THE WORLD OF DAMON RUNYON by Tom Clark

THE WORLD OF DAMON RUNYON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is indeed ""The World of Damon Runyon""--rather than a fully-fleshed biography of the sportswriter from Denver who became a whoppingly successful and frankly commercial tale-spinner for newspapers, magazines, and Hollywood. Clark brings no particular sympathy or psychological acumen to Runyon's grim private life: the hard-won triumphs over alcoholism, the emotional isolation (""Damon's heart had for complex reasons turned away from his wife and family""), the doomed second marriage to a showgirl. Neither is Clark much of a critic (his Johnsonian claims for Runyon's last columns are unconvincing), though he occasionally evokes the detached essence of this ""Broadway Buddhist,"" and he makes a thorough job of contrasting the fictional guys and dolls of Runyonland with their real-life counterparts. The true energy of this book goes instead into rerunning the anecdotal Prohibition-era exploits of Runyon's people--his comrades in the Press Box (Heywood Broun, Grantland Rice, Fred Lieb, Irvin S. Cobb), his idols and enemies on the ballfield, his underworld and show-biz cronies in the niteries of Broadway. Clark, author of several baseball books, does well enough by these colorful folks (from Bugs Raymond and Muggsy McGraw to ""the ubiquitous Arnold Rothstein""), often sliding from his own serviceably colloquial prose into okay Runyonese: ""To say the owners of the Parody were gangland characters would be like saying water is moist."" But this is mostly old stuff for readers of Runyon, Lardner, Lieb, and others; and the focus strays from Runyon so often and at such length that his life story hasn't a chance of picking up momentum. Jonathan Yardley did much better with the strikingly similar materials of Ring Lardner's sad life in Ring (1977). In any case, this is the only Runyon biography around, and, despite its rambling deficiencies, it's jaunty enough to suit the subject and conscientious enough to fill the void respectably.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row