- Originally printed: The Bookman, October 1928
- First reprinted in: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; or, David Copperfield (1928)
- Original Byline: Robert Benchley
A slight piece occasioned by a trio of 1928 pop culture headlines: 1. Gene Tunney’s retirement from boxing as heavyweight champion of the world; 2. Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize for The Bridge of San Luis Rey; and 3. The European walking tour undertaken by this supposedly unlikely pair. Already celebrated by the media as “The Thinking Man’s Pugilist,” especially after ensorcelling slugger Jack Dempsey with sweet science in back-to-back bouts, Tunney’s eagerness to express his thoughts on Shakespeare and other aspects of literary history made irresistible copy. News of the boxer’s friendship with novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder was music to editorial ears everywhere, and their plans to ramble across rural France and Germany got nearly as much coverage as a Trans-Atlantic Flight or a Polar Expedition. What would these extraordinary men talk about? What magnificent epiphanies awaited them? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Gene Tunney guided Thornton Wilder to a new understanding of The Iliad? And if Thornton Wilder enlightened Gene Tunney on a fine point of feint and jab? Wouldn’t that be wonderfully counterintuitive?! Well, possibly it would it have been. But in Benchley’s account, we get the bro version of “dog bites man”.
To all of these, and many more problems, Don Gene turned an ingenuous attention. And, in the meantime he lived immaculately, read much, and punched a large, harassed leather bag.
- Reprinted under the title: “The Bridge of Sans Gene”