Bobs Watson, the youngest of nine siblings who became child actors in the golden days of Hollywood, died Sunday at his Laguna Beach home after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 68.
Watson's Hollywood career, which included both film and television work, spanned three decades. His first role came at the age of 6, in "Riding to Fame," in 1931. By the time he was 10, he had appeared in 125 films.
His most famous role, the one that would eventually change his life, came as the endearing Pee Wee, opposite Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy, who won an Oscar for his role as Father Flanagan, in "Boys Town."
In an interview with The Times some years ago Watson recalled his childhood days.
"The house I was raised in was about 600 feet from Mack Sennett's studios and offices [near] Echo Park," Watson said. "As a result of being so close to the studios, my dad started out renting horses for the silent movies for $2 a day."
Acting jobs for the kids came next.
"They literally said to my dad, 'Hey, Coy, have you got any kids about so tall?' " he recalled, holding his hand a few feet off the ground.
"He'd come home and pick out one of the kids that the part would be for. . . . They weren't all major films . . . but we always had at least bit parts with some lines."
After serving in the Army, where he made training films, Watson returned to Hollywood, making "The Bold and the Brave," again with Rooney, and had numerous film and TV roles.
But his experience making "Boys Town" always stayed with him.
"It was a time when simple acts of kindness were taken to heart," he said recently. "There was one boy whose job was to meet us every day. . . . When we left, he gave me his one prized possession, a bag of marbles with a hole in it, which I still have."
Such memories persuaded Watson to quit his acting career in 1966 and become a minister with the United Methodist Church. Over the next three decades he ministered around Southern California and in Las Vegas using his acting experience, jokes and props to dramatize his scripture reading.
In 1991, he returned to Boys Town in Nebraska to offer the dedication for the facility's new $5.5-million chapel.
He is survived by his wife, Jaye, three sons, four brothers and a sister.
A public service will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at the First Methodist Church in Burbank.