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Babe Hardy's Friends
An enquirer asked if the famously private Babe Hardy (in domestic life) had a wide circle of friends in Hollywood and elsewhere, so here's an attempt at some kind of answer. But precisely because Hardy kept his private life out of the limelight, particularly his charitable and benevolent activities, the picture is not entirely clear nor complete. But an impression is possible from the available information, and - as always - anyone with further information is encouraged to contribute; this is after all, a discussion forum.

In his early days in Madison, Georgia, Norvell Hardy "committed" the worst crime of childhood - to be different. He was abnormally tall for his age and the archetypal "fat boy". The butt of jokes, taunting and bullying, he never made close friends at school in Madison. His confidante and companion was his half-brother Henry, with whom he shared a love of sport and music.
When his mother took the family to the former state capital of  Georgia, Milledgeville, Norvell and Henry were enrolled at the Georgia Military College. Norvell became close friends with two fellow-students - Arthur "Skater" Skinner and Erwin Sibley. He was also popular with the girls, especially two sisters in the Miller family, Edyth and Althea. The latter will be remembered for appearing in This Is Your Life recalling her schooldays with Hardy.
His first real girl-friend was Buena-Vista Barrett, whose father owned their usual meeting place, a cotton warehouse. They were also seen around town holding hands whilst peering into the magical Wooten's Toy Shop, and when Hardy frequented the City Bakery for his doughnuts and macaroons, and at C.E. Green's Grocery store, where he bought his favourite soft drinks.
After the school days, Skinner got a job as a salesman at Myrick's department store and Sibley went on to study law and eventually become a noted local judge.
Hardy was offered a position at the third movie house in Milledgeville by Capt. Joe Williams, who had bought the newly-opened Palace Theatre from J.F. Kidd, firing the manager in the process. With his evenings all spoken for, Hardy's social life was more or less on hold.
In Jacksonville, Hardy got a job at the Lubin studios where in making his second movie Back To The Farm he worked with Bert Tracey, who would become his closest and longest-enduring friend.
Tracey had been a successful horse-race jockey in Australia but had turned to acting and adopted Florida as his home. Any doubts about re-starting life in a foreign country were allayed when he met Hardy. As he said in an interview reported by John McCabe: "Babe was one of the funniest and most charming men I ever met..." The friendship also benefited from Hardy's love of horses, and there was nobody better than Tracey to discuss them with.
There are reports around this time of Hardy befriending another fellow actor, Raymond (sometimes "Roy") McKee and the two of them going off to try their luck in New York. The best estimate of any such trip was for three days in the case of Babe, but it's certain that Babe and Tracey went to New York for a time after the USA joined in WW1. Tracey was attracted to the many small film studios that had appeared around NYC at that time - including Edison - but Babe saw the chance to become noticed as the singing star he really wanted to be. Fate took control and the two men found themselves in front of cameras of various vintages in tiny "studios" like Casino and Novelty, and realising this was to be his place in life, he and Tracey returned to the big movie centre, Jacksonville. This small, sleepy American town had become the original  home of motion pictures before Hollywood.
As with all Hardy's friends, Tracey was keen on golf, and as with Hardy's special friends, he was also keen on fishing. The two enjoyed much of their leisure time together in these pursuits. When the Lubin studio became Vim in 1915, Hardy enjoyed a continuous flow of work and Tracey made a few movies with Florida Films. These included a couple of the alliterative "Fatty" series but with Nathan Dewing as Fatty, rather than Babe Hardy (as in Fatty's Fatal Fun).
In the Roach days, Hardy played golf at the Lakeside Country Club, in a "foursome" that consisted of himself, the suave actor Adolphe Menjou and his two close friends Guy Kibbee and Frank Craven. Kibbee was 10 years older than Babe and Craven was old enough to have been his father. And Babe Hardy had grown up without a father.
Hardy, Craven and Kibbee were in the same profession generally, lived in the same neighbourhood and shared a love of golf, so it was natural that friendships were formed. Film director William Seiter was also a member of Lakeside and is said to be the only club golfer capable of giving Babe a run for his money, as he also reached a high standard of skill. But Hardy always said that his golf nemesis was W. C. Fields, who often beat him hands down.
Guy Kibbee began his showbiz career as a live entertainer on the Mississippi river boats and drifted into the film industry at Warner Brothers via a career on the stage.
And whilst Hardy regarded Craven as his closest friend, he was more involved with Kibbee and they often went on fishing trips by boat off Catalina Island. They shared a love of several outdoor pursuits, but one was not so much to Hardy's liking.
Kibbee was fond of hunting wildlife and whilst Hardy was unmoved by shooting down game birds and the occasional duck, Kibbee was keen on larger game, and when Hardy had to look into the eyes of a dying deer shot by Kibbee, he decided to put his rifle away.
Frank Craven started off as an actor, most famously in Thornton Wilder's Our Town alongside Guy Kibbee, but turned more and more to screenplay writing, production and direction. In one of Richard Bann's scholarly articles, he reports that Roach had said: "Why Craven? He was a friend of Babe Hardy, and Babe was always talking the guy up so I should hire him."
Roach was speaking about Sons of the Desert, which Craven is credited with writing. This is undisputed except there are many references to others contributing to the script, not least the Director Bill Seiter, Stan Laurel, Glenn Tryon and Jack Barty.
There are also reports of a six-some golfing group comprising the usual four plus Dick Hanley, a professional football coach, and Jack "The Mysterious" Montague. The latter was actually Laverne Moore, a fugitive criminal (although acquitted at a later trial). He is said to have been a close friend of Babe Hardy, to the point at which he lived with the Hardy couple for a while during 1937. He is also said to have been an extraordinary man in terms of strength and skill, and was reportedly able to lift the 300-pound Babe with one hand and hold him off the ground. More than that, he is spoken of as the greatest golfer of all time, with almost super-human skills such as hitting a nominated bird in a passing flock with a driven golf ball, and beating Bing Crosby convincingly - but using a baseball bat for a driver, a shovel as an "iron" and a rake-handle ( used like a pool cue) for "putting". Crosby is said to have accepted this extraordinary defeat with dignity, and there may be something about it in a Crosby biography somewhere, but none of these accounts has been verified.
The Lakeside Country Club certainly lists Montague among its famous luminaries, together with Crosby, Hardy, Craven, Fields and many others. But he is not described as extraordinary in any way, and it's said that Montague declined to take part in tournaments, which is why he didn't win any. There is no explanation of how he picked Hardy up with one hand - what he got hold of, where he held him and what Hardy was suspended by - and the story of him living with Hardy has no real authority, any more than the close friendship. Montague seems to be a passing friend to Hardy and nobody seems to know how he supported himself. There are mentions of Montague living with his mother, but the label "Mysterious" is certainly apt in this case. Guy Kibbee's pairs partner - sports journalist Grantland Rice - said he only believed 20% of what he heard about Montague, and that was generous.
The golf course was almost certainly the conduit for William Seiter into the Roach studio and "out of the blue" he was named as Director of the forthcoming feature film Sons of the Desert.
Roach was more than impressed with Seiter and the two men became close friends for a long time after the movie. Hardy and Seiter continued their friendly rivalry on the fairways and Seiter had of course now worked with Craven and so Babe's circle of friends widened a little. Babe had also been instrumental in bringing Jack Barty to California in 1933, following the Laurel and Hardy tour of Britain in 1932, where Barty had been talent-scouted.
The script conferences for Sons of the Desert were more like gatherings of the Friends of Oliver Hardy, with the exception of Bert Tracey. He was not sidelined though, and remained friends with Babe more or less throughout their lives. When Stan and Babe made their tours of Europe, Tracey tagged along as official Wardrobe Man.
Hardy was a warm and generous man, and not just towards his friends. When he found strangers on hard times he would help them out and in many cases put them back on their feet. Bert Tracey gave him the soubriquet "Mr. Soft Touch". Imagine how kind he was to his friends....

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