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

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);;_ylt=A0geJaMS1chbYYkAvghXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTB0N2Noc21lBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNwaXZz?p=gene+tunney&fr2=piv-web&fr=yfp-t#id=190&

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 99.

v Photograph of Gene Tunney running (Retrieved October 21, 2018);

vi Photograph of Gene Tunney (Retrieved April 10, 2013)

vii Ross, Edward Ellis; Unpublished notebook, source: New York University Archives; p. 292.

viii Photograph of Arthur Godfrey (Retrieved October 28, 2018);

ix Photograph of Lucius Beebe (Retrieved September 25, 2018);

x Beebe, Lucius (July 1946); “Along the Boulevards”; Gourmet;

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);

The Stork Club at 3 East 53rd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue,

was the haute café of entertainers, chief executives, gossip columnists, sports figures, and respected publicists like Steve Hannagan. If you were unknown and lucky, you might get in to snatch a free matchbook as a souvenir of your bravery.

For those welcomed as regulars into the inner sanctum, the Stork Club was the best Club in New York City to see friends, to be seen by café society, and in Steve Hannagan’s case, to conduct business. As can be seen in the adjacent picture, even the great Hannagan enjoyed the celebrity game of seeing, being seen, and commenting on the rich and famous.i

Hannagan’s work day was not bound by the confines of his office on Park Avenue or by regular office hours. When most white-collar workers in Manhattan called it a day, Hannagan was opening his evening office at his reserved corner table at the Stork Club. Hannagan noted that “You can do some work in an office but you need a forum [(like the Stork Club], too, where you can test your ideas on people who don’t work for you.”ii

Coca-Cola at the Stork Club

The Hannagan table was usually surrounded by a coterie of celebrated New Yorkers trying to get his ear and by two bottles of Coca-Cola on the back of the banquette seating. Sherman Billingsley kept the bottles of Coke there so that Hannagan could quickly grab one for a publicity photo. Coca-Cola was Hannagan’s largest client. To the right is a candid shot of Hannagan with two bottles of Coca-Cola immediately behind him and Ann Sheridan.iii Steve and his bottles of Coca-Cola were also photographed at the Stork Club with his celebrity friends like Morton Downey, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, Jack Benny, Jane Froman, James Farley, and too many others to mention.iv The executives at Coca-Cola always liked photos of Steve in the Atlanta papers with bottles of Coke sitting near or on his table.

Hannagan usually brought Ann Sheridan along when he hosted an event for Coca-Cola executives. The following two photographs were from a Coca-Cola event in 1944.v

Hannagan to Hannegan

Hannagan occasionally dabbled in politics. He could often be found at the Stork Club with various political figures of the day.

Here he is pontificating with Robert Hannegan, chair of the Chair of the Democratic National Both men were on opposite sides of the political spectrum and in wins and losses. Steve supported Republican presidential candidates, who lost, and Robert Hannegan supported Democratic presidential candidates, who won. This picture was found in the Truman Library; it is believed that the picture was taken sometime in the late 1940s.

Sherman Billingsley’s Respect for Hannagan

Sherman Billingsley was the owner and host of the Stork Club. His respect for Steve Hannagan was readily evident because he displayed several pictures of Steve along with Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and other famous patrons of the Stork Club. Ralph Blumenthal, in his respected book on the Stork Club, noted that Hannagan was a part of Billingsley’s “inner circle.”vii

As Billingsley later told a friend, “…Steve helped make the Stork popular, … Steve gave me advice about everything, and I always listened to him.”viii In a token of his friendship with Billingsley, Hannagan showed his affection for Billingsley by giving him a platinum ring with a cabochon sapphire.ix

Club Room at the Stork Club

One of Hannagan’s recommendations to Billingsley was to build a special club room to host the ‘who’s who’ of guests to the Stork Club. It was the first club room among the clubs of New York City. The adjacent picture is a veritable celebrity fan chart of the 1940s.xIn this picture, Orson Welles is seated in the front on the left with a cigar.

Fights at the Club

Sherman Billingsley had strict rules at the Stork Club to keep order and for the enjoyment of his patrons. Neither he nor his guests wanted major incidents make their way into the gossip columns of the local newspapers. Steve Hannagan told Billingsley that he believed that one “good fight” a year was permissible for a respectable night club. For example,  

Johnny Weissmuller accused a Navy lieutenant of using a lit cigarette to burn the clothing of dancers as they passed his table. The lieutenant advised Weissmuller to get a haircut; his wife [the lieutenant’s] told Weissmuller to go back to Hollywood with the other ape-men. The Navy man suffered two black eyes and complained that Weissmuller’s friends held him as he was punched by Weissmuller. Ernest Hemingway once took issue with a stranger who slapped him on the back; knocking him into three chairs and a table as he brushed him away. Billingsley contended that many of the incidents that appeared in print were minor disagreements which were inflated by the press.” xi [27]

Sortilege, the Perfume, and the Stork Club Aces

Sortilege, a high-quality French perfume by LeGalion, was a gift that Billingsley would give to a few select or celebrated patrons like Marilyn Monroe as pictured below. Billingsley, Hannagan, Arthur Godfrey, and Martin Downey (Harper’s Bazaar carried the following ad for Sortilege in its May,1951 issue. xii) always ready to exploit a good opportunity, thought that they could sell the perfume to an upscale market seeking the cache of the label and its affiliation with the Stork Club.

Billingsley, Downey, Godfrey, and Hannagan staged a promotional stunt for the perfume in Boston that garnered a tidal wave of publicity, a political brouhaha, and a near-riot. xiii They kicked off their campaign by flying a real stork (the icon for the Stork Club) named “Shorti-Legs” into Boston. The stork was accompanied by a flagon of Sortilege worth $5,200 (about $52,000 in current dollars). The stork was presented to Boston’s Mayor on the Boston Common by Edward North, a representative of Sortilege. At the ceremony, the Mayor announced that “Shorti” would be housed at the Boston Zoo. This goodwill gesture was immediately censured by the local press because the Zoo was not interested in a stork. Instead, the Zoo and its patrons wanted a baby hippopotamus which obviously did not fit a Stork Club or Sortilege promotional event.xiv

After the presentation of Shorti-Legs, a near-riot occurred at the airport when a plane dropped 20,000 perfume-soaked blotters with the autographs of the four intrepid investors. Forty-eight of those blotters were coupons that could be exchanged at E.T. Slattery’s, a fine women’s store, for a dram of the perfume.xv This giveaway produced tons of publicity for the product and its investors, but it not only caused a near riot at the airport, the stunt instigated chaos at the store and on the streets leading to it.

Marilyn Monroe Receiving a Sortilege Boxxvi

Hannagan Featured in the Stork Club Cook and Bar Books

Two books were published with the imprimatur of Sherman Billingsley. One was a cookbook and the other a bar book with drinks. Both books had specialties of the house named for notables who frequented the Club. Several examples from the cookbook included the: “Walter Winchell Burger,” “Poached Kennebec Salmon Steak a la Morton Downey,” and “Omelette Steve Hannagan.” xvii

Billingsley used Steve Hannagan’s name because he was an early patron of the Club. Hannagan’s omelette recipe had an omelet garnished with diced mushrooms, fried eggplant and stewed tomatoes.xviii Another recipe in the book named for Steve Hannagan was Squab of Guinea Hen with the hen split and sauté in butter, garnished with sliced oranges, black cherries, and Porto Sauce.xix

In addition to the Stork Club Cookbook, there was a Stock Club Bar Book written by Lucius Beebe, commentator of the New York social scene. Hannagan and Beebe were close friends who were often found in the same social circle. Beebe included Hannagan’s and Ann Sheridan’s favorite drinks. Hannagan’s drink was a dry martini made with dry sherry rather than vermouth. xx

Steve Hannagan – Not a True New York City Glitterati!

Although Steve was a part of the café society scene, he was not a true New York sophisticate. He lacked the breeding, education, and appreciation for the arts; and he did not have truly intimate relationships with high society and the wealthy of the City. For Steve, the arts were merely decoration and meant nothing to him. He could not or would not converse with New York’s power brokers beyond the practical facts of a business deal. Steve’s contribution to café society was a flashing grin and a quick mind.xxi As he said, “Although I’ve been around quite a lot, I’m still just a Hoosier boy with mud and manure on my shoes.” xxii

By-Line – Damon Runyon

Steve Hannagan was a favorite of Damon Runyon, who often ran a note in his column about Hannagan’s latest escapades. Early in Steve’s career, Runyon wrote a humorous comment in his March 25, 1939, column about Hannagan’s prowess at the Indianapolis 500.

“We have often wondered what Steve Hannagan, publicity promoter for Miami Beach… does with his spare time. Now we know. He devotes it to publishing things like ‘wildlife week’ [a conservation piece of publicity], which is now upon us.… We will bet anything he [Hannagan] thinks that ‘wildlife week’ is any week in the Stork Club with plenty of glamour in all its various phases spread o’er the scene … sustaining [the] resources of this nation, eh.’”xxiii

Steve Hannagan’s Passing

On February 6, 1953, Billingsley was sleeping at the Stork Club when a reporter called saying that Steve Hannagan had died in Nairobi, Kenya, the previous night. Ralph Blumenthal said that “The news shattered Billingsley who couldn’t imagine the Club without the bluff, bearish figure he had come to rely on for sage advice and friendship since the Stork’s earliest days.”xxiv

Here is one of the last relics from the Stork Club, a napkin with a note to the front desk of Hannagan’s passing.xxv


i Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan taken at the Stork Club in the early 1950s (Retrieved July 16, 2014);,+Steve+Hannagan+StorkClub+1951.jpg.

ii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 330.

iii Candid photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan with two bottles of Coca-Cola sitting on the back of their banquette (Retrieved August 25, 2018); unknown attribution.

iv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 318.

v Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Ann Sheridan meeting Coca-Cola Executive at the Stork Club in 1944; (Retrieved July 12, 2015);

vi Photograph of Steve Hannagan and Robert Hannegan, Chair of the Democratic National Committee; Truman Library; (Retrieved October 9, 2018);

vii Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p.132.

viii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 329.

ix Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p. 34.

x Photograph of the Club Room at the Stork Club (Retrieved July 20, 2017);

xi  Whelan, Russell (September 1944); “Inside the Stork Club” (Retrieved February 13, 2015); The American Mercury; pp. 357–365.

xii Sortilege advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar (Retrieved September 25, 2018);,r:64,s:20,i:323;

xiii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p .336.

xiv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 336.

xv Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 336.

xvi Picture of Marilyn Monroe receiving a Sortilege box at the Stork Club (Retrieved September 25, 2018);

xvii The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018);

xviii The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018);

xix The Stork Club Cookbook (Retrieved October 3, 2018);

xx Beebe, Lucius (1946); The Stork Club Bar Book; Toronto; Rinehart & Co; p.21.

xxi Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 282.

xxii Ross, Edward Ellis; Hannagan research documents archive; source: New York University Archives; p. 282.

xxiii Runyon, Damon (March 25, 1939); “The Brighter Side”, The San Antonio Light; San Antonio, Texas; p. 5-B.

xxiv Blumenthal, Ralph (2000); Stork Club; New York; Little, Brown and Company; p. 189.

xxv Photograph of a note about Steve Hannagan from the Stork Club (Retrieved August 8, 2018); AntiquePhotoWorld.Com.