Babe Hollingbery and Johnny Bley
THE PASSAGE OF time has a way of taking life’s most colorful characters and reducing them to historical footnotes. And as the decades distance us from former Washington State football coach, Babe Hollingbery, so, too, does the true measure of his greatness get set aside, like a forgotten box of memories in an attic’s corner.
Indeed, most Cougar faithful, other than armchair Washington State football historians -- or those from that ever-shrinking population fortunate enough to bear witness to that glorious gridiron era Hollingbery oversaw from 1926-42 -- don’t fully realize why the word “legend” is such a perfect fit for Babe.
Jeff McQuarrie wants to change that.
The CEO of McQuarrie Creative, an Olympia-based marketing and video production firm, is producing and directing a documentary on Babe Hollingbery and Cougar football, unpacking that glorious crimson and gray box from the attic and transferring its contents onto video.
“I want the younger generations to know who Babe Hollingbery is,” McQuarrie told Cougfan.com. “Because in many ways we are products of those old Cougars who made a difference. Most younger alums don't know much, if anything, about Babe.”
And to whet the appetites of younger viewers, the documentary will go beyond the Hollingbery era and include generous servings of other historical Cougar football moments. The filmmaker estimates 40 percent of the film will focus on Babe, 55 percent on Cougar football history, and five percent will examine that unique love affair WSU alums have with their alma mater.
McQuarrie has already shot hours of film he must somehow edit down to 90 or 120 minutes. Footage that includes interviews with several of Hollingbery’s players—Rod Giske, Earl Brenneis, “Black Tom” Parry, and George Roswell—and dozens of notable personalities of the Cougar Nation, such as Keith Jackson, John Bohler (son of Doc), Jack Thompson, Keith Lincoln, Dick Fry, Bobo Brayton, Timm Rosenbach, Ammon McWashington, and Bill Doba. Even some non-Cougs -- like ABC’s college football commentator Bob Griese--who’ve had ringside seats to some great Cougar moments over the years get some camera time.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with his list of future interviews reading like a who’s-who of Cougar football. Even Babe, himself, makes an appearance. So to speak. Using actors equipped with football gear and other props authentic to that era, McQuarrie recreated several scenes from Hollingbery’s life on the Palouse, such as the time he talked QB Bill Tonkin out of quitting the team. Tonkin went on to play a crucial role with the 1930 squad that earned a Rose Bowl berth. The filmmaker has been careful to make these retro scenes as realistic as possible. In fact, Curt Vaniman, the actor who portrays Hollingbery, studied Babe's character and "Babe-isms" under the consultation of Parry and Fry.
Coach Babe Hollingbery and Bill Tonkin, as portrayed by Curt Vaniman and J.C. Sherritt (McQuarrie)
In order to stay true to his artistic vision and to stay on his own production timeline, McQuarrie is self-financing the project (“I’m fortunate to have a cool wife,” he said), which he hopes to have wrapped up early this fall. At that time, the yet-to-be-titled video will go on sale, possibly in conjunction with local airings on PBS affiliates throughout the state.
As with any project involving the history of Cougar athletics, McQuarrie cites Fry—the former Cougar sports information director—and his book, The Crimson and the Gray, as being an incredibly valuable research tool. He has interviewed Fry several times for the film and references his book constantly.
“Dick Fry and his wonderful book are by far the best resources anyone in my position could have,” he said.
TO SAY MCQUARRIE is on a mission when it comes to reminding the Cougar Nation of Babe Hollingbery is an understatement. “Quest” would be a better word.
McQuarrie’s project originally was intended to be a retrospective of WSU’s four Rose Bowl appearances, but quickly morphed into a Hollingbery piece when the filmmaker took note of Babe’s omnipresence over Cougar football during his research.
Bill Tonkin, as portrayed by J.C. Sherritt (McQuarrie)
“I think Babe is the greatest football coach that WSU has ever had,” he said. “He did not lose a home game until nearly mid-way through his tenth season at WSC. And this is made even more remarkable by the fact that he didn't inherit a strong program. When he took over in 1926 they had only won six games in the previous three years.”
Hollingbery compiled a 93-53-14 record in 17 years at the Cougar helm, posting a losing record in just two of those seasons.
Football was suspended at Washington State during World War II. Following the war, Hollingbery and college administrators couldn’t come to terms over his salary and, just like that, the greatest coach in Cougar football history and the college he loved unceremoniously parted ways. His dignified departure was another facet of Hollingbery’s life that endeared the coach to McQuarrie.
“He could have raised a big stink and cut ties with the university,” McQuarrie noted. “Instead, he stayed connected to Washington State and maintained a pleasant relationship. That is the coolest thing I’ve learned so far and says it all about Babe.”
George Hollingbery (Annie Klein photo)
McQuarrie’s interest in the legendary coach intensified further upon a chance meeting with Babe’s grandson, George Hollingbery. Fate seemed to be steering his film project more and more toward Babe, as his developing friendship with the Hollingberys opened his eyes further to the legend of Babe. Better still, George enthusiastically accepted when McQuarrie asked him to narrate the film.
In all fairness, saying Hollingbery and his achievements have been reduced to “historical footnotes,” is an overstatement. After all, the man has been inducted into several halls of fame, including the College Football Hall of Fame—one of just four Cougars to be so honored. In addition an East-West Shrine game annual award is named for him, as is the WSU field house (although naming the stadium in his honor would seem more fitting). Even our own annual awards of excellence at CF.C have been dubbed “The Hollingberys.”
However, there should be no question regarding Hollingbery’s significance to the history of Cougar football-- and the university-- once McQuarrie’s labor of love is released. Like the protagonist in the movie Field of Dreams, who listened to the voice in the corn fields telling him “If you build it, he will come…” McQuarrie has put much of his life on hold, following a similar muse in order to ensure Babe Hollingbery takes his place at the top of Cougar football annals…right where he belongs.
Filmmaker Jeff McQuarrie (Annie Klein photo)