By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — A North Tonawanda resident, Joe Lavey, is set to have a dream of weekend, with the chance to spend time with an actor from his favorite film — “A Christmas Story.”
Lavey, the president of the Sweeney Fire Hose Company, has loved the classic motion picture since childhood and helped organize a showing of the film to be held Sunday at the Riveria Theatre.
His fixation is easily seen in the firefighter’s home, decked out with two leg lamps from the film, one of which is signed by all the actors.
“My wife would say I’m obsessed with the movie,” Lavey joked. “I relate to it. I wanted a BB gun growing up, and my mom gave me the same exact line in the movie ... except I never got the BB gun.”
And this past summer, the stars aligned for Lavey.
Ian Petrella, who plays Ralphie Parker’s younger brother Randyin the film, posted an advertisement on Facebook in June, in hopes he could show the movie nationwide at local theaters. Lavey immediately thought of the Riv and quickly responded.
A week later, the actor’s agent, Tim Bendig, called to tell Lavey the theater would make for a perfect spot for an event.
“Joe was one of the guys that was serious and really put this together,” Petrella said. “It’s a completely fan driven thing, it’s a lot of fun.”
As part of the country’s movie tour, Petrella is traveling to a number of cities in December for movie showings and fan meet-and greets. But Tonawanda’s event will have something the others won’t — the original fire truck from the movie, used in the scene where Ralphie’s friend Flick gets his tongue stuck to a flag pole.
The vehicle is now owned by a Niagara Falls, Ontario company, who will be bringing the 1930s fire truck to the Riv Sunday and will be offering rides starting at 12:30 p.m.
“The proceeds from the rides will all go back to the fire company for the maintenance of the truck,” Lavey said. “Whenever something fixes on the truck, they have to get it manufactured, so it can get really costly.”
Petrella came to town Friday, and Lavey clearly appreciated the chance to spend some time with him at media and social events prior to the showing.
“I really think we found the movie’s biggest fan,” Bending said.
Petrella, who now lives in California, fondly remembers the time spent filming the Christmas classic.
“Being an 8 year old and being able to make a movie was awesome,” Petrella said. “It was better than being at summer camp.”
Petrella is best known from the movie’s scene in which he is dressed up in a snowsuit and said he still keeps in touch with the rest of the cast. After the filming of the movie in 1983, he continued to act, mostly for television shows, like “Who’s the Boss,” and commercials.
Now Petrella does post-production and animation work — from editing to effects and graphic design.
But he still meets people who are amazed at Petrella’s famed past.
“Usually, they are surprised,” Petrella said. “They aren’t sure, they want to see some I.D...but they are almost always welcoming. It’s like an I am an old friend they haven’t seen in a while.”
Apart from meeting Petrella, Lavey is most excited about seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time.
“I’ve seen it on VHS, blu ray, DVD, but never up on a movie screen,” he said.
Petrella and Bending are hoping to make such events a community tradition, just like the 24-hour marathon that runs on Christmas. And with all proceeds going to charity groups and not Petrella himself, the events are a great way to give back to communities, he said.
“It can be something families look forward to,” Bendig said.
The Riv is the biggest and most grand theater to hold the showing so far.
“This is definitely the most grand place we have been,” Petrella said.
Sunday’s event will begin with Petrella’s presentation at 2 p.m. Petrella will be available for autographs after the show and will be raffling off two signed Red Ryder BB guns.
Tickets purchased on the day of the event will be $15.00 for adults and $10 for children. All the proceeds will be donated back to the Riveria Theater and the Sweeney Hose Fire Company.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.