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January 9, 1939|
Jayess, Mississippi, Lawrence County, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||March 7, 2009
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Cancer|
(m. 1960; div. 1962)
(m. 1980; div. 1984)
Jimmy Devon Boyd (January 9, 1939 – March 7, 2009) was an American singer, musician, and actor known for his recording of the song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".
Boyd was born near Jayess, Mississippi to father Leslie and mother Winnie Boyd. His father was a farmer and picked cotton to help support the family that eventually included twenty-one children. When Boyd was two years old, his father put Boyd, a brother, and his mother on a train to Riverside, California. Not having enough money to buy tickets for himself, Boyd's father was a stowaway on freight trains west to join his family.
Boyd's grandfather, William Boyd (known as "Fiddler Bill"), played at dances and family gatherings in Mississippi. Along with all of father's siblings, Leslie Boyd played guitar and harmonica and started teaching Boyd to play guitar when he was nine years old. Leslie had been a farmer when a drought hit and there were no more crops, so he picked cotton. Because his father was a cotton farmer and there was no cotton in California to pick, finding work was difficult. His father eventually got work cleaning up construction sites, and ended up becoming a finish carpenter.
Boyd's parents would take their children to country and western dances held in a barn in Colton, California outside of Riverside. It was at one of these dances when Boyd's older, nine-year-old brother, Kenneth, went up to the bandstand and told the band leader, Texas Jim Lewis, he should hear his little brother sing and play the guitar. Lewis called seven-year-old Boyd up to the stage to sing and play. After the dance concluded, Lewis and the manager of a local radio station approached Boyd’s parents to make an offer of $50 per appearance on an hour-long radio show to be broadcast from the dance every Saturday night.
While the family was in Los Angeles for surgery Leslie Boyd required for cataracts, they were told about auditions being held for the Al Jarvis Talent Show on KLAC-TV. Following his audition, Boyd appeared on Jarvis' show the same night. Winning the contest, Boyd was the subject of numerous telegrams and telephone calls from fans addressed to Jarvis and KLAC.
Jarvis, along with co-host, had a five-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week talk show on KLAC-TV called Hollywood On Television. After his popular appearance and win on the talent show, Jarvis signed Boyd to appear regularly on Hollywood on Television, a show he co-hosted with Betty White. With his popularity rising, Boyd started to be seen on other television shows, including CBS-TV's The Frank Sinatra Show.
"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
Boyd recorded the song "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" for Columbia Records in 1952, when he was 13 years old. It became a hit, selling over two and a half million records in its first week's release and Boyd's name became known internationally. Boyd was presented with two gold records. Boyd's record went to number one on the charts again the following year at Christmas, and continues to sell as a Christmas song. Collective disc sales by 1966 amounted to over 11 million copies.
Boyd 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, Boyd's record was banned in Boston by the Roman Catholic Church on the grounds it mixed sex with Christmas. Boyd made worldwide news when he went to Boston and met with the leaders of the Church to explain the song. The following Christmas the ban was lifted.
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 recorded several more hit records: teaming up with Frankie Laine in the spring of 1953 on "Tell Me a Story" (written by Terry Gilkyson), which reached #4, and "The Little Boy And The Old Man" (#24), and with Rosemary Clooney that summer on "Dennis the Menace," which reached #25.
Relationship with Mitch Miller
Boyd said that although he liked the songs that became hits for him, especially the duets with Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, and Gayla Peevey, he never wanted to sing many of the novelty songs that Mitch Miller, the head of Artists and Repertoire of Columbia Records, gave him. As the head of A&R at Columbia, Mitch Miller was in charge of all the recording artists there, including Frank Sinatra. When Mitch Miller signed him to Columbia, Boyd's new roots were in country music. Boyd's first hit at Columbia under Miller, "God's Little Candles", was in the country field. At the time, 250,000 records was the mark of a country hit, but "God's Little Candles" nearly reached the million mark. Years later, Kris Kristofferson introduced himself to Boyd and told him he had borrowed the music from the bridge of "God's Little Candles" to write one of his songs. Boyd was a fan of Kristofferson and was so overwhelmed that when he had introduced himself, he forgot to ask Kristofferson which song he used it in. Despite this success, Miller moved Boyd into the pop music genre since 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 Boyd wanted to sing rock music. 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 Boyd says he loved Miller like a father, he felt his era was passing; Boyd was later to be proven right.
After a number of novelty songs that Boyd did not like and that did not 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.), Miller called Boyd and told him that he had a new song and would be arriving in Los Angeles to play it for him. Miller set up a meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Percy Faith. The hotel provided a room with a piano for Faith to play the song, and Miller gave Boyd the lyrics to read. After reading the first lines of the song, Boyd, without hearing the music, told Miller he did not want to sing these kind of novelty songs any more, and turned it down. Miller and 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. Ironically, the novelty song that Boyd declined to record had been written by country music legend Hank Williams.
Frank Sinatra declared that Miller's choices of songs had ruined his career, and he promptly switched over to Capitol Records, where he chose his own songs and began making hit records again. However, Boyd felt a great deal of loyalty to Miller. He did not 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 many of the new rock artists of the time. Instead, he concentrated more on movies and television, and finishing his education. In retrospect, Boyd said he wished that he had gone to Sun Records.
In 1966 Boyd had a #3 hit in Brisbane, Australia with "I Would Never Do That", produced by Leon Russell and Snuff Garrett and engineered by J.J. Cale for Imperial Records. The flip side, "Will I Cry", was co-written, engineered, had backup vocals and guitar instrumentals by J.J. Cale. Boyd 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 Boyd 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 Boyd and Melcher to record for his and Jerry Moss' label, A&M Records. While recording the album, the Manson murders occurred at a house in which Melcher had previously lived, prompting Melcher to abandon the project and go into seclusion. The album was never finished.
Bobby Darin wrote and produced a record, Made In The Shade, for Boyd. Although they had met briefly at different events, Boyd and Bobby became friends while working on different movies at Universal Studios. Unfortunately, Boyd 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."
Work in film, television and Las Vegas
Boyd showed he had comedic talents in recurring roles in the television series Bachelor Father (as Howard Meechum, the boyfriend 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). In that film, Boyd portrays Howard, a student who is called as the first witness in the trial of teacher Bertram Cates.
At the time, Boyd 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 Boyd's opening night show he was applauded back onstage by the audience for multiple encores. With the audience still cheering and whistling, Sands boss, Jack Entratter, standing backstage, caught Boyd and stopped him from going back on stage after his third encore. Entratter asked Boyd 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. Boyd also appeared at the Golden Hotel in Reno, Nevada.
Boyd, along with his music, did stand-up comedy. 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 Soldier 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. Boyd 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, Boyd hung up his guitar at least temporarily and started having fun as a regular on comedy shows like Date With The Angels, 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 in the national touring company of Neil Simon's play The Star-Spangled Girl with George Hamilton and Deana Martin. Neil Simon's brother Danny Simon stated, "Initially Jimmy didn't want to do The 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, Boyd was drafted into the Army and was stationed in Texas. Separation proved unfortunate to his marriage, which ended in divorce in 1962. Boyd went to the Republic of Vietnam in 1965 with his own show for the USO. In February 1967 he also joined in Nancy Sinatra's USO trip to entertain American troops in South Vietnam.
Boyd married a second time in 1980. He and Anne Forrey Boyd had a son together, but divorced in 1984. He remained single for the rest of his life. 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, Boyd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 59. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Video on YouTube
- Hevesi, Dennis (2009-03-09). "Jimmy Boyd, Actor and Child Singer, Dies at 70". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-15.
- Nelson, Valerie J. (2009-03-09). "Jimmy Boyd dies at 70; singer of 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-03-11.