Ralphie, A Christmas Story
"...You can be famous nowadays for a lot of things, so it's nice to be known for a pretty great movie. I'm certainly proud of it and I'm finally at the point where I can watch it and appreciate it." Peter Billingsley (on finding fame after starring in the film "A Christmas Story," 1983)
The great-grandnephew of the famed Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, Peter Billingsley has been in the spotlight since he was a toddler. At age 2, he appeared in his first commercial and before turning 12, he had starred in over 120 television ads, most notably in a series of commercials for Hershey's chocolate syrup in the 1980s as the popular character Messy Marvin. He also became the national spokesman for President Ronald Reagan's Young Astronaut Council in the early 1980s.
The child actor began appearing in films and was seen in "If Ever I See You Again" (1978), "Honky Tonk Freeway" (1981), "Paternity" (1981) and "Death Valley" (1982). However, it was the family/comedy movie "A Christmas Story" (1983) that made him a star. In the film, he was widely remembered as a 9-year-old imaginative kid named Ralphie Parker who desperately wanted a BB gun for Christmas.
He later added to his resume roles in the films "The Dirt Bike Kid" (1985), "Beverly Hills Brats" (1989), "Elf" (2003), "The Break-Up" (2006) and "Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood to the Heartland" (2006).
TV viewers could catch him starring in a string of made-for-television movies and guest starring in such popular TV series as "Little House on the Prairie," "Who's the Boss," "CBS Schoolbreak Special," and "L.A. Heat." He also branched out into producing and directing in the early 1990s. In fact, he serves as the executive producer for the upcoming films "Iron Man" and "Four Christmases."
New York Native
Childhood and Family:
The great-grandnephew of the flashy Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, Peter Billingsley was born in New York, New York, on April 16, 1971. His father, Alwin Michaelsen, is a financial consultant who graduated from Princeton in 1954, and his mother, Gail Billingsley was once Alwin's secretary.
Thanks to mother Gail who took the children around to auditions, Peter's four siblings were all involved in acting. His oldest siblings, Dina and Win, had a short acting career when they were young. Peter's older sister Melissa was known for playing Maxx Davis in the 1980 television show “Me and Maxx.”
As a child, Peter was trained under child actor tutor Wesley Staples while attending school, including the Professional Children's School in New York City, and the Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, AZ. After receiving his GED at age 14, Peter attended Arcadia High School in Phoenix and later Phoenix College in the late 1980's.
Peter is best friends with director Jon Favreau and actor Vince Vaughn. Peter became friends with Vince Vaughn when they starred in an “After School Special” together.
Peter now lives in Los Angeles.
The Dirt Bike Kid
At the tender age of two years old, Peter Billingsley began appearing in public in a Geritol commercial with Betty Buckley playing his mom. Before reaching 13, he had starred in about 120 television ads, most notably in a series of commercials for Hershey's chocolate syrup in the eighties as the popular character Messy Marvin. He also became the national spokesman for President Ronald Reagan's Young Astronaut Council in the early 1980s, which was an educational program aimed at kids.
At age 7, Billingsley made his film debut in actor/director Joseph Brooks' romantic drama "If Ever I See You Again" (1978). He followed it up with the next years' films like "Honky Tonk Freeway" (1981), John Schlesinger's action/comedy, "Paternity" (1981; earned him a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Young Comedian - Motion Picture or Television), David Steinberg's comedy starring Burt Reynolds and Beverly D'Angelo, and "Death Valley" (1982), Dick Richards' thriller.
He was also spotted as a guest in an episode of NBC’s hit family drama series loosely based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling books, "Little House on the Prairie," and starred in the made-for-television movies "Memories Never Die" (1982), which was based on Zoa Sherburne's book, and "Massarati and the Brain" (1982), in which he starred as a 10-year-old genius called "The Brain.” From 1982 to 1984, he served as the host of NBC’s reality television series "Real People," which handed him another Young Artist Award nomination, this time for Best Young Actor in a Comedy Series.
In 1983, at age 12, Billingsley hit the big time as a 9-year-old imaginative kid named Ralphie Parker who desperately wants an official Red Ryder BB rifle for Christmas, in director Bob Clark's family comedy movie "A Christmas Story," based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author Jean Shepherd. His performance would earn him a 1985 Young Artist Award nomination for Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical, Comedy, Adventure or Drama.
“All you can do is try your best to make a great movie. All that you can really ever do, which is what we did with 'A Christmas Story,' is tell a great story.” Peter Billingsley
Following his big screen break, Billingsley returned to the small screen. He appeared as a guest in an episode of ABC’s sitcom "Who's the Boss?" and the anthology series "Tall Tales and Legends," as well as in multiple episodes of NBC’s drama "Highway to Heaven" and NBC’s sitcom "Punky Brewster." He also starred in the TV movies "The Hoboken Chicken Emergency" (1984), which was based on Daniel M. Pinkwater's novel, and "The Last Frontier" (1986) and "Carly's Web" (1987; starring Daphne Ashbrook).
Billingsley continued to add to his resume with a leading role in "The Dirt Bike Kid" (1985), Hoite C. Caston's fantasy comedy. His brilliant work in the film later won him a Young Artist Award for Exceptional Performance by a Young Actor Starring in a Feature Film - Comedy or Drama.
He then co-starred with Joaquin Phoenix in Rick Rosenthal's war-drama film "Russkies" (1987) and with Burt Young and Martin Sheen in Jim Sotos' comedy movie "Beverly Hills Brats" (1989).
Around the early 1990s, Billingsley began working behind the screen. He became post-production supervisor for a straight-to-video released movie called "Arcade" (1993), a sci-fi movie he also co-starred in with Megan Ward, and served as assistant editor for "Knights" (1993), a sci-fi adventure by writer/director Albert Pyun.
The following year, he made his director debut with "The Sacred Fire" (1994), a 13-minute short drama he also co-wrote and starred in. That same year, he wrote the Introduction to the 1994 autobiography "Dreamer," written by his friend Brian Evans. Billingsley would later serve as editor for writer/director Cory Van Dyke's low-budgeted drama film "Patriot Son" (1997) and as senior field producer for the comedy/talk show "The X Show" (1999-2001). He also released a CD titled “Christmas Stories...Christmas Songs” on Run For Cover Records in 1999 with longtime friend Brian Evans.
Billingsley appeared as a guest in dual episodes of ABC's Emmy-winning "The Wonder Years" and "CBS Schoolbreak Special," the latter of which his performance was awarded a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special. He also appeared in the made-for-television movie "Family Reunion: A Relative Nightmare" (1995) and played Billy Baker (1996) in the comedic show "Sherman Oaks." In 1999, he was spotted as a guest in an episode of TNT’s action drama series "L.A. Heat."
After appearing in Derek Partridge's independent film "No Deposit, No Return" (2000), Billingsley co-executive produced the talk show hosted by best friend/actor/director Jon Favreau, "Dinner for Five" (2001; earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Nonfiction Series), co-produced the film "Made" (2001) and became field producer for the comedy series "Trigger Happy TV." He also had an unaccredited cameo role as an elf in Favreau's comedy movie starring Will Ferrell, "Elf" (2003).
In 2005, Billingsley co-produced Favreau's film adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's book, "Zathura: A Space Adventure." When asked why he became involved in the project, Billingsley explained, “Jon’s (Favreau) been getting into these. He’s got a couple of kids himself now. So starting with ‘Elf,’ I think it started to open his eyes to it. With this one, Jon sent me the script and said it was something he wanted to do next. I think what was appealing about it was that yeah, it was full of action, but there was a value system at its core. It’s not that the whole world was at stake or in jeopardy, it was just this little family and a single dad and a couple of kids and they were just trying to find their way. I think there was something appealing about that to me.”
Billingsley then executive produced Peyton Reed's romantic film starring his best friend Vince Vaughn, "The Break-Up" (2006), in which he also played a small role. Also that year, he executive produced "Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights - Hollywood to the Heartland," a comedic documentary featuring both Vince Vaughn and Billingsley.
Billingsley now serves as the executive producer of two upcoming films, "Iron Man," Favreau's sci-fi thriller based on Marvel's fictional superhero comic book, and "Four Christmases," Seth Gordon's comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau.
"I did a little thing in 'Four Christmases' and I did a little thing in 'Iron Man.' It's really fun when I'm doing projects for friends or your own movie to step in a do a little role. I think I'll start getting back into it more and more now." Peter Billingsley
Young Artist: Exceptional Performance by a Young Actor Starring in a Feature Film - Comedy or Drama, "The Dirt Bike Kid," 1987