Coy Watson, 1912 - 2009
March 16, 2009 | 8:59 am
James Caughey "Coy" Watson, Jr., 96
Child Movie Star, News Photographer, Inventor, Television Pioneer, Author
By Pattie Watson Price
(Daughter of Coy Watson Jr.)
James Caughey "Coy" Watson, Jr., 96, went home to be with our Lord on Saturday, March 14, near his home in Alpine, CA, a mountain community in San Diego County. He died from complications of stomach cancer.
Coy was born November 16, 1912, in his home in Edendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, the oldest of nine children born to Golda and Coy Watson.
From the age of nine months to 21, Coy Watson appeared in more than 65 motion pictures. He became know as "The Keystone Kid." His father, Coy Watson Sr., was an early motion picture pioneer. He worked as an assistant director and special effects man for many studios, and periodic member of the famous "Keystone Cops" of the Mack Sennett Studio.
Coy Jr. appeared in early silent pictures (his first, "The Price of Silence", 1913, Selig Studio) and "talkies" playing feature roles and small parts with Hollywood greats such as Lon Chaney, Mary
Pickford, Mae West, Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, Fatty Arbuckle, Jackie Coogan, Buck Jones and John Barrymore. Some of his directors included Mack Sennett, Marshal Neilan, King Vidor, George Marshall, Sam Wood and George Hill. Coy appeared in the opening scene of one of the first "sound on film" motion pictures, "Puttin' on the Ritz" (1930), with Joan Bennett and Harry Richmond.
Coy attended school on studio lots and Los Angeles' Clifford Street Grammar School, Thomas Starr King Junior High, and Belmont High School, and graduated in 1933. All his life he battled dyslexia. He was active in Boy Scouts, earned the rank of Eagle Scout and later became a Scout Master with Troop #78 in Los Angeles. Throughout his life he worked with boys at camps and helped establish a Los Angeles County Camp for delinquent boys while President of the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association in 1946, an organization he help found in 1936.
In 1929 Coy stepped behind the camera to pursue a career in news photography. At age 4, Coy remembered watching his grandfather, James, a Captain in the Salvation Army, magically developing film in their pantry. He worked with Pacific and Atlantic Photos news-picture syndicate, which became Acme New Pictures, still later becoming UPI and now, Reuters.
From 1935 to 1940 Coy worked with Acme New Pictures, The Los Angeles Post Record, The Los Angeles Times, and The Los Angeles Herald Express. With these organizations he photographed all types of news stories for local and national newspapers and magazines. Watson covered the big LA news stories of the day, including the mysterious death of Thelma Todd, Franklin Roosevelt's visit to Los Angeles and was an official photographer of the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1932. Coy's photos appeared in the first and second issues of LIFE magazine -- November and December, 1936.
In 1939, Coy invented and manufactured the Coy Watson Lite Beam Focuser, a built-in camera device that assured accurate still camera focusing in total darkness. It's believed this invention marked the first time a battery was ever placed in a camera. During 1940 and '41, Coy received orders from around the world and traveled throughout the U.S. selling and installing the Lite BeamFocuser in cameras of newspaper and professional photographers.
Coy served his country (1942 - 1945) in the US Coast Guard during World War II as a Boatswains Mate and Chief Photographer. In 1943, at a show staged at the Hollywood Bowl for MadamChiang Kai-shek (there to raise awareness and money for China), Coy took official still photos of Coast Guard personnel and movie stars for the Coast Guard and newspapers, but also took 16 mm motion pictures for his own historic interests. That evening his motion picture film became the first filmed news story ever to be televised in the Los Angeles area on L.A.'s first television station. There were less than 40 TV sets in the city.
In 1945, Coy Watson Photos was established to serve the Los Angeles area with photographic and public relations services. In 1948 he became a TV news and film photographer "stringer" forWPIX and TeleNews , New York, TV news services and was invited to become a member of the International Photographers of the Motion Picture Industries Union (IATSE) Local 659. In 1949, NBC/New York assigned Coy to cover on 16mm film the historic story of Kathy Fiscus, a little girl who had fallen into an abandoned well. It was the first news story in California to be televised live -- continuously for 52 hours.
In 1949, Coy shot Hollywood's first TV commercial on film for Vermont Motors. It aired between the televising of the Santa Anita horse races. The film replaced the usual "ad-card" advertising. That same year he made the first TV film documentary. Coy's story, "Operation Endurance" forMcMillian Oil, featured two former W.W. II pilots "staying in the air" in a single-engine plane over 1,000 hours (42 days). Coy captured the non-stop re-fuelings, family-on-the-ground and other elements documenting this world-record-breaking event.
Recognition of this milestone in TV film production lead to the reunion of two former Hollywood news buddies who would also make television history together. Coy and syndicated Hollywood columnist Erskine Johnson joined together to make "Hollywood Reel"; the first film-series for American television featuring motion picture stars and their real lives in Hollywood. The 52, 30-minute shows were broadcast across the U.S. revealing stars at play, trendy fashions of the day, and behind the scenes moments at studios and everyday events in Hollywood. While producing these shows, Coy married his secretary and production assistant, Imelda "Willie"Niemer.
After a sojourn running cattle on his ranch near Sacramento, Watson returned to Hollywood in 1953 to pioneer television news as a TV news cameraman, organizing and contributing to the film operations of CBS, ABC andKTLA . He originated the Man on the Street Interview; spotlighting average citizens and their views on current events. Among the many stories he covered were the first atomic bomb tests in Yucca Flats, NV and was assigned to join the White House Press Corps in Denver, CO during the hospitalization of President Eisenhower.
He was also News Director at NBC's KCRA in Sacramento, and produced films for the State of Oregon while operating Coy Watson Productions in Medford, OR. In 1965, Coy took his pioneering spirit and family to Perth, Western Australia to train the TV film news department at TVW, ABC (Australia Broadcasting Co.)
In 1984, after managing the Vista Chamber of Commerce, serving as public relations officer for a fast food corporation and building miniature cameras for oil drilling exploration, Watson moved toRancho Bernardo, San Diego County, to retire.
Nineteen ninety-two marked the return of the "Hollywood Reels" when the historic films aired for five years on AMC (American Movie Classics, cable TV.) After 80 years, producer Peter Jones returned Coy to his roots and featured him in a production about early Hollywood with Mary Pickford and Lon Chaney Sr.
Coy received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 from The Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles for his dedication, pioneering foresight and professionalism in the arena of news photography.
In 1999, Coy Watson Jr. and his parents, Coy Sr. and Golda Watson, and five brothers and three sisters were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Known as the "First Family Of Hollywood," the nine kids literally grew up in Hollywood. Coy Sr. started with the Mack Sennett Studio in 1912, and collectively the family appeared in more than 1,000 motion pictures with some of motion picture's biggest stars. No other theatrical family can match their accomplishments.
In his "golden years" Coy reflected on his life, family and accomplishments by writing a book about his early years in the motion picture industry that included historic photos from his personal collection as well as the famous "Watson Family Archives": four generations of Los Angeles photos. "The Keystone Kid: Tales of Early Hollywood," was published in 2001.
In 2004 he was delighted to "receive" a San Diego Emmy Award for "San Diego Insider: Coy Watson, The Keystone Kid," a documentary by COX San Diego Channel 4 about his life.
Along with his many accolades, "firsts" and professional achievements, Coy was a wonderful father, brother, husband and friend. His incredible sense of humor was a joy to all who knew him. He always tried to make people feel good, with a joke or kind word, wherever he went. He was the eldest of the "nine Watson kids" followed by Vivian, Gloria, Louise, Harry, Billy, Delmar, Garry and Bobs. He was a member of the fraternal organization ofDeMolay and Freemasonry and a long time member of Wisdom Lodge #202.
Coy is survived by his wife, "Willie", daughter Pattie Watson Price and grand-daughter Haley Christine Price, of Alpine, CA. and son JamesCaughey "Jim" Watson III, grandson J.C. "Jim" Watson IV, and great grandson James Caughey Watson V, and grand-daughter Kimberly Cottrell , and three additional great grandchildren, all residents of Perth, Western Australia. His sister, Louise Roberts and brothers Billy and Garry are the surviving members of the nine Watson siblings.
Coy Watson will be memorialized at a family ceremony and his remains will be interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at a later date.