For all of those in Boca Grande who remember, and those of us who have heard abut the legendary boxing competition, Tunney’s talk will begin with a 9-min DVD film clip of highlights of the two famous Tunney-Dempsey championship fights in 1926 and 1927.
Biographies at their best are compelling stories of individuals who have made a mark on history.
The Prizefighter and the Playwright” fulfills the criterion. “Brains, Brawn, and an Unlikely Bond” headlined the New York Times article about the book.
The author Jay Tunney also had a deeply personal reason for telling the story. The prizefighter was his father Gene Tunney. The playwright was George Bernard Shaw, Gene Tunney’s close friend and “spiritual father” for many years. The story was originally written and produced by Tunney and the BBC as a radio broadcast in England. The stage was set for Tunney to write the biography.
The great advantage that Tunney had in accomplishing such a monumental tribute to his father was the willingness of his mother to share her extensive memories. It was actually she who encouraged her youngest son Jay to write the book. Gene Tunney died in 1978, but the author’s mother, Mary Josephine Rowland Lauder Tunney (known as Polly) lived to be nearly 101.
The great paradox of her life was her pathological fear of public exposure of her famous husband and her desire to make known the other side of the man primarily recognized as a boxing champion. All of their private courtship was based on their mutual love of poetry and music.
One of the most poignant chapters in the book describes Polly’s near death experience on the island of Brioni, a part of Italy at that time—now a part of Croatia—and the desperate, loving attention paid to her by her devoted husband, Gene Tunney.
Besides the many hours of listening to his mother’s stories, Tunney traveled to all the countries which provided background material for the Tunney-Shaw friendship. He went to Ireland where Shaw was born and lived until he immigrated to England in 1876. He wanted to know the sights and smells and sounds of the area that formed the character of Bernard Shaw. His research took him to England, Canada, Japan, and Croatia— four trips to the island of Brioni.
Never having written a full-length book, Tunney said there were many times he wondered if he could actually finish what he had started. He would then hear his father’s voice admonishing him, “Don’t be a quitter!” As readers, we are especially fortunate that he not only finished the book, but also that he is coming to Boca Grande to talk about it.
There will be a reception and a book signing following Tunney’s presentation in the Woman’s Club Room in the Community Center.
This program, presented by the Johann Fust Library Foundation, is free and open to the public.
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