Creator / Damon Runyon

"Now one time it comes on Christmas, and in fact it is the evening before Christmas, and I am in Good Time Charley Bernstein's little speakeasy in West Forty-seventh Street, wishing Charley a Merry Christmas and having a few hot Tom and Jerrys with him."

Damon Runyon (1880–1946) is an American journalist and author, best known for his short stories about the colorful gamblers, gangsters and hustlers of New York City in the early part of the twentieth century. His stories are always narrated in the first person by an anonymous narrator with a distinctive slang-laced style that avoids the use of contractions, or past and future tense.

Many of his stories are available at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Notable adaptations of Runyon stories include:

Damon Runyon's stories provide examples of:

  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: In "Dream Street Rose", Rose tells the First-Person Peripheral Narrator a lengthy story about "a friend", which is all but stated outright to be her own life story.
  • Big Eater: Nicely-Nicely Jones in "A Piece of Pie".
    He is a horse player by trade, and eating is really just a hobby, but he is undoubtedly a wonderful eater even when he is not hungry.
  • The Butler Did It: Parodied in "What, No Butler?"
  • Card Sharp: The Lacework Kid ("Lacework" refers to his skill with cards).
  • Delusions of Eloquence: The theme of mooks talking over their heads is a mainstay.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Runyon's characters are criminals, but there are lines they will not cross. For example, in "Gentlemen, the King!" the protagonists are hired to assassinate the king of an unnamed Ruritania, but balk when they discover he's only a kid.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Big Jule in "The Hottest Guy in the World" goes back to New York — where the police are all after him for a long string of violent crimes — to visit his "maw."
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: The anonymous narrator (or narrators — when he is so anonymous, who can tell?).
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Runyon's characters are a hard-bitten bunch, but they rally around fast when a child is in need in "Little Miss Marker".
    • In "Gentlemen, the King!", the characters refuse a lucrative murder contract when they find out that the target is a child.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In "Johnny One-Eye," a mortally wounded gangster makes friends with a mortally wounded kitten, and decides to do some good at the end of his life.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Near the beginning of "Dream Street Rose", the narrator remarks that in his opinion anyone who bets on horse races has something wrong with their head. Near the end of the story, he buys a newspaper so he can check the racing results and see if his latest bet has paid off.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "Dancing Dan's Christmas", Dancing Dan decides on a whim to borrow a drunken Mall Santa's outfit and deliver Christmas cheer to some poverty-stricken persons of his acquaintance. This whim saves his life.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: In "Dream Street Rose", the protagonist is described doing this for the man who ruined her, though at least one of the listeners in the frame story doubts that the confrontation went down quite that way.
  • Load-Bearing Hero: The title character in "Earthquake".
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: In "Dream Street Rose," the protagonist is ruined by her good-for-nothing husband as a young girl. She waits a couple of decades, when he's remarried and is on top of the world, and confronts him as her wrecked old gin-soaked self:
    'Well, Frank,' she says, 'do you know me?'
    'Yes,' he says, after a while, 'I know you. At first I think maybe you are a ghost, as I once hear something about your being dead. But,' he says, 'I see now the report is a canard. You are too fat to be a ghost.'
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Lou Adolia, in "Cemetery Bait," is supposed to arrange to return the stolen jewelry, collect a payment from the insurance company, then split the loot with the other conspirators. He gets as far as collecting the payment.
  • Present Tense Narrative: Not only are the "Broadway" stories all in present tense, but every line (whether of narrative or of dialogue, and whether of past or present events) is in the present tense.
    "Yes," she says. "It is about him. He is a pig," she says. "I shoot him, and I am glad of it. He is not satisfied with what he does to me two years ago, but he tries his deviltry on my baby sister."
  • Princess for a Day: Apple Annie in "Madame La Gimp".
  • Professional Gambler: Many of these, including Sky Masterson, Big Nig the crap shooter, and Regret the horse player.
  • Professional Killer: Asleep in "Situation Wanted". Don Pep in "Too Much Pep". Ropes McGonnigle in "Sense of Humor".
  • Ruritania: "The Big Umbrella" and "Gentlemen, the King!" both feature kings of countries like this.
  • Take Me Out at the Ball Game: The climax of "Undertaker Song." A character at the big Harvard-Yale game is mistaken for a Harvard supporter in a red scarf, but in fact his throat's been cut.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: In "The Lacework Kid," the Kid outwits a POW camp commandant who is addicted to Gin Rummy, and the scheming of the commandant's disloyal subordinates leads to all the prisoners going free.
  • Verbal Tic: No one uses contractions. Ever.