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The Prizefighter and the Playwright

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About the Author

Jay R. Tunney is vice president of the International Shaw Society and a member of the Governor's International Advisory Council for the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. His articles have appeared in the New York Times Magazine and other national publications.


Taking readers beyond the bad press his father once received, Jay shows Tunney to have been a complex and highly admirable man.--Peter Worthington"Toronto Sun" (12/10/2010) Jay Tunney writes nicely and understands boxing.--Thomas Hauser"Sweet Science" (11/29/2011) This book is a love story, a portrait of the times, a metaphor of a struggle through adversity and best of all, a darn good read.--Byron Toben"The Suburban" (09/15/2009) (A) magnificent, revelatory and fascinating book.--Rick Kogan"Chicago Tribune" (08/19/2016) A beautifully written book on a fascinating and little-known subject.--Andrew Patner: The View From Here (11/01/2010) In setting down the tale, Jay Tunney frequently had to play detective in reconstructing a credible chronology of events that took place in the very house he grew up in. To his credit, his approach for the most part reflects a scholarly and meticulously researched narrative so attuned to the facts that one has to periodically remind oneself: This is his father he is writing about.-- (09/23/2010) The brawny man and the brainy man often find themselves at odds, each denigrating the other's gifts. The man of the body bullies, while the man of the mind retreats to intellectual arrogance. Such was not the case with 1920s heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and famed playwright George Bernard Shaw, who forged a close relationship, recalled here by one of Tunney's sons. Despite humble beginnings and his chosen profession, the Irish American Tunney was a self-taught lover of the arts who strove to raise himself in society, marrying into the upper class and rubbing shoulders with other literary giants of his time, while the Irish Shaw, several decades older, had dabbled in boxing as a young man. Tunney's intellectual interests were met with much scorn, especially in the boxing world, causing him to be, as his son writes, "a man between two worlds and a part of neither one."-- (11/05/2010) One might dismiss the book, unread, as only a testament of filial devotion, but The Prizefighter and the Playwright is an engrossing read, packaged in an attractively and liberally illustrated volume. Gene Tunney comes warmly alive as someone worthy of Shaw's almost paternal interest, and G.B.S. emerges in a more private dimension than he is often seen by biographers trying to encompass an encyclopedic life... Jay Tunney has been thorough... One hopes that The Prizefighter and the Playwright, an authentic page-turner, will capture the wide non-Shavian audience it deserves.... Gene Tunney lives on... in Jay Tunney's fascinating re-creation of a most unlikely friendship.-- (10/01/2010) Writer Jay R. Tunney, who is the grandson of the boxer, provides an unsentimental account of a friendship that defies expectations. Despite his relationship to the boxer, the story is no mere encomium, and Tunney emerges as a flawed, rather than lionised, hero. The book is weighted more towards boxing than literature but, even for the relatively uninitiated reader to the heady world of pugilism, The Prizefighter and the Playwright is never less than compelling.-- (09/19/2010) The Prizefighter and the Playwright promises to be a treat for boxing fans, dedicated Shavians, and anyone who enjoys a personal tour through the lives two peerless figures. Our thanks to Jay Tunney for bringing us the story.-- (05/25/2010) This book is not only important to historians, but it is also a book with a great love story and a testament to a man who became a scholar without any traditional schooling. It is also one of the most fascinating non-fictional studies of a friendship that I have ever read.... When Gene Tunney died in 1978, at the age of 81, the Boston Herald said, "Gentleman Gene left a legacy of physical and intellectual stamina that should inspire us all." The Washington Star added, "Mr. Tunney was given to quoting Shakespeare. He looked like an actor; he sailed to Europe to talk with George Bernard Shaw; he did not act like a pug. The fans would not forgive him he died a hero. But there was never any real understanding of this man, who was too gifted, too fast and driven, to stay where the people wanted him." His son Jay has corrected that. His story of Gene Tunney will be considered the final, incisive word.-- (10/12/2010) There is plenty of room for a book about the Shaw-Tunney connection. The boxer is rarely mentioned in Shaw biographies and Tunney, a private man with a special aversion to dealing with the press, never said or wrote much about it for public consumption. To fill this long-empty gap Jay Tunney delivers a 267-page text that is straightforward, graphic, occasionally eloquent and as a family narrative at times almost excruciatingly personal.-- (10/05/2010) The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw draws on a mass of material (including the memories of the author's mother, Polly Lauder Tunney, who died in 2008, aged 100) to provide the first truly satisfying account of Tunney's character and of much of his life after boxing (largely ignored in two recent biographies). Wisely avoiding detailed descriptions of his father's ring achievements, Mr. Tunney concentrates instead on his parents' engagement and marriage, one of the great romances of the Roaring Twenties, and the boxer's subsequent friendship with Shaw, which blossomed during a month-long stay on the island of Brioini in the Adriatic in 1929, a year after Tunney's retirement.... A beautifully produced book, with some wonderful black-and-white photographs, The Prizefighter and the Playwright is highly recommended to all pugilist-specialist-readers.-- (01/01/2011) In December 1928, boxer Gene Tunney fulfilled his dream of meeting playwright George Bernard Shaw. The result was an unlikely friendship, powered, among other things, by Tunney's love of literature and Shaw's fascination with boxing. The Prizefighter and the Playwright: Gene Tunney and Bernard Shaw pulls readers instantly and inescapably into this surprising relationship and the lives of its protagonists.... While the book will certainly appeal to Shaw fans and Tunney fans, one doesn't need to know anything about either man -- or about literature or boxing -- to be entranced by the friendship of the prizefighter and the playwright and the world they shared.-- (01/11/2011)

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