‘Ralphie’ speaks! Peter Billingsley reflects on ‘A Christmas Story’

Fanning Out

TBS and TNT again present annual 24-hour marathon of seasonal classic

The holiday season has certain entertainment traditions it just wouldn’t be the holidays without: Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch … and Ralphie Parker.

The wide-eyed boy who literally dreams of finding a Red Ryder BB gun under the tree — despite the famous, much-repeated warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out” — spends a lot of time in homes nationwide at the yuletide, thanks especially to the now-traditional 24-hour marathon that TBS and TNT will give “A Christmas Story” again starting Monday, Dec. 24. (This year, the start times are staggered so that the movie begins every hour on the hour on one channel or the other.)

The nostalgic, Jean Shepherd-inspired 1983 comedy made a young star of Peter Billingsley, now a 47-year-old producer-director (“Four Christmases,” “The Break-Up,” “Couples Retreat”) who still has a big place in his heart for the film and his classic Ralphie role.

“There’s a very loyal fan base for that movie,” he has told us. “Those who like it know it and quote it, and it’s a part of the family tradition of Christmas for them. And we have not infringed on the reputation, or their enjoyment, of that film.”

Billingsley says that having joined as a producer of a stage version of “A Christmas Story” that has played on Broadway, among other engagements including a Fox telecast (with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, now Oscar winners for “La La Land” and Tony winners for “Dear Evan Hansen”). “It’s a big, full-blown musical,” Billingsley notes. “I’d heard about it, and if I’m creatively inspired by something, I want to get involved in it. I felt I had a lot I could contribute.”

Fox televises the stage musical "A Christmas Story Live!" Sunday, Dec 17.

“A Christmas Story 2,” which AMC has been running this season, was released directly to home video in 2012. Billingsley wasn’t involved, and he doesn’t try to conceal his lack of enthusiasm for the sequel: “The original is as well as you could do a movie in that format, so why would you ever try to improve upon it?”

Billingsley gets that reaffirmation annually, since he tends to tune in at some point during the TBS and TNT marathon. Directed by the late Bob Clark, Billingsley’s mentor in moviemaking, “A Christmas Story” (which is part of the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry) also stars Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s parents … and boasts such now-legendary elements as a leg lamp, pink bunny pajamas, a “triple dog dare” involving a tongue and a very cold flagpole, and a visit to a fearsome department-store Santa.

“The movie usually does wind up being on at my house,” Billingsley says, “because we do Christmas with a lot of family and a lot of kids. And they like it, not just because their uncle is in it, but on that level of it being a tradition. It’s been enough years that it seems kind of normal when it’s on the kitchen TV, and you just hear it when you’re walking through to get some more coffee.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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