Damon Runyon or Runyan is an American humorous
writer who is always using the slang
of the Brooklyn
gentlemen and ladies of the gangster
professions, or Guys and Dolls
in the phrase he has made famous, in a slow and careful way and with much use of the present tense
. His style is quite as distinctive as the noir
of guys like Raymond Chandler
And you cannot tell by the way a party looks or how he lives in this town, if he has any scratch, because many a party who is around in automobiles, and wearing good clothes, and chucking quite a swell is nothing but a phonus bolonus and does not have any real scratch whatever.
If like me you can't remember how to spell his name and have to look it up, here's something to confuse you more. He was born Runyan, in fact he was born Alfred Damon Runyan, and it was a misprint
when he was a cub reporter
that gave him the O, and he decided to stick with it1
. This was in Pueblo
, CO, where he grew up, though he had been born in Manhattan
, KS, in 18842
As a young reporter he went to the Philippines to cover the Spanish-American War, then later worked for the Denver Post. He did various kinds of journalism, especially as a sports writer and in short stories, and in 1910 moved to New York. This mixture developed into his characteristic style of human interest among the high drama in the worlds he wrote about. He become one of the most-read journalists in America. Quite self-interested, it was said that he would go into the composing room and shorten some other writer's story to give himself room.
I always claim the mission workers came out too early to catch any sinners on this part of Broadway. At such an hour the sinners are still in bed resting up from their sinning of the night before, so they will be in good shape for more sinning a little later on.
His most famous work is Guys and Dolls
, a 1932 collection of stories, which became a Broadway
play in 1950 and a film in 1955 with Marlon Brando
, Jean Simmons
, and Frank Sinatra
Later he went to Hollywood and wrote scripts. One of his films was Little Miss Marker, which propelled Shirley Temple to stardom.
On his death, from throat cancer on 10 December 1946, his ashes were scattered over Broadway in a plane piloted by the ace Eddie Rickenbacker! There's a cancer research foundation named for him, set up by his friend Walter Winchell, whom (it has been said) he despised.
'My boy,' he says, 'always try to rub up against money, for if you rub up against money long enough, some of it may rub off on you.'
1. And later another editor threw away his "Alfred", declaring that only Protestants had three names.
2. Or 1880, goddammit, why can't websites get together and agree on things? He is said to have lied about his age to get into the war.
There's a story to read called Dancing Dan's Christmas at http://www.informalmusic.com/Runyon/dancingdan.html to give you the full flavour of his style. It begins thus:
Now one time it comes on Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein's little speakeasy in West Forty-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him.
This hot Tom and Jerry is an old time drink that is once used by one and all in this country to celebrate Christmas with, and in fact it is once so popular that many people think Christmas is invented only to furnish an excuse for hot Tom and Jerry, although of course this is by no means true.