Steve Dunleavy one of a kind reporter


Well before Australia shared with the world a plethora of leading men, the Land Down Under lent us another sort of matinee idol who in 1975 took top billing under the byline “Mr. Blood and Guts,” in the aptly named tabloid, “The National Star.”  His birth name, Stephen Dunleavy the alias bestowed by the venerable “Newsweek.” That moniker was appropriate as Dunleavy on more than one occasion found himself on the wrong side of a gun but those are his stories to tell.

Steve, or to his friends, “mate,” exemplified the surfeit of wanderlust consistent with his Irish heritage.  At the age of 15, convinced he had mastered the basic rules of English grammar, quit school and set off to become a reporter. 

The entry level position at Sydney’s “Daily Mirror” was that of a copy boy, stapling five pieces of carbon paper between white paper for the reporter’s use on a manual typewriter.  The job required that young Steve wear a suit, which aged him well enough so that he could spend a few of his hard earned shillings on a pint or two at the local pub frequented by reporters.  If the “Mirror” provided Steve with his college degree then it was the pubs of Sydney that bestowed upon him his master’s in Journalism.  By age 16 he was covering the police beat.

Today adolescents are unduly coddled and could learn a thing or two from our fellow Irishman’s career path.  His overnight success to journalistic superstardom took some 24 years.  There was no instant gratification, but what a ride it was.  Steve crisscrossed the globe and amassed a contact list of who’s who.  John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sophia Loren, Roman Polanski, Roy Cohen, Ann Margret, Fidel Castro, Donald Trump, to name a few.  But again those are his stories to share.

It was 1967 when Steve set permanent roots in New York.  The times were tumultuous, but there was a perfect storm brewing.  By 1977, benign neglect had catapulted New York City into the throes of a fiscal crisis, crime was rampant and lifelong New Yorkers were fleeing en masse.  Add to this toxic mix a blackout and serial killer and it’s all the more reason New Yorkers longed for or perhaps needed something new and energetic.   Steve was more than willing to fill the void.

Having just completed an expose′ on the world’s biggest entertainer, Elvis Presley, Steve was up for the challenge for all the madness New York could dish out.  The book “Elvis, What Happened?” was no small feat; Steve got the exclusive from three of Presley’s confidants.  This was the first time anyone publicly profiled Elvis in a manner contrary to the wishes of his manager.  The way in which Steve exposed Elvis’ frailties would have modern day head shrinks seeing dollar signs.  Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this book may have been too much for the shy, humble country boy from Tupelo, Mississippi to handle.  On August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley, having obtained an advance galley some two weeks earlier, died on the day of the book’s release.  For the first time in his career Elvis took second billing.  It was now Steve’s headline, “Dunleavy’s book: Did it kill Elvis?” 

Far away from Elvis’ Memphis, New York -- fresh off the blackout riots, which became a national model of uncivil disobedience -- was dealing with a homegrown serial killer, David Berkowitz, a.k.a., “The Son of Sam.”  Berkowitz had been recently arrested and competing against Presley for space on the Front Page of New York’s dailies.  The “Son of Sam” story was owned by another Irishman, Jimmy Breslin.   Breslin, a legend in his own right, was a product of New York City and thus may have had the edge.  But Dunleavy, perhaps inspired by his new insight into the wholesome days of Elvis, the kid from Memphis who in 1956, without any formal musical education, owned the New York media with his appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The Dunleavy – Breslin matchup resulted in some of New York’s best daily histrionics, requiring a score card to determine which reporter had bested the other.  The final tally was unimportant; New Yorkers welcomed a respite from the madness the Big Apple had become.  The competition forever changed the model of print news in New York.  However, the Presley and Berkowitz stories put Steve in the enviable position of competing against himself for space on the front page.