When you think of celebrity photographers you wouldn’t think of the famous Gary G. Watson, you would think of the paparazzi. Those photographers that will chase a celebrity down just to get unflattering pictures or very personal pictures that 90% of the celebrities would like to
avoid. Or you think of those photographers like the ones that chased down Princess Diana which tragic accident lead to her death.
Well Gary G. Watson has set a more positive tone of photographing celebrities since the 1967’s. You have not seen any true photography until you have seen the amazing work of Gary G Watson.
On March 21, 2012 I was at an auto shop that my mother works at getting my precious car fixed once again. That’s where I first met Gary. He came in the shop because he was having issues with his Volts Wagon. Gary handed my mother one of his business cars and stepped out of the shop for a minute. My mother then told me that Gary was a celebrity photographer and I said to her laughing, “Yea, okay.” I wasn’t really taking that serious. All I could picture was him taking pictures of the celebrities that anyone could take and I wasn’t impressed at all. So Gary came back into the shop with a photo album and told us to take a look. On the cover of the book was a picture of Gary in his younger days standing in front of a Rolls Royce and the album was titled, Man With A Thousand Faces.” So I opened up the album and was blown away. There Gary was, in every single picture with any celebrity you can think of. From Frank Sinatra to James Brown to Mother Teresa, Gary was in every picture. Now I have seen people take pictures of the celebrities but never did they get in the picture themselves. This truly amazed me. What an ingenious idea this man had. There weren’t just a few pictures either. It was a full album with pictures in it that clearly dated from 1967 to date. Gary had me sold. From that point on I wanted to know everything and anything that I could learn about Gary G. Watson, “The Man With A Thousand Faces”. So here is where his story begins.
Gary was born in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love on May 13, 1946 at University of Penn Hospital. His mother was Olivia Watson and father was Alfred Aaron Watson. They had five children. So Gary had three sisters and one brother. His brother was the youngest Gary was the oldest and they were all separated by 2 years. They were Carol (who passed away), Valarie, Debbie and Jeffrey (whom is incarcerated for murder). Gary was brought up and raised in the “Black Bottom” area of Philadelphia, which today it is just called “The Bottom”. It was called “Black Bottom” because most of the black people during that time lived in that part of the city. It started in 1800’s. Gary lived at 3824 Pearl Street which was his grandmother’s house. He attended Charles Richard Drew school in grade school, but he also went to about nine different school altogether in twelve years. Gary also attended school in Atlantic City, NJ and Brooklyn, New York. He attended so many schools mainly because his parent would constantly separate.
Gary was drafted into the service in 1965-1967. Gary was stationed at Kitzingen, Germany. But Gary did his training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. During his training in SC, it was his first time experiencing that display of “Jim Crow”. It was the first place that he seen racism on such an open level. His first time coming off the base there was a Laundromat across the street that said, “White entrance only, Colored entrance around the back.”
So how did Gary G. Watson become the face beside the celebrity faces? Well he believes it comes from the fact that his family had such colorful personalities. Gary grew up in a house with two murders. His cousin and brother were convicted of murder. During this time Gary was living with his grandmother and grandfather George and Cora Bailey because of the domestic violent between his mother and father. But during the good times Gary used to go to the movies with his mother and father. He went to see “The Wizard of Oz” with his mother and that was one of the scariest moments of his life as a child. Gary remembers meeting Margaret Hamilton (The Wicked Witch of the West) during his times as a photographer and telling her that she scared him as a child.
Let’s get into how Gary became such a charmer. I believe that his charm, personality and his friendly manner is what has been able to put him in all the situations he’s been in to be able to get so many celebrity pictures. By Gary doing a lot of moving around to different neighbor hoods with his family, he was able to make a lot of friends. In Philadelphia during that time there was a lot of gangs. So by Gary meeting different people he was able to move through each neighborhood with no drama. That helped Gary become a people’s person at a very young age.
Gary use to go to the Uptown Theater to see the Georgie Woods show. During that time the shows were only 50 cents. One show Gray got to see Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Four Tops, and Stevie Wonder. He also got to see a Jackie Wilson show where James Brown came from the back of the audience down the ramp to the stage with Jackie and they both started dancing. Also at the age of 14 Gary got to shake the hand of Sam Cooke.
The first celebrity as a child Gary met was Georgie Woods. When he was a teenager Gary started a group called “The Brother Orchid Social Society”. They were called “BOSS”. It started from Gary being a gang member. One day he decided start the club and split the gang in half. They decide to throw parties and wear jackets and ties. They became so big that the Philadelphia Tribune let Gary write articles about the clubs events. Then Gary got to meet Muhammad Ali in the service in Frankfurt, Germany. They knuckle fist punch each other hands. Muhammad was there to fight Karl Mildenberger on September 10, 1966. He won that fight with a KO.
On April 4, 1967 Gary saw Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte and Bella Abzug in New York on Broadway marching down the street. So Gary begins to follow them. They marched to the Riverside Church where Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech about the Vietnam War. After the speech Gary got to go up on stage and shake Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Harry Belafonte, Stokely Carmichael and Bella Abzug hand. Gary got to have a conversation with Martin Luther King Jr. He told him that he had just got out of the army, he was a veteran and he had only been out the service for about ten days. He told Martin that he also agreed that the War should stop. He remembers Martin being so happy and saying to him, “I’m glad you got the message.” Martin worried that people would think that he was for the Vietcong’s, but he really just wanted to see the war stop. Gary didn’t have a camera and he remembers walking away wishing he had one. So after he left there Gary was walking down Broadway and he runs into Ed Sullivan. He told Ed he had just met Martin Luther King Jr. and a few others and he didn’t get to take their picture. So he asked Ed that if he was able to get a camera would he let him take a picture with him. Ed told Gary to come back to his studio that Sunday. He said for him to come back stage after the “Ed Sullivan Show” and he would let him take a picture. Gary was excited. So that week Gary went out and bought a Kodak Browning camera. Then he went to a jazz club in Philly to get a picture of Arthur Prysock. They announced at the club that Tammi Terrell was sitting in the audience. Arthur came over to talk to Tammi and after they finished talking that’s when Gary got his very first picture with Arthur Prysock and Tammi Terrell. After that Gary went back to New York that Sunday to get his famous picture with Ed Sullivan. This was the birth of the celebrity photos from Gary G. Watson.
Gary has been interviewed by many publications like Ebony, Philadelphia Magazine, Philadelphia Inquire, Swag Magazine, Philadelphia’s Visions Philadelphia Tribune and more. But mind you Gary G.Watson has done all of this work on his own and has not made a profit on any picture. He has spent his hard earned money while following his dream. There was one story that I have to say is my favorite story and one of Gary’s favorite photos, it the on with Michael Jackson. Gary got to get a picture with Michael the first time he met Michael Jackson at his concert. Michael was performing with his brothers. Gary knew that Michael would leave the building before everyone else. So Gary went around to where Michael’s car was and lined his pictures in front of the door. When Michael came outside he saw Gary’s pictures and was intrigued. So that got him to take a picture with Michael. The second time he met Michael was around 1992 or 1993. Michael was traveling from California to DC. Gary was working for Amtrak at the time and his supervisor came to him and told him that someone booked a whole car for Michael Jackson. The supervisor wanted to know if it was legit. So Gary told him that if someone doesn’t change the reservation within four hours then it wasn’t legit. When booking trips for Michael they usually use a code name. Someone messed up. Sure enough some change the name on the reservation. So, Gary knew that it was legit. So here is the catch, no one is allowed to book a whole car on a public train. You are not allowed to privatize a public train. So they booked every seat but one. That one seat Gary decided to book for himself. So when he got on the car, Michael only had four people with him and a lot of luggage. The luggage was barricaded against the doors. No one could cross through the train also because Michael was in the last car. Gary met Michael’s manager, his hair dresser and his body guard. Michael also had a little boy traveling with him. Gary thinks it was the little boy that they had taken him to court over molestation. So because of that little four hour leak had people was at every train stop with signs and screaming I love you Michael. During the ride Michael finally came out to talk to Gary. They talked about the first time they met and how Gary had the photos line up for Michael to view and how unique that was. They also talked about why he was wearing the black mask. I remember when Michael was wearing the black masked that covered his nose and his mouth. I remember thinking he was sick and then there was rumors going around saying that his nose fell off or he didn’t have a nose anymore because of too much surgery. But here is what it really was, Michael had three lesions on his face and he was heading to DC to see a dermatologist. That simple. It’s funny what the media comes up with and it took the famous Gary G. Watson to book a seat and learn the truth from the man himself.
Gary and Michael enjoyed the ride looking at 25 pictures that Gary brought with him. Pictures of Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, John Wayne, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and more. Gary didn’t get to get a picture with Michael this time because he was wearing a mask on his face, but he did get Michael to sign the picture he took with him before and also he has a picture of Michael waving back to him from a cart he was being driven away in from the train, after leaving the train. That to me was truly amazing and my favorite story from Gary. There are so many more that I could sit for months and write about them. I admit it took me a while to accomplish this small story about Gary G. Watson. I didn’t want to it to feel like I left out anything important. But Gary G. Watson is truly an amazing individual. He accomplishes getting pictures of the celebrities like no other. I know no one will be able to match his work. Many of the celebrities that he took pictures of no longer exist on this planet. They all have passed away. So his collection of actors, artist and politicians are like no other. Gary is a global renaissance man. He has traveled worldwide to take pictures with celebrities such as Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, Alicia Keys, Johnny Depp, Tyler Perry, Beyoncé, Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Teena Marie, Bill Gates, Elton John, John Wayne, Nelson Mandela, Richard Pryor, every single one of the “James Bond” actor and over 5,000 more.
It has been a privilege to work with such a driven positive individual.
Check out Gary G Watson’s work at http://www.worldfamousgarygwatson.com/
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