The Wild Reason A Christmas Story’s Star Got Sick On Set

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story

Holiday movies are a unique aspect of film history, as when they're accepted by a family they have the potential to be re-watched every single year. Perhaps the biggest example of this is A Christmas Story, which plays on a constant loop every Christmas morning. The beloved 1983 classic starred Peter Billingsley as protagonist Ralphie, although it turns out he was made sick on the set for a wild reason.

A Christmas Story follows Ralphie and his friends in the days before the annual holiday. Throughout its runtime he hopes and prays for an air rifle from Santa, and in one sequence imagines himself saving his family with "old blue." But that iconic scene actually made poor Peter Billingsley quite sick, as he was given real chewing tobacco by a crew member. As he recently explained in an interview,

Well, they totally screwed up, Dan. 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!'

Yikes. Chewing tobacco has been known to make its fair share of adults sick, let along a 12 year old actor who is just coming into contact with it for the first time. That's exactly what happened when Peter Billingsley was shooting one of Ralphie's fantasy sequences, resulting in a number of nasty symptoms. And presumably a stern talking to for the prop guy who was responsible.

Peter Billingsley's comments come from his appearance on That Scene with Dan Patrick. He's kept busy as an actor and producer throughout his adulthood, including roles in Iron Man and Spider-Man: Far From Home. But he's still perhaps best known for playing Ralphie in A Christmas Story, a part which apparently resulted in him getting sick after using chewing tobacco. As a reminder, you can check out that sequence below.

As Ralphie shoots down Black Bart and his goons with his trusty air rifle in this dream sequence, the young protagonist is shown spitting out the liquid from his chewing tobacco. It's hilariously out of character for Peter Billingsley's character, but shooting the scene is clearly an experience he'll never forget. Later in the same interview, the actor/producer went on to further explain the fallout from this hiccup, and how the cast and crew eventually recovered.

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 shit out of my system. 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. You can imagine, it was a very different time then. He just gave me straight up, whole cut-leaf Red Man.

That's some movie magic for you. It's always interesting to see how food, drinks, and other practical effects are achieved on sets. And in order for Peter Billingsley to avoid further stomach problems when filming Ralphie's rescue fantasy, he was given some good old fashioned raisins. His spit was brown as a result, and the scene could be captured for prosperity.

This insider scoop about A Christmas Story has the potential to change how families watch that particular sequence this year. The beloved holiday classic is expected to once again play on a loop on TBS, including the scene that made Peter Billingsley so sick. He certainly got accustomed to suffering for his art at a young age. Be sure to check out our 2021 release list to plan your trips to the movies in the New Year.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.