Baseball Centennial

In 1939, Major League Baseball (MLB) owners set aside $100,000 ($1.6 million in current dollars) to celebrate the game’s 100th anniversary (It was debatable at the time and is accepted now that 1939 was not the centennial of the game.The game did not start with Abner Doubleday but evolved over time with rules of the game taking form during the 19th century. The owners also wanted the celebration to spur turnout because the Great Depression had cut attendance, and it had not fully recovered by 1939. The owners saw the baseball centennial celebration as a good opportunity to juice up attendance, and they wanted Steve Hannagan, the super publicist who was renowned for his ability to fill a sporting arena, to promote the centennial.

While the owners understood the need for promoting the game, the Baseball Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, was not enamored with the cost of the promotional campaign. Judge Landis was an ornery old ‘cuss’ whom the owners chose in 1920 to clean up the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ scandal, when the White Sox purportedly threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis

Judge Landis assumed that the money for the campaign would be spent foolishly and that the publicist would be the only one to reap any benefit. Landis only wanted Hannagan to publicize the dedication of the National Baseball Hall of Fame on June 12, 1939 and to forget any promotional work.

Hannagan on the other hand proposed spending the money on a year-long national celebration of baseball that would culminate with the dedication of the Hall of Fame. Notwithstanding his misgivings, Judge Landis agreed to Hannagan’s recommendation.

Hannagan’s first move was to ask James Farley, the Postmaster General, to issue a commemorative stamp for the centennial. He also had the MLB owners issue a commemorative patch.

U. S. Postal Service Commemorative Stamp for Baseball’s Centennial [2]

Commemorative Patch for Baseball’s Centennial Celebration[3]

Another component of Hannagan’s centennial strategy was to ask nationally known sports writers to write about the Centennial in their nationally syndicated columns and literary agents to encourage their authors to write stories for major magazines. He also arranged for coverage by: The New York Journal and American with thirteen articles; the June 1939 issue of Baseball Magazine; the annual Sporting News Record Book; Spalding’s 1939 Official Baseball Guide; Newsweek, which placed Abner Doubleday on its cover; and NBC Radio, which ran an hour-long special called the “The Cavalcade of Baseball”. [4]

While it may be difficult to quantify with precision the results of Hannagan’s centennial campaign, there are several indicators that suggest it was a success.

  1. The ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ brought in thirty thousand visitors from thirty countries and forty-eight states.
  2. Sporting News declared 1939 as the greatest year in baseball.
  3. Baseball reached its largest attendance since 1927 in 1939.

At the opening of the Hall of Fame, Judge Landis put his arms around Hannagan and told him: “I was wrong; the money was spent to achieve splendid results.”[5] Hannagan then had the pleasure of telling Landis that there was money left over from the campaign. Landis asked, “If it’s as much as $500, that’s good.”[6] Now, Hannagan had the ‘how sweet it is” moment; “I am sending you a check for $35,000.”

[7]End Notes

  1. Commemorative Stamp Issued by the US Postal Service (Retrieved April 26 ,2013)
  2. Commemorative Patch Issued by Major League Baseball (Retrieved April 26 ,2013)
  3. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011);
  4. Anderson, William B. (September 22, 2001); The 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration: How Steve Hannagan & Associates helped tie business to Americana (Retrieved May 25, 2011);
  5. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.
  6. Hartwell, Dickson (November 22, 1947); “Prince of Press Agents”; Colliers; p. 77.

Gar Wood

Gar Wood was America’s, and possibly the worlds, most famous speed-boat racer in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Wood (adjacent picture[1]) was an inventive speed-boat designer, who raced boats of his own design. In 1921, In 1925, he raced the Twentieth Century Limited train up the Hudson River between Albany and New York and won by 22 minutes.[2]

8 Ton Sledge: Gar Wood’s 7,000hp Miss America X Boat Owned The World In ’32 and ’33 (Video)

Example of a Gar Wood Race Boat with Four Packard Engines[3]

Wood was willing to use every trick in the book to win a race. In fact, it was Wood’s willingness to step beyond the unwritten rules of speed-boat racing that caused him to ask Steve Hannagan to clean-up his tarnished image.

Wood had fallen out of favor with the boat racing elite during the Harmsworth Race of 1931, when he pulled the infamous ‘Yankee Trick’ by crossing the start line ahead of the gun. Woods premature start prompted his rival Kaye Don in Miss England II to jump ahead too. Both Wood’s and Don’s boats were disqualified.[4] Wood then sent out his brother George in a second boat to won the race.*27oYolBX3Ep0TGAjW8dvBlzqJh6q3waKONehtdC79UZ5cf5qRawQ4BKt8UrJVIjFw6fyKvmBL0QK0TzPBtpQouxw709/556933175.jpeg

Gar Wood behind the Wheel[5]

To say that Don was unhappy about the outcome of the race is an understatement. Press coverage of the ‘Yankee Trick’ cut into the sales of Wood’s speed- boats. The drop in sales convinced Wood that he needed a professional publicist like Steve Hannagan to burnish his image. Hannagan’s decided to confront the issue directly by taking Woods’ to New York City for a news conference with Betty Carstairs, a well-known English boat racer who had lost to Wood several times.[6] At the news conference with Wood standing by Carstairs side, she told the press that “in her opinion Wood’s [boat the] Miss America was one of the greatest boats that she had raced against.”[7]

Hannagan then explained to the press that Wood never intended to force Kaye Don to jump the gun; rather, all that Wood intended to do was to get in front of Don’s Miss England and beat him to the first turn. As the press and racing fans knew, the winner of the race would have to lead into and through the first turn. [8] Hannagan’s statement convinced the press that Wood had not violated formal rules or basic rules of racing etiquette. Within a year, everyone had forgotten about the ‘Yankee Trick’.

A Gar Wood Boat at Speed

Woods and Hannagan’s Team became good friends after the squabble over the Detroit race. Woods was often seen at cocktail parties put on by Hannagan on Miami Beach. Below is a picture of Gar Woods (second from the left) with Joe Copps, one of Hannagan’s top assistants (third from the left), and Copps’ wife Ruth Copps (far left) at one of the cocktail parties.[9]

C:\Users\Michael Townsley\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Picture Files\5. Cocktail party at Floyd GIBBONS - Feb.10, 1938 - katz (2).jpg

Gar Wood at a Hannagan Cocktail Party (from left: Mrs. Ruth Copps; Gar Wood; and Joe Copps, Hannagan’s Associate [10]

End Notes

  1. Barren, J. Lee’ (1934) ‘Sure I’ll Try Again’; (Retrieved July 13, 2017);
  2. “Gar Wood” (Retrieved July 13, 2017)Wikipedia
  3. “New Venturi Racing Boat, Built by Gar Wood, Boating on the Biscayne Bay” (Retrieved July 13, 217);
  4. “Sport: Harmsworth Cup;” (September 12, 1932); Time (Retrieved June 28, 2011);,9171,744354,00.html.
  5. “Gar Wood” (Retrieved July 13, 2017)Wikipedia
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 132.
  7. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 132.
  8. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 133.
  9. Gar Wood Speed Boat (Retrieved July 13, 2017); Fine Art America;
  10. Photograph of Gar Woods at a Hannagan Cocktail Party; personal collection of Kathleen (Copps) Zier.

Tex Richard Fight Promoter1

In 1929, the nationally known fight promoter, Tex Richard, promoted a heavyweight championship bout between Young Stribling and Jack Sharkey in Miami Beach. Steve Hannagan was thrilled knowing that the fight would attract huge crowds of fans to Miami Beach. Shortly before the Stribling-Sharkey match, Tex Richard died.[2]

Bill Carey, Richard’s top assistant, took over his agency and hired Jack Dempsey as the chief promoter for the fight. It was Dempsey’s debut as a promoter. Carey then hired Hannagan to publicize the fight. Hannagan received $10,000 for promoting

Grantland Rice4

Hannagan staged a promotion party for the news flacks at the Roman Pools Casino. Grantland Rice wrote that, Hannagan’s promotions “resembled New Year’s Eve in Babylon.”[3] Rice figured that everyone within fifty miles of Miami Beach came as a free-loader resulting in two drunks to every square yard of the Beach.[5] The return on Hannagan’s $32,000 for the press bash was evident when wire stories began to flow from Miami Beach about the fight.

Before the fighters threw their first blows, a pre-fight story out of Miami reported an attempt to kidnap Jack Dempsey. The story is that Dempsey and Floyd Fitzsimmons dove into the bathroom and locked the door when the kidnappers entered the room. When Hannagan heard about the invasion story, he raced to the Noir house and confronted Dempsey “what the hell is all this stuff about a shooting? You should have called me first.”[6]

Many reporters in Miami Beach for the fight claimed that Hannagan ginned- up the Dempsey story to publicize a lackluster heavyweight fight. Frank Sullivan of the New York World, supported Hannagan’s claim that the story was not a fake. Collier’s Magazine concurred. Irish luck played out for both Dempsey and Hannagan, and the coin flipped heads up – large crowds came to see both the fight and Jack Dempsey, one of the most famous fighters of the era..

Graham McNamee7

The fight did turn out to be a dull affair with Sharkey winning easily. However, Hannagan’s magic worked; the fight was a sell-out. It drew the second-largest purse, $400,000 at that time for a non-championship bout. Only a Dempsey non-championship drew a larger gate.

Graham McNamee, the fight broadcaster for the National Broadcasting Company, praised Hannagan and his publicity machine during the fight. “You people over the country may not have heard much about Stephen Hannagan, but you [will] hear about him in the future.”[8]

One columnist wrote after the fight, “As for Steve Hannagan, anybody who can fill a wooden bowl with many people to see a timid kid and a considerable older [boxer] push one another around, is, I’m telling you, the ace of publicity experts. My hat is off to Steve ….” [9]


Sadly, Stribling died tragically in 1933 from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident on the way to see his wife and their newborn child. He died soon after being wheeled into his wife’s room to see her one last time. Stribling’s one chance at the heavyweight championship misfired when Max Schmeling defeated him by a TKO in 1931.

End Notes

  1. Photograph of Tex Richard (Retrieved April 25, 2013)
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 112.
  3. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 112.
  4. Photograph of Grantland Rice (Retrieved April 24, 2013)
  5. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 113.
  6. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; pp. 115-116.
  7. Photograph of Graham McNamee (Retrieved April 24, 2013)
  8. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 119.
  9. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 120.

By the late 1920s, Steve Hannagan’s became the “go-to guy” for athletes, sports teams, and sporting events. They sought him out for advice about building an athlete’s reputation, promoting a sporting venues, and publicizing sports equipment. Here are several highlights that illustrate the breadth of Hannagan’s experience with sports are cited below.

Bowling and Billiards

By the late 1930s, Billiards had lost its shine as a sport of geometry and well-heeled patrons. Unfortunately for Brunswick, billiards was now seen by parents and civic leaders as a sport of hustlers located in a den of inequity. As Dan Parker noted in the New York Mirror; “Such has been the decline in the business [of billiards] that [Brunswick] … recently called in as consulting physician Dr. Steve Hannagan, the gentleman who specializes in publicizing sports events.”[1]

Hannagan’s campaign included a national billiard tournament at the Bal Tabarin in Chicago’s Hotel Sherman. Larry Smits from Hannagan’s Team was assigned to ghost-write an article about the event for noted billiards champion Willie Hoff.

While the tournament attracted some interest, it was not sufficient to break billiards out of its doldrums. Soon after the tournament, Hannagan met with the president and told him that “he didn’t think that billiards had too much of a future.”[2] Instead of promoting billiards, Hannagan proposed that Brunswick promote bowling because families could play the game in an atmosphere that did not have the nefarious reputation of billiards

Hannagan’s Bowling Promotion Pin

Brunswick then directed Hannagan to run a publicity campaign for bowling to coincide with the 36th Annual American Bowling the Coliseum on the grounds of the Indiana State Fairgrounds, in Indianapolis. Hannagan killed two birds with his promotional pin that linked the Bowling Tournament with the Indianapolis 500.

The Tournament began with a mammoth parade led by Governor Paul McNutt, who bowled the first ball of the Tournament. National and international radio covered the opening ceremonies of the tournament. Hannagan’s prediction that bowling would be more popular than billiards held water as the game drew in teams put together by union members, church parishioners, social groups, schools, and families across the country.

Biscayne Bay Race

Biscayne Race at Full Throttle

Carl Fisher liked speed, be it on land with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or on water with the Biscayne Bay Speedboat Race. When Fisher brought Steve Hannagan to Miami Beach from the Speedway, Hannagan proposed that Fisher add a stunt speedboat race to the Biscayne Race. The boats would be piloted by eleven of the Indianapolis 500’s best drivers.[3] However, the Indy drivers had no particular skill in boat racing except the joy of putting the pedal to the medal.

When the starting gun was fired, the drivers opened the throttles and rammed ahead throwing drivers in the water while other boats climbed the stern of front running boats.[4] Thankfully, everyone survived the race.

Gaston Chevrolet [5]

Gaston Chevrolet won the race. In May, Gaston had also won the Indianapolis 500 earlier. Sadly, Gaston was killed later that year in a two-hundred mile race in California.

Dutch Clark: Pro-Football All League

Dutch Clark.jpg

Dutch’ Harry Earl Clark6

Pro-Football was not a major part of Hannagan’s promotional portfolio because at that time pro-football was small potatoes. It appears that his single football project involved, the Detroit Lions and the team’s quarterback, kicker, and punter – ‘Dutch’ Harry Earl Clark  – who led the team to the NFL championship in 1935. His accomplishments are legendary, and he is enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. His story is even more amazing because he was blind in one eye. George Richards, owner of the Detroit Lions, contracted with Hannagan to portray ‘Dutch’ as an icon to build a fan base for the team. Hannagan successfully promoted Clark and the team. The mission of publicizing ‘Dutch’ was aided when he turned in another stellar performance and was selected as an ‘All-League “quarterback for the sixth time.[7]

Dogs and Gambling

Eddie O’Hare 8

Although Hannagan was not much for gambling, he was drawn into the dog racing circuit by his friend Eddie O’Hare (adjacent picture[8]). He owned the Miami Beach Dog Track and the patent for the rabbit that paced the dogs around the race track. Hannagan coached O’Hare on how to deal with press questions about the track.[9] O’Hare paid Hannagan with thirty shares in his dog track, which were still in Hannagan’s estate when he died.[10]

Hannagan and O’Hare remained friends until O’Hare was gunned down by the mob in Chicago in 1939.[11] It turned out that O’Hare was a partner of Al Capone in several dog tracks, but when Frank Nitti, Capons lieutenant, took over, he wanted O’Hare out of the picture.The police found a pistol in O’Hare’s coat pocket next to his rosary. After O’Hare’s death, Frank married Ursula Sue Granata, O’Hare’s girlfriend.[12] 

As a sidebar, Eddie O’Hare’s son won the Congressional Medal of Honor as Naval fighter pilot in World War II. O’Hare airport is named after him.

Road Racing

Jimmy Cannon.

Jimmy Cannon13

In October 1936, Hannagan was contacted by an investor syndicate to publicize a revival of the William K. Vanderbilt Cup Auto Race. Hannagan’s biggest challenge in taking the contract was that Cup race was scheduled during the World Series that featured two New York teams, the Yankees and the Giants.

Hannagan willingly charged into the fray, calling all New York newspapers to cover the race during a rainout of a Series game. He even offered Jimmy Cannon, a feature sports writer at the New York Daily Post, a fast trip around the track. Cannon rejected Hannagan’s offer to “[whiz] around those hairpin turns! Death in the car every minute! I think that would make a wonderful story.”[14] While Cannon never took the ride, he did devote a full column to the race.

Even though Hannagan used every press tool at his disposal to drum up business for the race, it was a bore with a pedestrian winning speed of only 65 miles-per-hour and the winning driver Tasio Nuvolari was an unknown in this country. In contrast the winning speed for the 1936 Indianapolis 500 mile race was 113 miles-per-hour, and the winning car was driven by the popular Wilbur Shaw. The owners of the track were never able to make a go of the revived Vanderbilt Cup.

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller 15

The Weissmuller gig fit the classic case of a celebrity needing a top-notch press flack to help get out of trouble. Johnny Weissmuller won fame during two Olympics in the 1920s when he captured five Olympic Gold Medals. By 1929, he had retired from competitive swimming and with three other Olympians made Crystal Champions,[16] a film about their Olympic exploits.

In 1929, Weissmuller and Stubby Kruger, a stunt diver in the movie, drove into Miami after a day of working on the set and spent the night on a toot that set-off alarms throughout the City. It was that evening of fun and hell that resulted in a call to Steve Hannagan ‘…to keep the boys out of jail.” Hannagan made short shrift of Weissmuller’s and Kruger’s problems so that they could move on without the burden of a police record. After Miami, Weissmuller was headed for Hollywood and fame, where he made six films as the iconic Tarzan.

End Notes

  1. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 153.
  2. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 155.
  3. Fisher, Jane (1947); Fabulous Hoosier; Robert McBride & Co.; New York; p. 175.
  4. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 93.
  5. Photograph of Gaston Chevrolet (Retrieved May 4, 2013); “Gaston Chevrolet;”; Wikipedia;
  6. Photograph of Dutch Harry Earl Clark; College Football Hall of Fame; “Dutch Clark; ”Wikipedia;
  7. Roberts, Howard (1953); The Story of Pro Football; Rand McNally & Company; New York (Retrieved June 16, 2011);
  8. Photograph of Eddie O’Hare (Retrieved August 1, 2017); “Two Stories Both Are True”;
  9. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 126.
  10. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document source: New York University Archives; p. 126.
  11. “Capone Mob Murder, World War II War Figure in Naming of O’Hare Airport” ;Organized Crime and Political Corruption (Retrieved May 14, 2013);
  12. “Edward J. O’Hare”; Wikipedia (Retrieved March 31, 2013);
  13. Photograph of Jimmy Cannon (Retrieved August 2, 2017) Politico; “The columnist art, then and now, is reflected in the new anthology ‘Deadline Artists;’
  14. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 211.
  15. Elliot, James; Photograph of Johnny Weissmuller (Retrieved August 1, 2017);
  16. “Johnny Weissmuller;” Wikipedia (Retrieved May 14, 2013);

Steve Hannagan and His Chief Associates

(Steve Hannagan seated, Joe Copps standing to left and Larry Smits to the right[1])

Steve Hannagan contributed several important principles to public relations in general and to sports publicity in particular. His principles can be divined from his work with motor racing (land and water), boxing, individual athletes, major league sports, and other competitive events.

Hannagan’s Sports Publicity Campaign Principles

  • Focus on athletes and their stories .
  • Put the athlete in direct contact with fans.
  • Make sure that athlete’s and event managers coordinate their messages and informal communications with the press agent.
  • Find a connection between a game and local markets.
  • Realize that press and publicity tactics use the same tactics as a political campaign. The press agent has to know the target market for the event, figure out what the market wants to know about the event, identify media that reaches those markets, and structure messages and events to fit the market.
  • Create a press packet for the media that tell your story and helps make their job easier.
  • Be kind to media people; they define who you are and will only work with you if they trust you. They also like free food, drinks, news tips, and anything else that is easily consumable.
  • Help others, be they fans, the media, the public, or big money, because they will remember and help you
  • Do not beat a dead horse! If the public finds the sport boring, it is a waste of time trying to convince them that they should watch it.

End Note

  1. Photograph of Steve Hannagan, Joe Copps, and Larry Smits (retrieved February 2, 2013);;_ylt=A0PDoX8wuC9RShoAuPOJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?…&p=steve+hannagan+joe+copps+larry+smits&oid=7dea782c0844ac5e0aeb3635466c8281&fr2=piv-web&fr=yfp-t-900&tt=Agent%2BSteve%2BHannagan%2Bon%2BPhone%2Bas%2BAssist.%2BJoe%2BCopps%2Band%2BLarry%2BSmits%2B…&b=0&ni=112&no=3&ts=&tab=organic&sigr=15bbr6dtt&sigb=13topclem&sigi=15natjlac&.crumb=bE4f.9Ci8e

In the mid-1930s, Averell Harriman, President of the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) sought a location for a ski resort in the mountainous west to spur passenger traffic. Harriman found a location for a resort outside of Ketchum, Idaho and hired Steve Hannagan to do for Sun Valley what he had done for Miami Beach – turn the ski resort into a nationally recognized vacation destination.

Hannagan agreed to work with Harriman, even though Hannagan lived by the mantra on his Times Square billboard that – “When it is winter in New York it is summer in Miami.” He believed that bitter cold blasts of winter were either to be avoided or leavened by the warmth of good Irish whisky while enjoying a convivial conversation with his friends in the Stork Club. When Hannagan rode into the snow-covered mountain valley, he was surprised to find that the valley that did not live up to his fear that it would be wind swept arctic desert. Here is how he described his mid-winter arrival into the mountain valley soon to be known as ‘Sun Valley’.

“All I had on was a light tweed suit; I was used to the sun down in Miami Beach, and it was colder than hell. So we got out and looked around and all I could see [was] just a goddam field of snow … This is strictly ridiculous; … but we walked around some more with my shoes full of snow, and then the sun came out. It began to feel pretty good, so I opened my coat. Then I took it off. Pretty soon, I opened my vest. Then I began to sweat. You know the temperature got up to 97 degrees there in the sun and the snow still doesn’t melt. When you think of winter sports, you usually think of the cold don’t you? “[1]

Looking from the Future Site of the Ski Resort Lodge toward Bald Mountain [2]

Steve – Did He Name Sun Valley? Ketchum 

Steve Hannagan told the story that his trip into the mountain valley was the genesis for the name of the Harriman resort. Although the winter temperature in the snow-covered valley averaged 17.5 degrees F, the warmth of the sun convinced Hannagan that he could sell Harriman’s resort as a place for “Winter sports under a summer sun.”[3] From this creative insight came the valley’s evocative name “Sun Valley.”

The locals in the nearby time of Ketchum, Idaho were not keen about using the name Sun Valley instead of Ketchum. Steve “told them that there might be a few names less sexy, but he couldn’t think of any.”[4] Besides the name was vulnerable to wiseacres who could call it “Ketchum & Fleece-um!

Before the Sun Valley resort came to town, the only excitement in Ketchum was a rustic Casino whose main customers were rough cowboys looking for weekend gambling, drinking, and women. Travelers dropping into the Ketchum Casino did so either because they were lost or wanted to rough with local rough necks.

Ketchum Casino[5]

The following photo of UP passenger trains parked at the Ketchum depot depicts Harriman’s business goal for Ketchum – a starting point for passengers headed to Sun Valley. Nevertheless, many visitors to Sun Valley returned to Ketchum looking for excitement around the gaming tables at the casino rather than spending a sedate evening looking at flames in fireplace.

What Harriman Wanted at Sun Valley Union Pacific Passenger Trains[6]

End Notes

  1. Ogibene, Peter J. (December 1, 1984); “At the first ski spa, stars outshone the sun and snow”; Smithsonian; p. 112.
  2. Photograph of Sun Valley and Bald Mountain (retrieved January 19, 2014); Ski Resorts. Com;
  3. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 2.
  4. Cutlip, Scott (1994); The Unseen Power; Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers; Hillsdale, New Jersey; p. 264.
  5. Photography of Ketchum Casino (Retrieved August 22, 2017);
  6. Photo of Union Pacific Rail Station at Sun Valley Railway (Retrieved August 21, 2017);


As Steve Hannagan’s passed through Ketchum after his trip to the future Sun Valley, he realized that Averell Harriman could not depend on a run-down mountain town to entertain his guests. [1] Hannagan told Harriman that he should build a resort with world class amenities to serve the celebrities and monied crowd that he wanted to attract to Sun Valley.[2]

Harriman’s first goal was to site the resort so that “the last rays of winter sunshine as the sun [set] behind Baldy Mountain would shine through the ski lodge’s picture windows.”[3] This scene, like the winter beach in Miami, would become the archetypical scene in Hannagan’s publicity campaign for Sun Valley.

C:\Users\Michael\Documents\MKT files\Publications\Hannagan Project\Sun Valley\Hannagan & Harriman.jpg

Averill Harriman and Steve Hannagan Overlooking Construction of the Sun Valley Resort[4]

Image result for Sun Valley Lodge

The Sun Valley Lodge Rises[5]

During Hannagan’s return trip to New York, he wrote a ‘remarkably visionary two-page memo’ telling Harriman what he would have to do to make the resort a success and an unforgettable experience for its guests. [6] The lead for Hannagan‘s memorandum said –

That the “resort had to rise above the perception of being just another ski mountain like those in New Hampshire or Vermont or Massachusetts. It had to have European cachet.”[7]

In the memorandum, Hannagan pressed Harriman to incorporate the following concepts into his plans:

  • “There should be an ice skating rink.”[8]
  • “There should be a glass walled but open ceiling hot water pool … Imagine swimming pictures and diving pictures with snowcapped mountains as background [shades of Miami Beach promotions].”[9]
  • “People like to leave the hotel. Nearby there might be a billiard parlor and a bowling alley.”[10] [Bowling and billiards harkened back to his promotions for Brunswick-Balke-Callender; he never gave up on promoting old or new clients.]
  • “… and certainly a motion picture show [a place where entertainment stars can go to admire themselves].”[11]
  • “Mechanical devices must be installed to take people to the top of the mountain.[12]

Importing the success of Hannagan’s Miami Beach bathing beauties campaign to a wintery Idaho proved a highly successful, if surprising, ploy.

Harriman Built Hannagan’s Indoor-Swimming Pool[13]

Harriman, though feeling overwhelmed by Hannagan’s rush of ideas, eventually used most of his suggestions. Steve Hannagan had insisted that Sun Valley be the ‘best of the best’; and fortunately Harriman had the money to convert Steve’s grandiose ideas into reality. The close relationship between Harriman and Hannagan during the Sun Valley project worked well and was responsible for its on-going success as a leading ski resorts in the world.

End Notes

  1. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 15.
  2. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  3. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; pp. 31-32.
  4. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; p. 13.
  5. Photograph of the construction of the Sun Valley Lodge (Retrieved August 25, 2017);
  6. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  7. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 15.
  8. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  9. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guid;; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  10. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16
  11. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  12. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 16.
  13. Photograph of Two Women in Pool Regalia (Retrieved August 25, 2017);

As the Sun Valley Lodge neared completion, Averell Harriman and Steve Hannagan planned a gala grand opening to introduce the resort to the press. They wanted newspaper coverage to show that Sun Valley was the most elegant ski resort outside of Austria and Switzerland.

Harriman scheduled the grand opening for December 21, 1936 and Hannagan rounded up stars from Hollywood and social elite from the East coast. Their stay was free.[1] Unlike today, there were no payments to attend a promotional event. In return, all Hannagan wanted was a picture of these honored guests for publicity photos. From Steve’s perspective, the big deal was not skiing it was the selling of the Sun Valley experience.

December 21st – The Resort’s Grand Opening Was a Knockout!

There was one climatic problem at the Grand Opening of the Sun Valley Ski Resort. For the first time in fifty-four years there was no snow. All the guests saw was “dry, dusty ski runs and acres of banal sage brush.”[2] Some of the paying guests called the resort the “Ketchum Con.”[3]

The 21st of December was looking like a publicity bust with no snow and only the low-key murmurings of the stars, socialites, and their consorts as they wended their way to the dining room. However, the guests were soon to experience one of the more exciting events in ‘grand opening promotions.’

The Grand Opening dinner, carried by radio station KSL of Salt Lake City, fit the royal expectations of the swells brought in by Hannagan.. The menu included sophisticated French dishes: Brioche au Caviar, Supreme [de] Sole au Champagne, and Tournedos Sauté Chatelaine served with wine, champagne, and liquor flowing freely for all.[4] Even though there was no snow, rich food, good booze, and passion produced the main event of the evening, and also Hannagan’s headline for the event.

As the sumptuous meal ended and the dance bands began enticing guests to the dance floor, a small altercation over the Hollywood star Claudette Colbert turned the pleasant soiree into an evening at the fights. Some guests described the evening as the Dempsey-Tunney fight with tuxedos, gowns, and bejeweled stars and foolish men.

The altercation started when Charles F. Gore, an investment banker from Chicago, barged into the David Selznick’s, who were entertaining, Joan Bennett, Claudette Colbert, and their spouses.[5] Given the tenuous hold that Gore had on his sobriety, he insisted that Colbert take the dance floor with him.[6] Selznick who was notorious for his short fuse, jumped to the star’s defense and decked Gore with a shot to his eye.[7] Management was horrified seeing their elegant evening turning into a honky-tonk bar scene.

Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick helped launch Sun Valley.

David O. Selznick[8]

Larry Smits, Hannagan’s top assistant assigned to Sun Valley, immediately telephoned Hannagan in New York and told him about the disastrous evening. Hannagan response was classic Steve “What do you mean your party’s ruined? Hannagan shouted. Not an editor in the country can resist this story.”[9] Steve quickly rapped out on his typewriter the following lead that became the memorable party’s headline for the ages: ‘Sun Valley Opens with a Bang.”[10]

The St. Stephen’s Day Snow

Hannagan had the Hollywood stars, the swells, the elegant dinner, and his big headline. Now, he needed snow to fall on Sun Valley. Five days after the grand opening on December 26th, the first major winter snowfall arrived in Sun Valley. As the blizzard built in intensity, Steve cranked up the phone and called his Hollywood Associate, Paul Snell, telling him “We’re having the god-damnest snow storm here – – thank god!” [11] Steve told Snell to call Associated Press, United Press, and International News Services in Los Angeles and to tip-off the wire services and to contact their bureaus in Salt Lake City about the storm.[12]

By the way, the snow fell on the day honoring Hannagan’s namesake saint, St. Stephen. He was an early martyr, stoned by a raging crowd whom he denounced for being ‘stiff-necked’ for rejecting salvation.[13] Hannagan’s namesake was a bit of irony for a publicist. Fortunately for him, he never ended up like his patron saint.

Related image

Winter at Sun Valley[14]

Now that Sun Valley had its snow, Steve collected another trainload of stars and starlets from Hollywood for a glamour trip to Sun Valley. To publicize the trip, Steve hired a former news photographer to ride with the Hollywood glamour to Sun Valley. To Steve’s chagrin, the photographer, a notorious drunk, was too soused to take pictures. Even if he wanted to take pictures, he could not because he had pawned the camera to buy another bottle of booze. At the station, Hannagan found a UP employee who had taken several candid shots with his little Kodak camera. These Brownie photos were sent to national papers. They may not have been professional photographs, but they did the trick for Hannagan. He was a happy publicist by hitting a publicity trifecta – congeries of stars at the Grand Opening, a fight and headline, and finally photos of beautiful people to show off the sun and fun at Sun Valley.

End Notes

  1. In 1936, Hollywood stars could be bought for a pittance unlike today, when stars sell themselves like nuggets of gold.
  2. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 18.
  3. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 18..
  4. Ogibene, Peter J. (December 1, 1984); “ At the First Ski Spa, Stars Outshone the Sun and Snow”; Smithsonian; pp. 112-113.
  5. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p. 45.
  6. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p. 45.
  7. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p. 45.
  8. Photograph of David O. Selznick (Retrieved August 25, 2017); Los Angeles Times; Hollywood Starwalk;
  9. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 15.
  10. Sauter, Van Gordon and Jennifer Tuohy (Winter 2010/11); “It Happened to Sun Valley”; Sun Valley Guide; (retrieved April 1, 2011); p. 15.
  11. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 172.
  12. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 172.
  13. Saint Stephen (Retrieved October 19, 2017); Wikipedia;
  14. Photograph of Sun Valley Lodge in Winter (Retrieved August 25, 2017);

Hollywood and Hannagan’s Publicity Machine

Steve Hannagan plugged Sun Valley by convincing Hollywood producers to use Sun Valley as a setting for their movies. It was product placement writ large. His first success was Wesley Ruggles’ movie “I Met Him in Paris” with Sun Valley as a substitute for the Alps. Although Sun Valley is not mentioned in the film, press releases for the movie and the popular press said that it was filmed at the resort.[1]

Lobby Card for ‘I Met Him in Paris’[2]

By the time Steve passed from the scene in 1953, a baker’s dozen of movies were filmed with Sun Valley as the background. Two films starred three-time Olympic winter sports champion: Sonja Henie – Everything Happens at Night with Ray Milland and Robert Cummings in 1938 and Sun Valley Serenade 1941 by Daryl Zanuck[3]

Lobby Card for ‘Everything Happens at Night’[4]

Sun Valley Serenade Shines On | Sun Valley

Lobby Card for ‘Sun Valley Serenade’[5]

Sun Valley was a backdrop for many other movies that needed mountains in the background. For instance, Daryl Zanuck’s 1939 adventure film “Stanley and Livingstone” the mountains of Sun Valley stood-in for African mountains.[6] In the 1940 film, “the Mortal Storm,” Sun Valley’s mountains took a bow as the Austrian Alps[7] and “Northern Pursuit” a World War II film, saw Sun Valley treated as an Artic Mountain Range.[8] Sun Valley was even a setting for an Esther Williams, the swimming queen of Hollywood, in the ‘Duchess of Idaho’.[9]

Esther Williams Uses Hannagan’s Pool[10]

Another movie that employed the vistas of Sun Valley was “How to Marry a Millionaire” filmed in 1953 starring three of the Queens of Hollywood at the time: Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable. In this film, Sun Valley was a substitute for Maine.[11] Sun Valley provided directors with easily accessible backdrops for mountain and wintry scenery because it was close to Hollywood.


Three Queens of Hollywood in Sun Valley[12]

Hannagan’s Relentless Sun Valley Publicity Machine

Hannagan and his associates pumped press releases, pictures, and events about Sun Valley to newspapers, movie news services, radio, and major magazines. Sun Valley fame was carried by society columnists, gossip mongers, advertisers and editors looking for stories of the rich and famous. Here are just a few story lines printed by the press about the resort and in several instances publicized Steve Hannagan:

  • Walter Winchell wrote: “Steve Hannagan’s got the town (New York City) in a song, Moon over Sun Valley, – what a press agent.”[13]
  • John Wannamaker’s store (located in downtown Philadelphia) carried this ad: “America will play at home … under the brilliant blue skies of Wyoming’ Sun Valley”[14] (Steve telegrammed the advertising manager telling him that Sun Valley was in Idaho not Wyoming.)
  • Lucius Beebe’s column needled Hannagan, noting that the Sun Valley icon was “naked to the waist and sweating” but his shoes were “cased in the Idaho snow.”[15]
  • The New York Mirror’s movie critic commented that Steve Hannagan somehow induced Darryl Zanuck to turn Sonja Henie’s Sun Valley Serenade into “an unadulterated sales plug for a commercial account (Sun Valley) [that] ever [came] out of … Hollywood “[16]
  • Variety said flatly, “Steve Hannagan’s campaign in Sun Valley, with film tied in, has made skiing the most publicized winter sport”[17]

Three months after the Grand Opening, there was a massive six-page spread in Life Magazine’s March 8, 1937 issue, featuring the Eastern social elite playing at the new Sun Valley Resort. However, the pictures on the article’s last page would give pause to any sensible person planning a skiing holiday at any resort because it showed novice skiers and ski instructors recovering from spinal injuries, broken legs, and sprained wrists.[18]

End Notes

  1. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p. 48.
  2. Lobby Card ‘I Met Him in Paris (Retrieved August 24, 2017);;
  3. “Sun Valley Movie History: The perfect location” (retrieved April 2, 2014); The Valley Sun;
  4. Lobby Card “Everything Happens at Night’ (Retrieved August 25, 2017); MoviesPictures.Org.
  5. Lobby Card ‘Sun Valley Serenade’ (Retrieved August 25, 2017);
  6. “Stanley and Livingston”; Wikipedia (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  7. “Mortal Storm”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  8. “Northern Pursuit”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015);
  9. “Esther Williams”; Wikipedia (Retrieved February 22, 2015);
  10. ‘Duchess of Idaho’ Lobby Card (Retrieved August 26, 2017); Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings; May 31, 2016;
  11. “How to Marry a Millionaire”; IMBd (retrieved February 22, 2015)
  12. ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ Lobby Card (Retrieved August 26, 2017);;
  13. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 176.
  14. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 176.
  15. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 177.
  16. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 178.
  17. Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan Research Document; source: New York University Archives; p. 178.
  18. “East Goes West to Idaho’s Sun Valley, Society’s Newest Winter Playground” (March 8, 1937); Life; Vol2, No.10; p. 27.

Steve Hannagan was the impetus behind the invention of the modern ski chair lift. After mulling over the rigors of reaching the top of a ski slope, Hannagan suggested to Averell Harriman that Sun Valley needed a “mechanical device” to take people up the mountain. Hannagan believed that the crowd coming to Sun Valley wanted the joy of skiing and not the wear and tear of climbing to the top of a ski slope or being drug up the mountain on a tow line. Both forms of travel Hannagan saw as an undignified form of travel.

Harriman immediately assigned Jim Curran, a bridge engineer for Union Pacific to design a ski chair. Curran turned to his experience with unloading boats from Honduran as the model for the ski chair and lift.[1] His ski chair apparatus was based on this simple model. The following picture depicts a test run of the chair at Union Pacific’s Omaha Operations Center.

Image result for Sun Valley Lodge 1936 construction photos

Testing the Mechanics of the Ski Chair[2]

After Omaha tested the ski chair for reliability, Curran took his team to Sun Valley to oversee its the location of the lift, construction of the tramway and installation of the ski chairs. An early press release by Hannagan even gave the chair its original name: “chair-type lifts”, which was eventually shortened to chair lift.[3]

1939 Sun Valley Single Chairlift

Original Ski Chair[4]

Initially, skiers sat perpendicular to the direction of travel. As the following picture shows, skiers waiting for a ride sat on a snow bank. Waiting on a cold snow bank did not seem to meet Hannagan’s goal of a comfortable ride to the top. Sun Valley crews had to maintain a snow free channel and constant removal of new snow so that skiers could board the chair and be lifted above the snow.

the first chair lift built in sun valley idaho - Google Search

Tramway for the Ski Chairs[5]

Steve Hannagan on the Ski Lift[6]


Worlds First Ski Lift - Proctor Mountain Sun Valley Idaho

Abandoned Ski Lift at Sun Valley[7]

The simple idea that Steve had about a ski lift has subsequently become the standard for the ski industry. Not a bad result for a press agent with no engineering skills.

End Notes

  1. Monkey, Moon (May 8, 2013); “Bananas and the World’s First Chair Lift” (retrieved January 24, 2014); Snow Brains.
  2. Photograph of Test of Ski Chair Using a Truck; Union Pacific Railroad Invention Still Takes Skiers to the Top: (Retrieved January 24, 2014); UP Building America; p 1
  3. Taylor, Dorice (1980); Sun Valley; Ex Libris Sun Valley; p 36.
  4. Photograph of an Original Ski Chair (Retrieved January 24, 2014)
  5. Photograph of the catenary system (Retrieved August 23, 2017);
  6. Photograph of Steve Hannagan on the ski lift (Retrieved August 21, 2017);
  7. Photograph of an abandoned ski lift at Sun Valley (Retrieved August 25, 2017);