Colourful 1950’s New York- Runyon’s backyard | Sunday Observer

Colourful 1950’s New York- Runyon’s backyard

Damon Runyon (1880-1946), is another wonderfully colorful American fiction writer, whose often seedy characters, seem to leap out of the page at you. He himself led a colourful existence, in New York.

Runyon’s stories are set in the New York of the 1940’s and his characters are colourful - gamblers, hustlers, struggling actors, prostitutes and gangsters, night-club musicians and their ilk. If a comparison with Sri Lanka must be made, the character setting would be similar to Maradana of the 1950’s.

American writer O Henry coined the term ‘Banana Republic’, to describe a down at heel, dependent Economy. Damon Runyon coined the phrase ‘Hooray Henry’, which is “a term now used in British English to describe an upper-class, loud-mouthed, arrogant twit.” (Wickipedia)

The Man

By most accounts, he attended school only upto grade four! He began to work in the newspaper trade under his father in Colorado. After a brief military service in his teens, he became a sports reporter and staff writer for newspapers. “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”. Runyon also “contributed sports poems to the American on boxing and baseball themes, and also wrote numerous short stories and essays. (Wickipedia)

Runyon was a heavy smoker, drinker and gambler, and gambling on horses, often features in his stories. His best friend was mobster ‘accountant ‘Otto Berman, who was later killed in a mobster ‘hit”. (Berman featured in many of his stories, under the nickname “regret the horse player”). Runyon died in New York City at age 66. His body was cremated, and his ashes were illegally scattered from a DC-3 airplane, over Broadway!

Writing style and setting

Runyon’s stories are set in sleazy New York in the 1940’s. His characters go by nicknames such as- “Benny Southstreet", "Big Jule", "Harry the Horse", "Good Time Charley", "Dave the Dude", or "The Seldom Seen Kid" . He used many funny slang terms in his work - (shiv = knife, noggin = head, roscoe/the old equalizer/”that thing” = gun). Women, when not "dolls", "Judies", "pancakes", "tomatoes", or "broads", he also described as, "characters of a female nature"!

Equally amusing are the names of his Books- Guys and Dolls (1932), More Than Somewhat (1937), The Turps (1951) , Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs- Damon Runyon on Baseball (2005; Jim Reisler, editor). whatever his faults, he was never 'politically correct'.


American Fiction Writers

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