He’s only 11, but Peter Billingsley is already an advertising whiz, a TV host and a movie star. Yet in spite of his high-powered résumé, Peter has typically adolescent ambitions: to be a life-guard, a ski patrolman, a doctor, a football player and the owner of a pizza parlor (where “you would get a free soda and an autographed picture of me”).
The 52-inch phenom is best known as Messy Marvin, the syrupy slob in Hershey commercials. But he has a hundred-odd TV advertisements and five movies to his name, including Death Valley and Paternity. In 1980 he beat out 500 hopefuls to land a spot on NBC’s Real Kids. When the show turned out to be a Real Flop, Peter was invited to join the parent program, Real People. He was an immediate success. His wide-eyed reportage on frog jumping, rodeos and go-cart racing won him an invitation to return this fall.
Peter, who uses his mother’s maiden name professionally, is the son of economist Alwin Michaelsen of Phoenix, Ariz. Three of the four other children in the family have also dabbled in acting. Peter, who is the youngest, entered show business at 3, when Mom took him to an agent who “said I was too fat.” But he soon landed a Geritol commercial. Since then he’s hawked hot dogs with Billy Martin, margarine with Reggie Jackson and video games with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Peter takes fame and fortune in his short stride. Though his yearly income is in five figures, his allowance barely covers his weekly dosage of video games. “I just ask Mom for a dollar or something when I need it,” he says, “or else I might blow it all.” For Peter, there’s only one drawback to being a star. The other sixth graders at his school in Phoenix naturally call him Messy Marvin. And, says Peter emphatically, “I hate that.”