Damon Runyon (October 4, 1884 – December 10, 1946) was a newspaperman and writer.
He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. He spun tales of gamblers, petty thieves, actors and gangsters; few of whom go by "square" names, preferring instead to be known as "Nathan Detroit", "Big Jule", "Harry the Horse", "Good Time Charlie", "Dave the Dude", and so on. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the Brooklyn or Midtown demi-monde; this type is also commonly referred to today as "Runyonesque", though not limited to just people. These stories were written in a very distinctive vernacular style: a mixture of formal speech and colorful slang, always in present tense, and always devoid of contractions.
Here is an example from the story "Tobias the Terrible", collected in More than Somewhat (1937):
He also makes use of many slang terms and phrases in his work, which add an authentic feel to the story (see example above). Some examples include:
The musical Guys and Dolls was based on two Runyon stories, "The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure"; the play Little Miss Marker grew from his short story of the same name.
He was born Alfred Damon Runyan in Manhattan, Kansas, and grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, where Runyon Field and Runyon Lake are named after him. He was a third-generation newspaperman, and started in the trade under his father in Pueblo. He worked for various newspapers in the Rocky Mountain area; at one of those, 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, Runyon moved to New York City in 1910. For the next ten years he covered the New York Giants and professional boxing for the New York American. In his first New York byline, the American editor dropped the "Alfred", and the name "Damon Runyon" appeared for the first time.
A heavy drinker as a young man, he seems to have quit the bottle 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 mafia accountant Otto Berman, and he incorporated Berman into several of his stories under the alias "Regret." 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 gunman, to which Runyon replied, Otto would have been as effective a bodyguard as a two year old.)
Runyon frequently contributed sports poems to the American on boxing and baseball themes, and also wrote numerous short stories and essays. 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 revolutionising 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.
Gambling was a common theme of Runyon's works, and he was a notorious gambler himself. A well-known saying of his paraphrases Ecclesiastes: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet."
Runyon's marriage to Ellen Egan produced two children (Mary and Damon, Jr.), and broke up in 1928 over rumors that Runyon had become infatuated with a Mexican girl 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. Her name was Patrice Amati del Grande, and she became his companion after he separated from his wife. After Ellen Runyon died of the effects of her own drinking problems, Runyon and Patrice married. Though Runyon forged a better relationship with his children, the marriage ended when Patrice left him for a younger man in the same year he died (1946).
He died in New York City from throat cancer in 1946, at the age of 62, and was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, established in his honor, was set up to fund promising scientists in the field of cancer research.
Runyon in Popular Culture
The Tents of Trouble (Poems; 1911)
Rhymes of the Firing Line (1912)
Guys and Dolls (1932) ISBN 0140176594
Damon Runyon's Blue Plate Special (1934)
Money From Home (1935)
More Than Somewhat (1937)
Take It Easy (1938)
My Wife Ethel (1939)
My Old Man (1939)
The Best of Runyon (1940)
A Slight Case of Murder (with Howard Lindsay, 1940)
Damon Runyon Favorites (1942)
Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker (with W. Kiernan, 1942)
Runyon a la Carte (1944)
The Damon Runyon Omnibus (1944)
Short Takes (1946)
In Our Town (1946)
The Three Wise Guys and Other Stories (1946)
Trials and Other Tribulations (1947) ISBN 039460444X
Poems for Men (1947)
Runyon First and Last (1949)
Runyon on Broadway (1950) ISBN 0330245430
More Guys and Dolls (1950)
The Turps (1951)
Damon Runyon from First to Last (1954)
A Treasury of Damon Runyon (1958)
The Bloodhounds of Broadway and Other Stories (1985)
Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball (2005; Jim Reisler, editor)
Numerous Damon Runyon stories were adapted for the stage and the screen. Some of the best of these include:
Broadcast from January to December 1949, "The Damon Runyon Theatre" dramatized 52 of Runyon's short stories for radio.