Monday, March 16, 2009

Silent Actor Coy Watson Jr. R.I.P.

Coy Watson Jr., who appeared in numerous silent films as a boy, passed on Saturday at the age of 96. The cause was stomach cancer.

Coy Watson Jr. was born James Caughey "Coy" Watson Jr. on November 16, 1912. He was the eldest son of Coy Watson Sr., both an early special effects technician (he created the flying carpet sequence for the 1924 version of The Thief of Baghdad with Douglas Fairbanks) and a horse trainer for the stars of the early Westerns. In some respects it was then perhaps natural for Coy Watson Jr. and his eight siblings to become part of the movies, especially since the Watson family lived in the early movie making colony of Edendale, California.

Coy Watson Jr. made his film debut at the age of nine months. Mack Sennett Studios, one of the three studios that made up Edendale, needed an infant for the short "The Price of Silence." Young Watson got the job for $5.00 a day. He went onto appear in around 60 movies before he turned 18, including "The Show (the classic short with Laurel and Hardy)," Stella Dallas, Buttons, Show People, and Restless Youth. He appeared in numerous Keystone Kops comedies, hence his nickname (and the title of his autobiography) "The Keystone Kid."

Coy Watson Jr. gave up acting on the screen shortly after the advent of sound. He felt that the early strictures placed upon filming the early talkies (he said in an interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune from 2002, "We used to have fun making pictures. But when sound came in you couldn't drop a pin."). To make a living Watson turned to photography, which was a business which ran in the Watson family. His grandfather James Watson once photographed Buffalo Bill. His uncle, George Watson, founded Acme News Pictures, an early photo news service. While still a boy, Coy Watson Jr. had built his own darkroom at home. After high school he would work for the photo news service Pacific and Atlantic Photos, Inc.

During World War II Watson served in the Coast Guard, running a photography unit in San Diego, California. After the war he was a cameraman for KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles, California and later for the Columbia Broadcasting System. He would also work as a cameraman for KCRA-TV in Sacramento, California and the American Broadcasting Company.

Coy Watson Jr.'s autobiography, The Keystone Kid, was published in 2001.

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