Of the many scenes that mildly frightened and generally confused kids when they watched A Christmas Story with no context for its late ‘30s setting, the parents’ argument over a lamp shaped like a woman’s leg ranks up there with the hostile department store Santa and the furnace meltdown. Even knowing why Mrs. Parker isn’t keen on displaying the lamp in the front window of her Midwest home, the circumstances that led to her husband winning a prize that consists of a fishnet-wearing limb remained pretty confusing.
As it turns out, the leg lamp, like so many of the often-unsettling childhood reminiscences used in the movie, is drawn from author Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, a novel about a kid growing up in the first half of the 20th century that A Christmas Story was based on.
YouTube channel Midway To Main Street looked into the historical basis for the chapter in Shepherd’s book that would be turned into the infamous leg lamp scene. In the video, we’re told that newspapers of the Depression era often ran contests to help drive sales. The Old Man mentions earlier in the movie that he was hoping to win one of these contests—his “silly puzzle” that “could be worth fifty thousand bucks.” Instead, he got a runner-up prize: A logo for a soda company called Nehi (“knee-high”) that advertised itself with an image of a woman’s leg before it eventually rebranded to Royal Crown Cola or RC Cola.
So, in short, A Christmas Story memorializes a time when your dad might have solved newspaper puzzles in order to win soda merchandise like a lamp modeled after a woman’s leg. The case is closed on this scene. Now we have to wait to see if another enterprising YouTuber will look into the science of going blind from having soap in your mouth.
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