Beyond 'A Christmas Story'

Local filmaker hopes to draw attention to Jean Shepherd's life besides holiday movie classic

December 24, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Filmmaker Nick Mantis is producing a documentary about Jean Shepherd, a native of Northwest Indiana and creator of 'A Christmas Story.'

Without a doubt, "A Christmas Story" ranks among the top holiday films of all time.

The film was written by the late Jean Shepherd, a native of Hammond, Ind., and is based on his childhood.

Now a local film producer is making a documentary about the man behind the creation of Ralphie, Flick and
that ugly leg lamp.

But long before Shepherd began writing "A Christmas Story," he worked a couple of years at Inland Steel Company in neighboring East Chicago. Later in life, Shepherd often recounted those days on WOR in New York City in his unique style.

“He had the unique perspective of covering the entire mill being a delivery mail boy,” said Nick Mantis of Munster, Ind., who is producing a film on Shepherd’s life that influenced "A Christmas Story" and so many of his works throughout his legendary career.

“Of course the mill back in the late 30s were booming and they were pumping out the steel, 20 to 30,000 employees in one mill. So he had a lot of exposure to different characters,  colorful people and personalities,” Mantis said. “So, he was able to draw upon and use that for his storytelling.”

Mantis recently aired a portion of Shepherd’s radio broadcast on steel for a few dozen current employees of the company, now named ArcelorMittal.

The workers, all members of United Steelworkers of America Local 1010, gathered at the local’s union hall in East Chicago on Friday.

Longtime steelworker George Dodd of Gary says he enjoyed listening to Shepherd’s account that originally aired in the late 60s.

“It was right on. I mean his words literally painted a picture that brought it all back into view. I’ve seen a Christmas Story but I didn’t know he was a native son,” Dodd said. “I’m being educated today.”

Mantis hopes to have his documentary done by next December for the 30th anniversary of the release of A Christmas Story.