Ernest Cuneo

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Ernest Cuneo
Position: 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.
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight: 192 lb (87 kg)
Career information
College: Columbia, Penn State
Career history
Player stats at PFR

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.


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. During his college vacations, Cuneo worked for the New York Daily News. He later served as president of the North American Newspaper Alliance and was later editor-at-large of the Saturday Evening Post. For a number of years he wrote a syndicated column, "Take It or Leave It," which appeared three times a week. The success of the column led to an offer to take over the "National Whirligig," the original "news behind the news" column which appeared five days a week. 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.

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.[2]

Law and politics[edit]

After acquiring his law degree, Cuneo became law secretary to Fiorello 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!

In 1936, James Farley appointed Cuneo associate general counsel of the Democratic National Committee. He would later represent Walter Winchell.

World War II[edit]

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),[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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."[6]

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. 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.

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ "Ernest L. Cuneo, 82; Owned Newspaper Service", The New York Times, March 5, 1988. Accessed April 23, 2010.
  2. ^ Neal Gabler, Walter Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity (1995)
  3. ^ Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, Simon and Schuster, 2008
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Hirshson, Stanley P., General Patton: A Soldier's Life, p. 424
  6. ^ Hirshson, Stanley P., General Patton: A Soldier's Life, p. 426

Further reading[edit]