Jay Tunney 9/27/12

Jay Tunney, son of the boxer Gene Tunney, talked about his new book: “The Playwright and the Pugilist: the Relationship between Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw”. This book explains how two Irishman, 40 years apart in age were brought together by their common love for literature and boxing.

Jay started by showing a short video of the two championship fights between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. The first fight took place on September 23, 1926 in Philadelphia and attracted an amazing 145,000 spectators. Dempsey who was extremely aggressive in the ring was expected to destroy Tunney who was more of a professional boxer. Instead Tunney won every one of the ten rounds due to his speed, agility, and boxing skills. The second fight took place a year later in Chicago where there were 172,000 spectators. Tunney won the first six rounds. In the seventh round Tunney was knocked unconscious by Dempsey. Because it took four seconds until Dempsey went to a neutral corner, the count was delayed so that it lasted fourteen seconds. This “long count” allowed Tunney to revive and get up in time to resume the fight. He went on to win nine out of ten rounds. Dempsey never fought professionally again and Tunney retired in 1928 undefeated.

George Bernard Shaw was born in Ireland but loved England more and lived there. By the 1920’s he was considered to be one of the most famous living authors and playwrights. He also was an outstanding music, art and theatre critic, as well as a key member of the Fabian Society, which supported Socialism as the fairest form of government. He was also famous for his cutting wit, especially against Winston Churchill whom he disliked. He once invited Churchill to one of his plays on opening night, telling him to “bring a friend…if you have one!” Churchill, himself not one to mince words, replied, “I cant make the first night but can come the second night…if there is one!”

Shaw was a fan of professional boxing and especially admired Tunney’s abilities. To Shaw, boxing was a metaphor for life: the struggle against adversity and defeat of evil. Tunney admired Shaw’s intellect and his outstanding literary talents. They met in England in 1928 at a party and immediately enjoyed each other’s company. They had a mutual intellectual interest where they gained strength from each other’s knowledge and personality. Shaw, who tended to be a loner, really enjoyed Tunney’s company, thinking of him as a son and soul mate. Tunney was grateful for Shaw’s genius, generosity, love of words, and passion for skillful boxing. Having similar “Irish” personalities added to their affection for each other. Their last visit together was in 1948. Shaw was 92 and considered the most famous living man in the world. He held Tunney’s hand and said that if he had his life to live over he would want to be a pugilist. In turn Tunney took Shaw’s hand and said he would have liked to have been a playwright and author like Shaw.

During Q&A the following points were made;

  1. Dempsey earned 10-12 million dollars over his career, while Tunney earned 8-9 million dollars. Tunney gave most of it away and used $1 million to start a very successful business. However his real wealth came from his wife, Polly Lawlor who was related to Andrew Carnegie.
  2. Dempsey was known as a draft dodger in WW1. Although he did it because of his need to earn money to support his impoverished family, the accusation haunted him throughout his life.