Another in the reliably sporadic series of yuletide Celebritology posts on the Unsung Heroes of Holiday Pop Culture.
For the 15th consecutive year, “A Christmas Story” will go into heavy Christmas Eve rotation on TBS for 24 straight hours. Beginning at 8 p.m. tonight, Ralphie and his Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle will repeat and repeat on an endless loop, providing the background action for many of our gift-wrapping and -opening rituals.
When the 1983 film rears its annual major-award-winning head, fans will no doubt be happy to see Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), his PG-rated, profanity-spewing old man (Darren McGavin), oinky eater Randy (Ian Petrella) and the lamp-shattering matriarch of the Parker family (Melinda Dillon), who, for the record, is absolutely right about that Red Ryder gun’s capacity to shoot someone’s eye out.
But most won’t give much thought to a more minor character, one who doesn’t write a mediocre Christmas theme or get his tongue stuck to a telephone pole, but still teaches us all an important lesson: Grover Dill.
In case you’ve forgotten, Grover Dill (Yana Anayo) is the movie’s FoSF — that’s Friend of Scut Farcus, the chief bully in “A Christmas Story.” Or, to describe him in the terms used by our narrator, older Ralphie/author Jean Shepherd, he is Scut Farcus’s crummy little toadie, the runt roaring at Ralphie, Flick and Schwartz in this well-known scene:
It’s unclear why anyone woud be frightened of Grover Dill. He’s maybe taller than the mayor of Munchkinland, on a good day. He dresses in a way that makes him look like a comic strip character accompanied by a word balloon that perpetually says “Why, I oughtta . . .” And he can’t even take a semi-solid punch in the shoulder from his mentor-of-sorts, the illustrious Mr. Farcus.
For the record, Scut Farcus is a legitimately terrifying presence. His attributes — those so-called yellow eyes and the braces that glisten so devilishly they appear to have been screwed in by Satan’s orthodontist — make him understandably scary. Dill serves only to aid and abet his reign of terror at Warren G. Harding Elementary School and undoubtedly, as a result, preserve his own safety.
As such, unlike Shermy from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and Max the dog from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” our previous honorees in this blog series, Grover Dill is not a hero. As a matter of fact, he’s a coward, a kid who doesn’t have the girth to be an intimidating force yet still thinks he has the right to make everyone else’s lives miserable.
But when Ralphie finally, inevitably, snaps and beats up Scut Farcus while cursing up a horrifying word cloud that would put his furnace-fixing Old Man to shame, we finally see Grover Dill for what he really is: a young boy as vulnerable as any other.
To be clear, the so-called Scut Farcus Affair doesn’t exactly send a positive message. If “A Christmas Story” were an It Gets Better video, its motto would have to be changed to “It Gets Better . . . After You Pummel a Bully Into the Ground Until His Nose Bleeds and He Never Bothers You Again.” Violence should not beget violence. But from a narrative perspective, Ralphie’s response is both understandable and, admittedly, satisfying.
Also satisfying: the fact that, as soon as Ralphie starts throwing punches, we can see the magic spell dissolving off Grover Dill. His bullying powers have seemingly disappeared. “I’m calling my dad,” he squeaks while running away in horror.
We don’t really know what happened to Grover Dill after that. The movie implies that Scut’s intimidation factor was reduced to zero, and, presumably, so was Grover’s.
I like to think that Ralphie’s capacity to fight back changed Grover Dill’s life a little. I imagine him 25 years later, possibly working as an assistant manager at a grocery store or a deputy to some chief of police, still perpetually the second in command. I envision him as a vertically challenged guy still harboring some insecurities and pent-up aggression, but trying really hard to do the right thing, an impulse he embraced when he realized that there’s no sense in bullying anyone because even the losers get lucky sometimes and throw a really solid, unanticipated punch.
I like to think that this Christmas, somewhere Grover Dill is rocking in a La-Z-Boy and celebrating the holiday with his family, which includes a posse of grandchildren. As two of those whippersnappers argue over who gets to play Angry Birds next, he’ll say, “Kids, you know, you really shouldn’t fight.”
“Who says?” his backtalking grandson will respond.
“Your Aunt Tilly,” Grover Dill will fire back sarcastically. Then he’ll pause and add, “Actually, no. I say.”