Writer's Life: Damon Runyon


Born Alfred Damon Runyan, his mother died by the time he was seven years old. His father supported the family in Colorado by writing for the Pueblo Evening Post, but exercised little control over his young son. Runyon spent his early adolescence in gangs and running messages in the red light district.

At 15, he started writing alongside his father, and when an editor misspelled the younger's name, he kept the change. Later in his career another editor, at the New York American, found the three-name byline pretentious and removed Alfred.

In 1898, Runyon enlisted in the Army and wrote for military newspapers while serving in the Philippines. He returned to civilian life in 1899 and spent the next several years living in cheap motels writing for small dailies. By 1908 he had worked his way up to sports and political reporting at the Rocky Mountain News, and headed the Denver Press Club.

In 1911, he moved to New York and began publishing humorous, tough-guy short stories, mostly about soldiers' exploits. He returned to sports reporting at the American, where he generated a substantial following with his digressive reporting of racing, baseball and boxing and his tales of gambling and goings-on within the criminal world. Runyon married a girlfriend who persuaded him to stop drinking, but the marriage soured and after giving birth to two children, she died an alcoholic, herself.

Estranged from his children and ending a second marriage to a chorus girl, Runyon died of throat cancer in 1946. Four years later, the first theatrical adaptation of his stories opened on Broadway: "Guys and Dolls."

Above from "A Reader's Guide to Twentieth Century Writers," Oxford, 1996. Pub Date: 6/01/97

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