In mid-November 1983, the American public was introduced to what would quickly become a true holiday classic. A Christmas Story told the tale of a young Ralphie Parker, a boy who wanted but one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. Every year we watch, and every year we are left wondering…what happened to our favorite dysfunctional family?
Peter Billingsley will be forever immortalized as the wide-eyed, nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, but what you may not know is that now he is the man behind some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. From the action-packed Iron Man to the kid’s space adventure Zathura to another comedic holiday romp Four Christmas’, Billingsley has enough box-office clout to buy himself a Red Ryder for every day of the year.
Transitioning from child star to mega-producer wasn’t easy, but was accomplished with the help of real-life best friend Vince Vaughn (the two met on the set of a 1990 CBS Schoolbreak Special) and uber-director Jon Favreau. The three are now some of Hollywood’s hottest commodities. While Billingsley has found success behind the camera, he does occasionally bat those signature baby blues with cameos in films like Elf and The Break-up.
Melinda Dillon played Ralphie’s kind-hearted mother, but “Mrs. Parker” wasn’t Dillon’s first or last iconic role. Her career began as an improv comedy actress with Chicago’s famed Second City. After a stint on Broadway, including starring in the original Broadway production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Dillon took to the big screen, starring in Steven Spielberg’s classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
She followed that up by returning to her comedy roots in both A Christmas Story and Harry and the Hendersons. With Tony, Golden Globe and Oscar nominations under her belt, Dillon has kept active on both stage and screen. However, preferring to keep her life private, she has shied away from the public eye. Her last role was on the now-defunct television series Heartland in 2007. She is currently involved in the production of a documentary about famed Second City director Paul Sills, slated for release in 2011.
Taking on the role of Mr. Parker (The Old Man), Darren McGavin’s road to Hollywood reads like a script. Abandoned by his parents at age 11, McGavin lived under docks, in warehouses and in three different orphanages. After a successful career in film and television, including his star making turn on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, he accepted the role of Ralphie’s clueless, profanity-obsessed father. Reportedly earning $2 million for the part, he was considered one of the highest-paid actors of his time.
Following the success of A Christmas Story, McGavin took roles in film such as Adam Sandler’s father in Billy Madison, as well as TV, earning an Emmy for his work on Murphy Brown. After a long and varied career on both the big and small screen, McGavin passed away in 2006 at the age of 83.
The scene in A Christmas Story in which Scott Schwartz’s character, “Flick,” gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pole is forever engraved in our collective pop culture consciousness. After starring in A Christmas Story, The Toy, and A Time to Live, Schwartz seemed on the fast track to success. However, as he got older, the roles dried up. In 2004, Schwartz returned to the big screen, starring in several low-budget horror films. He also took up working in trading cards and collectibles, and was recently featured on the cover of Sports Card Monthly.
As bully Scut Farkus, Zack Ward instilled a fear of boys with red hair and yellow teeth from which many have yet to recover. That hasn’t affected the Canadian actor’s career one bit, however. While he has never quite become a household name, a steady career in film and television has kept the 40-year-old actor working regularly for almost 30 years. With guest starring roles on a slew of sci-fi programs including Dollhouse, Charmed and Warehouse 13, as well as big-screen roles in Almost Famous and Transformers, the kid with the yellow teeth has kept himself busy. Up next is thriller Last Stop, co-starring Brian Austin Green and Mena Suvari.
Did you know that A Christmas Story’s narrator was also its writer? Or that the very same person was also the angry man waiting in line to visit the department store Santa? His name was Jean Shepherd, and he was a prolific writer, actor and TV personality, perhaps best known for his long and provocative career in radio. Following A Christmas Story, Shepherd wrote several more films revolving around the trials and tribulations of Ralphie Parker including Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss and his final film, My Summer Story (renamed It Runs in the Family for DVD release). Shepherd passed away in 1999 at the age of 78.
The next time you are flipping through the cable channels and you stumble upon a 24-hour marathon of everybody’s favorite “Tribute to the Original, Traditional, 100 Percent, Red-Blooded, Two-Fisted, All-American Christmas...” you’ll never have to wonder “…whatever happened to THAT guy?”