World heavyweight champion James Joseph “Gene” Tunney trained for his most important fights in Speculator in the Adirondacks in the 1920s.
One of the champion’s sons spoke this summer at a talk arranged by the Friends of the Lake Pleasant Library. Speculator is a village in the town of Lake Pleasant in Hamilton County.
Jay R. Tunney has written a book, “The Prizefighter and the Playwright,” about the seemingly improbable friendship between his father and playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was a boxing fan.
Gene Tunney was born in New York City in 1897, one of seven children of an Irish immigrant family. Tunney was in the Marines in World War I and fought in the ring rather than in the trenches, becoming champion of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces.
Tunney met William Osborne from Speculator in the Marines, and Osborne invited Tunney to come to Speculator and establish a training camp.
In 1926, Tunney trained for his first world heavyweight championship fight against Jack Dempsey in Speculator, where the Osbornes owned the Osborne Inn. Tunney won the fight in a 10-round decision.
Tunney also trained in Speculator for his 1927 rematch with Dempsey. Tunney won that fight in a unanimous decision despite the controversial “long count.” Dempsey knocked Tunney down in the seventh round, but the referee did not start the count on Tunney for several seconds as Dempsey did not immediately go to a neutral corner.
The two boxers later became good friends.
Tunney trained in Speculator in 1928 for one more fight as world champion, defeating Tom Heeney of New Zealand. Tunney then retired from boxing, apparently a promise made to Mary “Polly” Lauder, the socialite he married that year.
Other fighters, including Max Baer, Max Schmeling, Maxie Rosenbloom, Jim Slattery and Knute Hansen also trained in Speculator, according to a pamphlet prepared by Lake Pleasant seventh-graders in 1986 under the supervision of former town historian Ernest D. Virgil.
The fighters who came in later years were more ostentatious than Tunney, who is sometimes pictured reading a book, said to be his favorite form of recreation. Max Baer for one was said to love attention.
Famous people came to see the fighters train. According to the student report, “Bernard Gimbel of Gimbel’s (department store) in New York suffered a few bruises when his plane, leaving the golf course in Lake Pleasant, failed to climb high enough to miss the trees at the end of the fairway.”
After retiring from boxing, Tunney first wrote a book and then went into business. He re-enlisted in the military in World War II and was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, heading the Navy physical fitness program. He died in 1978.
Edmonds born in Hawkinsville
Shirley Thomas of East Glenville wrote to say that “Drums Along the Mohawk” author Walter Edmonds was not born in Boonville, as was reported in this column. Thomas said Edmonds was born at his family’s summer home in Hawkinsville, four miles from the village of Boonville (but still within the town of Boonville).
Thomas grew up in the Hawkinsville area, and members of her family worked as caretakers on the Edmonds estate. She published a story on Edmonds in a 2012 edition of Adirondack Life magazine.
Historian Peter Betz noted actors Lynn Bari, Arleen Whelan and Joan Davis were on the Mohawk Valley premiere tour for the movie version of “Drums Along the Mohawk,” but none of them was in the movie. Bari hurt her arm falling from a train in Albany and was replaced by actor Arthur Shields when the entourage went to Gloversville and Amsterdam. Shields was in the 1939 movie, playing the role of Reverend Rosenkrantz.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.