Carl Harbaugh

born: 10 November 1886
Washington, District of Columbia,
United States of America
died: 26 February 1960
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California,
United States of America
(age 73)

American actor who was a key gag writer for Hal Roach during the 1920s.
His father was Louis J. Harbaugh, his mother Maria Louise Spraul Harbaugh. Harbaugh’s career was divided between writing scenarios and acting. Throughout much of his writing career, especially during his tenure at the Hal Roach Studio, contributing writers, gagmen, and scenarists who rewrote the work composed by others seldom received any kind of on-screen credit. Thus, much of Harbaugh’s work has to be inferred through other sources. His work in the scenario department at Roach seems to have begun in the late 1920s, and continued through at least 1933, given his on-screen acting part in The Devil’s Brother. Charley Chase’s The Panic Is On (1931) also contains a reference to Harbaugh, as Charley’s book in that film, Force and Will, contains as author credit “Carlito Von Harbaugh,” perhaps a sly way for Harbaugh to get his name into the film some way. (The “Von” might be explained by the fact his mother had been born in Germany). During much of his time at Roach, writing credits were assigned departmentally to H.M. Walker, and seldom to individual writers. It’s possible during these years Harbaugh contributed work to other film studios.
Although it’s not clear exactly when Harbaugh began work in theater, either as writer or actor, his career was well underway no later than 1913. A review of the play “The Fascinating Widow,” starring female impersonator Julian Eltinge, in the Portland OR Morning Oregonian for 15 December 1913, mentions “Carl Harbough” in the role of “Turnbull Leffingwell,” and adds “Edward Uarvule, as the over-plump college trainer who ‘sics’ the hero into impersonating a girl, and Carl Harbough [sic] as a freshman, are a team of clever comedians.” Early credits are sometimes difficult to find for Harbaugh; his name is often misspelled in existing documentation, alternating between its correct spelling and “Harbough” or “Horbough.” This theatrical review is interesting too, in that Harbaugh’s role as a college assistant trainer looks forward a good 14 years to his similar part as the crew coach in Buster Keaton’s College (1927). The confusion over spelling of his last name seems to have been intentional, as many sources of the 1910s give his name as “Harbough,” including his WWI draft registration. That particular document is dated June 5, 1917, and lists “Carl Lee Harbough” with a birth date of November 10, 1888, clipping two years off his actual age (he was then 30, not 28 as written on the card). His residence is given as “427 Ft. Wash[ington] Ave[nue], N.Y.”, an address on the upper west side of Manhattan (today, this address faces the approaches to the George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson River). His occupation is given as “Motion Picture Director” for the William Fox film company, and he claimed exemption from the draft based on support of his wife, child, and mother. Physical description: height “Tall”, build “Stout” (although contemporary still photos from films suggest he was fairly slender), “Brown” eyes and “brown” hair. Curiously, although the name on the registration card clearly reads “Harbough” for his last name, Carl’s signature clearly reads “Harbaugh.”
At some time in 1915 or before, Carl married Frances Lawson. The New York State census of 1915 lists Carl and Frances as a married couple. They had a daughter, Harriett, born February 24, 1916. Frances died in January 1922. Carl never remarried. Harriett seems to have spent some time living with relatives of her mother’s (a passenger list for the liner Minnewaska, dated in Sept. 1927, lists Harriett as living in Baltimore MD, and Carl’s wife’s family was from Maryland; Harriett was traveling with a Mrs. Hattie Bouis, who seems to have been her aunt, as Frances Lawson Harbaugh had Bouis relatives).
Harbaugh seems to have lived in New York, with possible trips out to California for film work, until the mid-1920s. In 1922 he’s listed among the passengers arriving at San Francisco aboard the liner Tahiti, which sailed from Papeete August 23 and arrived September 4. This was undoubtedly his return from working on the 1923 film Lost and Found on a South Sea Island, directed by Raoul Walsh, for a number of other people associated with the film (including cinematographers Clyde DeVinna and Glenn Robert Kershner, and actors Antonio Moreno, House Peters, and William V. Mong) were aboard. Also aboard were the British writer D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, who’d embarked on the Tahiti in Sydney Australia and were en route to New Mexico, where they would spend the fall and winter. In a letter to a friend in England,Lawrencedescribed his fellow travelers, including Harbaugh: “We’ve about 60 passengers in the first saloon [i.e., first class] – mostly quite nice, but . . . imagine 25 days confined with 60 Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, and French – never able to get away from them . . . At Tahiti we took on a crowd of cinema people who have been making a film, Captain Blackbird [evidently a working title]. They are rather like successful shop-girls, and the men like any sort of men at the sea-side. Utterly undistinguished. That’s how it all is – so undistinguished, so common.”
Despite the carousing (or maybe because of it), Harbaugh seems to have retained cordial relations with Walsh, who often cast him in his films, such as High Sierra and Harbaugh’s last known credit, 1957’s Band of Angels. As reflected on the passenger list of the Tahiti, Harbaugh’s residence in 1922 was the Christie Hotel, Hollywood. Harbaugh seems to have lingered in California for another six months after his voyage on the Tahiti. Another passenger manifest, for the SS Metapan in March 1923, lists Harbaugh returning to New York from a voyage originating in California. Here, Harbaugh’s address is given as 130 W. 44th St., New York NY. This was the address of the Lambs Club, a well-known theatrical fraternity, so Harbaugh may have had no fixed home at this time.
In 1930, Carl was living at 6679 Yucca St. in downtown Los Angeles, sharing his home with his daughter Harriett, 14, and mother Louise, 60. The Harbaughs were renting this home for $80 a month. Carl’s occupation was “writer – short stories,” an unusual description for someone whose main line of work was film comedy scenarios. Eighty dollars a month was a fair amount of rent in 1930 Los Angeles, but whatever the size of the home the Harbaugh family occupied, it’s long since been replaced by urban sprawl. (Although a search has been made to see if Harbaugh published any fiction in contemporary magazines, nothing under his name has turned up, so it’s unclear if Harbaugh listed himself in the census as a short story writer because it sounded more exalted than writing for film, or if he perhaps used a pen name for writing for other media than movies). Oddly, Carl’s mother Louise, then living in New York City, also listed him on her report to the census taker. Although Louise got her son’s age wrong (he was then 43, not 40), she indicated he was a widower under “Marital Status,” and herself as a widow, age 60 (which would seem to be incorrect, unless she gave birth to Carl at age 16).
By 1940 Harbaugh was living at 12216 Riverside Drive, in the Sherman Oaks district of Los Angeles, with his mother Louise. Their home was valued at $3000. Carl, who was the informant for the census taker, reported his age as 52 and Louise’s as 74. (He was actually 53). Carl completed 3 years of college, occupation “actor – motion pictures,” but had been out of work for over a year, i.e. since at least April of 1939. His 1939 income was $200, indicating he hadn’t worked much that year. They derived a little income from renting out a room in their home for $20 a month to Milford Williams, a landscaper. Both Carl and his mother had been living at the same address at least 5 years, and Williams had been their tenant at least that long.
Harriett, Carl’s daughter, was unfortunately no longer at home. Some time prior to 1940 she entered the Norwalk State Hospital near Los Angeles (now Metropolitan State Hospital), a facility for the mentally ill. She is listed on the 1940 census as a patient there, age 24. Her education had ceased at the end of grade 7, i.e. in about 1928. Indications are she spent time in the 1930s traveling between her mother’s relatives in Maryland and her father’s home in California (she’s listed among the passengers on the incoming liner Virginia of the Panama Pacific Line arriving in LA on 2 April 1932). The fact Harriett could travel leisurely (and more expensively) by ship, rather than by train, suggests Carl remained fairly well-off in this period.
Carl Harbaugh passed away at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, CA, at 3 a.m. on February 26, 1960. His occupation was “Writer-Director” at the “Fox Studio,” though his last recorded credits as either date from the mid-1940s, and none were at Fox; his last known credit as an actor, like many of his roles, was at Warner Bros. He’d been living in California since approximately 1920. Cause of death was listed as “Acute myocardial infarcture” due to “arteriosclerotic liver disease,” a condition he’d had for 5 years. His reputed heavy drinking had caught up with him. Although it’s not recorded when he entered the Home, his last address was 12214 La Maida, North Hollywood, only 1 block north of his former residence on Riverside. Oddly, his middle initial on the death certificate is given as M; all other sources list L (for Lee).
Real name: Carl Lee Harbaugh
Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography.


The Devil's Brother
Second woodchopper

Leone Cass Baer, “Julian Eltinge Is In Star Role,” The Morning Oregonian, 15 December 1913 [review of “The Fascinating Woman,” with Harbaugh in a supporting role in the cast]
D.H.Lawrence, letter to Mary Cannan, on board R.M.S. Tahiti, 31 August 1922, in The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: Volume 4,
June 1921-March 1924 (Cambridge University Press, 1987)
(passenger manifest for SS Tahiti, 1922)
(1930 census)
Robert Winslow (extensive research and biography)

This page was last updated on: 25 May 2021