• Brigette Cook Jones

Be Sure to Drink Your Ovaltine


In 1983, a Christmas classic movie was born in the form of "A Christmas Story." The movie tells the saga of 9 year old Ralphie Parker who wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB Gun. Ralphie's desire is rejected by his mother, his teacher, and even a department store Santa, all giving him the same warning: "you'll shoot your eye out." There are also several sub-plots in the movie - including one featuring - Orphan Annie. The movie is based on three semi-autobiographical short-stories written by Jean Shepherd. The main story: "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid" was first told by Shepherd on his WOR Radio Talk Show. Likewise, the story of "Flick's Tongue" was also shared by Shepherd on the air. In written form, these stories first appeared in "Playboy" magazine between 1964 and 1966; however, they all wound up in Shepherd's book, "In God We Trust: Others Pay Cash" - 1966. This book is a collection of a variety of Shepherd's on air stories - mostly about his childhood. Jean Shepherd was raised in Hammond, Indiana, and was a 1939 graduate of Hammond High School. The movie, "A Christmas Story" is based on his days growing up in Hammond's southeast side neighborhood of Hessville, which is the inspiration for many of Shepherd's on-air stories. In fact, the name of Ralphie's hometown is Hohman, Indiana. It is set in the late 1930's/early 1940's -around the time Sherpherd was living in Hammond. Many people are familiar with the movie, "A Christmas Story" - it isn't surprising because it has become a Christmas classic with some cable channels running the movie on Christmas Day for 24 hours. Therefore, with it's strong Hoosier ties, and it's poularity - it isn't suprising that the Huffington Post named "A Christmas Story" as the most popular movie set in Indiana based on IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) ratings. Of course, Indiana -- is the birthplace of the real "Little Orphant Annie" - Mary Alice Smith. It was also the home state and birthplace of the original creator of the Annie character - James Whitcomb Riley. And, even Harold Gray, the creator of comic strip Annie, which inspired the Radio show and several movies - - spent a considerable amount of his life in this state. Is it any surprise that this iconic character would not make an appearance in Indiana's most iconic movie? She is afterall -- a very Hoosier girl. One of the main subplots in the movie, "A Christmas Story, is Ralphie's quest to get a secret decoder pin from the Radio Orphan Annie program. To do this Ralphie has to drink a lot of Ovaltine - which he quickly tires of doing. Radio Orphan Annie was the first radio program in America to be targeted towards children - and it's original sponsor, Ovaltine, threw in a special twist... At the end of each show a secret code would be given out - - and only those children who had their decoder pins would be able to translate the message. Usually these messages gave clues to the next episode's plot. So in order to become a part of that Radio Orphan Annie Secret Society - you needed to send in the thin round metal seal from an Ovaltine lid, and a dime - and only then would an official Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin be sent to you. After drinking his Ovaltine, Ralphie finally gets his decoder pin in the mail - - and has officially become a part of Radio Orphan Annie's "Secret Society." He anxiously awaits for the end of the Radio Orphan Annie show in order to decode his first secret message. Imagine his dismay, after he judiciously copies the code, and translates it - it says, "Drink more Ovaltine."

While the movie uses this ploy as a little humor - - the real secret messages from the Radio Orphan Annie show were never a commercial about Ovaltine. And many children listened intently each day to copy down their secret codes and listen in - to Little Orphan Annie's adventure of the day. The Radio Orphan Annie show would lead the way for other serial radio programs targeted towards children - like Dick Tracy and Tom Mix. So, if you get a chance to watch the movie, "A Christmas Story" during the holiday season - be sure to pay special attention to Little Orphan Annie's appearance in this iconic Christmas classic. And thank Indiana for her Orphan Annie connections.

Merry Christmas!


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