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Beatrice Gray.BEATRICE GRAY

Beatrice Gray, the glamorous leading lady to Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Johnny Mack Brown, was born Bertrice Kimbrough March 3, 1911, on a farm six miles from Carthage, IL.

Getting her start as a showgirl in nightclubs and Broadway shows, bubbly Beatrice recalled, “I had a backwoods accent! A vice president of a corporation took me out. I’d say something that wasn’t funny—but he’d laugh, because of my accent! I did ‘New Faces of 1935’ in New York—Gus Edwards was the producer.”

“I came to California and was in ‘New Faces of 1937’ at RKO. I was dancing high in the air on a platform and I was pregnant with Billy!” (Her son is Billy Gray, who gained TV fame as Bud Anderson on “Father Knows Best”) “We both auditioned for ‘Father Knows Best’, but they didn’t want two members of the same family on the show. Jane Wyatt, of course, got the part.”

During her early film days, Beatrice was a dancer. “I worked for Busby Berkeley, Hermes Pan and Nick Castle. I’d be so busy I would be doing a picture at Fox, then use my lunch hour to go to another studio to interview. I cannot recall the name of the pictures I did, but I played a nurse in a war film made at Hal Roach!”

Beatrice Gray’s westerns were done at Monogram. “They were so much fun to make. The cowboys were so courteous. Lots of times, I was the only woman. I did my own stunts, which was good because they were low-budget. If they got behind—they’d tear out some pages of the script! (Laughs) We called Lindsley Parsons, the producer, ‘Petty Cash’ Parsons—because he always had money. The cowboys gambled—and ran out of money. They’d have to get more money from ‘Petty Cash!’”

“Johnny Mack Brown (‘Stranger From Santa Fe’) was a perfect gentleman.”

Beatrice was in three of the Bob Steele/Hoot Gibson co-starrers, “Utah Kid”, “Marked Trails” and “Trigger Law”. “Bob Steele—a delight. He asked for me because I was about his size and he wouldn’t have to stand on anything! (Laughs). Actors are usually pretty egotistical. I did not know about two-shots, so Bob would take my shoulder and he’d position me, saying, ‘Get your pretty face in here.’ He would let me upstage him! He said he’d been in the business a long time and wanted me to have the good camera angles! This was particularly nice coming from an actor. He never played tricks when I was around. Hoot Gibson was very polite, very nice, but a mite old!”

Marshal Hoot Gibson seems to approve of Beatrice Gray and Deputy Marshal Bob Steele in “The Utah Kid” ( ‘44 Monogram). Beatrice’s wounded father in the film, Jamesson Slade, observes from the right.

“As far as Kirby Grant and Fuzzy Knight, even after recently viewing ‘Trail To Vengeance’, I recall nothing about them or the picture, and the same thing can be said for that Gene Autry TV episode, ‘Breakup’. I couldn’t believe it was me!

“Horses are egotistical! A wrangler gave me a horse that kept his head down. I objected but the wrangler said, ‘You couldn’t get a better horse than that.’ There was a chase scene with the boys—riding hard. As soon as the director yelled ‘Action,’ this horse whinnied, shook all over, lifted his head up, raised his tail and started to run! I was adjusting my hat and not prepared like the horse was. He came up to the camera and turned so I’d be right for the cameras! I never complained about a horse again. They are bigger hams than actors.”

“Thanks to Boyd Magers, I recently saw some of those westerns. I was almost shuddering to think what they’d look like, but the pictures were better than I thought they’d be. The camera work was excellent. Of course, those were low, low budgeted. They used a lot of stock shots—especially at the rodeo in ‘Utah Kid’. The camera was tight when I’m sitting. I’m seen close up but the long shots were all stock footage. We had no wardrobe and I had to do my own hair and makeup. The one film I’d like to see again is ‘Trigger Law’. (A lost film at this time—ed.) I had more to do in that. I fight with somebody and pull a little gun from my purse. I rode with the cowboys, doing lots of stuff leading ladies didn’t get to do! I almost choked on the words, ‘Thank you for everything.’ It seems as if I said it over and over  as  the  hero  rode  off  into  the  sunset.”

Many of Beatrice’s credits were at Universal. “Casting director Bill Benjamin liked my work. He had pull and whenever I got a call to go to Universal, I knew it wasn’t for an audition. It was for the part.”

A later western was “Wild Heritage” (‘58). “I only have a small role in that—playing Johnny Carpenter’s wife. We say good-bye to a family heading west. Two of the kids were Gary Gray and Gigi Perreau. Some 12 years earlier, Gary and Gigi played Billy’s siblings in ‘To Each His Own’ and now I was the one working with them!”

“I played Johnny Carpenter’s wife a couple of times. He talked me into investing $10,000 upfront to finance a western script he wrote, ‘Johnny Ringo’—Carpenter would also direct it. Billy and Fred (Antonacci—my youngest son) were also to be in it. Everyone would get paid when it sold. It was shot in Jacksboro, a small town in Texas. The people were wonderful, built sets for us and volunteered as extras. Then one day, the leading lady’s (Elaine Walker) husband misunderstandably told them that she (meaning me) had money to pay their salaries. He organized a work stoppage—only halfway into the film. So, it had to be shut down. I returned to L.A.—minus my 10 grand. Johnny kept the film. I’d sure like to see it! What there is of it.” Unfortunately, Beatrice’s upfront money was never intended to pay salaries, as she explained, people were to be paid when the picture sold to a distributor.

Asked how her famous son got his start, the actress recalls, “Billy was a ragamuffin, running around. About six years old. My older children, Frank and Gloria, were in a play. Billy and I were in the audience. An agent spotted Billy—not the two on stage—asked if he was mine. She said, ‘I’d like to work with him in the movies.’ So his fidgeting paid off!” Beatrice is quite a professional, “And I taught Billy to be the same way. I told him to never stop a scene, no matter what—let the director yell ‘Cut.’”

“One time, we were on location for a B-western. A horse stepped on his foot but he went on and finished the scene. They put his foot in ice water—shot the next scene—then we went to the hospital. His foot was broken!”

Asked if any directors were favorites, Beatrice smiled, “I do remember Frank McDonald fondly. In films, the regular directors would say, ‘Whenever you’re ready, Miss Gray.’ On the stage, they’d yell, ‘Gray, get your ass in here’.”

Beatrice Gray, her brother Ralph Lewis (left) and crooked businessman Jack Ingram mistake U.S. Marshals Bob Steele and Hoot Gibson for road agents in “Trigger Law” (‘44 Monogram).

As a parting thought to her B-western career, Beatrice laughs, “At the time, I took Billy to see ‘Trigger Law’. In the film the heavies were giving me a hard time. Although I was sitting next to him, Billy—then about six—stood up and yelled, ‘You let my mom alone!’ So, we must have been convincing.”

Beatrice’s Western Filmography


Movies: Utah Kid (‘44 Monogram)—Hoot Gibson/Bob Steele; Marked Trails (‘44 Monogram)—Hoot Gibson/Bob Steele; Trigger Law (‘44 Monogram)—Hoot Gibson/Bob Steele; Stranger From Santa Fe (‘45 Monogram)—Johnny Mack Brown; Trail to Vengeance (‘45 Universal)—Kirby Grant. TV: Gene Autry: Star Toter (‘50); Gene Autry: Breakup (‘50)