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‘A Christmas Story’: Peter Billingsley finds watching himself as Ralphie ‘kind of normal’

peter-billingsley-then-now-nc-325.jpgThe holidays have certain entertainment traditions it just wouldn’t be the holidays without: Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch … and Ralphie.

The wide-eyed boy who literally dreams of finding a Red Ryder BB gun under the tree — despite the famous warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out” — spends a lot of time in homes nationwide at the yuletide, thanks especially to the now-traditional 24-hour marathon that TBS will give “A Christmas Story” again starting Monday, Dec. 24.

The nostalgic, Jean Shepherd-inspired 1983 comedy made a young star of Peter Billingsley, now a 41-year-old producer-director (“Four Christmases,” “Couples Retreat,” TBS’ “Sullivan & Son”) who still has a big place in his heart for the film and his classic Ralphie role.

“There’s a very loyal fan base for that movie,” he acknowledges to Zap2it. “Those who like it know it and quote it, and it’s a part of the family tradition of Christmas for them. And we have not infringed on the reputation, or their enjoyment, of that film.”

Billingsley also says that as a producer of a stage version of “A Christmas Story” that’s now making its Broadway debut. “It’s a big, full-blown musical,” he notes. “I’d heard about it, and if I’m creatively inspired by something, I want to get involved in it. I felt I had a lot I could contribute, and so far, so good. We’ve had good runs in Seattle and Chicago, and now, it’s Broadway.”

This year, there’s also the new “A Christmas Story 2,” released directly to home video in late October. Billingsley wasn’t involved, and he doesn’t try to conceal his lack of enthusiasm for it: “The original is as well as you could do a movie in that format, so why would you ever try to improve upon it?”

Billingsley gets that reaffirmation annually, since he tends to tune in at some point during the TBS marathon. Directed by the late Bob Clark, Billingsley’s mentor in moviemaking, “A Christmas Story” (newly added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry) also stars Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s parents … and boasts such now-legendary elements as a leg lamp, pink bunny pajamas, a “triple dog dare” involving a tongue and a very cold flagpole, and a visit to a fearsome department-store Santa.

“The movie usually does wind up being on at my house,” Billingsley says, “because we do Christmas with a lot of family and a lot of kids. And they like it, not just because their uncle is in it, but on that level of it being a tradition. It’s been enough years that it seems kind of normal when it’s on the kitchen TV, and you just hear it when you’re walking through to get some more coffee.”

Photo/Video credit: Newscom/Warner Home Video

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