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Monday, August 26, 2013

Frank Menke on Gene Tunney

1921-12-31 Illinois State Register (Springfield, IL) (page 8)
Gene Tunney, Woman-Hater Avoids Bright Lights and Thinks Only of Fighting
(Copyright, 1921, by King Features Syndicate, Inc.)

Gene Tunney is a ring gladiator unique in the annals of the sport.

He's never had a "sweetie" in all of his 23 years; he never smokes, or drinks any of the stuff that might offend Volstead's sense of propriety; he never tells, nor will he listen to risqué stories; he jaunts into New York or the other big towns only when forced to do so by his warring schedule; he never deviates from a rigid diet, spends all his odd hours on a farm--and never, except on fight nights, is he up later than 9:30.

Tunney is a clean-cut, manly looking, handsome youngster, a trifle beyond 6 feet in height and bulking around 175--a true matinée idol type. Women admire him--but most of them from a distance. For the sex which is quite a bit deadlier than the male, has certain terrors for the youngster who is being pointed for Jack Dempsey's crown.

He avoids women whenever he can. But sometimes he is forced into contact with them. Whenever that happens, he checks the impulse to race along to some sylvan dell and hide away; because his rule book an etiquette tells him it isn't being done in these days of gallantry and such.

But Tunney knows no comfortable moments in the presence of womankind--even its most beautiful delegates. He fumbles his hat, shifts his feet, twirls his fingers nervously, remarks, "yes, mam" and "no, mam" and beads of perspiration break out on his forehead and his eyes search for the nearest exit. Tunney is one of those boys who never has grown up, as regards his school day panic in the presence of woman, oh, beautiful woman.

The Greenwich Village section of New York produced Tunney. His father was a foreman of some sort along the wharves of the mighty city. Gene used to spend parts of his Saturdays paling around with his head. His early love for athletics settled finally upon boxing. He had natural ability which was brought out in a kid gymnasium and developed when Gene wandered along toward his late teens by mixing it with some of the youngsters who made up part of his father's working crew.

Along in 1917 a fistic enthusiast in the village tipped off Frank ("Doc") Bagley, the demon impresario of Jersey, that there was quite a fighter running loose in the district of New York which is fabled in song and story. Bagley hunted up Tunney to see if what he had heard about him was true.

"And it was," relates Bagley, "Gene was only a welter at the time but it didn't take me long to decide that he would make good as a professional. So I grabbed him, ended his amateur days and sent him out after some pros. He bumped a goodly number of boys into sleep--and then along came the war which called Gene into service as one of the Marines.

"When the war ended and Gene came back as a light heavyweight, he resumed where he had left off--only with renewed vigor. He knocked out a dozen men in a row. His entire career, embracing about 34 fights, includes 30 knockouts. The four men who travelled the scheduled distance with him were mighty messy looking creatures at the finish.

"Tunney has everything that a champion needs--except tough hands. Therein is--or I might say was--his greatest handicap. When I first got hold of Gene his hands were white and soft and the bones were small. Despite that he kept knocking men out in a hurry. But in time the hands became a handicap. They weren't stout enough to stand up all the time under the impact which came about when his mighty shoulders propelled them against the bony jaw of an opponent. As a result Gene had to cancel a lot of matches and in some of his fights to protect his hands, he had to let men travel four, five and six rounds, who would have been hammered to sleep in a round if the hands had been all right.

"But it's different now. For several months I had Gene doing little else than woodchopping--the greatest form of exercise in the world for toughening the hands. Since then he's been spending hours a day on a farm in New Jersey building up the bones, structure and the muscles of his hands. They have developed wonderfully under this treatment and I feel that from now on Tunney isn't going to have any great trouble with his hands.

"Tunney is ready to mix it with any light heavyweight in the world. That goes for Tom Gibbons, Georges Carpentier, Harry Greb, Billy Shade, Martin Burke, Battling Levinsky or any other of the dozen conspicuous 175 pounders. If Gene had his way about it he'd fight every night in the week. If I had my way, I'd work him about twice a month.

"But the sad thing is that none of the light heavies seem anxious for any of his stuff. Gibbons looks the other way when a match is proposed; Greb figures he hasn't time to bother. I can't get a promoter interested just now in either a Shade or Burke match. So Gene must continue sitting a bit pretty just now and do some waiting--waiting for the day when he'll get heavy enough and experienced enough to coax Dempsey into the ring with him--and bump the champion cuckoo."

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