Damon Runyon was born in Manhattan, Kansas, on October 8, 1880. At the age of 7 his family moved to Pueblo, Colorado, where he would remain until adulthood. Growing up both his father and grandfather were newspaper editors. As a teenager, Runyon dabbled in the newspaper business himself, writing stories and reporting for the Pueblo Evening Press, that is until he enlisted to serve in the Spanish-American War. After his service in the military, Runyon continued to write for several newspapers. In 1911, Runyon moved to New York City where he continued his work for the newspaper business, working as a sports reporter for New York American, a newspaper owned by William Hearst. As he continued to contribute to the newspaper, Runyon in 1929 began writing stories. Runyon’s most famous works are “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” “Blood Pressure,” and “Little Miss Marker.” Sixteen of Runyon’s stories were adapted into films, the most notable being Guys and Dolls, adapted from the stories, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” “Blood Pressure,” and “Little Miss Marker.“
Runyon’s stories nearly all take place in or around Broadway, with Runyon observing Broadway as the center of New York (Schwarz 42). Runyon always wrote in the present tense, symbolizing the break neck, fast paced environment of New York City, where everything that is important happens in the moment (Riemer 403). Runyon’s stories also include a multitude of New York slang, with words such as “doll,” meaning woman, and “potatoes,” meaning money. Runyon also uses a first person narration, with the narrator never being named in his stories, which, combined with the slang, allows a real immersion into 19th century New York. Most of Runyon’s stories have the narrator reveal information at the end of the story that provides an “ironic fillip,” contributing to the humor of his works (Weller 493). The characters in Runyon’s stories are mostly gangsters, gamblers, and “dolls,” depicting a greasy and more scandalous version of New York. In Runyon’s stories, New York City and it’s characters are portrayed in a more authentic manner.
Runyon died in 1946 from lung cancer. A foundation was established in his name titled the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, due to his dedication in the last three years of his life to helping find a cure for cancer, often aiding and supporting doctors and their new treatments. After his death, Runyon was cremated and his ashes were illegally spread over the streets of Broadway via airplane. Runyon’s works allow insight into the more deplorable and characteristic characters of New York.
A clip from the 1955 movie Guys and Dolls
An Analysis of Damon Runyon’s “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”
In Damon Runyon’s story, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” the gaze is highly accentuated. In the beginning of the story, The Sky’s father warns him of con men who would take advantage of the things that The Sky does not observe; the gaze is used as method of survival, and people in New York need to be vigilant of everything in order to avoid being taken advantage of (Runyon 15). The Sky was a gambler, and he often relies on his skills of observation to avoid being cheated (Runyon 17). The Sky also uses his gaze to absorb the image of Miss Sarah Brown, who he describes as the “most beautiful young doll anybody ever sees on Broadway” (Runyon 18). The Sky watches Miss Sarah Brown and her fellow missionaries very closely, observing their routines and their flow of attractors, which is nonexistent (Runyon 19-20). The gaze is then redirected back to a form of survival, with The Sky attempting to win “soul[s]” for Miss Sarah Brown; he places a bet with Brandy Bottle betting that he cannot roll a certain number. Brandy Bottle won, wiping The Sky out of his “potatoes” (Runyon 24). The narrator observes that The Sky began reaching for his weapon after several rounds of betting with Brandy Bottle, before he was interrupted by Miss Brown (Runyon 24). The Sky observed that Brandy Bottle was cheating with fake dice, yet he did not say anything after Miss Sarah Brown decided to take on the bet and play for his soul. Through The Sky’s detailed observations, he was able to play the game of life and direct it toward his desires. The gaze in “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” portrays the gaze as both a weapon of admiration and survival.
Weller, Barry. “DAMON RUNYON (1880 – 1946).” The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story, edited by Blanche H. Gelfant and Lawrence Graver, Columbia University Press, New York, 2000, pp. 490–494. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/gelf11098.102.
Riemer, Svend. “Damon Runyon-Philosopher of City Life.” Social Forces, vol. 25, no. 4, 1947, pp. 402–405. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2571922.
Schwarz, Daniel. Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print
Runyon, Damon. “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.” Guys and Dolls. New York: Viking Penguin, 1993. Print