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Watson Family Photographic Archive

Watson Family Photographic Archive

Four generations, 10 photographers, 100 years of Los Angeles history constitute the Watson family legacy. Six of the Watson photographers worked at the Los Angeles Times or Times owned newspapers. Their combined work — about 600,000 images — is stored in the Watson Family Photographic Archive.

Six of the photographers in the above photo were also child actors. Garry, Delmar, Harry, Coy Jr., Bill and Bobs, along with three sisters, Louise, Vivian and Gloria, acted in more than 1,000 movies.

The Watson Family Photographic Archive in Glendale contains 600,000 prints, negatives and pieces of photography equipment. Fourth-generation photographer Daniel Watson and his aunt Antoinette Watson are the archive curators.

Daniel’s great-grandfather, Salvation Army minister and photo hobbyist James Watson, migrated to Los Angeles in 1901. He photographed many scenes around the Southland, including the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building.

Three of James Watson’s sons, William, Coy and George, made careers in Los Angeles and Hollywood. William was a film editor, writer and director on many films into the 1950s.

Coy Watson worked as an actor, stunt rider, special-effects man, props man, assistant director and, at one point, casting director for Fox Studios, and he was the father and film agent for the nine Watson child actors.

George Watson became the first full-time still photographer in the family. After working at the Grants Pass Courier, he moved to Los Angeles and in 1917 was hired at the Los Angeles Times. In 1929, he left The Times to manage Pacific+Atlantic Photos, which became Acme Newspictures and later United Press International. George retired from Acme in 1940 but came back to The Times during World War II, when many staff photographers joined the military.

George was the inventive member of the family. He developed many devices and techniques to improve photography. In 1913, George patented an early form of microfilm.

All six of Coy Watson’s child actor sons went into photography. Coy Jr., Harry, Bill, Delmar and Garry made full-time careers in photography or television. Bobs Watson worked part-time in photography between acting jobs. In the late ’50s, all the brothers formed the 6 Watson Brothers, a commercial photography business.

In the 1940s and ’50s, four of the five Los Angeles newspapers had Watsons working for them. At the old Los Angeles Daily News, owned by The Times,  Harry worked as a photographer and Bill as an artist. Delmar worked 10 years at the Los Angeles Mirror. Garry worked at the Daily News and The Times, where he met and married Jacqueline Pierce in 1955.

Garry and Jacqueline’s son, Daniel, became the fourth-generation Watson photographer. He worked at several community newspapers and in television before his current work at the Watson Family Photographic Archive.

Delmar Watson started his own studio in 1967 and took on the project of storing and archiving the family’s image collection. His wife, Antoinette, also was very involved. Daniel joined in 2007, as Delmar’s health forced his retirement, and the family archive was moved to Glendale. Delmar died in 2008.

The archive not only includes the images but also a large collection of photography equipment from the last century. Curators Daniel and Antionette Watson organize the images. Some of the categories they use include aviation, automotive, military, wars, crime, murders, Hollywood, fashion, celebrities and historic Los Angeles.

Samples of the images are available at this website.

Images are sold for books, magazines, broadcasts, private collectors — anyone looking for historical Los Angeles. The Getty recently purchased 93 images. The Watsons have also mounted several photo exhibitions over the years, including ones at the Los Angeles Central Library and Glendale Forest Lawn.

What curator Antoinette Watson can’t figure is why it’s not being better utilized.  “I can’t believe,” says Antoinette, “that no one has done a book on the whole Watson family of photographers. It includes the whole history of Hollywood in a nutshell. They started out the same time the movie industry started. It’s a natural.”

Before moving behind the camera, the child actor Watsons got plenty of ink. The family was profiled in two 1938 Los Angeles Times stories headlined “They’ve Played in 1,000 movies” and “Hollywood’s First Real Family.”

The dad, Coy Watson Sr., acted as their agent. Most roles were minor, but they often included a mob of Watsons — seven played with Will Rogers in “Life Begins at Forty,” and seven were in “The Callahans and the Murphys.”

Bobs Watson landed one major role as Mickey Rooney’s pal in “Boys Town.” After Bobs finished a crying scene with Rooney, actor Spencer Tracy was quoted as saying, “There goes my chance for another Academy Award!”

Despite all this success, parents Coy and Golda steered the kids away from Hollywood. Instead, the children were expected to find careers outside of Hollywood.

“The movie business is just as good a business in which to bring up children as any other,” Coy “Pops” Watson was quoted as saying in 1938. “Most of the people in it are just plain, everyday folks like us. The reason our kids will never ‘go Hollywood’ is that they were brought up in pictures; they’ve been accustomed to them all their lives.”

Coy’s father, James Watson, and brother George introduced photography to the kids. A backyard shed was converted into a darkroom.

In 1999, after most of the siblings had grown up and retired, the Watson Family received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Top photo: Seven Watson family photographers bid farewell to Los Angeles Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz, seated, at a 1958 party for his retirement. From left, standing: Garry A. Watson, George R. Watson, Delmar Watson, Harry R. Watson, Coy Watson Jr., Bill R. Watson and Bobs Watson. (Watson Family Photographic Archive)

Second from top: George Watson, Los Angeles Times staff photographer, in 1919 with his Graflex 4×5 field camera while holding his powder flash gun.  The Graflex 4×5 field camera, tripods and powder flash guns were standard equipment for news photographers from the 1910s to the 1930s. George Watson worked for The Times from 1917 till 1929. (Watson Family Photographic Archive)

Third from top: Fourth-generation Watson family photographer Daniel Watson at the Watson Family Photographic Archive in Glendale. The movie camera was Harry Watson’s 1950s 16mm Auricon sound-on-film newsreel camera. Harry worked for KTTV in the 1960s. (Scott Harrison/Los Angeles Times)

Bottom two images: A 1938 photo of the child actor Watson family. Front row: Delmar, left, Carey, Bobs. Second row: Louise, Harry, Billy. Third row: Coy Jr., Vivian, Gloria. Top row: Coy Watson Sr. and Golda Watson. Unusual cropping was common for images in the early 1900s. This image ran in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine on July 3, 1938. (Los Angeles Times)

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