12-year-old A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley was given real chewing tobacco on set
Peter Billingsley didn't shoot his eye out on the set of A Christmas Story — but he did have another memorable, and unfortunate, experience.
The actor, who played Ralphie in the 1983 holiday favorite, recounted a jaw-dropping behind-the-scenes story on IMDb's podcast That Scene With Dan Patrick. Billingsley, who was 12 years old at the time of filming, recalled being given real chewing tobacco for a scene in which Ralphie fantasizes about saving his family, cowboy-style, with his trusty BB gun.
"The scene says he's dressed as a sheriff… and the script says he's chewing tobacco," Billingsley said on the podcast. "So the prop man comes up to me, he's got this pouch, and it says 'Red Man' on it, and he gives it to me. I don't know the difference. I said, 'What do I do with this?' He says, 'Jam it down in here. Don't swallow, just spit.'"
About 15 minutes later, the actor continued, "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's going on?' The prop man says, 'Oh, I gave him Red Man.' 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 s--- out of my system," Billingsley added. "And then they did what they should have done, someone had a good idea. They took a bunch of raisins, squished them together, and then stuck that in my mouth, so I had brown spit. It was a very different time, obviously. He just gave me straight up, whole cut leaf Red Man."
Billingsley also said that he got to keep the Red Ryder BB gun and the pink bunny costume from the film, and that he is continuously surprised by A Christmas Story's cultural staying power. "To have something that stuck then, and then every decade continues to, there's obviously a deeper core that it's hitting," he said.
A Christmas Story was only a modest success upon release in 1983, but has gone on to become a beloved holiday classic, playing frequently on television during the Christmas season. (TBS and TNT have aired 24-hour Christmas Day marathons of the movie for several years.) Billingsley, meanwhile, has gone on to a career as a director and producer, and appeared in other holiday favorites like Elf and Four Christmases.