Damon Runyon
Alfred Damon Runyan

(1880-10-04)October 4, 1880
DiedDecember 10, 1946(1946-12-10) (aged 66)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation(s)Writer, journalist
Years active1900–1946

Alfred Damon Runyon (October 4, 1880[1][2] – December 10, 1946) was an American journalist and short-story writer.[3]

He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from Brooklyn or Midtown Manhattan. The adjective Runyonesque refers to this type of character and the type of situations and dialog that Runyon depicts.[4] He spun humorous and sentimental tales of gamblers, hustlers, actors, and gangsters, few of whom go by "square" names, preferring instead colorful monikers such as "Nathan Detroit", "Benny Southstreet", "Big Jule", "Harry the Horse", "Good Time Charley", "Dave the Dude", or "The Seldom Seen Kid".

His distinctive vernacular style is known as Runyonese: a mixture of formal speech and colorful slang, almost always in the present tense, and always devoid of contractions. He is credited with coining the phrase "Hooray Henry", a term now used in British English to describe the upper-class version of a loud-mouthed, arrogant twit.

Runyon's fictional world is also known to the general public through the musical Guys and Dolls based on two of his stories, "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure".[5] The musical additionally borrows characters and story elements from a few other Runyon stories, most notably "Pick The Winner". The film Little Miss Marker (and its three remakes, Sorrowful Jones, 40 Pounds of Trouble and the 1980 Little Miss Marker) grew from his short story of the same name.

Runyon was also a newspaper reporter, covering sports and general news for decades for various publications and syndicates owned by William Randolph Hearst. Already known for his fiction, he wrote a well-remembered "present tense" article on Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Presidential inauguration in 1933 for the Universal Service, a Hearst syndicate, which was merged with the co-owned International News Service in 1937.

Early life

Boyhood home of Damon Runyon in Manhattan, Kansas

Damon Runyon was born Alfred Damon Runyan to Alfred Lee and Elizabeth (Damon) Runyan.[6] His relatives in his birthplace of Manhattan, Kansas, included several newspapermen.[7] His grandfather was a newspaper printer from New Jersey who had relocated to Manhattan, Kansas, in 1855, and his father was the editor of his newspaper in the town. In 1882 Runyon's father was forced to sell his newspaper, and the family moved westward. The family eventually settled in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1887, where Runyon spent the rest of his youth. By most accounts, he attended school only through the fourth grade.[8] He began to work in the newspaper trade under his father in Pueblo. In present-day Pueblo, Runyon Field, the Damon Runyon Repertory Theater Company, and Runyon Lake are named in his honor.

Enlistment in the military

Runyon's World War I draft registration (September 1918)

In 1898, when still in his teens, Runyon enlisted in the US Army to fight in the Spanish–American War. While in the service, he was assigned to write for the Manila Freedom and Soldier's Letter.

Newspaper reporter

After military service, he worked for Colorado newspapers, beginning in Pueblo. His first job as a reporter was in September 1900, when he was hired by the Pueblo Star;[9] he then worked in the Rocky Mountain area during the first decade of the 1900s: at the Denver Daily News, he served as "sporting editor" (today a "sports editor") and then as a staff writer. His expertise was in covering the semi-professional teams in Colorado. He briefly managed a semi-pro team in Trinidad, Colorado.[10] At one of the newspapers where he worked, the spelling of his last name was changed from "Runyan" to "Runyon", a change he let stand.

After failing in an attempt to organize a Colorado minor baseball league, which lasted less than a week,[11] Runyon moved to New York City in 1910. In his first New York byline, the American editor dropped the "Alfred" and the name "Damon Runyon" appeared for the first time. For the next ten years, he covered the New York Giants and professional boxing for the New York American.

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 revolutionizing the way baseball was covered. Perhaps as confirmation, Runyon was voted 1967 J. G. Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA),[12] for which he was honored at ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 1968.[13] 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". Runyon frequently contributed sports poems to the American on boxing and baseball themes and wrote numerous short stories and essays.

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.

from "Tobias the Terrible",
collected in More than Somewhat (1937)


Gambling, particularly on craps or horse races, was a common theme of Runyon's works, and he was a notorious gambler. One of his paraphrases from a line in Ecclesiastes ran: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."

A heavy drinker as a young man, he seems to have quit drinking 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 mobster accountant Otto Berman, and he incorporated Berman into several of his stories under the alias "Regret, the horse player". 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, mostly by correcting erroneous press releases, including one that stated Berman was one of Schultz's gunmen, to which Runyon replied, "Otto would have been as effective a bodyguard as a two-year-old."

Personal life

While in New York City, Runyon courted and eventually married Ellen Egan. Their marriage produced two children, Mary and Damon Jr. A modern writer remarks that "by contemporary standards, Runyon was a marginal husband and father."[14] In 1928, Egan separated from Runyon permanently and moved to Bronxville with their children after hearing persistent rumors about her husband's infidelities. As it became subsequently known, Runyon, in 1916, was covering the border raids of Mexican bandit Pancho Villa as a reporter for the American newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst. He had first met Villa in Texas while covering spring training of the state's teams. While in Mexico, Runyon visited one afternoon the Ciudad Juárez racetrack where Villa was present and placed a bet through a young messenger girl in Villa's entourage. The 14-year-old girl, whose name was Patrice Amati del Grande, erroneously placed Runyon's bet on a different horse that nonetheless won the race.[15]: 131–134  She confided to the lucky bettor that she wanted to be a dancer when she grew up and Runyon told her that if, instead, she would attend school, for which he would pay, she could come after her graduation to see him New York and he would get her a dancing job in the city; Runyon did indeed pay for her enrollment in the local convent school.[15]: 135–136 

In 1925, 19-year-old Grande came to New York City looking for Runyon and found him through the American's receptionist. The two became lovers and he found her work at local speakeasies. In 1928, after the separation between Runyon and Ellen Egan turned into a divorce, Runyon and Grande were married by his friend, city mayor Jimmy Walker.[16] His former wife became an alcoholic and died in 1931 from a heart attack.[17] In 1946, some time after Grande began an affair with a younger man, the couple got divorced.[14]


The family plot of Damon Runyon in Woodlawn Cemetery

In late 1946, the same year he and his second wife were divorced, Runyon died, at age 66, in New York City from the throat cancer that had been diagnosed two years earlier, in 1944, when he underwent an unsuccessful operation that left him practically unable to speak.[14]

His body was cremated, and his ashes were scattered from a DC-3 airplane over Broadway in Manhattan by Eddie Rickenbacker on December 18, 1946. This was an infringement of the law but widely approved.[18] The family plot of Damon Runyon is located at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.

Runyon, in his will, left to his former second wife his house in Florida, his racing stables, and the money from his insurance. He split in half the royalties from his works to his children and Grande.[19]: 301  His daughter Mary was eventually institutionalized for alcoholism while his son Damon Jr., after working as a journalist in Washington, D.C., committed suicide in 1968.[15]: 393–4 


Literary style – the "Broadway" stories

An illustration from "Breach of Promise" showing Spanish John and Harry the Horse

The English comedy writer Frank Muir comments[27] that Runyon's plots were, in the manner of O. Henry, neatly constructed with professionally wrought endings, but their distinction lay in the manner of their telling, as the author invented a peculiar argot for his characters to speak. Runyon almost totally avoids the past tense (English humorist E. C. Bentley thought there was only one instance and was willing to "lay plenty of 6 to 5 that it is nothing but a misprint",[28] but "was" appears in the short stories "The Lily of St Pierre"[29] and "A Piece of Pie";[30] "had" appears in "The Lily of St Pierre",[29] "Undertaker Song"[31] and "Bloodhounds of Broadway"[32]), and makes little use of the future tense, using the present for both. He also avoided the conditional, using instead the future indicative in situations that would normally require conditional. An example: "Now most any doll on Broadway will be very glad indeed to have Handsome Jack Madigan give her a tumble" (Guys and Dolls, "Social error"). Bentley[33] comments that "there is a sort of ungrammatical purity about it [Runyon's resolute avoidance of the past tense], an almost religious exactitude." There is an homage to Runyon that makes use of this peculiarity ("Chronic Offender" by Spider Robinson), which involves a time machine and a man going by the name "Harry the Horse".

He uses many slang terms (which go unexplained in his stories), such as:

There are many recurring composite phrases such as:

Bentley notes[34] that Runyon's "telling use of the recurrent phrase and fixed epithet" demonstrates a debt to Homer.

Runyon's stories also employ occasional rhyming slang, similar to the cockney variety but native to New York (e.g.: "Miss Missouri Martin makes the following crack one night to her: 'Well, I do not see any Simple Simon on your lean and linger.' This is Miss Missouri Martin's way of saying she sees no diamond on Miss Billy Perry's finger." (from "Romance in the Roaring Forties")).

The comic effect of his style results partly from the juxtaposition of broad slang with mock pomposity. Women, when not "dolls", "Judies", "pancakes", "tomatoes", or "broads", may be "characters of a female nature", for example. He typically avoided contractions such as "don't" in the example above, which also contributes significantly to the humorously pompous effect. In one sequence, a gangster tells another character to do as he is told, or else "find another world in which to live".

Runyon's short stories are told in the first person by a protagonist who is never named and whose role is unclear; he knows many gangsters and does not appear to have a job, but he does not admit to any criminal involvement, and seems to be largely a bystander. He describes himself as "being known to one and all as a guy who is just around".[35] The radio program The Damon Runyon Theatre dramatized 52 of Runyon's works in 1949, and for these the protagonist was given the name "Broadway", although it was admitted that this was not his real name, much in the way "Harry the Horse" and "Sorrowful Jones" are aliases.[36]

Literary works



Story collections

Collected newspaper columns

Compilations containing previously collected material




There are many collections of Runyon's stories, in particular Runyon on Broadway and Runyon from First to Last. A publisher's note in the latter claims that collection contains all of Runyon's short stories not included in Runyon on Broadway,[37] but two Broadway stories originally published in Collier's Weekly are not in either collection: "Maybe a Queen"[38] and "Leopard's Spots",[39] both collected in More Guys And Dolls (1950). The radio show, in addition, has a story, "Joe Terrace", that appears in 'More Guys and Dolls' and the August 29, 1936, issue of Colliers. It is one of his "Our Town" stories that does not appear in the "In Our Town" book, and the only episode of the show which is not a Broadway' story, however, the action is changed in the show from Our Town to Broadway.

The "Our Town" stories are short vignettes of life in a small town, largely based on Runyon's experiences. They are written in a simple, descriptive style and contain twists and odd endings based on the personalities of the people involved. Each story's title is the name of the principal character. Twenty-seven of them were published in the 1946 book In Our Town.

Runyon on Broadway contains the following stories:

Runyon from First to Last includes the following stories and sketches:

In Our Town contains the following stories:

The following "Our Town" stories were not included in In Our Town:

Uncollected stories


Dave the Dude (Warren William) and Apple Annie (May Robson) in Lady for a Day (1933)

Twenty of his stories became motion pictures.[40]

In 1938, his unproduced play Saratoga Chips became the basis of The Ritz Brothers film Straight, Place and Show.

Plays and musicals


The Damon Runyon Theater radio series dramatized 52 of Runyon's short stories in weekly broadcasts running from October 1948 to September 1949 (with reruns until 1951).[42][43] The series was produced by Alan Ladd's Mayfair Transcription Company for syndication to local radio stations. John Brown played the character "Broadway", who doubled as host and narrator. The cast also comprised Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten, Joseph Du Val, Gerald Mohr, Frank Lovejoy, Herb Vigran, Sheldon Leonard, William Conrad, Jeff Chandler, Lionel Stander, Sidney Miller, Olive Deering and Joe De Santis. Pat O'Brien was initially engaged for the role of "Broadway". The original stories were adapted for the radio by Russell Hughes.

"Broadway's New York had a crisis each week, though the streets had a rose-tinged aura", wrote radio historian John Dunning. "The sad shows then were all the sadder; plays like For a Pal had a special poignance. The bulk of Runyon's work had been untapped by radio, and the well was deep."[44]: 189 


Damon Runyon Theatre aired on CBS-TV from 1955 to 1956.

Mike McShane told Runyon stories as monologues on British TV in 1994, and an accompanying book was released, both titled Broadway Stories.

Three Wise Guys was a 2005 TV movie.


  1. ^ "Birth Announcement". The (Manhattan, Kansas) Nationalist. October 7, 1880.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 10, 2014. Retrieved September 10, 2014.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Philip Pullman, Nick Hardcastle (1998). Detective stories. Kingfisher Publications. ISBN 0-7534-5636-2.
  4. ^ Webber, Elizabeth; Feinsilber, Mike (1999). Merriam-Webster's dictionary of allusions, pp. 479–480. ISBN 978-0-87779-628-2.
  5. ^ "Damon Runyon". Authors. The eBooks-Library. Retrieved July 20, 2008.
  6. ^ Maxine Block, editor. "Current Biography, 1942 edition". H.H. Wilson, 1942, p. 723.
  7. ^ a b Manhattan's historic landmarks & districts: Damon Runyon House (Kansas State Historical Society National Register of Historic Places – Nomination form), cityofmhk.com. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  8. ^ "The Press: Hand Me My Kady". Time, December 23, 1946, n.p.
  9. ^ "The Press: Broadway Columnist". Time magazine, September 30, 1940, n.p.
  10. ^ "An All-Star Team Picked by A.D. Runyon". Denver Daily News, September 15, 1907, p. S2.
  11. ^ Robert Phipps. "Long Evening Kills League". Omaha World Herald, December 21, 1946, p. 7
  12. ^ "1967 BBWAA Career Excellence Award Winner Damon Runyon". baseballhall.org. Retrieved March 5, 2021.
  13. ^ Quinton, Henry (July 22, 1968). "Pride of Salem Enters the Hall". Courier-Post. Camden, New Jersey. p. 27. Retrieved March 5, 2021 – via newspapers.com.
  14. ^ a b c McClanahan, Michael D. (January 1, 2016). "How Damon Runyon came to the Denver Press Club". Denver Press Club. Retrieved December 3, 2023.
  15. ^ a b c Breslin, Jimmy (January 1, 2001). Damon Runyon: A Life. Ticknor and Fields. ISBN 978-0899199849.
  16. ^ "Damon Runyon Weds Patrice del Grande; Mayor Walker Performs Ceremony for Writer and Actress at Home of Ed Frayne". The New York Times. July 8, 1932. Retrieved December 3, 2023.
  17. ^ "Mrs Runyon Dead". Daily Illini. November 9, 1931. Retrieved December 3, 2023.
  18. ^ Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the Twentieth Century, by W. David Lewis, p. 506.
  19. ^ Edwin, Palmer Hoyt (1964). A gentleman of Broadway. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1199452177.
  20. ^ "Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation".
  21. ^ John C. Ensslin. "Denver Press Club's Damon Runyon Award for contributions in the field of journalism". Denver Press Club. Archived from the original on November 8, 2010. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
  22. ^ "Damon Runyon Elementary school".
  23. ^ Turczyn, Coury (January 28, 1999). "Blood on the Tracks". Metro Pulse. Archived from the original on February 28, 2008. Retrieved February 11, 2008. (link points to the archived article in the Spring 2000 edition of the author's own PopCult Magazine website): "The faster skaters would break out and try and get laps so they would get ahead in the race, and some of the slower skaters started to band together to try and hold them back", says Seltzer. "And at first, they didn't want to let them do that – but then the people liked it so much, they kind of allowed blocking. Then they came down to Miami – I think it was 1936, early '37 – and Damon Runyon, a very famous sports writer, saw it and he sat down with my father and hammered out the rules, almost exactly as they are today."
  24. ^ What buildings in Riley County are on the Historic Register? Archived October 14, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Riley County Official Website, www.rileycountyks.gov. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  25. ^ Joey Uptown
  26. ^ 515th Squadron aircraft
  27. ^ The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (1990), OUP, p. 621
  28. ^ Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 11
  29. ^ a b Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 116
  30. ^ Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 536
  31. ^ Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 258
  32. ^ Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 85
  33. ^ Introduction to More Than Somewhat, included in omnibus volume Runyon on Broadway (1950), Constable
  34. ^ Introduction to Furthermore, included in omnibus volume Runyon on Broadway (1950), Constable.
  35. ^ Runyon on Broadway, Pan Books, 1975, p. 12
  36. ^ [1] Damon Runyon Theater
  37. ^ Publisher's Note included in Runyon from First to Last (1954), Constable
  38. ^ Collier's Weekly, December 12, 1931
  39. ^ Collier's Weekly, May 6, 1939
  40. ^ "Essay and Annotations" by Daniel R. Schwarz, Guys and Dolls and Other Writings, 2008. Penguin Classics, UK. p. 616.
  41. ^ "Essay and Annotations" by Daniel R. Schwartz, Guys and Dolls and Other Writings, 2008. Penguin Classics, UK. p. 625.
  42. ^ "The Damon Runyon Theatre". The Digital Deli Too. Archived from the original on January 27, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  43. ^ Goldin, David J. (2012). "The Damon Runyon Theatre" Archived November 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, radioGOLDINdex database. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
  44. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Hardcover; revised edition of Tune in Yesterday (1976) ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved October 4, 2019.

Further reading

External videos
video icon Booknotes interview (December 29, 1991) with Jimmy Breslin on his book, Damon Runyon: A Life, C-SPAN