Zack Ward, Original ‘A Christmas Story’ Star, on How the New Movie Carries on the Tradition
If you grew up with cable in the ‘90s, you’ve tuned into TBS’ 24 Hours of A Christmas Story marathon at least once.
A Christmas Story is a 1983 Christmas comedy directed by Bob Clark and based on Jean Shepherd’s semi-fictional book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash from 1966. The film stars Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, and Zack Ward.
The tale of a kid trying to swindle his way into an “official Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle” has become a holiday classic thanks to the yearly airings.
It was an independent film with very little notoriety until the early ’90s when Turner Broadcasting began airing the film across TCM, TNT, and TBS during the holidays. It aired over those three channels six times from Christmas Eve to December 26th in 1995. It was so popular that the following year had eight separate airings, then there was a 24-hour marathon the year after that on TNT.
The block, which now airs simultaneously on TNT and TBS, has become part of some family’s holiday traditions, with tens of millions continuously tuning in every year. For some, Ralphie Parker and the gang hold a special place in their heart and is as synonymous with this time of year as the tree, stockings, and jolly Saint Nick himself.
And the fact that HBO Max is now debuting a direct sequel to the film nearly 30 years later serves as a testament to the importance of the original movie in pop culture. The family dynamic, coming-of-age story, and desperate attempts at getting what you want for Christmas are relatable in any era. The film displays the ideals of American traditionalism in a way that feels inclusive and relatable, despite taking place during the ‘40s. Plus, the more we age, the more we transition from seeing ourselves in the kid characters to seeing ourselves in the adults. Every year, millions of Americans let the film into their homes, practically making the Parker family distant relatives.
For Ward, coming back to film A Christmas Story Christmas was like seeing old siblings again. “I know those guys. They’re like brothers to me. I’ve known him for 40 years now,” he told TV Insider. Filming for the sequel began in 2020, which means Ward and the rest of the cast stayed quarantined in a hotel together during most of the production. “We [had] long nights just sitting around talking about life, which was great. Should have filmed that part of it!”
At this time, Ward was no stranger to reunions, previously coming from filming the Titus 2-part reunion special, where he reunited with his television family Christopher Titus, Stacy Keach, Cynthia Watros, and David Shatraw.
But coming to film A Christmas Story 30 years later was also a reunion for the characters, as it aims to connect the dots of the original but progress them forward as people with new life experiences.
Ralphie (Billingsley) is back, now with a family of his own, alongside Scott Schwartz as Flick, RD Robb as Schwartz, and Ian Petrella as Ralphie’s brother Randy, with Ward returning as the neighborhood bully Scut Farkus. Julie Hagerty plays Ralphie’s mom, Mrs. Parker (previously portrayed by Melinda Dillon), and Erinn Hayes joins the ensemble as Ralphie’s wife, Sandy. Following the death of his Old Man (Darren McGavin, who died in 2006), Ralphie returns home and promises his mom to make it a wonderful Christmas. He agrees and is immediately filled with self-monologuing, existential dread. But what’s progressed for a kid like Farkus now that he’s an adult?
“He’s not like Deebo from Friday, but kind of, he’s still a bit of a terror,” Ward said of his iconic character. “Scut Farkus, to me, he’s that uncle … every kid loves. He’s gonna maybe give him a sip of beer when it’s not appropriate or maybe take him out for a paintball game and shoot him right in the butt. And then make fun of him for it, but the kids will love him.
And he’s also the guy who will probably get in a fight on [the] Fourth of July. You’re always kind of shaking your head [at him], but he’s got the best stories, and he’s got your back 24/7, but he’s kind of a jackass.”
Everyone continued “walking in the footsteps of Jean Shepherd and Bob Clark” in terms of the story, direction, and character progression for A Christmas Story Christmas. Staying true to the spirit of the character is something Ward takes seriously, especially given that the time period in the sequel has been “undiscovered” territory up until this point.
“I actually did a bunch of research on Scut Farkus’s backstory with Shepard’s stories because they talked about how his father owned a junkyard and was from another country with a guttural accent, and he was a blue face man, meaning he always had a five o’clock shadow. And Scut Farkus is named Scut, which is a Scottish word for s**t. Yeah, so you’re calling someone a shite.”
Although many are familiar with A Christmas Story, not many know it’s part of an entire Parker Family saga of small stories loosely based on Shepherd’s own family. There’s a stage play, two theatrical films, four made-for-TV films, one straight-to-home video film, one unaired pilot episode for a planned television series, one musical adaptation, and one live television adaptation of that musical. The stories originated on Shepherd’s radio programs and in his books before the adaptations.
“So, figuring out that his father was basically first an immigrant who was working at a junkyard, and he’s from Scotland and probably comes from a pretty hard, rough environment and everybody is an extension of where they come from in their life experience, I [try] to imbue that into the character so that he has that background [in the movie],” Ward said, calling the film “really touching.” “I went to go see a screening for the cast over at Legendary Studios offices, and I gotta be honest … I was really surprised by how much it grabbed me by the chest.”
Outside his film and television work and his CEO position at AllSportsMarket (ASM), Ward is known for his charitable work around the holiday season. This year he’s teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Association once again to raise awareness and money to fight Alzheimer’s following the diagnosis of his father last summer.
“My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2020. And he declined very, very rapidly. So I spent about a year looking after him,” Ward told us. “Alzheimer’s sucks … and this is gonna sound cruel to say, but if Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Bill Gates get tested and find out they’ve got a precursor to Alzheimer’s, I bet you any money, it gets solved real fast.”
Ward will be at the actual Christmas Story house in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday, December 17th, from 10 am to 3 pm, signing autographs and taking photos with fans.
“I give away free signed autographed photos, as well as people can take pictures with me for their Christmas card or whatever,” he said. “We just asked for a charitable donation. Some people can do that, some people can’t, totally understand. And both are welcome.”
After all, a family film about Christmas, ultimately, should be about giving back.
A Christmas Story Christmas, Movie Premiere, Thursday, November 17, HBO Max