The Cast of 'A Christmas Story,' Then and Now

8:30 AM 11/16/2018

by Tyler Aquilina

The movie celebrated its 35th anniversary Nov. 18, 2018.

Now a perennial holiday favorite, A Christmas Story was only a moderate success on its release the week before Thanksgiving, 35 years ago, on Nov. 18, 1983. The film ranked third at the box office its opening weekend and grossed only $55 million domestically during its theatrical run (number adjusted for inflation), though it won two Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of Oscars from 1980 to 2012) for best screenplay and best director (Bob Clark, known at the time for the raunchy comedy Porky's).

In the years since, however, its popularity has grown immensely, and the film is now a Christmas staple. TNT aired a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story in 1997, with 12 back-to-back showings beginning Christmas Eve and ending Christmas Day. The marathon has since become an annual tradition on TBS and TNT. The film also earned glowing retrospective reviews from such critics as Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin and spawned a Broadway musical adaptation in 2012. Fox aired a live production of the musical starring Matthew Broderick, Maya Rudolph and Jane Krakowski in 2017.

Based on Jean Shepherd's autobiographical novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, A Christmas Story follows nine-year-old Ralphie Parker's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, against his mother's protestation, "You'll shoot your eye out." Along the way, numerous vignettes showcase Ralphie's life in 1940s Indiana. On its 35th anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at what the stars of A Christmas Story have been up to since the film's release.

  • Peter Billingsley

    Billingsley had an established career as a child actor before A Christmas Story. He appeared in several films as well as more than 100 TV commercials, including a series of Hershey ads in which he played "Messy Marvin." He also co-hosted the NBC reality series Real People in the early 1980s. 

    Billingsley won the lead role of Ralphie in a field of 8,000 candidates, and remains best known for his work in A Christmas Story. Since the 1990s, he has worked largely as a producer of film and TV, though he has continued to act in small roles. He frequently collaborates with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, after befriending Vaughn on the set of a CBS after-school special in 1990. Billingsley executive produced the Vaughn-starring Four Christmases and The Break-Up as well as Favreau's Iron Man, and co-produced Zathura, also directed by Favreau. Billingsley made his own directorial debut with 2009's Couples Retreat, starring and co-written by Favreau and Vaughn, and directed Vaughn again in 2016's Term Life. He has also earned two Emmy nominations, one in 1995 for acting in another CBS after-school special, and one in 2005 as a producer of Favreau's IFC nonfiction series Dinner for Five.

    Currently, Billingsley executive produces the Netflix animated series F Is for Family, which debuted in 2015. He also co-produced the Broadway production of the Christmas Story musical.

  • Ian Petrella

    Petrella started acting at the age of three, but his role as Ralphie's younger brother was his breakout. Randy is the source of many hilarious moments in A Christmas Story, such as wailing "I can't put my arms down!" when dressed in heavy winter gear to walk to school, and eating like a pig at the suggestion of his mother. Petrella guest-starred on TV shows such as Who's the Boss? and Diff'rent Strokes throughout the '80s.

    After a 1991 guest appearance on Beverly Hills, 90210, Petrella took a break from acting, studying improv at the Groundlings Comedy Theater in L.A. He later went on to become a puppeteer and animator, and continues to work in those fields. He also serves as a spokesman for Rodfather's Premium Barbeque Sauce.

  • Melinda Dillon

    As Ralphie and Randy's mother, Dillon is the first to deliver the iconic line "You'll shoot your eye out" in A Christmas Story. Dillon was already an acclaimed actress by 1983, earning a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut, in the original production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She also earned two Oscar nominations for best supporting actress, one in 1978 for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (as another devoted mother) and one in 1982 for Absence of Malice.

    Dillon played yet another suburban mother in 1987's Harry and the Hendersons, and later appeared in such films as The Prince of Tides (1991), Magnolia (1999) and the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America (1990). She also guest-starred on an episode of Law & Order: SVU in 2005, and last acted onscreen in 2007, appearing on the TNT series Heartland and the 9/11 drama Reign Over Me.

  • Darren McGavin

    McGavin had a long and diverse career as an actor, with his first onscreen appearance in 1945's A Song to Remember. Outside of doting on a leg-shaped lamp as Ralphie's foul-mouthed father in A Christmas Story, McGavin was best known for playing the title role in the 1970s TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Although the show lasted only one season, it retained a cult following and became a key inspiration for The X-Files. McGavin later had a minor recurring role on that show as Arthur Dales, in a nod to Kolchak's influence.

    McGavin had numerous roles after A Christmas Story, appearing alongside his co-star Melinda Dillon in Captain America and receiving an Emmy nomination in 1990 for his guest appearance on Murphy Brown. (He lost to fellow Murphy Brown guest star Jay Thomas.) He also played Adam Sandler's billionaire father in Billy Madison. McGavin died of cardiovascular disease in 2006, at age 83.

  • Scott Schwartz

    As Flick, Schwartz is the center of one of the best-known scenes in A Christmas Story, sticking his tongue to a flagpole on a "triple dog dare." Before the film, he had only two onscreen credits, appearing in the CBS drama Nurse and Richard Donner's The Toy, starring Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason.

    Schwartz had several more mainstream appearances, including the 1985 TV movie A Time to Live with Liza Minnelli and Corey Haim. (After Haim's death in 2010, Schwartz sold several of Haim's belongings on eBay to help his family raise money for his funeral.) In the 1990s, he went into the adult film industry, appearing in films such as Scotty's X-Rated Adventure and New Wave Hookers 5 as well as working behind the scenes.

    Schwartz is also known for helping create a line of celebrity-based trading cards. He has occasionally acted in minor roles since leaving the adult film industry.

  • R.D. Robb

    Robb made his acting debut in A Christmas Story. As Ralphie and Flick’s friend Schwartz, he issued the famous “triple dog dare” that led to the aforementioned flagpole incident. Afterward, Robb appeared in several films and TV shows, including The Brady Bunch Movie and an episode of ER, both in 1995.

    Robb has one directing credit: the notorious indie film Don’s Plum, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. The two actors successfully prevented the film, shot before they became stars, from being released in the U.S. To this day, it has never been legally shown outside of Europe.

  • Zack Ward

    Ward, the son of voice actress Pam Hyatt, had only appeared in commercials before playing “yellow-eyed” bully Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story. Farkus terrorizes Ralphie and his friends with his “toadie” Grover Dill before Ralphie strikes back in a blind rage. Director Bob Clark originally cast Ward as the sidekick Dill, with Yano Anaya playing Farkus. Clark swapped their roles after seeing their considerable height difference on set.

    Ward has acted consistently since 1983, in such films and TV shows as NYPD Blue (appearing in two different roles in 1995 and 1998), Almost Famous (2000), Deadwood (2004-05), Transformers (2007) and American Horror Story (2017). He also directed the 2016 horror film Restoration.

    In 2017, Ward helped launch the Global Sports Financial Exchange, which lets fans invest in pro sports teams like a stock market. Ward is also the exchange’s CEO.

  • Tedde Moore

    As Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields, Moore again warns him that he’ll shoot his eye out with a BB gun. Moore reprised the role in My Summer Story (also known as It Runs in the Family), the 1994 sequel to A Christmas Story. While Bob Clark also directed the later film, Moore was the only actor to appear in both films. Moore earned a Genie Award nomination for best supporting actress for her performance in A Christmas Story.

    Like many of the other actors in A Christmas Story, Moore is perhaps best known for her role in the film. She appeared in several films and TV shows before and after, including the 2011 miniseries The Kennedys and TV movie Mistletoe Over Manhattan and TV adaptations of both Friday the 13th and RoboCop. Most recently, Moore appeared in the 2017 films High-Rise Rescue and Magical Christmas Ornaments.