Peter Billingsley: Surviving Christmas

updated 12/20/2010 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/20/2010 01:00AM

He couldn't escape it even if he wanted to. Come Christmastime, inevitably that 24-hour TNT marathon lands on a family television and Peter Billingsley's gaggle of nieces and nephews sit gazing at their uncle as Ralphie, the BB-gun-craving, bully-battling 9-year-old hero of A Christmas Story. "It's funny," he says of watching the classic 1983 movie with them. "Some are really young and they just look at the screen and they look at me and then back at the screen again, and I watch them connect the dots."

More than 25 years after he donned those pink bunny pajamas, Billingsley, 39, is a successful movie producer (he executive-produced Iron Man) and director (Couples Retreat). But this season, he found himself drawn back to his child-star roots: He's executive- producing A Christmas Story: The Musical!, a show now onstage in Seattle that he hopes will someday land on Broadway. "The film brings a lot of joy to a lot of people," he says. "I always get asked, 'Aren't you over it?' But I'm not."

Now living in L.A., the single Billingsley is partners in a production company with his longtime pal Vince Vaughn, whom he met when they costarred in a 1990 after-school special about the dangers of steroids. But Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun will always be close to Billingsley's heart. "I still have the gun," he says. "And I sadly still have that bunny suit."

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