Photo credit: A Christmas Story House
Peter Billingsley and Scott Schwartz, A Christmas Story
Tracking the co-stars of the holiday favorite and TNT/TBS mainstay A Christmas Story makes for about the most terrifying child actor Choose Your Own Adventure imaginable. One path is that of Peter Billingsley, who played little “Ralphie,” our protagonist. Though he never managed to parlay the film into further acting success (his follow-up films included such lesser efforts as The Dirt Bike Kid and Russkies), a 1990 “Schoolbreak Special” called The Fourth Man placed him alongside another young actor, a lanky kid named Vince Vaughn. The pair remained friends, and when Swingers took off, Billingsley became an integral member of the Vaughn/Favreau crew: he co-produced Favreau’s TV show Dinner for Five and his films Made and Zathura, while exec-producing The Break-Up, Iron Man and Four Christmases (and made brief cameo appearances in those three, just for funsies).
Photo credit: A Christmas Story House
On the other hand, Scott Schwartz (aka “Flick,” the kid with the tongue on the pole) took, well, a more colorful path. He came to the film after a leading role in The Toy (opposite Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason), and followed it with Kidco, a comedy about kids selling fertilizer that your film editor maintains an unreasonable affection for (mostly due to its endless HBO screenings at an impressionable age). But after that, the work dried up, and by the 1990s — as anyone who’s read David Foster Wallace’s brilliant Premiere reportage “Big Red Son/Neither Adult Nor Entertainment” or saw Schwartz’s very sad episode of the E! True Hollywood Story can tell you — Schwartz was working in the adult film industry. His credits include New Wave Hookers 5, The Devil in Miss Jones 6, and the immortal Booby Trap; he mostly appeared in non-sex roles, primarily due to some, erm, performance anxiety. He left the industry around 2000, and spends his time these days running a sports and movie collectibles store and talking about A Christmas Story at conventions and in documentaries.
Photo credit: Griswold World
Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
One of the running gags of the Vacation movies is the inconsistency of son Rusty and daughter Audrey, who are played by different actors in each film, often of interchangeable age. In 1989’s Christmas Vacation, the roles were taken over by two relatively unknown actors who, contrary to most of their contemporaries, would go on to fruitful careers as adults. Johnny Galecki had only done two previous movies (one of them another 1989 Christmas movie, Prancer) when he was cast as Rusty; three years later, he made his first appearance as David Healy on Roseanne, becoming Darlene’s love interest and a semi-regular cast member for the show’s last five seasons. For the next ten years he did bit parts on TV and supporting roles in films, but in 2007 he was cast on The Big Bang Theory, so he’s pretty much set for the rest of his life.
Photo credit: The FW
Christmas Vacation was the fourth film for Juliette Lewis, who followed it up with an arc on The Wonder Years and a regular role on the short-lived Robert Mitchum sitcom (!) A Family for Joe before becoming one of the more interesting film actors of the ’90s. She focused more on supporting roles and her music career in the 2000s, but her recent turns in films like Whip It and Hick confirmed that she’s still got it, and we can’t wait to see what she does with the juicy supporting role of Karen Weston in the forthcoming film version of Tracy Letts’ mesmerizing August: Osage County.
Karolyn Grimes, It’s a Wonderful Life
Your author’s very very very favorite Christmas movie (don’t fight me on this) dates back to 1946, so it’s hard to find too many folks involved in it these days; most of the major players have sadly passed. But Karolyn Grimes, the actress (then five years old) who played little Zuzu Bailey — holder of pedals, fount of information on bells and angel wings — is still with us, and lucky for that. She did a few more films after Wonderful Life, including The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant and John Ford’s Rio Grande with John Wayne, but she retired young, attended college in Missouri, and became a medical technologist. These days she spends most of her time being Zuzu — she’s written books, made dolls, and frequently appears at screenings of the film.
Photo credit: Cena Fashion
Taylor Momsen, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
One of the many additions necessary to pad out Dr. Seuss’ brief book and just-fine-as-it-was-thank-you 30-minute original TV special into a terrible feature film was to expand the role of little Cindy Lou Who, played by seven-year-old Taylor Momsen. It was her second feature film, and launched her career as a child and tween star — one which almost led her to the role of Hannah Montana, with Momsen making it to the final three before losing out to Miley Cyrus. Momsen, of course, went on to play Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl, and to front a rock band called The Pretty Reckless, with whom she has a tendency to flash her audiences. Little Cindy Lou Who, she’s all growns-up!
Photo credit: The FW
Brett Kelly, Bad Santa
The pleasures of Billy Bob Thornton’s hard-drinking, hard-swearing, W.C. Fields-inspired Santa character (to say nothing of his randy co-star Lauren Graham) tend to dominate our memories of Terry Zwigoff’s acid-tongued Christmas carol, but how’s about a little love for Thurman Merman? As the chubby, snot-nosed, weirdo kid who (sorta, kinda, almost) redeems Thornton’s Willie T. Stokes, Brett Kelly is the picture’s secret comic weapon, and the closest thing it’s got to a soul. Bad Santa was Kelly’s fourth film, and it didn’t get him as much work as it should have; aside from roles in straight-to-video Sandlot and Like Mike sequels, his most high-profile appearances were in the disappointing This American Life-inspired Unaccompanied Minors and the underrated horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat. But we’re looking forward to seeing more of Kelly; “The Kid,” now 19, appeared in last year’s pot comedy High School, and if we’re lucky, maybe he’ll turn up in the ill-advised but probably inevitable Bad Santa 2, currently in pre-production.
Photo credit: homorazzi
Thomas Sangster and Olivia Olson, Love Actually
As the youngest couple in question in the very busy yet beloved Love Actually, Sangster and Olson have been making rom-com lovers go “awwwwww” for nearly a decade now. Their paths crossed again a few years later, when they were both cast in voice roles on the Disney Channel’s very popular (so I’m told!) Phineas and Ferb. In the interim, Sangster also re-teamed with Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee, did a couple of Dr. Whos, and played young Paul McCartney in Nowhere Boy; you’ll next see him in the upcoming third season of Game of Thrones. Love Actually was Olson’s film debut, but she’s mostly concentrated on voice work since; aside from Phineas, she also plays the role of Marceline the Vampire Queen on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.
Corey Feldman, Gremlins
Hey, you forgot Gremlins had a Corey in it, didn’t you? Yes, Joe Dante’s 1984 horror comedy (the source, incidentally, of maybe the greatest Yuletide movie monologue ever) features young Master Feldman — fresh from his turn in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter — as Pete Fountaine, young buddy of our hero Billy Peltzer. It was the first big hit for Feldman, who followed up with a winning streak (The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, The ‘Burbs) which was only matched by the depths of the dreck that followed (Blown Away, Meatballs 4, National Lampoon’s Last Resort, and on and on). The ensuing decades have seen more interest in his personal woes and reality shows than his acting work, but the 41-year-old (don’t dwell on it, trust me, just press on) is still doing plenty of low-budget films — including two straight-to-DVD Lost Boys sequels — and performs regularly with his rock band, Corey Feldman’s Truth Movement.
Taylor Fry, Die Hard
She didn’t have too many lines in our favorite “Christmas movie that’s not actually a Christmas movie but secretly really is,” but she was cute as a button, answering that phone just like Holly taught her: “McClane residence, Lucy McClane speaking!” After that, she appeared regularly on Chris Elliot’s cult classic Get a Life, did some guest shots and TV movies, and played small roles in the films North and A Little Princess. But she quit the biz in 1995, focusing on being a normal teenager. She attended the University of California-Santa Barbara, where she was (this is great) an all-region Ultimate Frisbee player. Though she auditioned to be reprise the role of Lucy in Live Free or Die Hard, she lost out to Mary Elizabeth Winstead — but no worries, Taylor, that one was sort of terrible anyway.
Mara Wilson, Miracle on 34th Street
Mara Wilson was sort of the go-to cute kid actress around ’93 or so, after her film debut gasping in shock at Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, so she was a pretty easy choice to take over the Natalie Wood role in the John Hughes-scripted Miracle on 34th Street remake. She followed it with Danny DeVito’s Matilda, a box office disappointment but subsequent cult classic that remains our favorite entry in her brief filmography; her final movie appearance to date was in Thomas and the Magic Railroad back in 2000. After that, she quit acting, studied art at NYU, and spends her time these days acting and writing for the stage. She also has a very funny blog, where she wrote about her decision to get out of the game: “Here is something no real celebrity will ever tell you: film acting is not very fun. Doing the same thing over and over again until, in the director’s eyes, you ‘get it right,’ does not allow for very much creative freedom… Film can be exciting, but more often, it’s tedious. The celebrity aspect is nothing short of ridiculous, and auditioning is brutal and dehumanizing. Every time I see a pretty young girl on the subway reading sides for an audition, my only thought is, ‘Man, am I glad I’m not doing that anymore.’ I never feel nostalgia, just relief.”
Photo credit: MSN
Macaulay Culkin, Home Alone 1 & 2
Oh, Mac. We loved you as Kevin McCallister, the adorable kid with the grotesquely delinquent parents in the original Home Alone movies, and you made us cry in My Girl, and you even gave us the creeps in The Good Son. But like too many of his fabulously successful child star brethren, Culkin had something of a problematic relationship with his parents — particularly his father/manager Kit, with whom he split after his career hit a rough patch in the mid-’90s. Though his comeback films Party Monster and Saved! were well-reviewed, more film work was not forthcoming; most of his press coverage in the following years concerned his lengthy relationship with Mila Kunis, with whom he split in 2010. We last saw the 32-year-old on YouTube, explaining how he and his friends have turned his $2 million apartment into an art studio.