John McCabe (writer)

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Not to be confused with Christopher John McCabe, British scientist and novelist using the pen name John McCabe. For other people with the same name, see John McCabe (disambiguation).

John McCabe (November 14, 1920 – September 27, 2005), born John Charles McCabe III, was an American Shakespearean scholar and author, whose first book was the authorized biography of the comedy team known as Laurel and Hardy. This joint biography, as well as his separate books on each man, has been reprinted.

Early life and education[edit]

John Charles McCabe III (always called Jack)[1] was born in Detroit, Michigan. His father was an engineer; the son loved acting from an early age, and at seven started to perform professionally with the Jessie Bonstelle Stock Company in the city.[1]

During World War II, he served with the United States Army Air Forces in Europe, from 1943-1945.[1] After returning to Detroit, he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Detroit. In the 1940s, he was active in the Catholic Theater of Detroit. He earned a master's in fine art from Fordham University in New York, and a doctorate from the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham in England.[2]


McCabe first taught at Wayne State University. He was appointed as a professor and scholar of Shakespeare at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. There he headed the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts for many years. He also kept his interest in popular culture: movies, Broadway plays and musicals, and comedies.

His Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, first published in 1961, is credited with helping establish the critical reputation of the 20th-century comedy duo. He also wrote separate books about each man: The Comedy World of Stan Laurel (1974) and Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy (1989).

As a professor, McCabe pushed his students in writing and speech. He and two other professors established the Unicorn Hunters, and annually published a word to be banned from use on campus - one year it was "awesome."[2]

In 1964 Dr. McCabe was founder of the international Laurel and Hardy society, The Sons of the Desert, named after one of the team's films. He took the title "Exhausted Ruler." The organization expanded in the US and overseas, having 200 chapters at one time. He told a reporter that he modeled the group on the Baker Street Irregulars, a fan organization for Sherlock Holmes, of which he had been a member.[2]

Dr. McCabe was known as a show-business biographer. His other books include George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway (1973); Cagney by Cagney (1976), the ghostwritten autobiography of James Cagney; Charlie Chaplin (1978), and Cagney (1997), an authorized biography.

Marriage and family[edit]

He met his first wife, Peggy Richards, while they were both involved in the Catholic Theater of Detroit in the 1940s. They continued with their interest in theatre and together they produced, directed and acted in numerous summer stock productions in Milford, Pennsylvania.

In 1962, John married Vija Valda Zarina, a Latvian ballet dancer/choreographer. They had three children together: Linard, Sean and Deirdre.[2] She died in 1984.[3]

Late in life Dr. McCabe married the former Rosina Lawrence, an actress and co-star in one of Laurel & Hardy's movies, whom he met at the first international convention of the Sons.[2] The McCabes divided their time between British Landing, Mackinac Island (where McCabe had been a professor in residence at Mackinac College) and New York.

A few years before his death, he married his wife Karen. He lived the remainder of his years full time on Mackinac Island, where he had gone for the summers for 27 years. He was given the title locally of "Shakespearean in Residence" and gave readings annually at the Grand Hotel.[2] McCabe died just before the Sons of the Desert were due to celebrate their 40th anniversary.


  • Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy: An Affectionate Biography. Doubleday, 1961; reprint edition, Robson Books, Ltd., 1976; revised edition, New American Library, 1985. ISBN 1-86105-606-0
  • The Comedy World of Stan Laurel. Doubleday, 1974; reprint edition, Past Times, 1990. ISBN 1-86105-780-6
  • Babe: The Life of Oliver Hardy. Citadel Press, 1990; reprint edition, Robson Books, 2004. ISBN 1-86105-781-4
  • Cagney. Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. ISBN 0-679-44607-9


  1. ^ a b c "John McCabe", The Daily Telegraph, 17 October 2005, accessed 9 October 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f "John McCabe, 84; Professor Championed Laurel and Hardy", Los Angeles Times, 30 September 2005, accessed 9 October 2013
  3. ^ "John McCabe, Noted Show Business Biographer, Dies at Age 85", Mackinac Island Town Crier, October 8, 2005. Retrieved July 3, 2013.