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My Holiday Story: Bobs Watson, Child Actor Remembered

BobsAs a writer, my job is to tell stories and I’ve told thousands of them over my 30+ year career. But one of the most memorable ones was that of Bobs Watson, a former Hollywood child actor -turned – minister, who I got to interview in 1997 for a feature piece in the Los Angeles Times.

Bobs was an endearing character and had led a very interesting life, having appeared in over 125 films before the age of 10. His most memorable role was in the 1938 MGM classic, “Boys Town,” playing “Pee Wee” opposite Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. That role led to an ongoing friendship with the Academy Award – winning Tracy and a later career choice to enter the ministry where he served for 30 years.

When I met him, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was reflective about his life’s choices. From that interview, a friendship ensued between us until his death two years later. I have two outstanding memories of Bobs during that time.

The first was when I invited him to a Holiday party that my boyfriend and I were giving at the Pasadena Doubletree Hotel the week of Christmas. The hotel was all decked out with holiday lights and a beautiful lighted tree with ornaments emblazoned the lobby. Bobs arrived late wearing a long Santa Claus beard from a role he was playing in a local play. Our guests all surrounded him for the rest of the evening to listen to him tell story after story about what it was like to be part of the Golden Age of Hollywood during his celebrated movie career. Bobs entertained our guests, as only an actor can, and I could tell he reveled in the attention he received as the most celebrated person at our party!

About six months later, when the cancer began affecting his state of mind, I convinced Bobs to come over to my house for a paper-making session. I had started making my own handmade paper with dried flowers, pine needles, and small shells embedded in the fabric of the paper. Bobs was fascinated with this process and we worked together for hours making new sheets.

About two weeks later, he returned to my home bearing a beautiful personal gift. In an ornate, wooden – framed picture holder, he had enclosed a sheet of the paper he had made with the following inscription:

“From nothingness I came — yet my spirit blossomed into an intangible bouquet because of you!!” That gift meant more to me than anything I could ever express. Bobs struggled the last year of his life, choosing not to get medical treatment to extend his life, but rather, to go the natural route with hospice. It was hard to watch that process take place. I wanted him to fight for his life but I had to respect my friend’s wishes. On June 27, 1999 at the age of 68, Bobs met his Maker.

For the past 16 years, I have kept that framed gift on my desk where I can look at it each day and remember the kind soul that Bobs Watson was and the value of the friendships we make. Despite any age, cultural, or other disparate barriers we perceive, connecting with others and sharing our love and support, whenever possible, is what I believe gives life its meaning.

To read the Los Angeles Times story I wrote about Bobs Watson in 1997, please go to:

http://articles.latimes.com/print/1997-06-01/entertainment/ca-64393_1_boys-town