In September 1934 Babe wrote an old friend, Tiny Scurlock, sports editor of the Beaumont Journal: "I said I would not come home again unless I'd made about or not less than $10,000. Well, I'm ready to come—and I have some—I'm really earning it. Although I did spend 18 hundred for a new Buick car—which I think I'll trade for a new LaSalle. They're pretty good looking—have you seen them?" She spent money freely on racy cars, but Babe was a sharp, cautious person with money, always on the lookout for a better way to invest it.
She was generous in supporting her hard-pressed family but Ruth Scurlock, Tiny's widow, remembers how some of Babe's six brothers and sisters "got to be very bitter when she did not give them more, more, more. They had their hands out all the time." One sister who did not was Lillie. Now 66, she fondly remembers the steady stream of gifts. Thumbing through a scrapbook recently, she came upon a photograph of Babe wearing a sleek, silky gown, leaning over a pool table, cue in hand. Lillie chuckled and said, "That there's my weddin' gown. Babe sent it to me. She sent me all the clothes they gave her for publicity pictures. Oh, my, I always had lovely things—shoes, dresses, furs. I was better dressed than anybody in Beaumont."
Babe spent much of her extra money on her golf game. She became complusive about the sport, hitting balls at driving ranges for as much as 10 straight hours when she was not appearing on the baseball or basketball circuit. By 1935 she had become good enough to go on tour with Gene Sarazen, who recalls, "She worked hard. I only know of one golfer who practiced more—Ben Hogan. She learned her golf by watching. She'd stand 10 feet away from me and watch everything I did. Then she'd go out and practice for hours."
Through the years Babe's commitment to sport had affected her social life. At Beaumont High she had few dates. When she was working for Employers Casualty in Dallas, Tiny Scurlock noted, "Babe had no use for 'sheiks' and they soon learned that." Somewhere along the line she did become a smooth, even elegant, ballroom dancer. She dated and apparently dazzled some of the men she traveled with. One was a 6'4" fellow who played for her All-American team; another was the man who managed her tour with Sarazen. When she was on the road with the House of David, she wrote a cryptic letter to Tiny on the stationery of St. Louis' Majestic Hotel ("Absolutely Fireproof, 200 Rooms—200 Baths"): "I got a letter from home and also a clipping which I will enclose about it being said from Walter Wentchels Column that I was married or going to be—well, he may be right, but I'm not saying a thing. I may be married, but if so it isn't to one of the Wisker boys—I'll guarantee you that."
In 1938 Babe met wrestler George Zaharias. He was a large fellow, jolly and bombastic, six feet tall, 225 pounds. They were introduced while playing in the Los Angeles Open. (Babe was one of two women to qualify and play in this major event. The other was Alice Bauer.) The day after they met, Babe took George home to meet her sister Lillie and her mother, who were living with her near the Paramount studios. Lillie recalls: "The day she brought George home she said, 'Lillie, fix your hair, we're havin' company tonight.' Then I saw that big ol' man standin' at the door, and I thought, 'Lord! Where'd he come from!' And my Mama she made Norwegian meatballs for dinner. Babe, she didn't fall in love till George come along. But he was it!"
George recalls that night, too: "When I got ready to leave, Babe's mother patted me on the cheek and said, 'My Babe likes you.' Everything was O.K. with everyone right from the start. After that, I was always looking for her at driving ranges, and she'd leave me notes that said, 'Romance was here.' I was wrestling every night. I never took her to the matches. She didn't like them because she thought I might get hurt."
They were married in December in St. Louis. Leo Durocher and Ducky Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals were members of the wedding. George was making $100,000 a year from his profession. He was a performer, a promoter, an all-round hustler. He would be in and out of many investments and schemes over the years—some successful, such as the Beverly Hills clothing shop where Damon Runyon and Charlie Chaplin bought their suits, some not, such as the San Diego Gunners, a pro football team in the Pacific Coast American League. He lost tens of thousands of dollars on the Gunners, and dropped more money on a Denver hotel, of which Babe said after her first look at the premises, "George, the only way you're gonna make a profit on these rooms is to rent them by the hour."
Life for the couple was idyllic for a long while. George traveled almost everywhere with Babe, trailing her around golf courses all over the country. He was devoted to her, almost like a child. Golf Promoter Fred Corcoran recalls a night when he and George were dining at Al Schacht's, a New York restaurant, and Babe was playing in the Texas Open. "George kept getting up with his big napkin tucked under his chin and calling people to find out how she did. Finally Schacht got a report from the Associated Press. He came to our table and said, 'Well, Babe lost but it was real close.' I said, 'How close?' and he said, "Ten to nine.' I told him, Al, you mean 10 and 9. That's not close, that's the worst defeat of her life.' George stared at us, blinked and walked right out of the restaurant with the napkin still under his chin. I think he cried all night."
Many of Babe's friends did not care for George, a man of gross appetite who ballooned to well over 300 pounds. The Zahariases' hotel rooms were always filled with hams, beef roasts, wheels of cheese, cases of beer. George used to buy olive oil by the gallon, pour it on his plate and dunk slabs of bread in it. He would take a quarter-pound stick of butter, peel off the wrapper and eat it like a banana.
By the late '40s the Zaharias marriage was becoming strained, problems occurring after George gave up wrestling and his own business activities to promote Babe. Increasingly, he sought to control her, to manage her career and cause her to succeed through his promotional schemes. Once during a trip to New York with golfer Betty Dodd, Babe appeared on several television shows, including Ed Sullivan's, and squeezed cash payments—$1,500 here, $1,000 there—from producers. Elated, she telephoned George in Tampa. "Honey, Eve made $6,000!" she said. Betty Dodd recalls: "George was furious and told her to get home. He knew he was losing control of her, that she didn't need him. She hung up the phone and said to me, 'Damn him! If he thinks I'm going to go home so he can book me for $300 in some exhibition, he's crazy!' " The separations became more frequent, but only partly because of professional commitments. There were discussions of divorce. "Babe loved George, but she pulled herself up nine miles over him," says Betty Dodd. "She was always welcome anywhere, George was not."