Nov 11, 2015

The Kid from "A Christmas Story"

Even  though 30 years have passed, Peter Billingsley is still know as the kid from A Christmas Story (1983).  You know -- the bespectacled 9-year old whose only Christmas wish is "a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass and this thing that tells time."  Hardly anyone saw it in theaters in 1983, but it has become a TV tradition -- TBS usually mounts a 24-hour marathon -- so you've probably seen A Christmas Story as often as the much gayer White Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life.

I don't like it.  There's a creepy lamp shaped like a lady's leg (that turns Ralphie on), a nasty bully, a borderline-abusive Dad, a gun as a major plot point, and no cute guys or discernible homoerotic subplots (although some of the cast has gay connections).

And Peter Billingsley has made up for it since.

In The Dirt Bike Kid (1985), a modern retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk," the 14-year old Jack (Peter) is sent to buy groceries, but gets a magic dirtbike instead.  He uses it to clean up the corrupt town, save a struggling hot dog stand, and become a town hero. He expresses no heterosexual interest; his main emotional bond is with Mike (Patrick Collins), the owner of the hot dog stand, though it falls short of homoromance.

 In Russkies (1987), it's the heart of the Cold War, Danny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his friends Adam (Peter) and Jason (Stefan DeSalle) find a a Russian sailor, Mischa (Whip Hubley), washed up on the shore. Adam  is obviously entranced by the beefy, bulge-laden Mischa, especially after he takes off his shirt at the doctor's office.

 But it is Danny who acts as his friend and protector.  He hatches a scheme to smuggle Mischa to Cuba, whence he could get back home.  When the baddies shoot Danny down over the water, Mischa rushes to the rescue. Later, Danny rescues Mischa.  Though the movie ends with Mischa going  home, the experience changes Danny forever; it is his Summer of '42.

An anti-gay slur (this was the 1980s, after all), but no girls thought of or spoken of.

In Beverly Hills Brats (1989), Scooter (18-year old Peter) is ignored by his rich father (Martin Sheen) and bullied by his siblings, so he fakes his own kidnapping, hiring the bumbling thugs Clive (Burt Young) and Elmo (George Kirby).  The thugs are hostile at first, but soon come to feel sympathy for the lonely Scooter.  Again, an anti-gay slur, but no expressed interest in girls.  Instead, Scooter tries to reach out to the thugs for emotional support.

By this point, Peter was starting to muscle up; in fact, he later played a high school athlete abusing steroids on an Afterschool Special.
Peter's characters didn't start ogling girls until Arcade (1993).  By that time, his acting roles were becoming scarcer as he moved into production.  He hasn't been involved in many gay-friendly projects, but he received a special thanks in the credits of the gay-angst Mysterious Skin (2004). For what, I don't know.