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Chicago’s Soldier Field may be best known as the home of the Chicago Bears, but the stadium has played host to numerous events that had nothing to do with passing the pigskin.
One of the most famous among a lengthy list of concerts, soccer games, speeches and prize fights is the “Long Count” rematch between world heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey in September 22, 1927.
Much has been written about this fight over the decades, and now Jay Tunney, Gene Tunney’s son tosses his hat into the ring with The Prizefighter and the Playwright, an intimate look at the legendary—but rarely documented—relationship between his father and acclaimed playwright George Bernard Shaw.
Osacky recently sat down with Jay Tunney, to talk about the book that took 10 years to write and to share snippets of his father’s story and a few life lessons he learned along the way.
Gene Tunney retired from boxing 1928 as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world. He likely could have fought another four or five years, but he fell in love and realized that boxing and marriage didn’t mix.
Stepping out of the ring can be a challenge for many prizefighters, but retirement was just the beginning of Gene Tunney’s career.
Tunney, who was quite the businessman, quadrupled his income after his retirement. He did all the investing himself—not via mutual funds or outside sources. At his peak, he sat on the boards of directors for 12 companies. His father’s secret, Jay says, was his ability to read balance sheets.
“Mr. Gimbel of Gimbel’s department stores taught my dad how to read a balance sheet,” Jay says, noting his father used his status as a star boxer to make connections with a large network of bankers and executives.
The prizefighter was also a writer who chronicled all of his boxing victories in Man Must Fight, released in 1928.
In a fortunate twist of fate that the young Tunney discusses in his new book, George Bernard Shaw read Man Must Fight and did not like it. Shaw told Tunney the book was a dry account of how each fighter was defeated. For example, you hit a guy with a right hook, and knock him out. Another guy goes down with a left hook. Shaw wanted Tunney to humanize his life and show some emotion.
Tunney listened to the playwright and his second book, Arms for Living, turned out much better. Shaw liked that Tunney had taken his advice and the pair became fast friends.
Shaw, a prolific letter-writer, kept in touch through letters and they even went on vacations together. Tunney received constructive criticism from the respected playwright and critic, and Shaw was able to pass on his expertise to someone who was eager for feedback and guidance.
Although the world has changed dramatically in 70 years, many of the lessons Jay learned from his father are just as relevant today as they were then. We asked Jay to share a few lessons from his dad with Parade’s readers. Here are his top four.
- When you get knocked down, you must get back up again. In 1922, Tunney was the undefeated light heavyweight champion of the world. He fought the determined Harry Greb and lost. Tunney immediately requested a rematch to fight Greb again. The two fought a year later, but this ultimately saved Tunney’s career.
- Marry somebody. Don’t be irresponsible. Tunney was convinced that having a spouse made you a better person, though not a better boxer.
- Persistence and perseverance. All else can be bought be the yard.
- Loyalty and friendships are crucial.
Thanks to Jay Tunney for sharing his memories of his father, Gene Tunney.