Ernest Cuneo
Born(1905-05-27)May 27, 1905
Carlstadt, New Jersey
DiedMarch 1, 1988(1988-03-01) (aged 82)
Washington, D.C.
Alma materColumbia University
Penn State University
OccupationProfessional athlete, Lawyer, Newspaperman, Author, Intelligence liaison
EmployerSaturday Evening Post (editor at large)
OrganizationDemocratic National Committee (General counsel, 1936–1940)[1]
North American Newspaper Alliance (1951–1980)
Known forProfessional football player
Activities during World War II
Notable work(s)Life With Fiorello (1955)
"National Whirligig" column (1962–1980)[2]
"Take It or Leave It" column (1968–1972)[2]
Spouse(s)Margaret Watson (TK–her death, 1976)[2]
ChildrenJonathan and Sandra[1]
Ernest Cuneo
Fullback, Guard, Halfback
Personal information
Date of birth: (1905-05-27)May 27, 1905
Place of birth: Carlstadt, New Jersey
Date of death: March 1, 1988(1988-03-01) (aged 82)
Place of death: Washington, D.C.
Career information
College: Columbia, Penn State
No regular season or postseason appearances
Career history
*Orange Tornadoes (1929)
Career highlights and awards
  • N/A
Stats at

Ernest L. Cuneo (May 27, 1905 – March 1, 1988)[1] was an American lawyer, newspaperman, author, and intelligence liaison. He was also a professional football player in the National Football League.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Education and early career[edit | edit source]

Cuneo was also a star athlete in high school and later played football at Columbia and Penn State University. Afterwards, he played two seasons in the NFL for the Orange Tornadoes and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Cuneo's first newspaper experience was as editor of the school newspaper at East Rutherford High School in East Rutherford, New Jersey. During his college vacations, Cuneo worked for the New York Daily News.

After acquiring his law degree, Cuneo became law secretary to Fiorello H. LaGuardia, who was then a congressman representing New York. During this time, he would brief LaGuardia on the investigations of judicial malpractice and fraudulent bankruptcies. His 1955 memoir Life With Fiorello would serve in large part for the basis of the Tony Award-winning musical Fiorello![1]

In 1936, James Farley appointed Cuneo associate general counsel of the Democratic National Committee. According to Neal Gabler, from the mid-1930s on, Cuneo not only acted as a liaison between Franklin Roosevelt and Walter Winchell, but he frequently wrote long political items for the Winchell column.[3]

World War II service[edit | edit source]

When World War II began, General William Donovan, who was head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), appointed Cuneo a liaison officer between the OSS, British Security Coordination (a part of MI-6),[4] the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of State, and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

A friend of the muckraking newspaper columnist and broadcaster Drew Pearson, Cuneo used his position at the OSS to leak stories on U.S. commanders and their behavior.[5] Pearson, whose reputation had been severely damaged after President Roosvelt had publicly called him a liar, wanted to strike back at the administration and its conduct of the war. Cuneo suggested to Pearson that a sensational, exclusive news story would make people forget Roosevelt's criticism, and offered Pearson details of General George S. Patton's slapping of a private soldier he had learned from others in the War Department.[6] Pearson's resulting broadcasts and news articles sufficiently concerned Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that he requested Army General Joseph T. McNarney to "..put an inspector on the War Department to see who has been leaking out information. Pearson's articles are about three-quarters false but there's just a germ of truth in them that someone must have given him."[7]

While working with Donovan and British Intelligence, Cuneo became acquainted with such notable people as Sir William Stephenson, Roald Dahl, Noël Coward, Ivar Bryce, and James Bond creator Ian Fleming.[8] A particularly close friendship developed between Fleming and Cuneo, and Fleming named a taxi driver in his James Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever "Ernie Cureo" (sic). Fleming later credited Cuneo with more than half the plot for Goldfinger and all of the basic plot for Thunderball; the dedication of the latter novel reads, "To Ernest Cuneo, Muse." For his service during the war, Cuneo was decorated by Italy, Great Britain, and the City of Genoa.

Post-war activities[edit | edit source]

In March 1951, Cuneo and a small group of investors[9] purchased the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). In addition, Cuneo and the Bell Syndicate-North American Newspaper Alliance group acquired the McClure Newspaper Syndicate in September 1952, with Louis Ruppel installed as president and editor.[9] Cuneo acquired full control over NANA in the mid-1950s and served as president until 1963 when he sold it. Because of Cuneo's association with former members of American and British intelligence, including Fleming and Bryce, and because some writers in the Cuneo era had alleged links to the CIA, critics have suggested that NANA under his tenure was a front for espionage.[10]

He remained with NANA as a columnist and military analyst from 1963 to 1980.[11] For a number of years Cuneo wrote a syndicated column, "Take It or Leave It," which appeared three times a week. Earlier (in the early 1960s) he took over the "National Whirligig," the original "news behind the news" column[2] which appeared five days a week; writing that column until his death.

He also later served as editor-at-large of The Saturday Evening Post.

Cuneo also wrote several books. His writings also appeared in several articles posted by the Professional Football Researchers Association. These writing reflected on Cuneo's own experiences in the NFL, as well as his friendship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Benny Friedman.

Published works[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Ernest L. Cuneo, 82; Owned Newspaper Service", The New York Times, March 5, 1988. Accessed April 23, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Ernest Cuneo Papers, 1926-1988," Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. Accessed Nov. 15, 2017.
  3. Neal Gabler, Walter Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity (Knopf, 1994).
  4. Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, Simon and Schuster, 2008
  5. Sweeney, Michael S., Secrets of victory: the Office of Censorship and the American press and Radio in World War II, University of North Carolina Press, ISBN 0-8078-2598-0 (2001), pp. 157-162
  6. Hirshson, Stanley P., General Patton: A Soldier's Life, p. 424
  7. Hirshson, Stanley P., General Patton: A Soldier's Life, p. 426
  8. Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, 2008. p. 332
  9. 9.0 9.1 Knoll, Erwin. "McClure Syndicate Sold to Bell-NANA". Editor & Publisher (September 6, 1952).
  10. "NORTH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER ALLIANCE". NameBase. Retrieved 2012-01-20.[dead link]
  11. "Ernest L. Cuneo, 82; Owned Newspaper Service", The New York Times, March 5, 1988. Accessed April 23, 2010.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

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