You’d think the round-the-clock TV marathons of Bob Clark’s comedy, A Christmas Story, would be as overwhelming as Ralphie Parker’s Pepto Bismol-colored bunny costume, but the nostalgia, hilarious absurdity and the countless memorable scenes and quotes are all too joyfully addicting.
Based on Jean Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical short stories, A Christmas Story surprisingly took some time to become the American mainstream classic that it is today. Decades after its 1983 release, it started garnering the kudos it deserved, with some critics ranking it as the top holiday film of all time. Regardless of the film’s sleeper-hit status, most of the actors were already veterans in the business by the time they decided to take on their off-kilter, iconic roles and went on to lead successful careers in Hollywood. Let’s dig a little deeper to see where our favorite Christmas movie cast has been as of late:
Mother (Melinda Dillon)
“Oh, Ralphie!” These are the words that you associate with Melinda Dillon when you think of her as the mop-headed, kooky mom of Ralphie and Randy. However, you may also recall her more serious maternal role, in which she was nominated for an Oscar — Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While Dillon started out in theater and was nominated for a Tony in her Broadway role for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, she found steady work on the big screen. Besides her more memorable roles in A Christmas Story and Close Encounters, the 78-year-old actress has also appeared in Absence of Malice (for which she was nominated a second time for an Oscar), Harry and the Hendersons, The Prince of Tides, How to Make an American Quilt, and Magnolia. In 2005, Dillon guest starred on Law & Order: SVU, and two years later in TNT's Heartland. Since Heartland, she has stopped acting. Dillon was married and had a son with actor Richard Libertini, but the couple divorced in 1978.
The Old Man (Darren McGavin)
No one looked at plastic leg lamps and the word “fragile” the same after Darren McGavin put his spin on them as the crotchety, curse-mumbling Old Man. But long before McGavin made us choke and chortle in the holiday spirit, he had an extensive career in theater and in television, most notably in the 1950s role as crime-fighting detective Mike Hammer and as Carl Kolchak in the 1970s series Kolchack: The Night Stalker. In 1990 he won an Emmy for his comedic role as Candice Bergen’s father in Murphy Brown and also guest-starred in The X-Files. Along with acting in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway productions, McGavin also hopped onto the big screen with substantial parts in Summertime, The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, and The Man With the Golden Arm before he landed his comedic role in A Christmas Story. In the 1990s, he played Adam Sandler’s dad in Billy Madison. Survived by four children, McGavin died in 2006 at the age of 83 in Los Angeles.
Ralphie (Peter Billingsley)
Who could forget the piercing blue eyes and cherubic face of Ralphie as he salivated over the thought of having a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas? While actor Peter Billingsley would never be the same after his depiction of Shepherd’s nine-year-old alter ego, he was already a veteran in Hollywood, with TV shows and countless commercials under his belt — most memorably, his 1980s Hershey Chocolate Syrup commercials as “Messy Marvin.” Billingsley has been working in front of and behind the camera ever since. He was nominated in 2005 for an Emmy for co-executive producing the acclaimed Dinner For Five on the IFC Channel. He’s worked as a producer on films like Iron Man and Four Christmases and being a longtime friend of Vince Vaughn, he’s played a key role in the actor’s production company and even directed him in Couples Retreat (2009) and later in the crime thriller Term Life (2016). In 2010 he co-produced the Broadway production of A Christmas Story and more recently served as executive producer for the animated sitcom, F Is For Family.
Randy (Ian Petrella)
Although we’ll forever remember him as the snort-giggling, mummified-by-puffy-coat younger brother of Ralphie, actor Ian Petrella has come full circle in his career. Starting out at the age of three, Petrella began appearing in numerous TV commercials. As a teen, he was the youngest actor to be accepted as a student at L.A.’s Groundlings Comedy Theater. He later became interested in puppetry, which got him some work on the set of Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers and the Jim Henson Company. But once the 2000’s hit, Petrella took a sabbatical on acting and traveled the world, studying marionette puppetry in the Czech Republic. When he returned, he moved to San Francisco, where he attended school and dove into animation. Soon after, he got the acting bug again and decided to give Hollywood another shot. Aside from touring with the cast of A Christmas Story, he’s appeared in independent comedies in TV and film and works at his production company where he creates animated shorts.
Flick (Scott Schwartz)
When Flick’s tongue got stuck to the frozen pole, actor Scott Schwartz was written into the annals of kid-awesomeness movie history. Besides A Christmas Story, Schwartz also appeared in 1982’s The Toy, which starred Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor. While his career started out promising, his life didn’t necessarily turn out the way he — or anyone else — expected. After managing his dad’s memorabilia collectibles shop in the 1980s, he moved onto the next decade managing projects in the adult film industry and even appearing in some. Looking for a change, Schwartz left the porn industry in 2000 to get back to his mainstream acting roots and appeared in a few small comedies and horror flicks between 2004 and 2008. He's also involved in the celebrity-trading card business, obtaining celebrity autographs for various companies, and writing for the sports card magazine Beckett.