A sign links a local man to the film “Christmas Story”

Some people might have a hard time naming their favorite holiday movie, but Mitch Williams won’t – he’ll tell you right away that it’s “A Christmas Story”.

Williams has watched the popular film probably more times than he can count – “dozens,” he said this week. It hit theaters in 1983 and reappears on TV every Christmas to viewers’ delight, telling the story of a 9-year-old boy named Ralphie Parker who desires only one gift: a Red Ryder BB pistol. .

This plot aspect of a family-oriented 1940s film revolves around a storyline familiar to generations of American men who were warned they would shoot an eye if they were given the rifle. coveted compressed air.

“I guess I could still relate to Ralphie’s quest for the Red Ryder BB pistol,” Williams explained Wednesday of his appreciation for the film.

“I remember there were years when I wanted a special Christmas present from Santa Claus and I left hints to my parents and Santa Claus, hoping it would be under the tree,” he said. he adds. “I also love the feeling of nostalgia presented by the music and the old toys used in the movie.”

Sign quest

For Mitch Williams, his fascination with charming history goes much further.

“My love for this runs so deep that I search and try to find antique toys and props that are shown throughout the movie,” revealed Williams, who is the director of public works for Mount Airy.

“But my main fascination over the years has been trying to find an authentic billboard that rips Ralphie’s BB off his Red Ryder and almost shoots him in the eye.”

In the movie, Ralphie is surprised to have the air rifle for Christmas and takes it outside to shoot a target perched on the metal panel in his backyard. The ricocheting BB comes back and knocks off his glasses, and looking for them, Ralphie thinks he has indeed pulled an eye.

Williams thought for years that the brand was advertising Coca-Cola, Pepsi or Orange Crush soft drinks.

After HDTV came on and the scene got clearer, he realized that it was more of a drink sign from the Golden Age.

Williams indicated that Golden Age was a regional company located near Cleveland that produced drinks from the 1930s to the 1970s. The Parker family home where “A Christmas Story” was filmed is located in Cleveland, so the use of this sign was a natural phenomenon.

Given his interest in trying to locate such objects appearing in the film, Williams searched the internet to learn that drink signs from the Golden Age were extremely rare and virtually non-existent.

In the past four years, only a few have appeared on the eBay Marketplace website and these weren’t entirely designed like the one appearing in “A Christmas Story,” according to the local man.

did not stop there

Being someone who is artistically and mechanically inclined as a longtime professional engineer, Williams then decided to take matters into his own hands.

A few years ago, he was able to obtain high definition photographs of an original image “close enough” to the sign. Using these photos, other online images, and screenshots of the famous Christmas morning scene, Williams was able to recreate the Ralphie sign in vector software used in graphic design to create digital art.

It was in 2017, when the local man had the right artwork for the sign, but couldn’t find a company to make a replica of the marker.

“Fortunately, Cyndy Goins Vipperman of Imperial Images helped me create two ‘prototypes’ that were made by wrapping vinyl prints on sheet metal,” Williams recalled. “They were very, very sweet but they didn’t quite have the feel of a real vintage advertising sign.”

Despite this, Williams brought one of the prototype panels home from Cleveland in 2018.

“When I was there I showed the sign to the staff and then they let me know they were interested in getting one,” Williams said. “Since I was a huge fan, I finally donated to them thinking they were going to hang it in someone’s gift shop or in someone’s office.”

To Williams’ surprise, he received a photo days later showing staff had placed their recreated Golden Age sign in the backyard of the house. This was at the exact spot where the iconic scene was filmed in the early 1980s with the sign positioned vertically.

Mass production

Williams was delighted with the use of his sign on the exterior of the building in Cleveland, which had been previously restored and reconfigured inside to match the soundstage interiors and is open to the public as A Christmas Story House.

“I am honored and honored that the staff at A Christmas Story House believe my sign was detailed and authentic enough to have placed it in the backyard,” he noted.

Still, Williams was still not satisfied with just rendering a few prototypes.

“I wanted to find a sign company that would produce them to original specifications with the right metal thickness and embossed letters,” he recalls. “I also wanted them to be mass-produced so that they would be available to fans of the film.”

This quest led Williams to locate an antique sign reproduction company in late 2020 that was willing to take over the project to which he had devoted four years of effort.

He sent her the illustration and after some minor color adjustments the company began production.

It took about five months to manufacture the panels, which were distributed in the United States in May. Since then, Williams has seen them for sale on eBay, at antique shops and at flea markets.

The A Christmas Story House gift shop also has the signs, which typically sell online for around $ 100.

“I haven’t made a dime yet,” Williams said of the company.

However, he’s happy to have continued part of the history of cinema – while also offering the usual warning surrounding the initial appearance of the Golden Age sign:

“If you buy one, be careful and don’t go out of your way,” Williams warned.

Tom Joyce can be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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