He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the Brooklyn or Midtown demi-monde. The adjective "Runyonesque" refers to this type of character as well as to the type of situations and dialog that Runyon depicted. He spun humorous and sentimental tales of gamblers, hustlers, actors, and gangsters, few of whom go by "square" names, preferring instead colorful monikers such as "Nathan Detroit", "Benny Southstreet", "Big Jule", "Harry the Horse", "Good Time Charley", "Dave the Dude", or "The Seldom Seen Kid". His distinctive vernacular style is known as "Runyonese": a mixture of formal speech and colorful slang, almost always in present tense, and always devoid of contractions. He is credited with coining the phrase "Hooray Henry", a term now used in British English to describe an upper-class, loud-mouthed, arrogant twit.
Runyon's fictional world is also known to the general public through the musical Guys and Dolls based on two of his stories, "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure". The musical additionally borrows characters and story elements from a few other Runyon stories, most notably "Pick The Winner". The film Little Miss Marker (and its two remakes, Sorrowful Jones and the 1980 Little Miss Marker) grew from his short story of the same name.
Runyon was also a well-known newspaper reporter, covering sports and general news for decades for various publications and syndicates owned by William Randolph Hearst. Already famous for his fiction, he wrote a well-remembered "present tense" article on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Presidential inauguration in 1933 for the Universal Service, a Hearst syndicate, which was merged with the co-owned International News Service in 1937.
|Born||Alfred Damon Runyan|
October 4, 1880
|Died||December 10, 1946 (aged 66)|
New York City
Damon Runyon was born Alfred Damon Runyan to Alfred Lee and Elizabeth (Damon) Runyan. His relatives in his birthplace of Manhattan, Kansas included several newspapermen. His grandfather was a newspaper printer from New Jersey who had relocated to Manhattan, Kansas in 1855, and his father was editor of his own newspaper in the town. In 1882 Runyon's father was forced to sell his newspaper, and the family moved westward. The family eventually settled in Pueblo, Colorado in 1887, where Runyon spent the rest of his youth. By most accounts, he attended school only through the fourth grade. He began to work in the newspaper trade under his father in Pueblo. In present-day Pueblo, Runyon Field, the Damon Runyon Repertory Theater Company, and Runyon Lake are named in his honor.
In 1898, when still in his teens, Runyon enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in the Spanish–American War. While in the service, he was assigned to write for the Manila Freedom and Soldier's Letter.
After his military service, he worked for various Colorado newspapers, beginning in Pueblo. His first job as a reporter was in September 1900, when he was hired by the Pueblo Star; he then worked in the Rocky Mountain area during the first decade of the 1900s: at the Denver Daily News, he served as "sporting editor" (what would today be called "sports editor") and then worked as a staff writer. His expertise was in covering the semi-professional teams in Colorado; he even briefly managed a semi-pro team in Trinidad, Colorado. At one of the newspapers where he worked, the spelling of his last name was changed from "Runyan" to "Runyon", a change he let stand.
After a notable failure in trying to organize a Colorado minor baseball league, which lasted less than a week, Runyon moved to New York City in 1910. In his first New York byline, the American editor dropped the "Alfred" and the name "Damon Runyon" appeared for the first time. For the next ten years he covered the New York Giants and professional boxing for the New York American.
He was the Hearst newspapers' baseball columnist for many years, beginning in 1911, and his knack for spotting the eccentric and the unusual, on the field or in the stands, is credited with revolutionizing the way baseball was covered. Perhaps as confirmation, Runyon was inducted into the writers' wing (the J. G. Taylor Spink Award) of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. He is also a member of the International Boxing Hall Of Fame and is known for dubbing heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, the "Cinderella Man". Runyon frequently contributed sports poems to the American on boxing and baseball themes, and also wrote numerous short stories and essays.
One year, while covering spring training in Texas, he met Pancho Villa in a bar and later accompanied the unsuccessful American expedition into Mexico searching for Villa. It was while he was in Mexico that he met the young girl whom he eventually married.
Gambling, particularly on craps or horse races, was a common theme of Runyon's works, and he was a notorious gambler himself. One of his paraphrases from a well-known line in Ecclesiastes ran: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."
A heavy drinker as a young man, he seems to have quit drinking soon after arriving in New York, after his drinking nearly cost him the courtship of the woman who became his first wife, Ellen Egan. He remained a heavy smoker.
His best friend was mobster accountant Otto Berman, and he incorporated Berman into several of his stories under the alias "Regret, the horse player". When Berman was killed in a hit on Berman's boss, Dutch Schultz, Runyon quickly assumed the role of damage control for his deceased friend, correcting erroneous press releases (including one that stated Berman was one of Schultz's gunmen, to which Runyon replied, "Otto would have been as effective a bodyguard as a two-year-old.").
Runyon's marriage to Ellen Egan produced two children (Mary and Damon, Jr.), but broke up in 1928 over rumors that Runyon had become infatuated with Patrice Amati del Grande, a Mexican woman he had first met while covering the Pancho Villa raids in 1916 and discovered once again in New York, when she called the American seeking him out. Runyon had promised her in Mexico that if she would complete the education he paid for her, he would find her a dancing job in New York. She became his companion after he separated from his wife. After Ellen Runyon's death, Runyon and del Grande married on July 7, 1932; that marriage ended in 1946 when she left him for a younger man.
Runyon died in New York City from throat cancer in late 1946, at age 66. His body was cremated, and his ashes were illegally scattered from a DC-3 airplane over Broadway in Manhattan by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker on December 18, 1946. The family plot of Damon Runyon is located at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
The English comedy writer Frank Muir comments that Runyon's plots were, in the manner of O. Henry, neatly constructed with professionally wrought endings, but their distinction lay in the manner of their telling, as the author invented a peculiar argot for his characters to speak. Runyon almost totally avoids the past tense (English humourist E.C. Bentley thought there was only one instance, and was willing to "lay plenty of 6 to 5 that it is nothing but a misprint" but "was" appears in the short stories "The Lily of St Pierre" and "A Piece of Pie"; "had" appears in "The Lily of St Pierre", "Undertaker Song" and "Bloodhounds of Broadway"), and makes little use of the future tense, using the present for both. He also avoided the conditional, using instead the future indicative in situations that would normally require conditional. An example: "Now most any doll on Broadway will be very glad indeed to have Handsome Jack Madigan give her a tumble" (Guys and Dolls, "Social error"). E. C. Bentley comments that "there is a sort of ungrammatical purity about it [Runyon's resolute avoidance of the past tense], an almost religious exactitude." There is an homage to Runyon that makes use of this peculiarity ("Chronic Offender" by Spider Robinson) which involves a time machine and a man going by the name "Harry the Horse".
He uses many slang terms (which go unexplained in his stories), such as:
There are many recurring composite phrases such as:
Runyon's stories also employ occasional rhyming slang, similar to the cockney variety but native to New York (e.g.: "Miss Missouri Martin makes the following crack one night to her: 'Well, I do not see any Simple Simon on your lean and linger.' This is Miss Missouri Martin's way of saying she sees no diamond on Miss Billy Perry's finger." (from "Romance in the Roaring Forties")).
The comic effect of his style results partly from the juxtaposition of broad slang with mock-pomposity. Women, when not "dolls", "Judies", "pancakes", "tomatoes", or "broads", may be "characters of a female nature", for example. He typically avoided contractions such as "don't" in the example above, which also contributes significantly to the humorously pompous effect. In one sequence, a gangster tells another character to do as he is told, or else "find another world in which to live".
Runyon's short stories are told in the first person by a protagonist who is never named, and whose role is unclear; he knows many gangsters and does not appear to have a job, but he does not admit to any criminal involvement, and seems to be largely a bystander. He describes himself as "being known to one and all as a guy who is just around". The radio program The Damon Runyon Theatre dramatized 52 of Runyon's works in 1949, and for these the protagonist was given the name "Broadway", although it was admitted that this was not his real name, much in the way "Harry the Horse" and "Sorrowful Jones" are aliases.
There are many collections of Runyon's stories: in particular Runyon on Broadway and Runyon from First to Last between them provide extensive coverage. The latter is claimed to contain all of Runyon's stories (i.e. fiction) not included in Runyon on Broadway. In fact, there are two Broadway stories originally published in Collier's Weekly but not included in either collection: "Maybe a Queen" and "Leopard's Spots", both collected in More Guys And Dolls (1950).
Runyon on Broadway contains the following stories, all of which are Broadway stories written in Runyonese:
More Than Somewhat
Take It Easy
Runyon from First to Last includes the following stories and sketches:
The First Stories (early non-Broadway stories):
Stories à la Carte (Broadway stories written in Runyonese):
The Last Stories (Broadway stories written in Runyonese):
Written in Sickness (sketches):
Twenty of his stories became motion pictures.
The Damon Runyon Theater radio series dramatized 52 of Runyon's short stories in weekly broadcasts running from October 1948 to September 1949 (with reruns until 1951). The series was produced by Alan Ladd's Mayfair Transcription Company for syndication to local radio stations. John Brown played the character "Broadway", who doubled as host and narrator. The cast also comprised Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten, Joseph Du Val, Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, Herb Vigran, Sheldon Leonard, William Conrad, Jeff Chandler, Lionel Stander, Sidney Miller, Olive Deering and Joe De Santis. Pat O'Brien was initially engaged for the role of "Broadway". The original stories were adapted for the radio by Russell Hughes.
"Broadway's New York had a crisis each week, though the streets had a rose-tinged aura", wrote radio historian John Dunning. "The sad shows then were all the sadder; plays like For a Pal had a special poignance. The bulk of Runyon's work had been untapped by radio, and the well was deep.":189
Mike McShane told Runyon stories as monologues on British TV in 1994, and an accompanying book was released, both called Broadway Stories.
|Booknotes interview (December 29, 1991) with Jimmy Breslin on his book, Damon Runyon: A Life, C-SPAN|
The 1915 Army Cadets football team represented the United States Military Academy in the 1915 college football season. In their third season under head coach Charles Dudley Daly, the Cadets compiled a 5–3–1 record, shut out four of their nine opponents, and outscored all opponents by a combined total of 114 to 57. In the annual Army–Navy Game, the Cadets won 14–0.Three Army players were recognized on the All-America team. Fullback Elmer Oliphant was selected as a first-team player by Walter Camp, Monty, and Damon Runyon. Center John McEwan was selected as a first-team All-American by Damon Runyon and a second-team player by Monty. Tackle Alex Weyand was selected as a second-team player by Monty and a third-team player by Walter Camp.A Slight Case of Murder
A Slight Case of Murder is a 1938 comedy film directed by Lloyd Bacon. The film is based on a play by Damon Runyon and Howard Lindsay. The offbeat comedy stars Edward G. Robinson spoofing his own gangster image as Remy Marco.Bloodhounds of Broadway
Bloodhounds of Broadway may refer to:
"The Bloodhounds of Broadway", a short story by Damon Runyon first published in 1931
The Bloodhounds of Broadway and other stories, a collection of Damon Runyon stories
Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952 film), a film based on stories by Damon Runyon
Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989 film), an unrelated film based on a different selection of stories by Damon RunyonBloodhounds of Broadway (1989 film)
Bloodhounds of Broadway is a 1989 American ensemble period comedy film based on four Damon Runyon stories: "The Bloodhounds of Broadway", "A Very Honorable Guy", "The Brain Goes Home" and "Social Error". It was directed by Howard Brookner and starred Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Anita Morris, Julie Hagerty, Rutger Hauer, Madonna, Esai Morales and Randy Quaid. Madonna and Jennifer Grey perform a duet, "I Surrender Dear", during the film. Madonna earned a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for her performance in the film, where she lost to Brooke Shields for Speed Zone.Bloodhounds of Broadway was Brookner's only feature-length film; he died shortly before the film opened. The film was recut by the studio and Walter Winchell-esque narration was added. Six months following its theatrical release, the film was televised as a presentation of PBS's American Playhouse on May 23, 1990.Damon Runyon Cancer Fund Tournament
The Damon Runyon Cancer Fund Tournament was a golf tournament on the LPGA Tour, played only in 1954. It was played at Prince George's Golf Course in Landover, Maryland. Babe Zaharias won the event.Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation (Damon Runyon) is an American not-for-profit cancer research organization focused on "discovering the talent to discover the cure". The organization states that its goals are to: "identify the best and brightest early career scientists in cancer research, accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into new diagnostic tools and treatments, and to enable risk-taking on bold new ideas".The organization was founded in 1946 by media personality Walter Winchell in New York City, New York, under the name Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund in memory of his colleague and friend Damon Runyon, a newspaperman and author.Damon Runyon Stakes
The Damon Runyon Stakes is an Ungraded American Thoroughbred turf race for two-year-old horses run in December each year at Aqueduct Race Track in New York.
In its 40th running in 2018, this race is essentially restricted to New York-breds, and is set at one mile and 70 yards (8.32) and currently offers a purse of $100,000. It was run at seven furlongs from 1979 to 1982, and in 1987 and 1988, at one mile (8 furlongs) from 1983 to 1986, and from 1989 to 1993. From 1994 to 2007 its length was 8 1/2 furlongs. From 2007 to 2014 it has been run at 8.32 furlongs except in 2013 when it was once again run at 8 furlongs.
The Damon Runyon was raced at Belmont Park in 1979, 1983, and 1984.
The race is named for Damon Runyon, a famous sports reporter and short story writer who created a Broadway all his own during the Twenties and Thirties. From these stories came the musical Guys and Dolls. Runyon loved horse racing and campaigned a small string of his own horses.Damon Runyon Theater
Damon Runyon Theater is an American television program that presented dramatized versions of Damon Runyon's short stories. Hosted by Donald Woods, the program, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser beer, aired for a total of 39 episodes on CBS from April 1955 through February 1956 (repeats continued through June).Hold 'Em Yale (1935 film)
Hold 'Em Yale is a 1935 American comedy film directed by Sidney Lanfield and written by Damon Runyon, Paul Gerard Smith and Eddie Welch. The film stars Patricia Ellis, Cesar Romero, Buster Crabbe, William Frawley, Andy Devine and George Barbier. The film was released on April 27, 1935, by Paramount Pictures.Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Irish Eyes Are Smiling is a 1944 musical film which chronicles the life of popular Irish song composer Ernest R. Ball. The screenplay by Earl Baldwin and John Tucker Battle is based on a story by E. A. Ellington. The film was directed by Gregory Ratoff, and produced by Damon Runyon for 20th Century Fox. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1944.Little Miss Marker
Little Miss Marker (also known as The Girl in Pawn) is an American Pre-Code 1934 comedy-drama film directed by Alexander Hall. It was written by William R. Lipman, Sam Hellman, and Gladys Lehman after a short story of the same name by Damon Runyon. It stars Shirley Temple, Adolphe Menjou and Dorothy Dell in a story about a little girl held as collateral by gangsters. It was Temple's first starring role in a major motion picture and was crucial to establishing her as a major film star. It was named to the United States National Film Registry in 1998 and has been remade several times.Little Miss Marker (1980 film)
Little Miss Marker is a 1980 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Walter Bernstein, based on a short story by Damon Runyon. It stars Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis, Julie Andrews, Bob Newhart and new arrival Sara Stimson. It is a remake of the 1934 film of the same name starring Shirley Temple and Adolphe Menjou.Professional Soldier
Professional Soldier is a 1935 adventure film based on a 1931 story by Damon Runyon, "Gentlemen, the King!" It stars Victor McLaglen and Freddie Bartholomew. The film was directed by Tay Garnett, and produced by Twentieth Century Fox.
The film concerns the kidnapping of young Prince Peter, the rightful heir to the throne of a small European country. After the deed is done, the hired kidnapper learns that the new king is evil and plans to set up a dictatorship, and that the young Prince Peter is in danger of being killed. The kidnapper escapes from prison in order to rescue young Peter and restore him to the throne.Straight, Place and Show
Straight, Place and Show is a 1938 film directed by David Butler and starring the Ritz Brothers, Richard Arlen, and Ethel Merman and released by 20th Century Fox. It based on the unproduced play Saratoga Chips by Damon Runyon and Irving Caesar. It features a performance of the song "With You on My Mind" by Merman.The Big Street
The Big Street is a 1942 American drama film starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball, based on the short story "Little Pinks" by Damon Runyon, who also produced the movie. The film was directed by Irving Reis. The screenplay was written by Leonard Spigelgass from Runyon's story.The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown
"The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" is a short story by Damon Runyon telling of the improbable — but eventually triumphant — love between an inveterate gambler (Sky Masterson) and a missionary girl (the Miss Sarah Brown of the title). It was the basis for the musical Guys and Dolls, with a similar plot line, but with many additional twists and turns added before the lovers are finally reunited and live happily ever after. It was first published in 1933. In 1949, it was dramatized on radio as part of a program called Damon Runyon Theatre.The Lemon Drop Kid (1934 film)
The Lemon Drop Kid is a 1934 American comedy and drama directed by Marshall Neilan and written by Howard J. Green, J.P. McEvoy and Damon Runyon. The film stars Lee Tracy, Helen Mack, William Frawley, Minna Gombell, Baby LeRoy, Kitty Kelly and Henry B. Walthall. The film was released on September 28, 1934, by Paramount Pictures.The Three Wise Guys
The Three Wise Guys is a 1936 American drama film directed by George B. Seitz, written by Elmer Harris and Damon Runyon, and starring Robert Young, Betty Furness, Raymond Walburn, Thurston Hall, Bruce Cabot and Donald Meek. It was released on May 15, 1936, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.Tight Shoes (film)
Tight Shoes is a 1941 American comedy film directed by Albert S. Rogell and starring Leo Carrillo, John Howard, and Broderick Crawford. It is based on the Damon Runyon story.
|J. G. Taylor Spink Award|
J. G. Taylor Spink Award recipients