Steve Dunleavy, the New York Post’s ace Australian (and notoriously rambunctious) reporter is not dead – but he is retiring. To Dunleavy – at the age of 70 – that is just about the same thing.
For some months – owing to a spinal problem – he has been virtually confined to his bed. His byline has been missing from The Post and that led to rumours that he had died.
“Not true, mate” he told me when I called on the phone some weeks ago, “it’s my legs I can hardly walk”. That has meant he could not make it to the office, go out on stories – or, worst of all, make it to his local bar. Next month Rupert Murdoch and the NY Post is throwing an official retirement party for him – at the nearest hostelry.
Just about every journalist in town – certainly those with any Australian or Fleet Street connections – is expected to be there, including Murdoch who is known to regard Dunleavy as one of his most loyal and fiercely competitive journalists. The tales of his life as a newsman are legendary.
Dunleavy started work as a copyboy on the Sydney Sun at the equivalent of five dollars a week. His father was a photographer on the Sun. They were, it is claimed, so competitive that when Steve switched to the rival Sydney Mirror he once deflated the tyres of his old man’s car to beat him on a story.
UPI lured him to London and in 1966 sent him to New York. Murdoch had not yet invaded the US, but News Corp had a bureau in the same building and after a chance meeting in an elevator with fellow Australian newsman Neal Travis he started stringing on the side for News Corp.
When Murdoch launched his tabloid weekly The National Star, Dunleavy was hired as an editor at a salary of $60,000 a year – which included writing a gossip column under another name. That’s when Dunleavy acquired his fame as a bar-hopping, gregarious back-slapping newsman.
One of the earliest legends began in a snowstorm when after a night of carousing in the celebrity New York hang-out Elaines Steve and a young woman ended up “reclining” as they put it on a snowbank outside the restaurant when a snow plough ran over one of Dunleavy’s feet. Rival newsman Pete Hamill of the NY Daily News is reputed to have commented: “I hope it was his writing foot”
When Murdoch bought the NY Post he took Dunleavy along. Stories he covered included the infamous Son of Sam murders; Chappaquidick in which to prove – or perhaps disprove Ted Kennedy’s alibi he stripped and swam the sea channel to the nearest police station in Martha’s Vineyard; and the death of Elvis Presley which he turned into a bestselling book.
At one time he was married to writer -author Yvonne Dunleavy – who still uses his surname.
He became also well known for his punch-ups in the now defunct Costello’s’ bar, his nights sleeping in a hard wooden chair in The Post’s newsroom and napping in one of the wooden booths at Langan’s, the latest hangout of Post reporters.
As for his medical problems he resisted the idea of an operation to cure his ailing legs.”Don’t want to , and face it mate” he told one colleague lately, “No one wants to operate on a 70 year old man whose burned the candle at both ends, and in the middle too.”