Looking back on the incident now, Tunney grinned the grin of a man who feels he has been proved right. "Sometime later, when I got to know Shaw, he told me that he'd never said any such thing. What he really told the reporters was: 'Did Tunney say that? Why, that boy has acute literary perception. My early novels were just readable enough to be intolerable.' "
Tunney, as champion, made one of his most celebrated appearances as a lecturer before Professor William Lyon Phelps's Shakespeare class at Yale.
"I don't know whether Shakespeare is truly embedded in Gene's soul," Phelps once told a friend, "but I do know that he can quote as extensively as anyone I've known."
Even Dempsey had a comment when he heard of Gene's lecture. "If it helps his racket," Jack shrugged, "why not?"
Unfortunately, Tunney's inclination to poetry has encouraged a manner that obscures the qualities that his friends admire. The public sees one Tunney, his friends another. The verbal facade he built as a young man is responsible for many of the apparent contradictions in his personality.
"When you ask what kind of guy Gene is," one boxing man said recently, "you've got to specify where—and when. In public he is apt to make high-sounding speeches, and then he usually puts his foot in his mouth. But in a small group of people he's interesting and genuine. And there's nobody around who's been more generous to guys who need help. Too bad, but it's the public Tunney that gets in the papers."
In Tunney's office now, the talk moved from Shaw and Shakespeare to American literature, and Gene spoke of his admiration for Ernest Hemingway.
I mentioned Dempsey before," he said. "Now Dempsey has always seemed to me an especially gentle man. Completely lovable outside the ring. But Hemingway was really a brute.
"Whenever I went to Cuba, where Ernesto lived, I'd call him and go out to his home. We'd spar sometimes. Barehanded, no gloves. One day I was demonstrating a move that a friend of mine, a fellow who got his start on the docks, had shown me. This fellow had lost the thumb on his left hand, but his four fingers were like steel.
"In fact, they called him Fingey. He would get in a brawl with somebody and show his overhand right like this, and when the sucker looked up, Fingey would come in low, this way, with that left hand and dig his fingers into the fellow's groin."