Famous Like Me > Writer > R > Damon Runyon
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Profile of Damon Runyon
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||4th October 1880
|Place of Birth:
||Manhattan, Kansas, USA
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 refrered 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):
- If I have all the tears that are shed on Broadway by guys in love, I will have enough salt water to start an opposition ocean to the Atlantic and Pacific, with enough left over to run the Great Salt Lake out of business. But I wish to say I never shed any of these tears personally, because I am never in love, and furthermore, barring a bad break, I never expect to be in love, for the way I look at it love is strictly the old phedinkus, and I tell the little guy as much.
The musical Guys and Dolls was based two Runyon stories, "The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure"; the play Little Miss Marker grew from his short stories.
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 rumours 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. Runyon had promised her in Mexico that, if she would complete the education he paid for 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 problem, 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 of throat cancer, 1946.
He died in New York City from cancer in 1946 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)
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)
Poems for Men (1947)
Runyon First and Last (1949)
Runyon on Broadway (1950)
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:
- Lady for a Day (1933)---Adapted by Bob Riskin, who suggested the name change from Runyon's title "Madame La Gimp," the film garnered Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actress (May Robson), and Best Adaptation for the Screen (Riskin). This would be remade as Pocketful of Miracles in 1961, with Bette Davis in the Apple Annie role and a rather jauntily Runyonesque singer named Sinatra hitting big with its upbeat theme song---which garnered an Oscar nomination for composers Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen and for co-star Peter Falk (Best Supporting Actor).
- The Lemon Drop Kid (1934)---Starring future I Love Lucy co-star William Frawley as a racetrack tout.
- Little Miss Marker (1934)---The film that made Shirley Temple a star, launched her career as perhaps America's most beloved child film star, and pushed her past Greta Garbo as the nation's biggest film draw of the year. Subsequent remakes include Sorrwful Jones (1949; Bob Hope, Lucille Ball), Forty Pounds of Trouble (1963; Tony Curtis), and Little Miss Marker (1980; Walter Matthau, Julie Andrews, Bob Newhart, Tony Curtis.)
- A Slight Case of Murder (1938; Edward G. Robinson).
- The Big Street (1942, adapted from Runyon's story, "The Little Pinks"; Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball).
- Butch Minds the Baby (1942; Broderick Crawford, Shemp Howard)
- It Ain't Hay (1943, adapted from "Princess O'Hara; Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Patsy O'Connor)
- Money From Home (1953; Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis)
- Guys and Dolls (1955; Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra)
- He was the inspiration for history's first telethon, hosted by Milton (Mr. Television) Berle in 1949 to raise funds for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.
- He is mentioned in the song: "Department Of Youth" by Alice Cooper. "We're living proof. And we've never heard of Billy Sunday, Damon Runyon, manners or couth."
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