Tim's Reviews > A Treasury Of Damon Runyon

A Treasury Of Damon Runyon by Damon Runyon
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's review
Nov 13, 2013

it was amazing
Read from October 07, 2011 to November 04, 2013

One of my father’s favorite songs was “Ace in the Hole,” I believe written by Johnny Mercer, in the early 1940’s. It tells of those on the fringe of society during the Depression and thereabouts, specifically on Broadway in New York. I proudly sang it at Dad’s funeral. I reproduce it herein, in its entirety:

This town is full of guys who think they're mighty wise
Just because they know a thing or two
You can find them every day strolling up and down Broadway
Telling of the wonders they can do
There's con men and big boosters, card sharks and crap shooters
You’ll see them hangin’ ‘round the Metropole
They wear fancy ties and collars, but where they get their dollars
They all must have an ace in the hole

Some of them write to the old folks for coin
That's their old ace in the hole
While others have girls on the old Tenderloin,
That's their old ace in the hole

They'll tell you of trips that they are going to take
From Florida up to the old North Pole
But their names would be mud like a chump playing Stud
If they lost that old ace in the hole

They tell you of money that they’ve made and spent
But seldom ever show a big bankroll
And their names would be mud like a chump playing Stud
If they lost their old ace in the hole

Yes, their names would be mud like a chump playing Stud
If they lost that old ace down in the hole.

Dad was also a fan of Damon Runyon and regularly told me of the stories Mr. Runyon had written of “the characters in New York City.” But I never read any of them. This all is by way of introduction to this wonderful book, which I spied at a yard sale and immediately snatched up!

This truly is a “treasury,” for it includes many short stories of the above mentioned characters, including small-time mobsters (some with local notoriety), grifters, gold-diggers gamblers and prostitutes, among others, which society tends to ignore. All (well, almost all) of them have some quirky lovability. The anonymous narrator in the greater majority of these stories seems to know all of these characters, so is one of them, though his “connection” remains vague throughout. The book has a foreword which relates Mr. Runyon’s history as a newspaper reporter and columnist, very interesting and provides a background for the stories.

The first two in the first section, “Broadway Guys and Dolls,” are “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown: and “Pick the Winner,” about a streetwise well-dressed hood who falls for a Salvation Army girl and changes is ways. These were subsequently made into the play (and movie), “Guys and Dolls,” which still appears to be popular with the summer-stock and high-school theater crowds. Nonetheless, my favorite stories in this 24-story part of the anthology are “Johnny One-Eye” and “A Light in France.”

In addition, there is some poetry, notably a poetic homage to a Jockey referred to only as “Sande,” in several versions over several years. We also have a section on a New York working class couple, Joe and Ethel Turp, who tend to bicker in a friendly manner and get themselves into the dangdest predicaments. My favorite of these is “A Call on the President,” in which the couple actually visits the President after Joe writes to him to complain that their mailman was fired. These four stories are tongue in cheek, but at points make one laugh out loud.

Another section is purported reports from “My Home Town,” a small burg in the West, in which the narrator describes both the characters and small-town happenings with aplomb and drollery. My favorite of these nine stories is “The Shooting of Dude McCoy,” about a silly feud between men who ought to know better.

Another section concerns “My Old Man,” being descriptions of the narrator’s father, who is a working stiff who likes his alcohol and has strong opinions which get him into all kinds of scrapes.

It has taken me a long time to get through this book (started it in October of 2011), for I did wish to savor its contents. I highly recommend it for everyone, but I would admit its humor and context may be lost on some of the younger generations.


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11/13/2013 marked as: read

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