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Whatever happened to Billy Gray of Father Knows Best? April 20, 2006 2:10 PM

Billy Gray (b. 1938)

Then:
Bud Anderson, Father Knows Best.

Now:
In alphabetical order: (1) Inventor; (2) Motorcycle racer.

FYI:

  • Created the Love 'n' Thumb Self-Massager, which is not what your dirty mind thinks it is.
  • Settled a libel suit in 1998 against Leonard Maltin, compelling the movie buff to publicly apologize for erroneously referring to Gray as a real-life drug addict in a review of the 1974 film Dusty and Sweets McGee. The offending blurb appeared in the 1974-1998 editions of Maltin's popular film guide.
  • Arrested in 1962 for possession of "marijuana seed and residue," arguably the first drug-related former child star bust. Served more than a month in jail. Claimed incident ruined his acting career.
  • Nominated, at age 21, for the 1959 Emmy for Father Knows Best.
  • At age 13, appeared in 1951 sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
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     April 20, 2006 2:14 PM

    Billy Gray a.k.a. Bud on Father Knows Best?
    Few who’ve seen Billy Gray’s portrayal of Bud Anderson on the long-running and much beloved Father Knows Best would disagree with Bill Mumy (of Lost In Space fame), who once described Bud as “the coolest teen on a TV series ever.

    The son of western B-movie film actress Beatrice Gray, Bill was “discovered” by his mother’s agent when she came to see Billy’s brother in a school play. Almost immediately, Gray’s film career took off: from six to fifteen, he made over 35 films, including the sci-fi classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” his personal favorite. “If I had to sit and watch one of my movies for all eternity, that’d be the one that I’d choose.” Gray was often in very good company, working with such film legends as Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Abbott and Costello, Doris Day -- the list goes on. The affable Gray chuckles now at his good fortune. “It was just one job after another, I was working all the time.” And yet he was still a kid, earning the nickname “The Gremlin” on set. “I could be kind of a handful,” he says, adding that the films he actually had the most fun making were “On Moonlight Bay” and “By the Silvery Moon” based on the Penrod stories of Booth Tarkington. “I had some good dream sequences that were pretty fun.”

    Then, in 1954, everything changed when Gray took on the role of Bud Anderson (ironically, Gray was originally slated for a part in the TV western Annie Oakley but at the last moment opted for Father instead -- good call, Bill!). Like many shows of the time it was based on a radio series (which also starred Robert Young), but Father Knows Best was not just any family hour. With over 203 episodes made and appearing over its history on all three networks, the series was a huge success, which Gray attributes to the quest for quality shared by everyone involved. “A lot of these shows, they’d settle for one take because they didn’t want to take the time. It wasn’t unusual for us to do 10 or 12 takes at a time.” And Gray’s character, Bud Anderson, was often a pivotal part of the show, including the pilot, “Bud Takes Up Dance.” “I had some shows that were just ‘Hi, I’m home, what’s for dinner?’, but I’d say about three out of five shows were centered on Bud.” Gray laughs and describes the day that he went, alone, still in his teens, to the producer’s office to discuss salary. Not surprisingly, as the show became more popular most of the cast had renegotiated their contracts (at the time Gray was receiving only $250 per episode). “My agent wouldn’t do it, so finally I went into (producer) Eugene B. Rodney’s office and said I’m not coming in on Monday unless I get my salary adjusted. That was pretty harrowing.” Maybe, but Gray got his adjustment!

    Unfortunately, after Father Knows Best, things quickly dried up. Gray is very up front about discussing his arrest for possession of a trace amount of marijuana in 1962, which effectively derailed his career; no Robert Downey Jr. story here. (“There was a popular misconception that I was some deep druggy,” says Gray, “that I was an addict, which was absolutely not the case.” Gray was somewhat vindicated in 1998 when he reached a settlement for a libel suite against film critic Leonard Malting who in his popular video guides, when listing the 1971 film “Dusty and Sweet McGee” in which Gray played a drug dealer, had been describing Billy as a “real life” user and pusher; part of the settlement required Maltin to publicly apologize for defamation of character, which he did during a press conference shortly thereafter). Billy went on to make a few more films but eventually stepped away from acting.

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     April 20, 2006 2:15 PM

    Yet he was never inactive. “I’d always been interested in motorcycle racing, had a drag-bike at 14, even during the filming of the show until they found out about it and made me stop.” So when acting slowed down, Gray threw himself into “Speedway” racing, a form popular in the 30’s and 40’s involving four racers, an oval track, and no brakes. “Each night we’d go to the track and race our little hearts out…in some ways I think it took care of my need to perform -- it was a performance of sorts, I used to call it ‘Theater of the Oval.’” It was also during this time, in endless tinkering and experimenting with his bike to improve his performance, that he developed a passion for inventing. First there was “Loving Thumb,” a self-massaging piece designed to recreate the feel of someone kneeding their thumb into that particular sore spot on your back. But it is his latest invention, the F-1 guitar pick, that is Billy’s current passion, not to mention a thriving business, carried in over 100 guitar stores nationwide (as well as a Japanese distributor). “It’s a totally innovative new design, we’re hoping it will become the industry standard; it’s weird looking, but people who give it a chance seem to really like it.” Details can be found on www.f1pick.com.

    Billy has not completely left acting behind, however. A year ago Bill Mumy wrote a short film called “Overload” and called on Billy to come back to the fold. “I decided to write something as a vehicle to return Billy Gray to the screen,” said Mumy, “that’s really where the project started. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work.” The piece is a tribute of sorts to former child actors, including Angela Cartwright (Mumy’s sister “Penny” on Lost In Space), Johnny Crawford (former Mousketeer and “Mark” on The Rifleman”), Tony Dow (“Wally” from Leave It to Beaver) who also directed, Melissa Gilbert (“Laura” from Little House on the Prairie) and Don Grady (“Robbie” from My Three Sons and also a former Mousketeer!). There are hopes that the short will drum up interest in development of a full-length feature version of the film.
    If you would like to visit Billy Gray online, take a visit to
    www.billygray.com

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     April 21, 2006 1:06 AM

    This is a great write up Fred! I like knowing what happenned to the guys I had crushes on when I was young! Really enjoyed your writing. Thank you, June  [ send green star]
     
     April 22, 2006 12:47 PM

    Thanks Fred, that was really good reading.  [ send green star]
     
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