Peter Billingsley

Peter Billingsley (born April 16, 1971), also known as Peter Michaelsen[1] and Peter Billingsley-Michaelsen,[2] is an American actor, director, and producer, best known for his role as Ralphie Parker in the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, Jack Simmons in The Dirt Bike Kid, Billy in Death Valley, and as Messy Marvin in the Hershey's chocolate syrup commercials during the 1970s. He began his career as an infant in television commercials.

Peter Billingsley
Billingsley at the 2014 ATX TV Festival for Sullivan and Son
Peter Michaelsen or Peter Billingsley-Michaelsen (disputed)

(1971-04-16) April 16, 1971
OccupationActor, producer, director
Years active1978–present

Early life

Peter was born in New York City. His father, Alwin Michaelsen, is a financial consultant, and his mother, Gail, was once Alwin's secretary. Gail is the grand-niece of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, and cousin of Glenn Billingsley, who was married to actress Barbara Billingsley (1915–2010). Gail was the one who initially took the children around to auditions. She once took the children to Browns Mills, New Jersey, for a commercial commemorating US troops.

All five of the children in the family had acting careers when they were young. The oldest of Billingsley's siblings, Dina and Win, had the briefest acting careers working mostly in commercials, with minor guest spots on television shows. Peter's elder sister, Melissa, may be best known for her role as Maxx Davis on Me and Maxx.[3] Peter's older brother, Neil, began playing Danny Walton on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow in 1975 and has had numerous roles in commercials and guest shots on TV series.

Billingsley received his early childhood education from a combination of tutors (including child actor tutor Wesley Staples), public schools, and private institutions (including the Professional Children's School in New York City), Phoenix Country Day School in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and eventually passed his California High School Proficiency Exam at the age of 14. He seems to have also attended some public secondary schools following the GED, including Arcadia High School, Phoenix, Arizona. In the late 1980s, he took a brief break from show business to attend Phoenix College.

On January 28, 1986, Billingsley was present at launch pad 39B (at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida) for the doomed launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Classmates of the son of America's first teacher-astronaut (Christa McAuliffe) and he cheered as Challenger lifted skyward. Their delight turned to horror as the shuttle exploded 73 seconds into flight. Billingsley was a spokesman for the young astronaut program.[4]


Billingsley's first acting role was as a two-year-old in a Geritol commercial with Betty Buckley playing his mom. He went on to star in about 120 television adverisements throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. At 12, he was quoted as saying, "After 100 (commercials), you lose count." He was likely best known for a series of commercials for Hershey's chocolate syrup in which he portrayed the popular character Messy Marvin.[5][6] One of Billingsley's earliest film roles was in 1978's If Ever I See You Again, written and directed by Joseph Brooks.[1]

His role in 1981's Paternity opposite Burt Reynolds earned a nomination for "Best Young Comedian – Motion Picture or Television" at the Young Artist Awards.[7] In 1981, he appeared in Honky Tonk Freeway, and that October was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In 1982, Billingsley starred in several features, including Death Valley, Massarati and the Brain, and the made-for-TV movie Memories Never Die with Lindsay Wagner and his sister, Melissa. He had a featured guest role as Gideon Hale on Little House on the Prairie, began a three-year stint as a co-host on NBC's popular Real People (for which he earned another Young Artist Award nomination),[7] and hosted a two-episode offshoot of the show called Real Kids.

In 1983, Billingsley starred in A Christmas Story, based on Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which built its audience slowly over the years and is now broadcast for 24 hours from Christmas Eve until Christmas Day on TBS. The film earned Billingsley another Young Artist Award nomination, and is arguably the one role with which he is most associated. He has been quoted as saying that people still approach him on the street, only to say "you'll shoot your eye out, kid!"[7]

In 1984, Billingsley starred in an adaptation of The Hoboken Chicken Emergency with Dick Van Patten and Gabe Kaplan, a special Thanksgiving episode of the PBS series WonderWorks.[8] He appeared on a "Super Teen" special edition of Family Feud, and on Celebrity Hot Potato.[9]

As the late 1980s approached, Billingsley's acting career slowed. He made guest appearances on Who's The Boss?, Punky Brewster, The Wonder Years, and Highway To Heaven,[10][11] and appeared in The Dirt Bike Kid (for which he won a Young Artist Award),[7] and Carly's Web, Russkies, and Beverly Hills Brats.[1]

The early 1990s had Billingsley tackling older roles such as a would-be jock who gets hooked on steroids in the CBS Schoolbreak Special The Fourth Man. On that project, he formed a close friendship with Vince Vaughn.[12] His next Schoolbreak Special appearance was in The Writing on the Wall (1994), starring Hal Linden as a rabbi who teaches three boys about the horrors of intolerance after they are caught defacing his home, temple, and car with swastikas and antisemitic graffiti. Billingsley was nominated for an Emmy Award for this role.[7][13]

Other work

The most rewarding of his later film acting assignments was Arcade (1993), in which he starred as a teenaged "virtual reality" addict; he worked as the postproduction supervisor (credited as Peter Michaelsen). He made some career decisions and began working behind the scenes more. Known as Peter Michaelsen, he was assistant editor on Knights, a film which featured Kris Kristofferson. In 1994, Peter starred in, wrote, and directed (credited as Peter Billingsley) the short film The Sacred Fire, and credited as Peter Michaelsen in the executive producer function. This film won an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films' Golden Scroll Award.[1]

His career behind the scenes continued, including work on The Discovery Channel's A.R.K.: The New Adventures of Animal Rescue Kids, Patriot Son, The X Show, Made, and Elf, in which he has a cameo appearance. In 2001, he was nominated for an Emmy Award as co-executive producer for the show Dinner for Five. In 2005, he helped produce the movie Zathura. He was an executive producer for the Universal Pictures production The Break-Up in which he had a small acting role (as Andrew), appearing alongside frequent collaborator Jon Favreau.[14] Billingsley served as executive producer on director Favreau's Iron Man feature film; he also acted in the film, playing William Ginter Riva, a scientist who works for Obadiah Stane; he reprised the role later in 2019 in the film Spider-Man: Far From Home.[15] Billingsley, Favreau, and Vaughn appeared in Four Christmases (2008). Couples Retreat (2009) starring Favreau and Vaughn was Billingsley's first major film as director and was followed by his second directorial effort Term Life, which also starred Vaughn.[1]

Billingsley's acting career continues, as well, with small roles in Sherman Oaks, Family Reunion: A Relative Nightmare, Elf, L.A. Heat, and No Deposit, No Return, which was voted Best Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2000.[16] He took an acting part in an experimental film for the new Maxivision 48 projection system developed by Dean Goodhill.[17]

Billingsley released a CD titled Christmas Stories...Christmas Songs on Run For Cover Records in 1999 with longtime friend Brian Evans.[18] He signed on as executive producer of a musical adaptation of A Christmas Story that opened in Seattle in December 2010. He is "...honored to be a part of this project and look forward to bringing the play to more stages... Just think about the idea of a leg-lamp kickline."[19]



Year Title Role Notes Ref
1978 If Ever I See You Again Child [20][21][22][23]
1981 Honky Tonk Freeway Little Billy [24][25][26]
Paternity Tad
1982 Death Valley Billy
1983 A Christmas Story Ralphie Parker [27][28][29]
1985 The Dirt Bike Kid Jack Simmons
1987 Russkies Adam [30]
1989 Beverly Hills Brats Scooter [31]
1993 Arcade Nick
1994 The Sacred Fire Kyle Baker
2000 No Deposit, No Return
2003 Elf Ming the elf Co-Producer [32]
2005 Zathura: A Space Adventure None Co-Producer
2006 The Break-Up Andrew Also executive producer
Wild West Comedy Show Himself Also co-producer
2008 Iron Man William Ginter Riva Also executive producer [33]
Four Christmases Ticket Agent [34]
2009 Couples Retreat None Director
2013 A Case of You Scott [35]
2015 Prescription Thugs None Executive producer
2016 Term Life Director [36]
2019 Spider-Man: Far From Home William Ginter Riva [37]


Year Title Role Notes Ref
1982 Little House on the Prairie Gideon Hale Episode: "No Beast So Fierce"
Massarati and the Brain Christopher 'The Brain' Massarati TV Movie
Memories Never Die Shawn Tilford
1984 The Hoboken Chicken Emergency Arthur Bobowicz
1985 Who's the Boss? Bobby Walsh Episode: "Double Date"
The O'Briens Son TV Movie
Highway to Heaven Ridley Episode: "The Monster, Part 1", "The Monster, Part 2"
Punky Brewster Richmond Matzie Episode: "Christmas Shoplifting"
1986 Tall Tales & Legends Kevin Episode: "Pecos Bill"
Punky Brewster Richmond Matzie Episode: "Girls Will Be Boys"
The Last Frontier Marty Adamson TV Movie
1987 Carly's Web Robert Krantz Jr.
1990 CBS Schoolbreak Special Joey Martelli Episode: "The Fourth Man"
1993 The Wonder Years Micky Spiegel Episodes: "Summer, Part 1", "Independence Day, Part 2"
1994 CBS Schoolbreak Special Tony Episode: "The Writing on the Wall"
1995 Family Reunion: A Relative Nightmare Mark McKenna Jr. TV Movie
Sherman Oaks Billy Baker
  • Contract role
  • 1995–97
1999 L.A. Heat Lance Allan Episode: "Obsession"
The X Show Senior field producer
2000 Who's Watching Who? Starring TV Movie
The New Adventures of A.R.K. None
  • Writer
  • Episode: "An Elephant Remembers"
2001–2004 Dinner for Five
  • Executive producer
  • 20 episodes
2002–present Made Co-producer
2003 Trigger Happy TV Field producer - final year
2008 Dinner for Five Guest Executive producer
2012 Art of Conflict None Producer
2012–2014 Sullivan & Son
  • Executive producer:
    All episodes
  • Writer:
    33 episodes
  • Director:
    6 episodes
2013 Pursuit of the Truth Himself as Judge, 1 episode Producer:
10 episodes
2015 F Is for Family None Executive producer [38]

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Work Result ref
1983 Young Artist Award Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film A Christmas Story Nominated [39][40][41][42][43]
1985 Young Artist Award Best Leading Young Actor in a Feature Film The Dirt Bike Kid Won [40][44][45][42][43]


  1. Peter Billingsley on IMDb
  2. ,; accessed April 2, 2014.
  3. Me and Maxx TV Show – Me and Maxx Television Show,; accessed May 10, 2014.
  5. – Messy Marvin
  6. Hershey's Syrup commercial: "Messy Marvin" video – CNET TV
  7. Peter Billingsley – Awards
  8. Scott, A. O. (February 7, 2005). "We're Sorry". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  9. SuperShow 8000 Celebrity Archive: Celebrity Hot Potato; accessed April 2, 2014.
  10. Peter Billingsley on IMDb
  11. Peter Billingsley on IMDb
  12. Peter Billingsley's Guide To Beating The Child Star Odds; accessed April 2, 2014.
  13. Little Eagle Productions Inc. Specials I,; accessed April 2, 2014.
  14. McKittrick, Christopher (April 25, 2016). ""Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn & Peter Billingsley: Friends & Frequent Collaborators"". Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  15. "Gwyneth Paltrow Joins Iron Man Movie",; accessed April 2, 2014.
  16. New York Film and Video Festival
  17. Profile,; accessed April 2, 2014.
  18. Brian Evans: Christmas Stories Christmas Songs – Listen, Review and Buy,; accessed April 2, 2014.
  19. Profile,; accessed April 2, 2014.
  20. Stewart, Kerry (May 1978). If Ever I See You Again (paperback ed.). New York City: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0553121872.
  21. "If Ever I See You Again". BoxOffice. New York City. May 29, 1978.
  22. Knoblauch, Mary (June 12, 1978). "News for You: Sometimes, It Just Doesn't Compute". Chicago Tribune. p. B2.
  23. "AFI Catalog of Feature Films: If Ever I See You Again". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on September 16, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  24. Walker, Alexander (September 2005) [1985]. National Heroes: British Cinema in the 70's and 80's. Orion. ISBN 0-7528-5707-X.
  25. "Greatest Box-Office Bombs, Disasters and Film Flops". Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  26. Tutt, Nigel (1985). Tax Raiders: The Rossminster Affair. London: Financial Training Publications. ISBN 0-906322-76-6.
  27. "Trivia - A Christmas Story House". Turner Entertainment Co. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  28. "10 Things You Didn't Know About 'A Christmas". TheFW.
  29. "Movie Facts & Trivia: A Christmas Story". Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  30. Canby, Vincent (November 6, 1987). "MOVIE REVIEW Russkies (1987) FILM: 'RUSSKIES,' A COMEDY ADVENTURE". The New York Times.
  31. Holden, Stephen (March 3, 1993). ""Ruby Keeler, tap dancing actress, is dead at 82"". New York Times. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  32. Snipes, Stephanie (November 7, 2003). "How to create an 'Elf'". CNN. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  33. "Iron Man Production Notes". SciFi Japan. April 30, 2008. Archived from the original on March 28, 2013. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  34. King, Susan (November 2, 2008). "Their wishes finally came true". LA Times. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  35. "A Case of You". Tribeca Film Festival. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  36. "WWE Studios to Co-Produce Vince Vaughn Thriller 'Term Life' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  37. Keane, Sean (July 1, 2019). "Spider-Man: Far From Home postcredits scenes, explained". CNET. Retrieved July 2, 2019.
  38. "'F Is for Family' Renewed for Season 3 at Netflix". Variety. June 28, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  39. Crouse, Richard (2005). Reel Winners (illustrated ed.). Dundurn Press Ltd. pp. 42–43. ISBN 1-55002-574-0.
  40. Riggs, Thomas (2007). Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Gale / Cengage Learning. ISBN 0-7876-9047-3.
  41. "6th Youth In Film Awards". Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  42. "Young Artist Awards - President's Message". Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  43. "HFPA Golden Globes - Young Artist Foundation". Archived from the original on March 17, 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2015.
  44. Crouse, Richard (2005). Reel Winners (illustrated ed.). Dundurn Press Ltd. pp. 42–43. ISBN 1-55002-574-0.
  45. "8th Annual Youth In Film Awards". Archived from the original on March 4, 2011. Retrieved December 25, 2015.

Further reading

  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, p. 18.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995. Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p. 386.
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