Montague the Magnificent

He was a golfing wonder, a dapper strongman and the toast of the Hollywood smart set—then his past caught up with him

On the golf course, Montague would bet on anything, even if it involved equipment not usually found in a golf bag. (Bettmann/ Corbis)
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Even with the closest of his new friends—and he lived in Oliver Hardy's house for a while—he shared little of his own story. No one knew where he was from, what forces had driven him to Hollywood. No one knew where he made his money or how he supported himself. (It's still unknown.) He was a mystery and apparently wanted to stay that way. If someone took his picture, he would ask for the film. He would pay for the film, then destroy it.

The role of local legend suited him fine. He could have—and would have—lived this way forever. No pictures. No publicity. Except this was Hollywood. Except this was the Lakeside Golf Club.

Grantland Rice was a member of the Lakeside Golf Club.

Rice was not just the most famous sportswriter in the country, he was a one-man sports conglomerate. By one estimate, he probably had made more money in the Roaring Twenties than any sports figure except Jack Dempsey. His column was printed in more than 100 newspapers, read by more than ten million people. He wrote books, feature articles, scripts for movie shorts, had his own radio show, edited a magazine called American Golfer.

He was based in New York, now at the Sun newspaper, but he spent two months of every year in Los Angeles. The slow time in sports ran from the end of the football season until the start of baseball's spring training, so every December Rice and his wife would head west. They would visit their only daughter, Floncy, an actress who lived in Hollywood, and Rice would cover the Rose Bowl.

He would also play some golf in the winter sun. He loved golf.

"Golf is 20 percent mechanics and technique," he once wrote. "The other 80 percent is philosophy, humor, tragedy, romance, melodrama, companionship, camaraderie, cussedness and conversation."

A scratch golfer at one time, he had played in foursomes with most of the greats. He was a friend and great admirer of Bobby Jones, the winner of golf's Grand Slam in 1930. Not only did Rice cover major tournaments, he also wrote columns on technique, on the importance of the left arm or a good grip in the golfer's swing.

Floncy had joined Lakeside when she moved to town, so Rice followed her. He played rounds with most of the famous faces at the club. It was inevitable that he would play with John Montague.

Rice's usual Lakeside partner was Guy Kibbee, the comedian, and they journeyed to the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles one afternoon to be part of a sixsome with actor Frank Craven, Northwestern football coach Dick Hanley, Oliver Hardy and, yes, Montague. Rice had heard the stories about the incredible drives, about the dead birds and the baseball bat, shovel and rake, but he said he believed "only about 20 percent of them."


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