ITHACA, N.Y. -- The writer and reporter Damon Runyon captured New York City's colorful lowlifes of the 1920s and '30s so indelibly that his legacy still lives on in American popular culture.
So says Cornell University Professor of English Daniel Schwarz. His new book, Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture , was released this spring by Palgrave Macmillan and is now in bookstores.
While the younger members of today's public may not remember the endearing underworld characters in the 1950s Broadway musical Guys and Dolls , based on Runyon's high-spirited and often hilarious New York stories, traces of them can still be found everywhere, from the tough yet sensitive contemporary Italian-American gangster Tony Soprano of the Home Box Office television series "The Sopranos" to the cynical yet sentimental police officer Andy Sipowicz of "NYPD Blue."
Runyon was among the first to "stylize both the language and the behavior of gangsters and depict them as another part of the socio-eonomic system, showing how the underworld provided clients with gambling, sex and hard-to-get sports tickets and, during Prohibition, with liquor," says Schwarz. He asserts that Americans' continuing interest in archetypes we now call "Runyonesque" can be seen in the popularity of Mario Puzo's gangster novels, Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" movies, Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" and "Gangs of New York" and Barry Levinson's "Bugsy," in addition to "The Sopranos."
Schwarz also claims that Runyon's flamboyant street characters, with their aggressive one-line retorts, have shaped people's image of New York City and directly influenced such television programs as "Seinfeld" and "Sex and the City" as well as such Woody Allen movies as "Broadway Danny Rose," which, Schwarz writes, "pays specific homage to Runyon's world, where respectability and the demi-monde rub shoulders."In addition, Runyon's short stories, with their rough-and-tumble characters and gangsters who live by their own code, and the writer's uncanny ability to dissect "the sham beneath the glitter" have contributed to Americans' continuing fascination with the sleazy side of entertainment, sports and sports gambling, and complicit relationships between criminals and the police. And last, the trial reporting of Runyon, who wrote for the Hearst papers, "contributed to the spectator culture by which we regard such celebrity events as the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and the O.J. Simpson trial."
Schwarz is a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and recipient of the Russell award for distinguished teaching at Cornell. He is the author of numerous books about contemporary modern literature and culture -- including books on James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Wallace Stevens and the relationship between modern art and modern literature, as well as Holocaust literature. He has lectured widely in the United States and abroad.
EDITORS: Schwarz is available to talk with the media about his book on Runyon and American popular culture. To make arrangements, contact him at (607) 255-9313 or