Farewell, Man of Many Firsts

Coy Watson
Coy Watson

Some of my earliest memories of singing were with Hollywood pioneer Coy Watson, a dear friend of my grandparents, Bill and Frances Cumpston.

Coy was easily one of the most animated, vivacious and delightful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and be influenced by. I remember sitting on his lap at age 5 or 6, repeating songs that he would teach me, that would make him laugh and then tell everyone to come and listen.

James Caughey “Coy” Watson, Jr., 96, died on March 14, near his home in Alpine, CA.  The following are excerpts from his obituary in the LA Times.  The number of firsts he was a part of is astounding.

  • He 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.
  • As a photographer, 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.
  • 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 16 mm motion pictures of the event, that 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 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. That same year he made the first TV film documentary: “Operation Endurance”, featuring two former W.W. II pilots “staying in the air” in a single-engine plane over 1,000 hours (42 days).
  • 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.
  • He originated the Man on the Street Interview; spotlighting average citizens and their views on current events.
  • 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.

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.

Rest in peace, Coy.  Thank you for teaching me how much fun performing can be.