Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Runyon’s Legend

Born on this day in 1884, sports writer and noir fictionist Damon Runyon. For whatever reason, Runyon has become one of the best-known little-known famous authors of his generation. That is, many know his name and many know his work but, these days, few manage to put the two together.

When it comes to sportswriting, Runyon’s legend lives on as do, arguably, his contributions to the vernacular. According to Wikipedia, Runyon is attributed with the following “Runyonesque” language: “ever-loving--almost always prefacing ‘wife’; i.e. ‘his ever-loving wife’; more than somewhat--quite a bit, a lot; i.e. ‘he is more than somewhat married’; pineapple--pineapple grenade; roscoe/john roscoe/the old equalizer/that thing--gun; shiv--knife.”

But it is perhaps for his contributions to the movies that we remember him best, as many of his short stories were successfully adapted to film, including: Lady for a Day (1933), based on a short story entitled “Madame La Gimp,” and remade as A Pocket Full of Miracles in 1961, starring Bette Davis; The Lemon Drop Kid (1934); Little Miss Marker (1934 and the movie that launched poppet Shirley Temple to stardom); the Edward G. Robinson vehicle A Slight Case of Murder (1938); and, of course, Guys and Dolls (1955), based on a 1932 short-story collection of the same name.

Third-generation newspaperman Alfred Damon Runyan was born in Manhattan, Kansas, but grew up in Pueblo, Colorado, where he is still remembered as a favorite son. As a young reporter, a typo changed the spelling of his surname, swapping out the “a” for an “o.” Story has it that Runyon liked it that way, and left it.

Runyon died in New York City of throat cancer on December 10, 1946.


Peter Rozovsky said...

How many people who have heard or used the word Runyonesque have ever read Runyon?

Linda L. Richards said...

Hopefully a bunch. What do you figure?

'Course, the other side of that question is: how many people actually would use the word "Runyonesque"? I mean, I would and I guess you would, but ask your average high school senior. I think you might draw a blank look. (But I could be wrong. I was wrong once before.)

Peter Rozovsky said...

"Runyonesque? Like, whatever."

I figure some fraction of a bunch has read Runyon, just as I figure that the cool young martini drinkers who infest the streets of Old City Philadelphia snapping their fingers to "Luck, Be a Lady" have never read their Runyon, either. I suspect Runyon is far better known for the musical Guys and Dolls than for his stories.

I tried reading Runyon a few years ago, before I started reading crime fiction. Maybe the whole Runyon image built my expectations too high, but I was not impressed. This might be a good time to try him again.

Sarah said...

THANK YOU for this. What we know of Runyon now has been distilled by GUYS AND DOLLS (which is a damn good musical with an excellent book by Abe Burrows, but it's only a pale imitation of Runyon) and it's a shame. I wouldn't say he was a great writer, but such a voice! I think I might have to reread him once more...

Linda L. Richards said...

Peter said: "Runyonesque? Like, whatever."


I have to go back into Runyon as well. The stories I tried were early ones and seemed to me so dry and distant. I should try the later ones. Anyone care to recomend one over another?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Wow, I assumed you knew your Runyon backward and forward when you made your post. It's commendable that you paid tribute to him without being a big fan.

OK, you and I, a guy and a doll, off to rediscover Runyon.

Sarah: Recommend us some Runyon.

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