Damon Runyon Watch: Guys and Dogs

The hardworking staff has long admired early 20th century journalist/short story writer Damon Runyon (although not as much as contemporary journalist/short story writer Ring Lardner, whose The Young Immigrunts is quite possibly the funniest piece we’ve ever read).

But back to Runyon, here described by Adam Gopnik several years ago in the New Yorker:

Of all the pop formalists, the purest and strangest may be Damon Runyon, the New York storyteller, newspaperman, and sportswriter who wrote for the Hearst press for more than thirty years, inspired a couple of Capra movies, and died in 1946. Runyon’s appeal, though it has to be fished out like raisins from the dreary bran of his O. Henry-style plotting, came from his mastery of an American idiom. We read Runyon not for the stories but for the slang, half found on Broadway in the nineteen-twenties and thirties and half cooked up in his own head. We read Runyon for sentences like this: “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.” And for paragraphs like these, at the beginning of “Lonely Heart”:

It seems that one spring day, a character by the name of Nicely-Nicely Jones arrives in a ward in a hospital in the City of Newark, N.J., with such a severe case of pneumonia that the attending physician, who is a horse player at heart, and very absentminded, writes 100, 40 and 10 on the chart over Nicely-Nicely’s bed.

It comes out afterward that what the physician means is that it is 100 to 1 in his line that Nicely-Nicely does not recover at all, 40 to 1 that he will not last a week, and 10 to 1 that if he does get well he will never be the same again.

Well, Nicely-Nicely is greatly discouraged when he sees this price against him, because he is personally a chalk eater when it comes to price, a chalk eater being a character who always plays the short-priced favorites, and he can see that such a long shot as he is has very little chance to win. In fact, he is so discouraged that he does not even feel like taking a little of the price against him to show.

Afterward there is some criticism of Nicely-Nicely among the citizens around Mindy’s restaurant on Broadway, because he does not advise them of this marker, as these citizens are always willing to bet that what Nicely-Nicely dies of will be overfeeding and never anything small like pneumonia, for Nicely-Nicely is known far and wide as a character who dearly loves to commit eating.

And this: “Here are all the elements of Runyon’s voice: the perpetual present tense, the world without conditional moods, the stilted, over-elaborate attempt at precision, and, above all, a way of life and a social class evoked purely through vernacular.”

So imagine our delight when the redoubtable L. Bud Martin sent this to the hardworking staff:

image001

In reality, Runyon was an absentee husband who cheated on his wife and eventually was cuckolded by his second wife.

But why get technical about it?

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2 Responses to Damon Runyon Watch: Guys and Dogs

  1. Bud Martin says:

    If they serve this to Nicely-Nicely in the hospital, the odds go to 200-1.

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