'Christmas Story's' Miss Shields schools us

Actress will join cast mates Saturday in Hammond for city's anniversary festivities
2009-12-04T00:05:00Z 'Christmas Story's' Miss Shields schools usBy Molly Woulfe - molly.woulfe@nwi.com, (2219) 852-4329 nwitimes.com

Give Ralphie's teacher an A-plus for effort.

Canadian actress Tedde Moore was eight months pregnant when she graded themes, squelched pranks and consoled Flick in 1983's "A Christmas Story." Author-narrator Jean Shepherd based the classic film on his Hammond childhood.

Director Bob Clark talked Moore into playing Miss Ruth Shields, Moore said. Both she and her husband balked.

One, they were preparing for their first baby. Two, it would have been a scandal, a single mother-to-be teaching 9-year-olds in Depression-era Indiana.

"The film took place in 1938," said Moore, 63, making her first trip to Hammond this weekend. "In 1938, pregnant women never stood in front of a classroom. In fact, it was rare for a married woman to stand in front of a classroom."

Clark persisted, having directed Moore in "Murder by Decree." He insisted she was perfect as the tough-but-fair pride of Warren G. Harding School.

"He said, 'Oh, well, you can sit behind a desk. I don't care. I want you in this movie,'" she said.

Moore gave in, on one condition. She had to look like a paragon of Midwest virtue. No belly showing, though she was up to 160 pounds from 125. The wardrobe department improvised, padding her schoolmarm dresses with cotton and foam "to make the rest of myself look as fat as my stomach," she revealed.

Clark shot the school and flagpole-licking scenes in Moore's native Ontario. For Moore, keeping a straight face was tough when she scolded her class for the flagpole fiasco ("Now, don't you feel terrible?").

She said the kids were pros, especially Scott Schwartz, who played Flick.

"He had to wear that thing (bandage) on his tongue all day, and he never complained," she said.

Moore, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, has a 50-year resume that spans the stage, TV and film. But she remains best known as Miss Shields in "A Christmas Story." She reprised her role as Miss Shields in the forgotten sequel, "It Runs in the Family" in 1994.

Moore will visit Hammond on Saturday as part of the city's ongoing 125th anniversary celebration. Highlights include a parade starring Harding "alums" Schwartz, Ian Petrella (Randy), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Yano Anaya (Grover Dill) as grand marshals. The parade begins at 10 a.m. at Gavit High School, 1670 175th St., Hammond. Moore will join her cohorts if the weather permits.

She also will attend a meet-and-greet with her "kids" at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana Welcome Center, 7770 Corinne Drive. Prices start at $20 for an autograph and photo with cast members.

Like many of Shepherd's characters, Miss Shields was inspired by a real person. Ruth Shields was Shepherd's teacher at Harding in his Hessville neighborhood. According to a 1937 city directory, she lived at 51 Lawndale in Hammond. She later taught at the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.

Moore yearned to play her alter ego as "an absolute battle-ax." She loathed her third-grade teacher and wanted to exact vengeance by playing a "mean old thing" on the big screen.

Clark shot her down. "He said, 'No, I want her to be sweet and warm and wonderful, just like you are.' ... I said, 'Dang,'" she laughed.

She keeps track of her ex-cast mates with maternal pride: Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker) lives in France; Anaya recently married; Peter Billingsley (Ralphie) just directed "Couples Retreat." As for Scut Farkus, the yellow-eyed bully is "the nicest man." Hunky, too. When Ward arrives, "the girls just fall over. ... He's a magnet," she said.

Write a theme, win a prize

"Oh, the theme I have been waiting for all my life. Listen to this sentence: 'A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.' Poetry! Sheer poetry!"

-- Miss Shields in a fantasy sequence in "A Christmas Story"

Miss Shields shoots down Ralphie's hopes for a BB gun in his theme in "A Christmas Story." Our hero bags a C-plus and a scribbled warning, "P.S., you'll shoot your eye out!"

Try your luck in the "What I Want for Christmas" theme contest, part of the "Christmas Story Comes Home" exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center. The deadline is Dec. 11. Write a brief essay about what you yearn to find under the tree. Drop off your essay or mail it to the center care of Write A Theme Contest, 7770 Corinne Drive, Hammond, IN 46323.

There are three age categories: 9 years and younger; 10 to 18; and 19 and older. Entries must include your name, address, phone number and age. Entries should be more than 20 words but not exceed 250. Winners will be announced Dec. 19. Each will collect a gift basket courtesy of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority and Albanese Confectionery in Hobart.

FYI: AChristmasStoryComesHome.com or (219) 989-7979

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