The Insidious I

Damon Runyon

My autobiography, or life story, is one thing you can bet I will never write.

If I told the truth, a lot of persons, including myself, might go to jail. If I held out the truth or just told it half way, a lot of my pals who now have confidence in me would be saying:

“That Runyon is a scaredy-cat and a phony bum. As long as he was going to write his life at all, why didn’t he write it on the emmus.”*

Of course an even more potent reason why I am never going to write my own tale is that there is no sure money in that tripe. It is purely speculative. It might sell but the odds are against it.

It is pretty difficult to find a bookie in New York nowadays to get a market on this proposition but I imagine the price of publication against any book selling to a profit is easily 50 to 1, depending on the author.

I think you could write your own ticket on an autobiography.

I am frankly a hired Hessian on the typewriter and have never pretended to be anything else and when I write something I want to know in advance how much I am going to be paid for it and when.

I am aware that there are many other writing fellows, especially in the newspaper columning dodge, who write out of sheer altruism and who pick up their weekly wage envelopes merely as a matter of form. But not Professor Runyon. The professor wants his. I think I am less spurious than those muggs who let on that their journalistic pursuits are guided by motives far above mere gold.

However, a note from a publishing house which says it is interested in my autobiography helps solve a mystery for me. For years I have been wondering who tells people to write autobiographies. Many a time as I have skimmed through the pages of such a tome, I have said to myself, How can anybody as inconsequential in the world and with as little to say as this guy have the gall to spoil all this white paper?

Well, obviously the publishers tell them, which partly absolves a number of persons against whom I have been nursing the most sinister designs. I do not know who tells the publishers. That is something I am going to investigate at the earliest opportunity.

Maybe many a fellow is going along through life minding his own business and keeping his affairs to himself as he should when some publisher or his representative sneaks up behind the poor bloke and whispers in his ear:

“Look—why not write your autobiography?”

That does it.

The fellow immediately becomes a frightful bore.

I say there ought to be a national committee to which book publishers should be required to submit the names of persons they contemplate asking for autobiographies, the committee to survey each candidate on his experiences before a single line is permitted to be set down on paper. The approval of the committee should be something not easily secured.

I do not think my material would ever pass on the basis of importance. My life has been made up of trivialities. I have accomplished no great deeds. I have met no considerable number of the high muck-a-mucks of the world, and when I did I was always too self-conscious to hear what they said.

Of course, I could tell about the time Butch Tower was playing vaudeville in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when a furniture dealers’ convention was being held there and he shot craps on a blanket on the floor with them with such success that after examining both sides of the blanket and all sides of the dice, they suggested that Butch ought to give them a handicap by hanging the blanket on a line across the room like a sheet up to dry.

So the blanket was rigged like the walls of Jericho in the movie It Happened One Night when, as you probably remember, Clark Gable, the lucky dog, was in bed on one side of the blanket and Claudette Colbert was in bed on the other side. And the furniture dealers made Butch stand on one side of the blanket and which was hung head high and hurl the dice plumb over it.

And what do you think happened? What do you think happened?

Why, Butch cleaned those furniture dealers from top to bottom. If they had been betting their own merchandise, he would have been able to furnish a ten-room house.

* Meaning “on the level.” Hollywood talk.