GUY RAZ, host:
One of the great sportswriters of his day inspired this.
(Soundbite of song, "My Time of Day")
Mr. PETER GALLAGHER (Singer): (Singing) My time of day is the dark time. A couple of deals before dawn when the street belongs to the cop and the janitor with a mop.
RAZ: Few people made the streets of New York sing like Damon Runyon. He was born 125 years ago today in, appropriately enough, Manhattan, Kansas. Runyon spent years as a sportswriter covering boxing and baseball for the Hearst newspapers. But he's best remembered for his short stories about the tough guys and crooks who populated Broadway in the years before the Second World War.
Two of those stories were turned into the musical, "Guys and Dolls," taking characters like Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit from the depths of Broadway to its glittering heights.
Here is Marlon Brando as Sky, passing on a choice bit of advice in the 1955 movie version of the play.
(Soundbite of film, "Guys and Dolls")
Mr. MARLON BRANDO (Actor): (As Sky Masterson) One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then the guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of this brand new deck cards and squirt cider in your ear. But son, you do not accept this bet because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider.
RAZ: Author Jimmy Breslin wrote a biography of Damon Runyon. He says Runyon based characters like Sky and Nathan on people he actually knew.
Mr. JIMMY BRESLIN (Author, "Damon Runyon: A Life"): They were real. He was street reporting, and there would be people all over those streets, and they were great characters.
Mr. JOHN SHAY (Actor): This horse thief is called Horsey for short. And he is not called by this name because he ever steals a horse but because it is the consensus of public opinion from coast to coast that he may steal one if the opportunity presents.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: That's actor, John Shay, introducing us to Horsey the Horse Thief from Runyon's story, "A Piece of Pie." Runyon's characters were certainly memorable but his language even more so, a poetic jumble of $10 words and eternal present tense that sticks in your head long after you've put down one of his books.
Damon Runyon died in 1946, four years before "Guys and Dolls" hit Broadway. And according to Jimmy Breslin, the news business hasn't been the same since.
Mr. BRESLIN: There's a long blanket of dullness. You tell me something in a newspaper you read that makes you laugh.
(Soundbite of song, "Guys & Dolls")
Unidentified Man (Actor): (As character) (Singing) Yes, sir. When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky, you can bet that he's doing it for some doll.
RAZ: That's Jimmy Breslin on Damon Runyon who was born 125 years ago today.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.