Description of Steve Hannagan
Hannagan’s face was distinctively Irish – ruddy glow, moon shaped, and deeply tanned during the winter season in Miami Beach and by regular application of a sun lamp. His hair was parted on the left side of his head and his hair, and his eyebrows were as “black as a raven’s wing.”i Hannagan smiled often; and when he smiled his eyes “seemed to disappear beneath a bramble of sable lashes.”ii By any accounts, he was a happy Irishman and rarely depressed until the last year of his life.
Hannagan’s Health Regimen
Steve Hannagan had a quixotic regimen that both facilitated and hindered his health.. He was disciplined in eating and exercising but ill-disciplined due to his high-tempo lifestyle. Hannagan’s best efforts to attain good health by sparring, running, and steam baths were defeated by late hours in New York Clubs, drinking, and a multi-pack-a-day smoking habit.
Sparring with the Champ
Dan Mahoney arrived in Miami about the same time as Steve Hannagan. Mahoney was sent there by news mogul James Cox to run the Miami Herald. Gene Tunney, an up and coming heavyweight boxer, roomed with Mahoney in his large Miami Beach apartment. Hannagan, on the other hand, arrived in Miami Beach by way of Carl Fisher to increase sales for his massive real estate projects.
One day, during lunch at the Wolford Hotel, Hannagan spotted Mahoney and Tunney at the next table. Knowing that Mahoney was publisher of the Herald, Steve, who never missed a chance to meet a fellow newsman, leapt to the Mahoney and Tunney table and introduced himself.
Mahoney and Tunney took an immediate liking to Hannagan, a fellow descendant of an Irish family like them. Soon after meeting, the three men became close friends.
During one of the Mahoney – Hannagan – Tunney lunches, Tunney received a phone call from his boxing agent telling him that Jack Dempsey had agreed to a heavyweight champion fight with Tunney. The fight went down in history when Dempsey failed to go to the corner after knocking Tunney to the campus. Dempsey’s error gave Tunney time to rise from the campus and defeat Dempsey for the championship.
Gene Tunney Sends Jack Dempsey to the Canvasiii
Befriending Gene Tunney was one of the great moments in Steve Hannagan’s life. Hannagan was especially thrilled when Tunney asked him to spar as he prepared for his championship fight with Thomas Heeney.iv Could a momma’s boy like Steve Hannagan really survive sparring matches with the great Gene Tunney? Hannagan believed he was safe because he trusted Tunney not to knock him into the next century.
Hannagan – Running in Circles in New York City
Tunney also prodded Hannagan to make running a daily ritual in his health regimen. In the adjacent picture Tunney is seen jogging in preparation for his fight with Thomas Heeny.v
When Hannagan was in New York City, his main venue for running was the Central Park Reservoir track. Steve bragged to his associates that he ran four miles a day and, in the evening, he worked out at the gym for an hour. Knowing Steve’s proclivity for late-night spent at the Stork Club, his friends must have wondered if the purpose of the run was for exercise or to sweat-off the previous night’s cocktails.vi
Massages & Steam Baths
Tunney also introduced Hannagan to the benefits of a regular massage. When Steve was in Miami, he arranged a daily massage with Tunney’s trainer, Lou Fink.vii He also scheduled daily massages in New York.
Steve’s daily run was usually followed it by sweat in the steam room. with his buddies Arthur Godfrey (picture on rightviii) and Lucius Beebe (picture on leftix). Godfrey had a daily, nation-wide variety talk show, and Beebe was a celebrated social columnist and bon vivant.x Beebe, like other columnists of Steve’s era, soon became a media conduit supporting Steve’s press campaigns.
Vitamins and other nostrums were another component of Hannagan’s health regimen that he carried in his pockets and stored in his medicine cabinet and on a bookshelf at work. Ann Sheridan told friends that Steve seemed to take a pill every thirty minutes.xi Yet, pills could not offset the ill-effects of his bad health habits nor his high stress life style.
Hannagan Defeats His Good Health Regimen
Steve was a moderate drinker of straight bourbon. He never found wine to his taste, and rarely drank champagne. When he was out for a romantic night, he would drink whatever his date drank; even if he did not like it.
However, Steve did go on benders two or three times a year, cruising the posh night clubs in New York. When he was on one of his night club crawls, he never went to the Stork Club. No reason was known why he did not go there. Possibly he steered clear of the Club because it was his evening office, and he did not want to be barred by his good friend Sherman Billingsley. Billingsley was strict about removing patrons who caused drunken scenes at the Stork Club.
Steve was tolerant of friends and associates who were notorious lushes. Nevertheless, he expected his associates to show up for work on time and ready to perform, even after they had dipped too many times from the liquor barrel the night before.
However, Hannagan could not stand watching a priest drink, especially to excess. Sherman Billingsley witnessed Steve confront several priests who were drinking heavily. He demanded their name and reported them to the Archdiocese of New York. The sons of the Irish must keep their religious myths unspoiled by drunken priests.
Cigarettes probably did the most damage to Hannagan’s health. He was a notorious chain smoker going through two to three packs a day. Once he found a psychiatrist who promised to help him kick the habit in five sessions. The only outcome from his anti-smoking hypnosis – he changed cigarette brands.xii
Although hypnosis did not work for Steve, for some reason he believed that it was a magic gateway for others to quit smoking. As a result, like many converts to a failed religion, he recommended the therapy to other unsuspecting smokers. In one case, he recommended hypnosis to his underweight secretary who was a heavy smoker. Hannagan was concerned that her smoking habit had weakened her appetite; so, he recommended his anti-smoking hypnotist. After taking the hypnosis treatment, she like Hannagan failed to quit smoking, but she did switch to cigarillos. She was so concerned about Hannagan’s reaction to her failure to yield on her smoking habit that she never told him.
The High Life
Pictures of Steve Hannagan taken over the last several years of his life show the toll on his face of his high-stress life style. As his friends said, “Steve was just burning his candle at both ends [;] he was living the lives of three men, or at least trying to.”xiii If Steve was a hypochondriac, as some claimed, he refused to invest the psychological effort to deal with his main health problems that were self-inflicted.
Hannagan in His Early 50s
He once quipped that his friends bet thousands of dollars when his intensive daily exercise would finally kill him. These same friends were quite concerned that his exercise regimen was not good for his health owing to his go-for-broke life style. Steve’s good friend Eddie Rickenbacker even told Steve to “Cut it out, Steve! You’re too old for that kind of stuff and you’re not physically [up] for it.”xiv Ed Sullivan twitted Steve in his daily column for Hearst newspapers, “Little Old New York,” saying that “Steve’s [exercise program] [is so that he] will be glamour-girl Sheridan’s glamour boy.” xv
In the end, Hannagan followed Lucius Beebe’s epicurean philosophyxvi which gloriously ignored adverse health effects:
i Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 3.
ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 3.
iii Photograph of Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey fight (Retrieved September 18, 2018); https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A0geJaMS1chbYYkAvghXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?p=gene+tunney&fr2=piv-web&fr=yfp-t#id=190&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Ftheselvedgeyard.files.wordpress.com%2F2011%2F03%2Fbe053764.jpg%3Fw%3D700&action=click.
iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 99.
v Photograph of Gene Tunney running (Retrieved October 21, 2018); http://www.josportsinc.com/item_images/1233169129.jpg.
vi Photograph of Gene Tunney (Retrieved April 10, 2013) http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/aroundthemall/tag/sports/page/2/.
vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 292.
ix Photograph of Lucius Beebe (Retrieved September 25, 2018); http://www.dandyism.net/2008/04/26/steppin-out-with-my-beebe-luscious-lucius-part-two/.
x Beebe, Lucius (July 1946); “Along the Boulevards”; Gourmet; http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/1940s/1946/07/alongtheboulevards.
xi Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 293.
xii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; pp. 293-4.
xiii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 293.
xiv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 293.
xv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p .293.
xvi Chamberlain, Hannah (Retrieved October 5, 2018); https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahchamberlain/11-lucius-beebe-quotes-that-will-restore-your-fait.