John V. Tunney, U.S. Senator

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John Varick Tunney

Birthplace: New York, New York County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Gene Tunney and Polly Lauder Tunney
Ex-husband of Private
Brother of Private; Private and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About John V. Tunney, U.S. Senator

John Varick Tunney (born June 26, 1934), is a former Democratic Party United States Senator and Representative.


He is the son of the famous heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and Connecticut socialite Polly Lauder Tunney.

Tunney graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall, in 1956. He attended the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1959, where he was a roommate of future Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, who remained a close friend. Tunney was admitted to the Virginia and New York bars in 1959 and practiced law in New York City.

Tunney joined the United States Air Force as a judge advocate and served until he was discharged as a captain in April 1963. He taught business law at the University of California, Riverside in 1961 and 1962. In 1963 he was admitted to practice law in California. He was a special adviser to the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime from 1963 until 1968.

In 1964, Tunney was elected as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from California's 38th Congressional District (Riverside and Imperial counties). He served from January 3, 1965 until his resignation on January 2, 1971.

United States Senator

In one of the most bitter primary campaigns in California history, Tunney defeated fellow Congressman George Brown, Jr., who represented a congressional district that bordered Tunney's district in the Riverside - San Bernardino area of California. One of the key issues was the military draft. While Brown and Tunney both questioned the continuing and expanding U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Brown opposed continuing the military draft while Tunney favored it. This conflict allowed incumbent Republican George Murphy to gain a lead in the early polls. However, Murphy was in his late 60s and his speaking voice was reduced to a gravelly whisper from throat cancer while Tunney was youthful and energetic, blatantly comparing himself with Robert F. Kennedy, largely through haircut and poses, on the campaign trail. California's growing population was becoming more aware, and Murphy's staunch support for the Vietnam War also hurt his support. As the general election approached, Tunney overtook Murphy in the polls. Ultimately, Californians split their ticket in the 1970 mid-term election, easily re-electing Republican governor Ronald Reagan and easily electing Democrat Tunney to the Senate.

Tunney was elected in 1970 to the U.S. Senate for a six year term. He was renominated in 1976 despite a high-profile challenge from his left in the form of Tom Hayden. That fall, Tunney was defeated for re-election in by Republican S. I. "Sam" Hayakawa, the President of San Francisco State University, who had never held elected office. Hayakawa ran as an outsider, and highlighted Tunney's numerous travels, missed Senate votes, and poor Senate attendance record during the campaign. Still, Tunney led in the polls right up to election night, despite a steadily shrinking lead as the campaign wore on. Despite Democrat Jimmy Carter's victory in the Presidential election, Tunney lost to Hayakawa in a mild upset (it is to be noted that Republican Gerald Ford carried California in the Presidential election). Tunney resigned his Senate seat on January 1, 1977, two days before his term was to officially expire, to allow Hayakawa to have seniority over other incoming Senators.

During his Senate term, Tunney produced a weekly radio report to California, in which he often interviewed other legislators. In 1974, he also authored an anti-trust bill known as the Tunney Act. Tunney would later write a book, The Changing Dream.

Other than appearing at a Los Angeles, California campaign fund-raiser in 1980 at the Biltmore Hotel for then Massachusetts U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination against President Jimmy Carter, after his U.S. Senate defeat in 1976, Tunney played little role in politics, focusing instead on law practice and service on corporate boards. However, in both 1980 and 1983, Tunney served as a liaison between Ted Kennedy and the KGB during two trips to Moscow. In both cases, Tunney relayed to the Communist leadership that Kennedy felt that the Soviets were being misunderstood and were being unfairly cast in a negative light by President Carter in 1980 and President Reagan in 1983, and that Soviet leadership needed to take a more active role in convincing the American public that they were a benign force for peace in the world (Kennedy volunteered to assist the Soviets in this effort). In February 2003, Tunney joined with other former Senators, including George McGovern and Fred Harris, in opposing a war with Iraq.

Tunney's successful Senate race in 1970 is reportedly the inspiration for the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate on which the writer Jeremy Larner and director Michael Ritchie based the film. (Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films by Terry Christensen and Peter Hass, page 146)

After he left the Senate, Tunney was a news commentator, and a named partner at the Los Angeles law firm then known as Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney from 1976 until he left in early 1987 to pursue his personal business activities.

Personal life

On May 22, 1972, Dutch-born Mieke Tunney, 35, sued for dissolution of her 13-year marriage to California's Democratic Senator John V. Tunney, on the basis of irreconcilable differences. In addition to alimony, child support and half the community property, she requested custody of their three children. Tunney, claiming surprise, hurried back from California to see Mieke in Washington. Washington, equally surprised, prepared to get along without one of its most glamorous couples. They were married on February 5, 1959.

Son Mark Tunney works in the financial industry.

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John V. Tunney, U.S. Senator's Timeline

June 26, 1934
New York, New York County, New York, United States