The Wisdom of Not Being Wise

Damon Runyon

I am a lot smarter than I sometimes let on and when you read something of mine that seems to be an effort to put myself away with my customers as a naive homespun fellow you may be pretty sure that afterwards I will be greatly ashamed of the attempted deception. I do not know why I keep doing it. It must be force of habit.

I say attempted deception because I doubt that any of my readers are ever deceived. They know there is nothing naive or homespun about me, that on the contrary I am wiser than a tree full of owls, that I am hip to all dodges, larcenous and otherwise, and that I have been breathing against silk, as the saying is, for many years.

I doubt, too, that the contemporaries I often notice trying the same role are any more successful in hood-winking their public. The average newspaper reader probably realizes that a newspaperman who has achieved the distinction of a byline must have been around newspaper offices for some time and that in newspaper offices are human beings of ordinary intelligence and some sophistication and that from them the writer fellow must have learned something of life, else he is a complete boob.

It could be I occasionally revert to the homespun role as a sub-conscious expression of regret. I was putting that unsophisticated business in my writing as far back as the time I was working on the Denver Post when gruff old Joe Ward, the city editor, fingering my copy, used to growl:

“Come, come, Runyon. Kindly eliminate this aroma of new-mown hay, this note of good-evening-neighbor. I have looked up your record and find you were a messenger boy in the red-light district of Pueblo most of your youth and I fear you there acquired a worldliness that unfits you for playing the joskin in the large city.”

But I want to tell you something, ladies and gentlemen. I was on the right track. I wish Joe Ward had not headed me off. I realized this in later years when I got to New York and saw the late O. O. McIntyre as the best dressed, most fastidious and highly prized diner in the fashionable Colony restaurant surrounded by zillionaires and remembered he got that way on the strength of a reputation throughout the nation as a sort of reuben glue among the city slickers.

And then I met up with Will Rogers, who was enjoying a fat income from the syndication of his writings in the tone of an unsophisticated country fellow, not too well educated, though if there was a sharper, more thoroughly informed man in the United States than Bill, or one who could speak a better grade of working English, I never encountered him.

But maybe I could not have maintained the Lem Frivibiv pose for any length of time. I am by nature a wise guy. I see no reason to deny it. I feel too self-conscious and, in fact, phony when I don the homespun make-up. In this day and age when newspapers have 50,000,000 circulation and the radio is in every home, it seems to me the people must have too much intelligence and information to fall for that unsophisticated line.

And I just heard of a congressman who has been on the job for over 20 years mainly on the strength of continually assuring his constituents that he is just a simple country boy. He has been living in Washington off and on for two decades, understand, but he remains a simple country boy. And the constituents believe it. Why, b’gosh they must be wider-eyed in their unsophistication than old McIntyre sitting there in the Colony waiting for his filet of sole.

Well, someone once made the crack “You can’t exaggerate the stupidity of the public.” I have forgotten who it was, if I ever heard. Anyway, kindly do not pin it on me as I have troubles enough. But the more I see of the world, my good friends, the more I am inclined to the belief maybe the guy who said it had something there.