‘A Christmas Story’ Star Peter Billingsly Says He Got Sick Filming This Classic Scene

A Christmas Story came out in 1983 and was set in the ’40s. It remains a modern Christmas classic that even plays on 24 hour marathons on cable. Peter Billingsly was 12 when he played Ralphie Parker, a nine-year-old who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He spends the whole movie scheming and dreaming of getting it, but one of those humorous scenes made the child actor sick.

Peter Billingsly in A Christmas Story
L-R: Jeff Gillen and Peter Billingsley | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Billingsly was a guest on IMDB’s That Scene with Dan Patrick podcast discussing some of the classic moments from A Christmas Story. This is the scene that made Billingsly sick, due to some bad decisions on the part of the crew. 

9-year-old Peter Billingsly chewed real tobacco in ‘A Christmas Story’

At one point, Ralphie dreams of what he’ll do when he gets his BB gun. He’s a sheriff saving the day from Black Bart (Dwayne McLean) and his gang. Part of the joke is a nine-year-old kid chews tobacco like a western sheriff.

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“Well, they totally screwed up, Dan,” Billingsly told Patrick. “The scene says he’s dressed as a sheriff. So he put the costume on and the script says he’s chewing tobacco. Sure enough the prop man, who’s responsible for the chewing tobacco, comes up to me with a pouch that says Red Man on it. I don’t know the difference, I said ‘What do I do with this?’ He says, ‘Here, jam it down in here. Don’t swallow, just spit.’ Okay.”

‘A Christmas Story’ gave Peter Billingsly the gift of getting sick 

At age 9, Billingsly had no way of knowing that chewing tobacco was not like gum, even if he didn’t swallow it.

“So, I do it, we get ready to go, and about 15 minutes in, the world starts tilting,” Billingsly said. “I start sweating. My stomach starts hurting and I start throwing up.”

A Christmas Story Director Bob Clark stepped in like the rational adult.

“Bob’s like, ‘Cut cut. What the hell is going on?’ There was the prop man, ‘Oh, I gave him Red Man, you know.’ Bob says, ‘What are you doing? He’s 12 years old!.’ So we shut down, I go and lay on the couch in the living room of the set for about 40 minutes until I can get this sh*t out of my system.”

They completed the sheriff Ralphie scene safely 

Once Clark stepped in, A Christmas Story completed the scene with fake tobacco.

A Christmas Story lamp
The leg lamp | Monica Schipper/FilmMagic

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“Then they did what they should have done earlier,” Billingsly said. “Someone took a bunch of raisins, squished them together and then stuck that in my mouth, so that I had brown spit. You can imagine it was a very different time obviously. He just gave me straight up, whole cut leaf Red Man.”

Peter Billingsly still has the iconic ‘Christmas Story’ prop

For all his troubles, after A Christmas Story wrapped, they gave Billingsly one of the prop BB guns.

“It’s in a vault,” Billingsly said. “It’s in a humidified controlled vault which I kept. They gave me one with a nice plaque on it and I do have the bunny suit as well. It says, ‘To Peter Billingsly,’ something along the lines of ‘Thank you for everything.’ It’s from Bob Clark and they put it on the stock.It was one of those ones where they added a little compass in to the stock of the gun which I think was only in certain models.”