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Issue Date: August 2009

The Leg Lamp

Kathleen Corlett
The city has been in love with A Christmas Story since the producers of the 1983 cult film turned holiday favorite made a Tremont home the place where Ralphie almost shot his eye out.

But it wasn’t until a Californian named Brian Jones bought the abode on Ebay and turned it into a museum in 2006 that we full-tilt embraced the film as our own, along with its unforgettable image of a woman’s leg that had the power to light up a room.

In the movie, the infamous leg lamp is presented as a tacky artifact from a bygone era, but no such thing existed until Jean Shepherd first imagined the lamp’s “soft glow of electric sex” in his 1966 collection of stories, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which was the basis for A Christmas Story.

Shepherd’s narrator explains that his old man won the lamp by completing a series of newspaper puzzles sponsored by a pop company whose name was some sort of “play on words involving a lady’s knee.” Shepherd was alluding to Nehi (pronounced knee-high) Cola, a popular fruit-flavored drink of the ’40s, which even had a print advertisement depicting a cola bottle beside, you guessed it, a women’s leg, from the heel to just above the knee.

The job of immortalizing Shepherd’s vision for the lamp on film went to A Christmas Story production designer Reuben Freed. He says Shepherd and director Bob Clark approved his design after one quick sketch.

“I immediately thought of something I had seen in my mother’s front room, which was sort of a gold-colored silk lampshade, pleated with fringe all around it,” Freed recalls. “I thought of it immediately and never thought of anything else — just that classic, big ugly shape.”

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