It was through Roy Rogers that he learned that his father was a major celebrity. Jay Tunney had been kept in the dark about his father’s fame until the age of nine when he attended a rodeo with his family. “Roy Rogers was my hero. He came galloping into the arena and said he wanted to introduce famous people in the audience. He pointed up to us and for a moment, I thought he was pointing to me and I almost fainted. I found out it had nothing to do with me at all. It all had to do with my old man,” said Jay. His father, Gene Tunney, he learned, was a heavyweight boxing champion from 1926-1928, twice defeating Jack Dempsey “I thought, ‘I need to watch this guy from now on. I had no idea before then. He was intent on keep that away from us and making us feel like a normal family.”
In later years, Jay embarked on a ten-year project researching his father’s illustrious story which he subsequently published in 2010. Jay, who is a resident of The Clare, entrances residents and visitors to The Clare as well as interested individuals across the country, sharing the tale.
Rather than just a ‘normal’ guy, Gene Tunney was a self-made man embracing the American dream. The child of a stevedore, he was determined to make a life for himself and did so by pursuing a career in boxing. “He had to get out of the docks. He didn’t want to be a stevedore like his father and was willing to do anything to elevate himself in society,” said Jay. Gene Tunney retired from wrestling undefeated, when he was 31, to get married and move on with is life. “He had amazing life,” said Jay. “He was genuinely an American hero. He was a gentleman…they called him Gentleman Gene. He had a great sense of humor, a tremendous love of books. And he was moral to the core. “
“The Prizefighter and the Playwright” tells about Gene Tunney and his close friendship with famous playwright George Bernard Shaw which spanned many years and two continents. The last time the men visited each other in 1948, they sat on Shaw’s terrace in England, drinking tea. “At the age of 92, Shaw said, ‘Gene if I had another life to live, I would like to be a pugilist.’ My dad responded, “George, if I had another life to live, I’d like to be a visionary writer just like George Bernard Shaw.’ At that was the end. The last time they saw each other,” said Jay.
Now in its second printing, Jay has sold more than 10,000 copies of his book. He admits that it’s “damn well written and a beautiful story. It’s so authentic.”
“The Clare is a treasure trove of amazing people with amazing stories, “said Kyle Exline, executive director of The Clare. “In addition to Jay, the residents include politicians, authors, artists, designers, attorneys, physicians, scientists and more. It’s always fascinating to hear about their lives.”
Tunney will present “The Prizefighter and the Playwright” at The Cliff Dwellers Arts Club on May 21st. ‘
The Clare at Rush and Pearson is a Life Care retirement community in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast with incomparable lifestyle, amenities and the financial stability only a debt-free community can offer. The Terraces at The Clare, which partners with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, provides assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing. The Terraces has earned the 5-star quality rating by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Clare is owned by Chicago Senior Care and managed by Life Care Services. For more information visit: www.TheClare.com or call 312-784-8100.