I would venture a guess that many of you reading this just finished watching “A Christmas Story” at least once this week. For almost 30 years, actor Ian Petrella has worked hard to keep the film alive in the hearts of it’s many fans.
I had the great opportunity to meet Ian this past August when I visited the original “A Christmas Story” house in Cleveland, Ohio. I was amazed at how comfortable I felt inside…how everything seemed so familiar. While there were privileged to get to engage in a question and answer session with Ian, who played younger brother Randy Parker in the film. After being asked to extend his arms and comment that “I can’t put my arms down” (a request he gets multiple times a day) he spent the next half hour answering visitors questions.
I spoke again to Ian this week from his apartment in Cleveland, where he is conducting his Q & A sessions through the rest of the year.
Mike Smith: Good to talk to you again. I see you’re still doing Q & A’s at the house.
Ian Petrella: Yes I am. It’s great to be able to answer the fans questions. And to say “I can’t put my arms down” over and over and over again! (laughs)
MS: How did you end up with the role of Randy?
IP: I was a child actor. I started when I was three years old. You just go on audition after audition after audition. “A Christmas Story” was just like the other auditions. My agent called me up and said they were casting for a new holiday movie and they need to fill the role of the younger brother. “Go get ’em tiger!” And I basically had the right goofy personality they were looking for and I got the role.
MS: Belated happy birthday, by the way (Petrella turned 37 on December 17th).
IP: Thank you.
MS: Do you think you had some extra help in getting the role being a Christmas baby?
IP: Probably not (laughs)
MS: I saw a workshop production of “A Christmas Story: the Musical” here in Kansas City in 2009. It’s currently running to rave reviews in Chicago. I know Peter Billingsley (Ralphie in the film) has recently signed on as a producer. Have you seen it?
IP: Yes. I saw the one in Kansas City and then I saw the one they did last year in Seattle. That’s when Peter stepped on board as one of the producers. I got to see it in it’s second revamp but I have not seen it in it’s new version.
MS: You’re credited as appearing in Ken Russell’s “Crimes of Passion” but actually aren’t in the film. Can you share the story about this?
IP: It’s funny you mention that because it’s one of those movies that I was in but I WASN’T in. I have a credit. What happened was I was supposed to actually be in it….I had lines…but they didn’t know if they were going to shoot it the day I was on set. That footage was never used. But I still got credit in the movie. When I auditioned for the film I auditioned for Ken Russell and he wanted me for the part of the young boy in the film. But the producers wanted this other boy who was actually a friend of mine named Seth – I can’t remember his last name. And he ended up getting the part in the movie. And out of the kindness of Ken Russell’s heart he wrote some lines for me to give me something to do. That was kind of cool.
MS: Ken Russell recently passed away (Mr. Russell died on November 27 at the age of 84). Do you have any memories of working with him?
IP: My greatest memory of Ken Russell is that he invited me to his wedding. He got married on board the Queen Mary, which is docked in Long Beach, California. It was a huge cruise ship….very Edwardian, like the Titanic. It’s a cruise ship that no longer sails. People get married on it. I’ve seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” done on it. (NOTE: film fans will also recognize the Queen Mary as the ship used in 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure. Today the film is often shown, “Rocky Horror” style, on board the ship). Another cool thing about Ken’s wedding is that Anthony Perkins (who starred in “Crimes of Passion”) was the minister that married Ken. He got ordained so he could marry Ken and his wife.
MS: That’s better then being in the movie.
IP: (laughs) That’s how I got to know Anthony Perkins. I met him at the wedding and he was just a super nice guy. Later on there was a new series that was supposed to come out called “Ghost Dad.” It was going to star Anthony Perkins as a ghost writer. They needed to find someone to play his creepy, oddball son and I auditioned for it. When I met Anthony for the audition he remembered me. And I could tell it was one of those good things….basically I was it. I got excited because I thought I was going to be in this series with Anthony Perkins. And about a week after the audition I met him at the Rose Bowl. I went up and said “hi” to him and he recognized me and said hello. I asked him what was going on with “Ghost Dad” and he said as soon as he heard something he’d let me know. And then shortly after that he passed away (Anthony Perkins died on September 12, 1992).
MS: Wow. Seth Wagerman, by the way, was the young man in “Crimes of Passion.” And I looked that up while we were talking, I didn’t know that off the top of my head.
IP: (laughs) Oh. I wonder what ever happened to him?
MS: According to IMDB, he was the young John Travolta in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” After “Crimes of Passion” he did a couple episodes of “The New Leave it To Beaver” and apparently never worked again!
IP: (laughs) Ah.
MS: You produced and appeared in the documentary “The Untold Christmas Story.” And now you’ve embarked on a project where you attend live screenings of “A Christmas Story” and provide audio commentary. I know you’re hoping the film will be released to theatres again in 2013 for it’s 30th anniversary. Talk about your new endeavor.
IP: It just started off as a quick idea…I thought it would be fun to do. To provide some funny comments while people watch the film. Normally I don’t make it a point to watch the film. I’ve been places where someone has put the film on and said, “I think it would be fun to watch the film with you.” And I thought, all right, let’s go for it. But when I watch it what it turns into is me talking about what went on on the set that day and making little jokes. And everybody always seemed to get a big kick out of it. They thought it was really cool to watch a movie with one of the actors and have him describe what happened in all of the scenes. The behind the scenes secrets and tidbits that went on. People enjoy that. Especially really die-hard movie goers. They love stuff like that. I thought it would be an interesting idea. So last year during the convention in Cleveland they let me try it. They played the movie and gave me a microphone and let me provide my own commentary. It went so well that I thought this is something that I think we could take on the road. I’ve done it again twice this year. Once in Pittsburgh and once in Columbus, Ohio. And the people really liked it. The commentary went the way of doing a bunch of one liners during the film. And that got a better response. But basically it’s just part of the campaign of trying to get the movie back in theatres so people can see it on the big screen. Because that’s what Bob wanted. (NOTE: Bob Clark, the director of “A Christmas Story,” and his son, Ariel, were killed by a drunk driver in a head on collision on April 4, 2007. The driver, an illegal alien with no drivers license, was sentenced to six years in prison and will be deported once his sentence is served. Bob Clark was 67, his son 22). Hopefully we can get the word out, these screenings will grow increasingly popular and will catch the attention of Warner Brothers.
MS: It would be great to see it on the big screen again at Christmas.
IP: A lot of people think of “A Christmas Story” as a holiday film. I know that Christmas time is when people expect to see it. But this movie has made it’s way into pop culture. As I look out the window at the “A Christmas Story” house I see dozens of people posing for pictures outside. They walk onto the porch and get their pictures taken with the leg lamp. This movie has obviously become a huge part of pop culture. So maybe with that in mind we won’t necessarily have to wait until Christmas time to do it.
MS: I agree, says the guy with the leg lamp sitting on his desk.
IP: (laughs) Exactly. That’s the thing. When you put your leg lamp up you leave it up all year. You don’t take it down after New Years. I want to let people know that you don’t have to wait for Christmas to love this movie. I should also mention a great contest that Warner Brothers is putting on. You just need to re-create on video one of the scenes from “A Christmas Story.” And if you’re one of the winners you receive a two-night stay at the official “A Christmas Story” house in Cleveland, Ohio.