TOMS RIVER – Scott Schwartz will forever be remembered from his role in the iconic 1983 holiday film “A Christmas Story.” He played the role of “Flick” best friend to the lead character of “Ralphie” played by Peter Billingsley.
He recently shared knowledge of his experiences in acting and his love of New Jersey during two appearances in Toms River. Schwartz greeted fans at the Toms River Toy and Collectible Show held at the Clarion Hotel and during the evening took part in a fundraiser for the organization Leadership United held at Battle River Brewing.
Flick’s most memorable scene in the film was when he takes on a ‘triple dog dare’ to put his tongue on a flag pole during a school recess period. His tongue gets stuck to the flag pole during that winter day. The film was set in the late 1940s. When asked how often he’s been asked to have his photo taken next to a flag pole to recreate that scene he said, “quite a number of times, more than I can count.”
“A Christmas Story” which was based on the memoir “In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd, also starred Darren McGavin as Ralphie’s father. It is a holiday fixture and one television station has gone so far as to run it each year as part of a 24-hour holiday marathon. When asked if he ever thought he’d be part of such a classic film he responded, “sure, ‘The Toy.’”
“There were no big stars, no special effects there is nothing in “A Christmas Story” to make it an iconic film other than the story and the casting and what happened. It was a great movie with a great cast and everything was right at the right time,” said Schwartz, who is now 52.
He appeared in the 1982 film “The Toy” starring Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor which left its mark on the child actor seeing such comic legends at work. “’The Toy’ came out in the summer of 1982 and I shoot ‘A Christmas Story’ in February of 1983 so within a couple months of ‘The Toy’ coming out ‘A Christmas Story’ began. It was not what we thought it would become as an iconic Americana movie but that is what happens.”
“The Toy” while not as successful as hoped, “made money. It was Gleason and Pryor and working with them was fantastic. This was before PC (politically correct) so there were no filters on anybody. Anything that got said, got said. Richard was dynamite, my friend, my muse my teacher, my mentor and Gleason was an old man but he saw that and I wanted to learn from it so we had a good time.”
“I was old enough to know who they were and that I remember everything,” Schwartz added. He remains close friends with Billingsley to this day. “Me and Pete were certainly the closest on the set, Randy the little brother was too young to hang out.”
Schwartz said the director, Bob Clark wanted the other child actors who portrayed the bullies in the film, “away from us. They didn’t want us to be friends with them. He wanted that dynamic of being afraid of them which of course now is hysterical because they are two of my closest friends.”
“Pete and I were throwing water balloons out of hotel windows. We used to pull a joke on Bob who was down the hall from me. Pete would come to my room after the set would break and we’d wait for Bob and I’d call room service. Back then they didn’t know what room you were calling from and I’d say ‘hi can you send up a steak please and they’d say you got it thank you’ and minutes later they’d come up with the cart with the food to his room. He’d say ‘room service? What you talking about I didn’t order anything’ but he would say ‘oh you brought up okay.’ He would never turn down food.”
“After we did this six or eight times finally on the set one day he said, ‘hey I don’t know who is doing this but order me some salmon or ribs once in a while’. He wasn’t even mad that we were sending him a steak,” Schwartz added.
Schwartz said he had almost no interaction with McGavin, known for a variety of roles including one season of the TV series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” in mid-1970s.
“I’d talk to him at the table read and during the Santa scene because it was attached to the hotel we were staying at and I talked to him for a few minutes but that was it,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz also worked with Liza Minnelli in the 1985 TV movie “Time To Live.” “She was very kind to me and I got to meet one of my close friends for a quarter of a century during that film, Corey Haim who was like a little brother to me. I had a blast. It was a fun experience and she was very cool and I saw her a year afterwards in Long Beach Island where she was doing a show. She was very nice.”
Schwartz grew up in Bridgewater Township New Jersey. “I had an apartment in Seaside Heights in the summer of ‘85 and ‘86 for a whopping $400 a month and I had three months there in the summer. I graduated from Bridgewater in ‘86. I’ve always been proud to be from the area. I love it here. There have been many 95 mph trips down the Parkway.” He currently lives in southern California.
The former actor served for a time as president of A Minor Consideration which is an advocacy organization for child actors that was formed in 1990. “It is trying to help kids deal with different things in their lives – drugs, alcohol, whatever it is. We have attorneys, doctors and we try to change child labor laws to try for the benefit of kids in the industry.
Corey Haim died at the age of 38, in 2010 from a substance abuse problem. “I miss him every day. God rest his soul. March 10 it will be 10 years even though it seems like yesterday,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz added, “to this day I haven’t watched one minute of anything he’s been in. I just can’t do it. He was my little bro. He was a great kid. Only the good die young.”
He said he didn’t know much about “Leadership United” other than to agree to help out when a friend asked him to be a part of the group’s holiday fundraiser. “I said if you need me, I’m there.” According to its website, the organization brings together veterans and local business leaders to find and cultivate the next generation of leaders by offering training programs for youth.
Schwartz is Jewish and celebrates Hanukkah but when asked if he had any special traditions in celebrating it he responded, “you have chicken soup and mom makes latkes. My folks never did a Hanukkah bush or anything like that. Every so often I’d go to a Christmas party with friends but there were no Hanukkah parties. It wasn’t something that they did.”