A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley has revealed why he got really sick on the set. The 1983 holiday classic is a staple on TVs all around the world once Thanksgiving is over. Billingsley's Ralphie is one of the most famous holiday characters in history, and he really wants a Red Ryder air rifle from Santa Claus. He is warned over and over that the air rifle is too dangerous and that he'll "shoot" his eye out.
In one particular scene from A Christmas Story, Peter Billingsley's Ralphie is dreaming about protecting his family with his new air rifle. In the dream sequence, Ralphie is a sheriff who must save his family from Black Bart. As it turns out, one crew member thought that the scene needed some realism, so he helped out Billingsley, who was only 12-years old at the time. Billingsley had this to say about filming the scene in a recent interview.
"Well, they totally screwed up... The scene says he's dressed as a sheriff. So I 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.' So, I do it, we get ready to go, and about 15 minutes in, the world starts tilting. I start sweating. My stomach starts hurting, and I start throwing up. [Director] Bob [Clark'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!'"
Taking some tobacco straight to the head must have been pretty hard for the 12-year old Peter Billingsley. At least he didn't have to keep it in his mouth for too long. "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 the sh*t out of my system," recalls the actor. Thankfully, Billingsley was ready to go after lying down for a bit.
As for what they ended up using in the end, it was a lot different from real chewing tobacco. "Then they did what they should have done earlier, someone took a bunch of raisins, squished them together and then stuck that in my mouth, so that I had brown spit," says Peter Billingsley. "You can imagine, it was a very different time then. He just gave me straight up, whole cut-leaf Red Man." It's unclear why they didn't go with the raisins in the first place, but the early 1980s were a different time.
A Christmas Story will certainly be viewed differently this year by people who know about Peter Billingsley's behind-the-scenes story. The movie is more than likely streaming on a loop all over TV and streaming platforms from now until Christmas Day, so there should be more than one chance to see Ralphie take down Black Bart again. You can check out the interview with Peter Billingsley over at That Scene with Dan Patrick Podcast. You can see Ralphie take on Black Bart below.