On the Wondrous Watson Kids

Today we tell of a remarkable show biz clan: the Watsons, who billed themselves as the First Family of Hollywood (though few nowadays would recognize them as such). Had they chosen to perform all at the same time and the same place they would have exceeded in extent even the Foy Family for there were nine of them in total (Bobs, the youngest, wasn’t yet born at the time of the advert above). And good lord but there were a lot of show biz Watsons we’ve written about to which they are not related: the Watson Sisters, Harry “Musty Suffer” Watson, Billy “Beef Trust” Watson, Sliding Billy Watson, Bobby Watson, Minor Watson, Lucile Watson, and Milton Watson. When Don Ameche said, “Watson, come here, I want you!” there were a lot of people who might have come running.

Their father, Coy (Caughey) Watson Sr. (1890-1968) was a Hollywood horse wrangler, who was later noted for creating the flying carpet effect in The Thief of Bagdad (1924). His oldest child, Coy Jr (1912-2009) was only a few months old when put to work in the Mack Sennett comedy A Life in the Balance (1913), where he had the opportunity to upstage Ford Sterling and Dot Farley. Coy Jr. would appear in nearly 50 movies throughout the silent era, including Fatty’s Gift (1914) with Fatty Arbuckle, Larry Semon’s The Show (1922), the original version of Stella Dallas (1925), Slide Kelly Slide (1927) and the Marion Davies pictures Quality Street (1927) and Show People (1928). He also wrote the book The Keystone Kid: Tales of Early Hollywood (2001).

But the Watson parents were prolific producers of kid talent and by the time Coy Jr attained adulthood and moved on to other pursuits there were eight younger Watsons well in the biz. When casting directors called, Coy Sr was reputed to answer, “You need kids? What size and what sex?” Seven of the Watson children played Slim Summverille’s kids in Life Begins at 40 with Will Rogers (1935); the same seven play siblings in Taxi 13 (1928) with Chester Conklin. There are six Watson in Love Live and Laugh (1929) with George Jessel and Lila Lee. Four Watson boys play brothers in Show Boat (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939); three are in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) and two in Mary of Scotland (1936), In Old Chicago (1938), and Kidnapped (1938).

Besides Coy Jr, the youngest, Bobs (1930-1999) is probably the most notable. His 60 roles, all during the sound era, were mostly named parts, the biggest of which was Pee Wee in Boys Town (1938) and Men of Boys Town (1941). He can also be seen in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939–speaking of which!), Dodge City (1939), On Borrowed Time (1939), several Dr Kildare films, Wyoming (1940) and Scattergood Pulls the Strings (1941). TV work included a regular role on The Jim Backus Show, recurring roles on The Beverly Hillbillies, and several appearances on Lou Grant. As an adult, Bob was a Methodist minister, making his turn as a minister in Ron Howard’s Grand Theft Auto (1977) a bit of stunt casting.

Delmar Watson (1926-2008) has the distinction of the most screen credits in the family — nearly 80. Among them: Annie Oakley (1935), Silly Billies (1936) with Wheeler and Woolsey, One Live Ghost (1936) with Leon Errol and Lucille Ball, Heidi (1937) with Shirley Temple, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee (1940), His Girl Friday (1940) and Gas House Kids Go West (1947).

Harry Watson (1921-2001) probably had his greatest role as Sam in Penrod and Sam (1937), but you can also see him in Flying High (1931) with Bert Lahr, The Barber Shop (1933) with W.C. Fields, along with about three dozen other credits.

The most successful of the three girls was Louise Watson (1919-2018). Her career is interesting in that most of it happened LATER. She’d only acted in in a couple of Hollywood pictures as a child, but from 1992 through 1997 (as a woman in her sixties) she worked extensively in Australian television, most notable as a regular on a sitcom called Bingles (1992-93).

Billy Watson (b. 1923) played two dozen parts 1928-1940, including roles in Dr. Bull (1933) with Will Rogers, The Little Minister (1934) with Katharine Hepburn, and The Winning Ticket (1935) with Leo Carrillo, Louise Fazenda, and Ted Healy.

The remaining three kids were essentially extras with a handful of credits each: Garry (b. 1928)–9 films; Vivian (1915-1994)–just one film (Taxi 13). Gloria Watson (1917-1997) was apparently the beauty of the family. In addition to a couple of kid credits, she later played a model in The French Line (1953) and a Harem Girl in Son of Sinbad (1955). It’s a safe bet that print modeling, personal appearances and live theatre were in the mix too for all or some of the kids.

When not in front of camers, several Watson made their living behind them. Their grandfather James Watson had been noted for shooting images of Buffalo Bill Cody. Coy Sr’s brother George Watson was the first full-time news photographer at the L.A. Times and founded Acme News Pictures, where all six of the Watson boys learned the family trade. Four of the Watson boys were photographers in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. All six of them worked as professional news photographers as adults.

Two of the Watsons, Billy and Garry, are still alive as of this writing.