DAMON RUNYON by Jimmy Breslin


A Life
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 The life of the mythic, wealthy journalist/short-story writer of the Broadway classic Guys and Dolls, told by the legendary, wealthy journalist/novel writer of Table Money, World Without End, Amen, etc. Making some allowances, this book is like Hemingway on Shakespeare. At first Breslin's bragging--making the reader brilliantly aware that the Breslin Mouth is equal to its subject-- is off-putting. But as his Runyon anecdotes gather force, we slowly grasp that Breslin's self-esteem is tested to the breaking point by this portrait of a figure even more legendary and cynically witty in his day than Breslin himself. The Runyon/Breslin team on the page is, with its fruity richness of newsroom lore, simply overwhelming, better than Runyon's buddy Gene Fowler on John Barrymore in Good Night, Sweet Prince, with Breslin tailoring Runyon's every word and move to cut the most--well, Shakespearean- -figure possible. This Runyon with all his invented dialogue must be a fiction--but so what when the page is drugged with such high humor? Runyon at eight cut his teeth as his father's printer's devil in the western states, at 15 was on his own as a wandering reporter. He was a shy, quiet poet with a withering view of mankind--and also a man of warm fellowship with murderers, gamblers, and criminals who fed him the life in his copy and later became his fictional characters. Breslin excels at creating the mirror-reversed moral world of criminals, with the reader, like Alice, on a Broadway of monsters ruled by Runyon, their re-creator in print--people who later become Runyonesques by choice. Companion to Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, and Walter Winchell, and William Randolph Hearst's highest-paid sportswriter and war-reporter, Runyon never bit the hand that fed him--which included many, many hands, only some of them legitimate. Breslin's best--and more impressive in its sustained cynicism than Runyon's own writing. Could live forever.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1991
ISBN: 0-89919-984-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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