Now that the holiday season is upon us, a number of Christmas-themed movies are being broadcast on America’s television networks. For this week’s blog, I decided to focus on a film that is widely considered to be a holiday classic: A Christmas Story. Released in 1983 and directed by Bob Clark, A Christmas Story starred Peter Billingsly (as Ralphie Parker) and Darren McGavin (as Old Man Parker), and was narrated by Jean Shepherd (as the adult Ralphie Parker). Set in Hammond, Indiana during the 1940s, the film’s plot centers on 9-year-old Ralphie’s campaign to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
Shot mainly in Cleveland, Ohio, A Christmas Story was only modestly successful at the box office. But when it started appearing on television in 1985, the film quickly acquired a large following and became an annual broadcast staple during the Christmas season. In 2012, A Christmas Story was declared to be “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Even the though the movie was shot on a small budget, the producers of A Christmas Story sought to make the film’s sets historically accurate. To help achieve this effect, a number of vintage cars were donated by Cleveland car buffs for use in the movie. With this in mind, I decided to write this week’s blog on the car that played the most prominent role in the movie: the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six.
The 1937 Oldsmobile Six (officially called the F-37) was a full-sized car that occupied the lower end of Oldsmobile’s model range. Selling in the $810-$965 price range, the Six was advertised as a car that featured a combination of power, economy, and luxury at a reasonable price. The car was powered by a 230 cubic-inch inline-6 engine, which was good for 95 horsepower. It was fitted with a streamlined all-steel body shell that featured a number of Art Deco styling cues, including a turret top, a grille with 7 horizontal bars, and skirted fenders. The Six was a very successful car for Oldsmobile and 137,613 of them were built during the 1937 model year.
The 1937 Oldsmobile Six that appeared in A Christmas Story was a 4-door touring sedan, which appeared frequently over the course of the movie. This car was portrayed as being troublesome in the winter, which led Old Man Parker to complain that it would “freeze up in the middle of the summer on the equator!” The car also figured prominently in a couple of the movie’s funniest scenes. While helping his father change a flat tire (which occurred while the Parkers were driving their Christmas tree home), Ralphie accidently dropped the lug nuts, to which he reacted by blurting out a naughty word. For this indiscretion, Ralphie was punished by having a bar of soap put in his mouth. At the end of the movie, after the family’s roast turkey is eaten by the neighbors’ dogs, Old Man Parker used the car to drive his family to a Chinese restaurant for a memorable Christmas dinner.
It is not known what happened to the Parker Family’s 1937 Oldsmobile Six after the movie was completed. On a happier note, a 1937 Oldsmobile Six similar to the one used in the movie is preserved at the A Christmas Story House & Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
Kimes, Beverly Rae and Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Third Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1805-1942; Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1996, p. 1083.
Oldsmobile Six (1937): Oldsmobile: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Six, 1930-1936, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.
Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.