’s father in the beginning of the movie. Reubens also worked with Burton on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Burton’s feature length debut.
Fun fact: One of the main characters in our originating film, Porky’s, was nicknamed Pee Wee (played by Dan Monahan). Dan Monahan and Art Hindle (Chris in Black Christmas) appeared together in another of Bob Clark’s films, From the Hip (1987).
Tim Burton continued his success in films, later casting Alan Rickman in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Rickman’s debut was in another of my favorite holiday films, Die Hard (1988) with Bruce Willis. Rickman went on to star in another of my favorite holiday films, Love Actually (2003). I just watched this again recently and didn’t realize it was one of the earliest films of current “Ricktator” on “The Walking Dead”, Andrew Lincoln.
Fun fact: The role of John McClane in Die Hard was originally offered to Frank Sinatra, who was 73 years old at the time. Because the film was based on a book called “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Roderick Thorp and was a sequel to another of his books called “The Detective” – which Frank Sinatra made into a movie in 1968 and also had a contract allowing him first rights to star in a sequel – Sinatra had to be asked first if he wanted the role.
So that’s how many of my favorite holiday films can (somehow) be traced back to the Canadian sex comedy Porky’s. Maybe I went a little too insanely nutso with the research, but now you have something to talk about at your next holiday party. You are welcome.
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