Once my husband didn’t come home at his regular time in the evening. This was a while ago, maybe five years B.C. (Before Cellphones). I didn’t panic too much until he was more than an hour late. I called his office; he had left at the usual time. An hour later I was anxious enough to call one of my sons who lived nearby. We speculated about where Dad could be. An hour after that, I called my other son; by this point I was really getting upset. It was so unusual that I began to worry about all the things one worries about when somebody of regular habits just doesn’t show up: Heart attack, mugging, kidnapping? My sons were about to converge on my apartment when my husband finally staggered in after ten o’clock. “Where were you?” I demanded. “What happened?”
”Met Steve,” he muttered, and collapsed into bed. Only the next day, between Alka-Seltzers, did he explain that he had dropped into an Irish bar — just to use the restroom, he claimed — and bumped into the New York Post’s Steve Dunleavy. I instantly understood how four hours had disappeared and why my husband could barely talk when he arrived home.
Steve Dunleavy, a swashbuckling Aussie journalist, the ultimate tabloid guy, is retiring. He has worked for Rupert Murdoch for 41 years, and at Murdoch’s Post since 1976. He epitomizes the energy and derring-do of the type of journalism that is practiced daily on Fleet Street and throughout Australia. I know quite a bit about British and Australian tabloid journalists. My husband is a British journalist. There is an old jingle by Humbert Wolfe that goes:
You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.
Same thing, in spades, is true about the Aussies.
Steve is famous for lots of scoops — interviewing the Boston Strangler in jail, helping break the Son of Sam case, interviewing one of the “boiler room girls” on Chappaquiddick, managing to get an embargoed copy of Judith Exner’s tell-all autobiography. He also penned the book about Elvis’s decline that came out the week Elvis died of an overdose.
He is also famous for the way he got his stories — often using his charm and good looks — and how he handled the competition. Once in Australia when he was a copyboy, just 15, he punctured the tires of a rival paper’s car. It was the car his father, a photographer for that paper, was using. Steve says yes, he punctured the tires, but he really didn’t know his father was there. He’s ruthless but not that ruthless.
Steve has always supported policeman, firemen, and our troops. He wrote of his pride when his own son, Capt. Peter Dunleavy, went to Iraq in 2004. His brash tabloid style and his right-wing politics, which he expressed in his Post column, tended to irritate his more liberal colleagues on other New York papers. Once, outside of Elaine’s restaurant, he was, shall we say, affectionately embracing a young woman, lying down in a snow bank. A snow plow came along and hit them, and his foot was broken. Pete Hamill of the New York Daily News quipped, “I hope it was his writing foot.”
Steve says, “I always dreamed of dying at my desk.” But now he has back trouble that makes it hard for him to get around. Just the other week, my husband and he were discussing stenosis and knee-replacement surgery. My husband doesn’t drink anymore, and I hear that Steve has tapered down to beer. But whatever is in the glass, Steve, here’s a toast to you. — Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author ofSpin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.