Monday, May 29, 2023

Whatever happened to Billy Gray (Bud on Father Knows Best)?

Billy Gray was born William Thomas Gray in Los Angeles, California on January 13, 1938.  He is the son of William H. and Beatrice Gray.  Beatrice (1911-2009) was an actress and a dancer.  She is best known for her performances in western films during the 1940s and 1950s.  She and son Billy both had minor, uncredited roles in the 1949 comedy horror film Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.  Billy played a boy with a bow and arrow. 

Billy was discovered when his older bother was in a play.  The five-year-old was running around the aisles when a woman approached him and asked him to take her to his mother.  As it turned out. the woman was his mother's agent.  She told Beatrice that she could put Billy to work right away.  Beatrice readily agreed and Billy immediately began getting parts.  At five, he made his debut in Man of Courage, a 1943 war disaster film.  Through the 1940s, he had several uncredited roles, next to his mother.

At the age of 12, Billy Gray portrayed Native American athlete Jim Thorpe as a child in Jim Thorpe, All American.  The film starred Burt Lancaster and was released in 1951, as were two other movies in which Billy appeared: On Moonlight Bay, a comedy starring Gordon MacRae and Doris Day, and the science fiction picture The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Billy was only 12 years younger than Patricia Neal, the woman who played his mother in the film. He portrayed Bobby Benson, a boy who is befriended by an alien.

Although Billy Gray acted in many feature films, his is best known as a child star and for his role as James "Bud" Anderson in the TV series Father Knows Best (1954 to 1960), which aired on both CBS and NBC.  Prior to his role on Father Knows Best, Billy had roles in episodes of such television series as The Gene Autry Show (2 episodes in 1950), Adventures of Superman (1953), Fireside Theatre (1954), Cavalcade of America (1954) The Loretta Young Show (1954) and Annie Oakley (1954).  

Billy Gray child photo

Then came the role on Father Knows Best that catapulted Billy Gray to TV stardom.  He was cast as Bud Anderson, the middle child and only son of Jim and Margaret Anderson. played by Robert Young and Jane Wyatt.  It was Billy's first starring TV role.  In a 2021 interview with Fox News, he described how he got the part of Bud.  "It was just another interview," he recalled.  Up to that point, I had never done any television before.  It was all movies.  But they called me in for a test and I did it.  It was originally a radio show that Robert Young starred in,  And so he and his partner then decided to take it to television.  I remember they auditioned a lot of kids for my role."  

Below is a photo of the Father Knows Best cast: From left to right: Elinor Donahue (Betty Anderson), Robert Yong (Jim Anderson, Jane Wyatt (Margaret Anderson, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin (Kathy Anderson} in front.  

In 1959, Billy's performance as Bud earned him a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.  Nevertheless, Billy has been quite vocal with his criticisms of Father Knows Best.  In 1983, he stated, "I wish I could tell the kids not to believe it.  The dialogue, the situations, the characters - they were totally false.  The show did everyone a disservice.  The girls were always trained to use their feminine wiles, to pretend to be helpless to attract men.  The show contributed to a lot of the problems between men and women that we see today."  

Although Billy believes that everyone involved in the show was "well-motivated," he still called the show a "hoax."  "And the bad thing" he said, " the model is so deceitful.  It usually revolved around not wanting to tell the truth, either out of embarrassment, or not wanting to hurt someone.  If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to [that}, it would be 'You Know Best'"

Despite his sharp criticisms of Father Knows Best, Billy told Fox News that he had "a really wonderful relationship with the cast and it gave me an opportunity to do a lot of physical comedy.  "I enjoyed doing that stuff," he said.

Billy Gray in 1958

According to Billy, Father Knows Best, came to an end in 1960 after a writer' strike stalled the series for months,  Robert Young and his partner, Eugene B. Rodney "spent more money making the show than they did showing it," so they decided decided it was time to cash in by putting the show into syndication.

After Father Knows Best went off the air, Billy had guest spots in episodes of several 1960s TV shows including General Electric Theatre (2 episodes in 1961), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1961) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1964).  He appeared as Lindsay McCuller in a 1965 episode of Rawhide called "Moment in the Sun." (Season 7, Episode 17, Air Date: January 29, 1965).  He also appeared as Candell in a 1966 episode of the World War II drama series Combat! entitled "The Losers" (Season 5, Episode 2, Air Date: September 20, 1966).and a1966 episode of I Spy called "Lori" (Season 2, Episode 2, Air Date: September 21, 1966).  

Billy had a minor role as a student at party in a 1969 pilot episode of Medical Center.  The episode is entitled "Operation Heartbeat" (Season 1, Air Date: April 17, 1969).  He also played Morgan Vontz in a 1970 episode of the police series The Bold Ones: The Protectors. The episode is entitled "Memo from the Class of '76" (Season 1, Episode 6),

Billy appeared in two 1977 Father Knows Best television reunion movies: The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas.

Billy Gray in 1977

Billy Gray went on to become an inventor and a competitive motorcycle racer.  From 1970 to 1995, he was a Class A motorcycle racer and race promoter around Southern California dirt tracks.  He also focused on inventing and entrepreneurship, becoming a successful businessman,  In his 2021 interview with Fox News, Billy explained how and why he became an inventor.  "I've been taking things apart since I was four or five years old.  I've always been curious about how things worked and how we can make them better," he said.  "If something didn't feel quite right, I would always try to fix it.  It's just been a way of life for me, right from the get-go.  It feels natural to me."

According to the most recent information available to me (about a year ago), Billy is a resident of Topanga, California.  He lives in the same house he purchased in 1957, while performing on Father Knows Best.  "I'm enjoying my life," he says  "I would like my tombstone to say 'Toolmaker'' to describe my way of life."   

Here are some more recent photos of Billy Gray.

Billy Gray has been married and divorced twice.  In 1967, he married Helena Kallianiotes, a Greek-born belly dancer.  They divorced in 1969.

In 1981, Billy wed Donna Wilkes, who also began her acting career as a child.  Donna was 18 years old when she married 39-year-old Billy.  The marriage was short-lived and the couple soon divorced.

Donna Wilkes in 1979


*As the co-owner of BigRock Engineering, Billy Gray is the inventor of the ergonomic F-1 guitar pick, which claims to offer a comfortable grip, superior accuracy and speed for musician.  BigRock Engineering offers many products invented by Billy, including a self-massager and a candleholder for jack o'lanterns.

* When Billy was 16 years of age, he was cast as Plato in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause.  Due to his commitments with Father Knows Best, he was unable to accept the role.  The role went to Sal Mineo instead.

 * Billy's mother, Beatrice Gray died on November 25, 2009 at the age of 98 in Canoga Park, California.  Beatrice told Boyd Magers and Michael Fitzgerald, authors of Western Women (1999), that she auditioned for the role of Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best, but lost out to Jane Wyatt because "they did not want two members of the same family on the show."

Beatrice Gray

Beatrice Gray

* Billy's father, William H. Gray, passed away while Billy was till performing on Father Knows Best.  "My father died while the show was running," he told the New York Times in 1977.  "I was 16 years old.  I guess that when I was playing Bud I would replace my real father with Robert Young.  It was a tricky technique."

* As a child, Billy did not attend school.  He was educated by teachers employed by the film studios.  His classes often took place in tents sent up on studio lots.  

* While still appearing as Bud on Father Knows Best, Billy guess-starred in a 1957 episode of Peter Lawford's NBC crime series The Thin Man.  He played Mike Edwards in the episode "Dome Back Darling Asta."

* In 1962, Billy was arrested for possession of marijuana.  Billy says he was parking when a police officer came to the window of his vehicle.  The officer smelled marijuana and asked him to to get our.  He found a little bag of seeds and stems under the seat of his car.  Billy pleaded no contest and he served 45 days in prison.  

Billy claims that his arrest and jail sentence derailed his career because he had a difficult time securing work with agents.  He says that he did see it as such a big deal, but the press saw him as "this all-American boy turned dope fiend."  After his time on Father Knows Best, he failed to secure another regular role on a television series.

* Although no longer dirt track racing, Billy remains an afficionado of motorcycles.  He keeps a large collection of the vehicles.

* In 2014, Billy Gray had a heart attack underwent quadruple bypass surgery.  He almost died.

SOURCES: The New York Times, "Keeping Up With 'Father Knows Best,'" by Gerald Eskenazi, May 15, 1977; Fox News, "'Father Knows Best' star Billy Gray reflects on child stardom, 1962 pot bust: 'I don't have time for regrets,.'" by Stephanie Nolasco, February 20, 2021; Do you remember? (; Billy Gray From 'Father Knows Best' Strummed Up An Important Musical Invention, by Dana Daly, May, 2022; Today's Cycle Coverage; "Billy Gray Undergoes Quadruple Bypass Surgery," by D. Jameson, March 2, 2014; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

- Joanne

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