Damon Runyon (18801946) 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:
- Guys and Dolls
- Lady for a Day
- Little Miss Marker, an early hit for Shirley Temple.
- Pocketful of Miracles
- Bloodhounds of Broadway, an ill-advised adaptation of four different stories smashed together. Most notable for Madonna playing a nightclub singer in the middle of her ill-fated attempt to become a respectable actress.
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."
- Evil Uncle: In "Gentlemen, the King!", the plot on the king's life originates with his uncle, who is next in line to the throne.
- 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.
- HeelFace Turn: Runyon's characters are often a brutal bunch, but they occasionally slip into virtue. For example, 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, while the title character of "Earthquake" pulls off an Heroic Sacrifice.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The title character of "Earthquake" pulls off the terminal version of a classic Load-Bearing Hero scene.
- High-Class Glass: In "Gentlemen, the King!", the characters encounter several Ruritanian noblemen with monocles, leading Kitty Quick to wonder if there is anybody in Ruritania who has two working eyes.
- 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" pulls off the Heroic Sacrifice version. Even he seems uncertain why he doesn't drop the building on the cop who was chasing him when everyone else is clear...
- 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.
- Pistol-Whipping: Happens to the king's guard in "Gentlemen, the King!":Izzy Cheesecake taps him on the noggin with the butt of a forty-five, and knocks him cock-eyed.
- Pity the Kidnapper: The kidnappers in "The Snatching of Bookie Bob" successfully get a $25,000 ransom for him. Unfortunately for them, they spent their time waiting for the payment gambling with Bob, and end up owing him $50,000.
- 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."
- Priceless Ming Vase: In "Gentlemen, the King!", one of the casualties of the incursion into the king's bedroom is "a big jar over in one corner of the room, which Miss Peabody afterwards tells me is worth fifteen G's if it is worth a dime".
- Princess for a Day: Apple Annie in "Madame La Gimp".
- Professional Gambler: Many of these appear, 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".
- Reckless Gun Usage: In "Gentlemen, the King!", a gangster who has been charmed by a small boy lets the kid hold his handgun without making sure the safety it on, and while the kid is waving it around shouting "boom-boom" it goes off, destroying a vase and damaging a hat but fortunately not injuring any of the people in the room.
- 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.
- Walking Armory: The general public is led to believe that Tobias "Twelve-Gun" Tweeney is one of these in "Tobias the Terrible" - although the guns weren't his, and he can't even take a single step without falling over.