‘Father Knows Best’ star Billy Gray reflects on child stardom, 1962 pot bust: ‘I don’t have time for regrets’
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EXCLUSIVE: Billy Gray’s career was derailed in 1962 when he was arrested for possession of marijuana — but the pot bust turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The actor, who famously starred in the ‘50s sitcom"Father Knows Best," went on to pursue a decadeslong career as a Class A Speedway motorcycle racer. After living a life of action from 1970 until 1995, the now 83-year-old is taking on a new passion: inventions.
Recently, the former child star was honored by the IBEX Innovation Awards, the largest technical trade event in North America for marine industry professionals, all thanks to his Hose KIip, a water hose lock for deck fills. In addition, he and his business partner have developed several products that revolve around music.
Gray spoke to Fox News about what it was really like filming "Father Knows Best," overcoming his major scandal and whether he has any regrets.
Fox News: How were you discovered as a child actor?
Billy Gray: My mother, Beatrice Gray, was an actress and a really good one, too. My older brother was in a play, and I was about 5 or so. I was running around, up and down the aisles. One lady approached me and said, "Take me to your mother." It turned out that lady was my mother’s agent. She told her, "I can put this kid to work." And my mom said, "Fine, go for it."
And that’s how it started. I got bit parts right off the bat. It was kind of weird. I seemed to get every interview I went on. The parts just kept coming. But remember, I was a kid. I hardly got any lines at first. But eventually, it got to a point where the roles kept coming and the lines got longer.
Fear strikes into the heart of 13-year-old Billy Gray in a scene from the film 'Talk About A Stranger', 1952. (Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images)
Fox News: How did you get the role of James "Bud" Anderson Jr. in "Father Knows Best"?
Gray: It was just another interview. 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 remembered they auditioned a lot of kids for my role.
Fox News: What was it like being on the set of "Father Knows Best"?
Gray: Oh, the best. I 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. [Director] Peter Tewksbury was very hands-on in making sure everything was right. If something wasn’t right, he would take the time to stop so we can do it again or try something different.
It was really different for me because many directors just let things happen so they can get their shot and move on to the next project. But he always wanted to do things right. Sometimes we should shoot certain scenes over and over until it just felt right. I think that’s why the show holds up so well.
Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, 'Father Knows Best'. Clockwise from lower left: Billy Gray, Elinor Donahue, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt and Lauren Chapin. (Photo by Screen Gems/Getty Images)
Fox News: What caused the series to end?
Gray: There was a writers' strike and we were off for months on end. Robert Young and his partner, Eugene B. Rodney, then decided it was time to cash in. They spent more money making the show than they did showing it. So the only way they could make some money was to put it into syndication.
We were shooting five, six days a week. People usually stopped working on Saturdays, but we were sometimes shooting the whole week straight for up to 12 hours a day to spare no expense except on salaries. They made sure the show was done to the best of everybody’s ability. By that point, they decided it was time to start making money.
Fox News: Did you stay in touch with any of your castmates?
Gray: Oh yeah. We all lived far away from each other, but we always found ways to keep in touch over the years. I was actually very good friends with Jane Wyatt. She would invite me over for tea. She was also a member of the Academy so they would frequently send her invitations to the movies being considered. She would invite me to be on her arm and I enjoyed it. She was very interested in plays so we would go see plays together. She was a great friend.
Actress Jane Wyatt passed away in 2006 at age 96. (Photo by John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
I remember one time we went head-to-head because she was Catholic and I told her I was a devout atheist. So we went back and forth on that. She kept insisting that I was really agnostic. And that’s how we settled things. We agreed to disagree. But she really was my dear friend. I was a pallbearer at her funeral. She was a wonderful lady and I loved her.
Fox News: You starred in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." What’s the biggest lesson you learned from director Robert Wise?
Gray: He allowed me to hone in my craft while on set and I think that’s very important for every actor. He never gave me restrictions. He was very accommodating to let me do what I needed to do. He was actually one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met in the business.
Fox News: You’ve also worked with numerous film icons. What was Humphrey Bogart like?
Gray: He was remarkable. I only had one scene with him but he took his work very seriously, even if it was a simple, short scene. He would always look at you in the eye and he was very unpretentious as a star. When I look at that film today, "In a Lonely Place" , I still can’t believe that was me sharing the screen with Bogart of all people.
Doris Day watches Billy Gray with slingshot off-camera from the film 'On Moonlight Bay', 1951. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Fox News: What about Doris Day?
Gray: Absolutely lovely. Everything you imagined what Doris would be like. She was incredibly charming, outgoing and just sweet to everyone on set. She was truly wonderful.
Fox News: What about Bob Hope?
Gray: Incredibly underrated as an actor. He was such a good comic that it was kind of easy to overlook his acting abilities. But I had a great time working with him, too.
Fox News: You were originally supposed to appear in "Rebel Without a Cause." What happened?
Gray: Nick Ray was the director of "In a Lonely Place," so he was already familiar with my acting. He was the one who actually got me an interview for "Rebel Without a Cause" because he was directing. In fact, he said, "You’re my guy. You’re going to be Plato." I did a test with Natalie Wood and everything went swimmingly. I was set to appear in the film. I headed to wardrobe and everything. But then for some reason or another, they had to postpone their shooting schedule for a couple of weeks.