Throughout the 1950s, viewers were taught with the utmost certainty that Father Knows Best. The radio program-turned TV series was picturesque, an ideal that not everyone experienced firsthand, but it was derived from relatable tropes. One archetype was the teenage brother equipped with smart comments and big dreams. Billy Gray brought this vision to life as James “Bud” Anderson, but later in life he would have criticisms for the series. Why?
Billy Gray was born as William Thomas Gray on January 13, 1938, right on Hollywood’s doorstep, both geographically and as the son of actress and dancer Beatrice Gray, who died in 2009 at the age of 98. As for Gray himself, he began his acting career while still a child, starting with the 1948 biographical film Fighting Father Dunne. A few more films followed before he delved into TV with Adventures of Superman. Then came the wholesome CBS program.
He feels ‘Father Knows Best’ should have a different name
After appearing with his mother in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, Billy Gray became the quintessential teenager, good at heart but still learning, with plenty of help from Dad. His performance as Bud earned him a nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. However, in ’62, he was arrested for possession of marijuana. He served 45 days of a prison sentence of one to ten years. “I didn’t think it was such a big deal,” said Gray. “But the press saw me as this all-American boy turned dope fiend.” He had a hard time securing work with agents.
Reflecting on Father Knows Best, Gray felt watching the show came with a caveat. “I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it,” he admitted in 1983. The dialogue, the situations, the characters — they were all 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.” He does believe everyone involved in the show “well motivated,” but called the show a “hoax.” “And the bad thing is,” he went on, “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.'”
What did Billy Gray invent?
Despite his later misgivings and the stain of his arrest, Gray stayed the course and continued appearing on camera. Later credits included Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Explosive Generation, and Rawhide. He also participated in a Father Knows Best reunion in ’77. By 1980, Gray retired from the industry but kept himself busy as a businessman – and a visionary. Just because he wasn’t acting doesn’t mean he stopped stretching his creative muscles. As the co-owner of BigRock Engineering, he is the inventor of the F-1 guitar pick, which purports to offer a comfortable grip that offers better accuracy and speed for musicians. This is just one of the many products offered by the company invented by Gray.
It’s not all work for Gray, though. Now 84, he has famously become an avid fan of competitive dirt track racing. He himself participated from 1970 to 1995. The resident of Topanga, California also collects motorcycles to continue pursuing this high-speed passion. He said of his current state in the world, “I’m enjoying my life. I would like for my tombstone to say ‘Toolmaker’ to describe my way of life.”
Do you agree with Bud’s thoughts about the series?