|Born||January 9, 1939
McComb, Pike County, Mississippi, USA
|Died||March 7, 2009 (aged 70)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Actor, musician, singer|
|Spouse(s)||Yvonne Craig (1960-1962)
Anne Forrey (1980-1984)
Jimmy Boyd (January 9, 1939 – March 7, 2009) was an American singer, musician, and actor.
Jimmy Boyd was born in an old farmhouse near McComb, Mississippi to Winnie and Leslie Boyd.
In 1941 his father, Leslie, put his wife and their two sons (Kenneth, 4, and Jimmy, 2), on a train bound for Riverside, California, for the second time. The family was sent back to Mississippi a year earlier by the California Welfare Department because Leslie lacked the skills to get a good job. Having sold everything they owned, and only having enough money to buy tickets for his wife and the two boys, Leslie rode the rails. He hitchhiked on freight trains to join his family in California. Hoboing from Mississippi, Louisiana and as far as West Texas, Leslie Boyd picked cotton to help support his own family of twenty-one brothers and sisters.
Leslie's father (Jimmy's grandfather) was known locally as "Fiddler Bill". He played fiddle at dances and family gatherings throughout the region. Most of Fiddler Bill's children inherited his musical abilities, and all sang together and played musical instruments. Leslie Boyd played guitar and harmonica and started Jimmy playing the guitar at 9 years old. Leslie Boyd had been a farmer when a drought hit and there were no more crops, so he picked cotton. He could pick over 600 pounds of cotton a day himself, and was paid 25 cents. Although there was no cotton in California to pick, this time they were determined to stay. Leslie got a menial job cleaning up construction sites, quickly becoming an accomplished finish carpenter.
Leslie and Winnie Boyd occasionally took the children with them to a country and western dance, held in a barn in Colton, California, a few miles from Riverside. Jimmy's older brother Kenneth, about 9 years old at the time, went up to the bandstand and told the band leader he should hear his little brother sing and play the guitar. Texas Jim Lewis, the band leader, called little seven year old Jimmy up to the stage. Jimmy sang and played, and the crowd went wild. After the dance was over, Lewis and the manager of a local radio station approached Jimmy’s parents to ask if he could come sing every Saturday night, and be a part of the hour-long radio show they planned to broadcast from the dance. They offered to pay Jimmy $50 for every show, which was a lot of money for the Boyds.
Leslie Boyd had cataracts in both eyes and had to have surgery. Cataract surgery in the 1950s was a serious operation, and it had to be done in Los Angeles. While in L.A., they were told about auditions being held for the Al Jarvis Talent Show on KLAC-TV. Jimmy Boyd auditioned for Jarvis and was such a hit that they put him on the show that night. Jimmy, to his astonishment, won the talent show, and the next day, Jarvis and KLAC were literally deluged with upwards of 20,000 telegrams and telephone calls from viewers.
Al Jarvis had a five-hour talk show every day on KLAC-TV with a few regulars on it, including Betty White, called Hollywood On Television. Jarvis immediately announced that Jimmy would be a regular on the show. Several appearances singing and doing comedy skits with Frank Sinatra on CBS-TV's The Frank Sinatra Show soon followed.
Jimmy recorded the song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" for Columbia Records, when he was 11-12 years old. Even in those days of limited media, it became a record industry phenomenon, selling over two and a half million records in its first week's release. Jimmy's name became an international household word, and he skyrocketed to the status of a major star. Columbia Records execs were baffled at the song's popularity. They had already presented Jimmy with two gold records. (In the days before the Grammy Award existed, gold records were effectively the Grammys, and they were actually real gold). Jimmy's record went to number one on the charts again the following year at Christmas, and went on to sell again and again every Christmas. Today on the internet it sells worldwide to new generations, and has reportedly sold over 60,000,000 records since its initial release.
Jimmy loved and owned horses, so Columbia presented him with a silver mounted saddle. Inscribed in the silver plate on the back of the saddle were the words, "Presented by Columbia Records to Jimmy Boyd commemorating his 3,000,000 record of 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'".
When first released, Jimmy's record was banned in Boston by the Catholic Church on the grounds it mixed sex with Christmas. Boyd made worldwide news at thirteen years old when he went to Boston and met with the leaders of the Church to explain the song to them. The following Christmas the ban was lifted by the Catholic Church.
Between February 1953 and November 1954, Boyd made five appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. In that era, an appearance on Ed Sullivan's program (or even being introduced in the audience as was often the case of film stars and athletes), was considered by the entertainment industry and the public alike to be the pinnacle of success. In one of Boyd's five appearances, he replaced the scheduled popular singer of the time, Gisele MacKenzie. Boyd was in New York on his way to Montreal for a concert. After the show, Boyd was informed that MacKenzie had been bumped. He was so upset at the turn of events that he personally asked Sullivan to re-book MacKenzie (MacKenzie ultimately appeared twice on the show). In the same year and the years that followed Boyd made multiple appearances on Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, The Doris Day Show, The Bing Crosby Show, The Bob Hope Show, the syndicated The Patti Page Show (1955), Dave Garroway, The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show, Shindig, American Bandstand and other programs throughout the United States and Canada.
Boyd would record several number one records: teaming up with Frankie Laine on "Tell Me a Story" (written by Terry Gilkyson) and "The Little Boy And The Old Man", and with Rosemary Clooney on "Dennis the Menace."
Jimmy said although he liked the songs that became hits for him, and especially liked singing the duets with Frankie Laine and Rosemary Clooney and Gayla Peevey, he never wanted to sing many of the novelty songs that Mitch Miller gave him. His roots were in country music. That's what he was singing when Mitch Miller signed him to Columbia Records. Mitch Miller was in charge of all the recording artists at Columbia, including Frank Sinatra. Jimmy's first hit at Columbia under Miller, "God's Little Candles" was in the country field. 250,000 records was the mark of a country hit, and "God's Little Candles" nearly reached the million mark. Jimmy was astonished because he had recorded it with a bad cold. Years later Kris Kristofferson came up and introduced himself to Jimmy and told him he had borrowed the music from the bridge of "God's Little Candles" to write one of his songs. Jimmy was a fan of Kristofferson and so overwhelmed that he had introduced himself, he forgot to ask Kris which song he used it in.
Mitch Miller moved Jimmy into the pop music genre because country music was an isolated field at the time and very small in the overall record buying fan base.
Rock and roll was starting to change the industry and Jimmy wanted to sing rock music. Mitch Miller passionately hated rock and roll and publicly stated it was a passing fad. He forbade anyone with Columbia Records to record rock music. Although Jimmy says he loved Mitch Miller like a father he felt Mitch's era was passing, and rock was here to stay; Jimmy was later to be proven right.
After a number of novelty songs that Jimmy didn't like and that didn't reach the top ten ("I Wanna Haircut With A Moon On Top", "I'll Stay In The House And Live In My Grandma's Kitchen", "Owl's Lullaby", etc.) Mitch called Jimmy and told him he had a great new song and would be arriving in L.A. to play it for Jimmy. Mitch set up a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel with the popular arranger, band leader and Columbia recording artist of the time, Percy Faith. The hotel provided a room with a piano for Percy to play the song, and Mitch gave Jimmy the lyrics to read. After reading the first lines of the song, Jimmy without hearing the music told Mitch he didn't want to sing these kind of novelty songs anymore, and turned it down.
Mitch and Percy Faith recorded the song with another Columbia artist named Jo Stafford. The opening lines were "Goodbye Joe, Me gotta go, Me-O My-O. Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou." The song, "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," went to number three on the Billboard charts.
Even though Frank Sinatra declared that Mitch Miller's choices of songs had ruined his career and promptly switched over to Capitol Records, where he chose his own songs and began making hit records again, Boyd felt a great deal of loyalty to Mitch Miller and didn't follow through with his own wish to go to Memphis and record with Sam Phillips at his Sun Records, where the dawn of rock and roll was beginning with the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and many of the new rock artists of the time. In retrospect Boyd said he wished he had gone to Sun Records. Instead he concentrated more on movies and television, and finishing his education.
In the mid-'60s Jimmy had a top 5 record produced by one of his favorite artists Leon Russell and Snuffy Garrett, and engineered by another of his favorite artists J.J. Cale. The flip side, "Will I Cry", was written, engineered, had backup vocals and guitar instrumentals by J.J. Cale. Jimmy stated that it was one of his all-time fun and favorite recording sessions and that he didn't care if it didn't sell a single record. The experience with Leon and J.J. was a "once in a lifetime high, and I don't mean drugs... necessarily"!
Another favorite recording session of Boyd's was a song written by Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, "That's What I'll Give to You". Terry Melcher produced the session for Jimmy on Vee-Jay Records. Vee-Jay was the first company to release all the early Beatles records in the United States. Before Boyd's single was released, Vee-Jay was sued by Capitol and lost all the royalties and rights to the Beatles. Vee-Jay Records went bankrupt. The song was recently released on Rhino Records. Herb Alpert had visited the session at Vee-Jay and liked it so much he asked Jimmy and Melcher to record for his and Jerry Moss' label, A&M Records.
Bobby Darin wrote and produced a record, Made In The Shade, for Boyd. Although they had met briefly at different events, Jimmy and Bobby became friends while working on different movies at Universal Studios. Unfortunately, Jimmy stated, "It was released at the same time as Phil Spector's first amazing "Wall of Sound" recordings. Our record was more like a mound of sound and was lost somewhere behind the wall ... Bobby was one of the most talented people I've ever known," says Boyd. "Had he lived he would have sustained the same kind of legendary career that Sinatra had ... He could do it all. He could write and sing rock and roll, folk, jazz, or croon with Sinatra. And in each genre be as good or better than the best in each field. And if that wasn't enough, he was very witty and funny. If I didn't like him so much I could've hated him for being so talented."
Boyd showed he had comedic talents in recurring roles in the television series Bachelor Father (as Howard Meechum, the boyfried of the Noreen Corcoran character), Date with the Angels, The Betty White Show, Broadside (in the role of Marion Botnik), and My Three Sons. He also appeared in a number of motion pictures, including Inherit the Wind (1960).
At the time, Jimmy was the youngest entertainer ever allowed to appear in Las Vegas, starring at the famed Sands Hotel's "Copa Room" at age thirteen during Sinatra's "Rat Pack" era. On Jimmy's opening night show he was applauded back onstage by the audience for multiple encores. With the audience still cheering and whistling, Sand's boss, Jack Entratter, standing backstage, caught Jimmy and stopped him from going back on stage after his third encore. Entratter asked Jimmy if he could please go back for only one encore during his performances, and explained that it was nearly two o'clock in the morning and that the hotel needed the people to go back to the casino and gamble. Jimmy also appeared at the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada.
Boyd, along with his music, did stand-up comedy. He had the unique ability even at his young age to ad-lib relevant, clever one-liners that endeared him to his audiences. He played the theater circuit for several years that was popular at that time—including The Capital, Paramount, and Seville theaters in New York City, Chicago, Hartford, Montreal, and Toronto. Following entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray and Eddie Fisher with his own show, he performed at 90,000 seat-plus venues such as Soldiers Field, The Rubber Bowl, The Plantation, Red Rocks and others, in Chicago, Ohio, Colorado, Hawaii and Canada, along with hundreds of one-nighters on the road throughout the U.S., Canada, and England.
A seasoned performer at fourteen, he took time off to return to Hollywood to star in a horse racing movie called Racing Blood for 20th Century Fox. Jimmy found Hollywood to be far less grueling than life on the road. At sixteen years of age he returned to Hollywood again to appear in The Second Greatest Sex with Jeanne Crain, George Nader, and Bert Lahr for Universal Pictures. Then it was on to New York to do a musical version of Tom Sawyer for The United States Steel Hour on CBS, with Florence Henderson as Becky. The next year he was asked back to do the title role in The United States Steel Hour's musical version of Huckleberry Finn, co-starring with Basil Rathbone and Jack Carson as the carpetbaggers.
Not wanting to go on the road again, and enjoying doing TV and movies, Jimmy hung up his guitar at least temporarily and started having fun as a regular on comedy shows like Date With The Angels, The Betty White Show on ABC, Bachelor Father with John Forsythe, and Broadside. He starred with Mickey Rooney, Terry Moore, Dan Duryea and Yvette Mimieux in the film Platinum High School for MGM. Boyd was shooting Bachelor Father with Forsythe and simultaneously filming Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly and Fredric March for Universal Studios. Boyd co-starred on Broadway in Neil Simon's play Star Spangled Girl with George Hamilton and Deana Martin. Neil Simon's brother Danny Simon stated, "Initially Jimmy didn't want to do Star Spangled Girl. It meant he would have to leave L.A. for a year, and he wasn't sure he wanted to do the same show night after night. Neil and I took him out to dinner and coerced him into it. Jimmy got rave reviews, and was glad he did the play."
In 1960 Boyd married actress Yvonne Craig (TV's Batgirl). After a year of marriage Jimmy was sent to Texas to do his then-mandatory stint in the military. The marriage ended in divorce in 1962. Boyd first went to Vietnam with his own show for the USO in 1965. In February 1967 he took part in Nancy Sinatra's USO tour of Vietnam.
Boyd married Anne Forrey in 1980. They had a son and divorced in 1984. When asked "what's the most exciting thing that ever happened to you"? His reply was "The birth of my son."
For his contributions to the recording industry, Jimmy Boyd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.