The Actor Behind 'A Christmas Story' Narration Is Way More Important Than You Realized

Jean Shepherd is not just the narrator of the story - he's the real-life Ralphie who wrote the movie and the book it is based on.

A Christmas Story is always playing on TV during holidays, but some viewers don't know its full backstory. The movie is based on the novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by author Jean Shepherd, whose voice should be familiar – he narrates the film as the grown-up version of Ralphie. 

Shepherd wrote his book based on his own childhood growing up in Indiana in the early 20th century, with some creative flair sprinkled in. The book covers many different anecdotes and only a small portion is about Christmas, so the movie extends that portion to be more detailed to be feature-length. Shepherd got the rare distinction of writing the screenplay adaptation himself, and then he got to do voiceover work for the movie as well.

Shepherd grew up in Indiana through the Great Depression and World War II. He worked as a mail carrier, labored in a steel mill, and served stateside as a U.S. Army Signal Corpsman. He went on to have a prolific career as a writer, radio host, TV personality, and actor. He died in 1999.

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash was Shepherd's first book based on his childhood in Indiana. It was a collection of stories he'd written over the years, most of which he'd read or performed on the radio or TV, and published in magazines like Playboy. The book was published in 1966. He went on to write three more books with equally enigmatic titles — Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and A Fistful of Fig Newtons.

Almost 20 years after the release of the book, Shepherd worked with MGM on the film adaptation. On top of writing the screenplay and doing the voiceover work, he appeared briefly as a man waiting in line to meet Santa Claus at the department store.

Shepherd's inspiring career must have impacted Peter Billingsley, who played the younger version of his character, Ralphie Parker. Billingsley has also gone on to have an extensive career in entertainment, preferring to work behind the camera these days rather than in front of it. Much like Shepherd, Billingsley made a conspicuous cameo in a Christmas classic later in his life, when he played the supervisor in Santa's workshop in Elf.

A Christmas Story is streaming on Max this holiday season for those who want to watch it on their own time. Otherwise, you can expect to see it on cable or broadcast TV at some point in December.