William Thomas "Billy" Gray (born January 13, 1938) is an American former actor known primarily for his role as James "Bud" Anderson, Jr., in 193 episodes of the situation comedy Father Knows Best, which aired between 1954 and 1960 on both NBC and CBS. A motorcycle aficionado, Gray maintains a large collection of the vehicles.
Gray was born in Los Angeles to actress Beatrice Gray (March 3, 1911 – November 25, 2009), and her husband, William H. Gray. His mother was mostly uncredited in the 1930s and 1940s, having appeared in Otto Preminger's Laura, with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. In 1949, Billy Gray appeared with his mother in separate scenes in the film Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.
In 1951, at age 13, he appeared in the film Jim Thorpe -- All-American, with Burt Lancaster in the lead role. Gray portrayed the Indian athlete Jim Thorpe as a child. Later that year, he was chosen to appear in the science fiction picture The Day the Earth Stood Still. Michael Rennie played the part of the alien who befriended the boy played by Gray. He appeared in an uncredited role as one of the many children in Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair (1952). Also in 1952 he played George Murphy's son in "Talk about a Stranger" by MGM; he gives a very good performance in the role of a young boy who wants, saves for, and buys a dog, only to have it killed by a strange reclusive new neighbor played by Kurt Krazner. This film has sadly been neglected and Gray more than holds his own with the two veteran actors.
In 1953, Gray was slated to play the part of Tagg Oakley in the syndicated western series Annie Oakley, starring Gail Davis and Brad Johnson and did appear in the episode "Bull's Eye". Instead, he joined the Father Knows Best cast, and the part of Tagg went to Jimmy Hawkins.
That same year, Warner Bros. cast Gray as Wesley Winfield in By the Light of the Silvery Moon, a sequel to On Moonlight Bay (1951) in which Gray had played the role of the same Wesley Winfield. He appeared as Alan in a 1953 episode "Shot in the Dark" of 'The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves. The character Alan took a photograph of Superman that could reveal information on the hero's secret identity.
In 1955, Gray appeared in The Seven Little Foys, which starred Bob Hope as famed vaudeville entertainer Eddie Foy, in the teen role of Bryan Lincoln Foy. In 1957, while still on Father Knows Best, Gray appeared as Mike Edwards in the episode "Come Back Darling Asta" of Peter Lawford's NBC crime series The Thin Man, based on the work of Dashiell Hammett.
After Father Knows Best, Gray appeared in several dozen single-appearance television roles. In 1960, he guest starred as Frankie Niles in the episode "Dark Return" of the ABC western series Stagecoach West, a program similar to the longer-running Wagon Train. That same year, he portrayed David Ross in the episode "Ginger's Big Romance" on Bachelor Father.
In 1961, he played Johnny Blatner in the episode "Two-Way Deal" of the Henry Fonda/Allen Case NBC western The Deputy. He appeared twice in 1961 in the anthology series General Electric Theater, hosted by Ronald W. Reagan. That same year he was Perry Hatch in "The Hatbox" of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1962, he appeared on CBS's The Red Skelton Show.
His other roles included appearances on The Greatest Show on Earth and Combat!. He guest starred in such series as Rawhide, Arrest and Trial and Custer.
In 1962, at age 24, Gray was arrested for possession of marijuana. The arrest was blamed for later costing him film and television roles. He appeared as a heroin dealer, "City Life", in the 1971 film Dusty and Sweets McGee. Critic Leonard Maltin claimed incorrectly that Gray had been recruited for the role of "City Life" from actual addicts and narcotics dealers. Maltin did not remove the false information from his guide for another two decades, and only after Gray filed suit for libel.
In 1977, Gray appeared on both Father Knows Best television movie reunion specials that aired on NBC: the Father Knows Best Family Reunion special on May 15, 1977, and the Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas special on December 18, 1977. Both specials were reunions of the entire cast from the former series which had left the air seventeen years earlier.
In a 1983 interview, Gray spoke disparagingly of Father Knows Best:
"I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it. 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.... I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. 'Father Knows Best' purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is, 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."
As the co-owner of a company called BigRock Engineering, Gray markets several products that he has invented, including a self-massager, high-technology guitar picks, and a candleholder for jack-o-lanterns. He raced competitively at dirt tracks in southern California from 1970 to 1995. He has since been a spectator and finds the sport is shrinking in availability.
Gray still resides at the house in Topanga, California which he purchased in 1957 at the height of his Father Knows Best popularity. The house has over the years become something of a "motorcycle museum".