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Issue: Issue Winter 1999/2000

Hollywood's First Family


If ever there was a true Hollywood family, it's the Watson's, Child actors, acclaimed photojournalists and community leaders, they've witnessed the scene for almost a century.

George Watson, who invented the microfilm process, started a family photographic dynasty as the first L.A. Times news photographer in1917.  Two years later, he shot the first aerial photograph of Los Angeles, and through the 20's and 30's, photographed movie stars, murders, aviators, gangsters, and key local events around town.

Brother Coy Watson Sr. was a stunt man, assistant director and pioneering special effects man who devised the famous rope trick in "Thief of Baghdad," where Douglas Fairbanks "floats" in midair.  He lived in Edendale (now Silverlake), across the street from the Mack Sennet Studios and had nine children - three girls and six boys.  Casting directors in need of a certain age boy, would just request "one of the Watson kids."  Altogether, they made 1,000 pictures before 1940, including "Damsel in Distress" with Fred Astaire (Harry Watson), "The Little Minister" (Billy), and "Heidi" (Delmar was Shirley Temple's goatherd pal).  Bobs, the most famous, appeared as Pee Wee in "Boys Town" with Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy, and Pud in "On Borrowed Time."  Four Watson worked in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." 

Eventually, the Watson boys all made names as photographers, starting with apprenticing at their uncle's Acme News pictures (which became United Press International Wire Photos).  After World War II, they worked for the five competing Los Angeles newspapers.  Delmar, an acclaimed photographer, captured Howard Hughes atop the Spruce Goose and covered the Black Dahlia murder for the Los Angeles Mirror.  Winning awards from, among other publications, Life Magazine.

When TV came in, the brothers quit photojournalism to shoot publicity for firms like Coldwell Banker, and celebrity publicists, Rogers & Cowan.

Since 1976, Delmar, now retired, has curated Images of  the past.  The family photographic collection, numbering over 2 million pictures, negatives and newsreel footage - comprising a virtual history of Hollywood and Los Angeles, from its golden beginnings through the present.  They're often seen on TV documentaries for the AMC and A&E networks, and local shows such as KTLA's recent 50-year retrospective.

Delmar also edited two books: "Quick Watson, the Camera," in 1975, with his uncle, and "Going Hollywood," a book of rare shots of stars at play in 1988.

Today, with Hollywood's touted rebirth, the Watsons are again in the spotlight. Exhibits on the family are running at the Hollywood Heritage Museum in the DeMille Lasky Barn, and at the Ray Hawkins Gallery in Venice.

Last April, the family - six of whom were present - was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as the First Family of Hollywood.