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Jimmy Boyd, at 70; singer famed for Christmas classic

Freckle-faced Jimmy Boyd was a singing sensation in 1952 for his recording of ''I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.'' Freckle-faced Jimmy Boyd was a singing sensation in 1952 for his recording of ''I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.'' (1952 File/Associated Press)
By Valerie J. Nelson
Los Angeles Times / March 13, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Jimmy Boyd, a singer best known for recording the Christmas novelty hit "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in 1952 when he was 13, died Saturday. He was 70.

Mr. Boyd, who also was a child actor, died of cancer at a Santa Monica convalescent hospital.

Three weeks after the yuletide kiss-and-tell was released, the song was number one on the Billboard charts, selling 2 million records in fewer than 10 weeks. Tens of millions of copies of the much-covered song written by Tommie Connors have been sold over the decades, according to the Allmusic Internet database.

It has been interpreted by artists, including the Jackson Five, John Mellencamp, and Amy Winehouse. Molly Bee was also 13 when she had a hit warbling about the unlikely pair kissing "underneath the mistletoe last night." Bee died last month at 69.

Although it came to be regarded as a holiday classic, the ditty about a child who can't understand why Mommy is cheating on Daddy with Santa Claus caused controversy in some quarters when the original featuring Mr. Boyd's childish treble was released.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston condemned the song for implying even a tenuous link between sex and the religious holiday, and record stations in several markets banned it. The ban was lifted only after the 13-year-old Boyd appeared before church leaders to talk about the lyrics.

He was born in a shack in McComb, Miss. His father, Leslie, was a carpenter from a big musical family - Mr. Boyd's grandfather was known in Mississippi as Fiddler Bill and had 21 children.

At 4, the boy started playing the guitar. After winning a local TV talent contest, he appeared on "The Frank Sinatra Show" and was signed to a recording contract with Columbia. His first recording success was with a country song, "(The Angels Are Lighting) God's Little Candles."

His recording career would last until 1967 and encompass hits including "Dennis the Menace," sung with Rosemary Clooney, and several duets with Frankie Laine, including "Poor Little Piggy Bank" and "Tell Me a Story."

On television, Mr. Boyd had roles from 1958 to 1961 in "Bachelor Father," a sitcom that starred John Forsythe, and he played the teenage nephew of Betty White's character on "Date With the Angels," a late 1950s sitcom.

In 1960, Mr. Boyd appeared as a biology student in "Inherit the Wind" with Spencer Tracy.

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