Turner Classic Movies
Coy Watson Jr. dies at 96
Written by Diana Saenger   

coywdorothyvernonofhaddenhall200.jpgJames Caughey "Coy" Watson, Jr., 96, said goodbye to his Earthly friends and family on Saturday, March 14, 2009.   As one of his friends for nearly 20 years, it was a very sad day for me. I shall miss his optimism, witty sense of humor and his incredible knowledge of what life was like at the early studios. I'm grateful for all the insight he shared and that I got to know such a warm and funny human being. Even in the last days when stomach cancer was getting the best of him, he always greeted me and my husband Lou with a genuine smile.

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 "Keystone Cop" movies for Mack Sennett Studios.

Coy Jr. appeared in early silent pictures and "talkies" playing feature roles and small parts with Hollywood greats such as Lon Chaney, Mari 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" motion pictures, "Puttin' on the Ritz" (1930), with Joan Bennett and Harry Richmond.

Jackie Coogan & Coy Watson Jr in Buttons 1927

In addition to Keystone Kops movies, young Coy appeared in films of such stars as Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Mary  Pickford, Jackie Coogan and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In 1925, he played the heroine's little brother in the original film version of Stella Dallas.

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.  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 helping to found (in 1936) and become President of the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association in 1946.

coy_watson_jr_cbs_sm.jpgIn 1929 Coy stepped behind the camera to pursue a career in news photography.  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.  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 Focuse, 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 Beam Focuser 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 Madam Chiang 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 pictures 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" for WPIX 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"  for McMillian Oil, featured two former W. W. II   pilots "staying in the air" in a one-engine plane over 1,000 hours (42 days). Coy's capturing the non-stop re-fuelings, family-on-the-ground and other elements became an historic event.

Recognition of this mile-stone 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 made "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.

In the 1950s Coy pioneered television news.  He was the first TV news director of the CBS station in Los Angeles, KNXT-TV.  He originated the Man on the Street Interview; spotlighting average citizens and their views on current events. In the €˜60s, he worked in television news at KABC-TV, LA; KTLA LA; KCRA TV, Sacramento; and TVW-TV in Perth, Western Australia. 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 motion picture's biggest stars.

keystonekid200.jpgIn 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. 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 professionals achievements, Coy was a wonderful father, brother, husband and friend. His incredible sense of humor was a joy to all who knew him.  He was the eldest of the "nine Watson kids" followed by Vivian, Gloria, Louise, Harry, Billy, Delmar, Garry and Bobs.

Coy is survived by his wife, Willie; son James Caughey "Jim" Watson III of Perth, Western Australia; daughter, Pattie Watson Price of Alpine; sister Louise Roberts; brother Billy Watson; brother Garry Watson as well as three grand children, four great-grandchildren, and many loving nieces and nephews.

Coy Watson will be memorialized at a family ceremony and his remains will be interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery at a later date.

Read about Coy's audition with John Ford for Just Pals.

Photos courtesy of Coy Watson Jr. archive




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