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Star Shines Brightly for Hollywood's First Family

Movies: The Watson clan of former child actors finally receives recognition for its pioneering contribution to films.

April 23, 1999|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eighty-eight years and 1,000 movies later, the first family of Hollywood got some overdue credit Thursday.

The film-pioneering Watson family received its star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as friends and fans recalled family members' contributions on both sides of the camera.

Coy, Harry, Delmar, Garry, Louise and Billy Watson unveiled their star at 6674 Hollywood Blvd. as their ailing brother Bobs listened in from home by cellular phone.

As child actors, the seven had scene-stealing roles with such stars as James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple, Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

As adults, the six Watson brothers worked as press, newsreel and television photographers during Hollywood's most colorful and freewheeling period.

There were nine Watson children in all--born 300 yards from the Mack Sennett Studio in Hollywood's Edendale area.

Their father, Coy Watson Sr., broke into show business in 1911 by breaking horses for silent cowboy star Buck Jones and then renting mounts to Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix. Eventually, he performed in two-reel pictures himself and became one of the original Keystone Kops.

Their mother, Golda, washed and ironed actors' costumes brought over to the family home. And her growing brood of children soon found themselves being recruited by directors needing babies or toddlers for quick scenes.

Whenever a child was required for a scene, there was inevitably a Watson kid who was the right size and who could laugh, cry and deliver dialogue on cue.

Coy Jr. began his career as a baby in a film starring Lon Chaney Sr. Delmar was Peter the goat boy in "Heidi." Harry was punched in the nose by Jane Withers in "Patty O'Day." Garry appeared with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in "The Exile."

Bobs--who eventually became a Methodist minister--performed with Spencer Tracy in "Boys Town." He recently appeared in the film "Deadly Delusions," which is expected to be released this year.

Delmar Watson became choked up Thursday when he asked the crowd of several hundred to shout "Hello, Bobs!" so his brother could hear it by phone in Laguna Beach, where he is ill with cancer.

"There wasn't a Hollywood yet when we were born," he said of the family's Edendale days.

After their childhood stints in front of the camera, the brothers picked up cameras of their own for careers in news photography. At one point, Delmar Watson recalled, the brothers were working at four of the five daily newspapers published in Los Angeles.

They still had news photographers' interests in mind Thursday as they stuck pieces of tape labeled with their names across their foreheads and posed themselves polishing their new star. "It's a tight two-column," sized up Delmar Watson, now 71 and a resident of Glendale.

Garry Watson and Louise Watson Roberts live in Burbank. Harry Watson is a Tujunga resident, while Coy lives near San Diego and Billy lives in Washington state. All six lingered to chat with friends and pass Bobs' cellular phone through the crowd after the ceremony.

"Delmar, Billy and Bobs never changed. They were always practical jokers, even back when we all went to Belmont High," said Ewing Brown, a Sherman Oaks resident.

The family's fan club was even there.

Members of Watson Watchers International have their own newsletter, buttons and key chains, explained club founder Kim Bowness of Tempe, Ariz.

"And Watson Watcher handkerchiefs--for all of those tear-jerker movies they were in."

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