ON Thursday 22 December 1927, while we were staying at the house of Mr. William Matheson at Coconut Grove, Florida, I went over to Miami Beach and had a long talk with the champion heavy-weight boxer of the world, Joseph J. Tunney of New York, universally known as Gene Tunney. I knew he was fond of reading Shakespeare. I told him that I was teaching Shakespeare at Yale, and that during the coming Spring term I should be very glad to have him address my class. He immediately agreed.
When this was announced in the newspapers, I was called up on the telephone by a reporter and asked 'Can Tunney really talk in public on Shakespeare, or is this just part of the ballyhoo for the next fight?' I replied that if we should change places, Mr. Tunney would look much better lecturing on Shakespeare than I should in the ring with Jack Dempsey.
Mr. Matheson invited Tunney to meet the Bishop of Florida and Mrs. Mann, together with Ruth Bryan Owen, and several others, at lunch. Although Tunney is a big man and weighed two hundred pounds, his hands and feet are small. He stood beside Mrs. Owen, a tall woman, and we found her hands were longer, though not as broad as his. Tunney and the Bishop carried on a spirited conversation; and Tunney told us how he came to enjoy Shakespeare. It was when he was a private soldier in the World War. There was a comrade who was always talking about Shakespeare; and Tunney, becoming interested, made up
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Publication information: Book title: Autobiography, with Letters. Contributors: William Lyon Phelps - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1939. Page number: 792.
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