Damon Runyon was an American fiction writer who wrote short stories about New York City in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His style of writing employs the New York City Wise Guy vernacular of that era. His street smart characters were the inspiration for the musical Guys and Dolls starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.
Since we here in the U.S. are slipping into a new depression (Canada is laughing their asses off at us) the New York Times thought it might be interesting to revisit Runyon’s world, since the depression figured prominently in many of his stories.
I had not read any of Runyon’s stories in a long, long time and I forgot how beautiful and rich the language is. He’s Dashiell Hammett with a sense of humor. His prose drips with atmosphere. Do you know how if you hear a riff by Keith Richards or The Edge, you know instantly it’s them? After you read a few of Runyon’s tales, you’ll be able to identify him within three sentences. The Times printed several wonderful examples of Runyon’s New York on the ropes. (A Runyonesque phrase if ever there was one!) Here’s my favorite:
There is very little scratch anywhere and along Broadway many citizens are wearing their last year’s clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anybody’s heart.
He describes a winter day as being, …colder than a blonde’s heart. God, I wish I could write like that. He even looked the part:
Fun fact: Runyon was born in Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas!