Jay Tunney, son of champion boxer Gene Tunney, will step into a Boca Grande arena soon to discuss his famous father's exploits, which extended far from the ring.
The author of "The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw," will speak at the Johan Fust Community Library at 4 p.m. Tuesday. March 12.
Tunney retired from boxing in 1928 as the first undefeated world heavyweight champion (he did have one loss at a lower weight) in modern history and one of the most famous athletes of the Golden Age of Sports in the Roaring '20s.
After Polly Lauder, his new steel heiress bride, convinced him to hang up the gloves at age 29 - at the peak of his pugilistic prowess - the couple traveled worldwide and befriended writers such as Thornton Wilder and Ernest Hemingway.
At the end of that year, Gene Tunney met the man who would become his trusted spiritual adviser: Nobel Prize-winning George Bernard Shaw. Tunney's fascinating book chronicles the unlikely friendship his father and Shaw shared from the 1920s through 1950.
QUESTION: Why did you want restore the memory of both men with this book?
Jay Tunney at a glance
Hometown: Stamford, Conn.
Residence: Roxbury, Conn.
Family: married 45 years with a girl and a boy
Education: Stanford University. My father gave me some brains and I'm happy for what he gave.
Discovered Boca Grande: This will be first visit
ANSWER: Basically, because it's a magical story, a story that should be told at a time the country is in kind of a mess in a moral sense. Shaw was a great teacher of moral courage, and dad was an exquisite example in the ring when boxing was the biggest sport in the world at the time. Their great friendship was a story untold.
Q: How many years did you have with your father?
A: He died when I was about 42. He was a normal father, not a typical celebrity. He was not that way although he was away plenty. When I was growing up he wanted to be a New York businessman; a normal guy in a gray flannel suit.
Q: Did you learn to know your father better in death than you did when he was alive?
A: Yes, I did. I grew to know the complete comprehensive Gene Tunney. He wasn't the father I remember growing up because at that time he had become a plutocrat whose main thrust was to make a profit. That changed him quite a bit. He was getting physically bigger and more executive-like. As a younger man who achieved world boxing stardom at a young age. He was a different kind of animal than I knew growing up.
Q: Why did he retire at the top of his boxing craft?
A: He retired because of Shaw's influence and he fell in love with my mother. That's the main thing. He didn't see it coming quite so quickly. She had very refined tastes. She had been born to the manor. Big guys, cuts on the face and blood, those weren't her favorites. So he decided to retire.
Q: Why tell your father's story in this friendship format and not as a biography?
A: My mother (who passed at age 101 in 2008) didn't want to do a biography. In a sense it is a dual biography of Shaw and Tunney and the kinds of people they both were. They brought out the best in each other. My mother wanted the book that way and no one else has ever had access to my mother's files. I was happily able to get into her archives. Mother had so many stories and anecdotes none of us ever knew about.
Q: Your book was first published two years ago by the Canadian company Firefly on the 84th anniversary of the first Jack Dempsey-Tunney fight (Tunney won two legendary ring brawls with Dempsey). Was that by design?
A: Not at all, actually, but it sounds pretty good. I was trying to get it published a little earlier and up in Canada it was published a little earlier. In the United States it came out in September 2010.
Q: Franklin Forsberg, a former ambassador to Sweden, urged you to write about your father in the early 1990s. Why did it take nearly 20 years to do so?
A: I was in business and overseas in South Korea for 10 years. My pioneering days were still on when Forsberg wanted me to get going on the thing.
Q: What do you think your father would say about the shape of boxing today?
A: He definitely would not like it. He didn't even like it in his time. He didn't like Muhammad Ali either although he liked Ali's style so I want to qualify what I say. He just didn't like his mouth. Ali was a classical fighter who reminded my dad of how he fought as opposed to being a slugger or basher or masher in the ring.
Q: When was your first Boca Grande visit?
A: I've never been there before. I've never seen it although I'm told it is beautiful. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Who should come to your Boca Grande appearance?
A: Literate people. Not academics. People who like to read and read history and who love a magic story. The symbiotic relation Shaw and dad had was very positive and constructive. Sports people and people who love Shaw. You.
Q: Why did your obviously intelligent father drop out of school at age 15?
A: Pure economics. His family couldn't afford to keep him in school. His father was a stevedore in Little Ireland, an immigrant in a coal flat. They sent all six siblings out to make money.
Q: Did you ever think of boxing?
A: Yes, for about two seconds. In our household there could only be one champion. Mom didn't want us to box either so it was a double thrust. We didn't stand a chance.