Walking Over the Edge

For the Denver Press Club's Annual Damon Runyon Award, political satirist P.J. O'Rourke is this year's honoree and guest speaker.
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"You can become a winner only if you are willing to walk over the edge." --Damon Runyon

At the beginning of his career, iconic newspaper reporter and writer Damon Runyon had a precarious start. He was fired for insubordination in 1905 after only a few months at the Denver Post. Then he moved over to the Post's competitor, the Rocky Mountain News.

He joined the board of the Denver Press Club (founded in 1867 and the oldest press club in the U.S.) that same year, and for many an evening, he held court in the rustic wood-paneled bar. "There is no doubt that he was among the club¹s better customers, spending many hours there with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a poker hand in the other," said John Ensslin, former DPC president.

Leaving Denver for Manhattan in 1910, Runyon became known as the famed chronicler of New York City's criminal underbelly and Prohibition-era nightlife. His stories inspired the films Guys and Dolls and Little Miss Marker.

His legacy continues with the Denver Press Club's Annual Damon Runyon Award, given to a journalist of national renown. Political satirist P.J. O'Rourke is this year's honoree and guest speaker.

He joins the Runyon roster of past winners that include Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, Molly Ivins, Herb Caen, Pete Hamill, Ted Turner, Maureen Dowd, Tom Brokaw, David Halberstam, Ed Bradley, Carl Hiaasen, Seymour Hersh, George Will, Bob Costas, Tim Russert and Rick Reilly.

He will be feted at the DPC's 16th Annual Damon Runyon Award banquet, to be held Friday night, April 9, at the Denver Marriott City Center, 1701 California St.

Current DPC President Bruce Goldberg tells why O'Rourke was picked. "We chose P.J. O'Rourke because of his brilliant political satire through the years. He's had a big influence on how Americans view their politicians, and never hesitates to skewer their foibles."

O'Rourke's career took off in the early 1970s when he joined The National Lampoon, eventually becoming editor-in-chief. Working with a cast of relative unknowns that included nascent film director John Hughes (who went on to write and direct Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off), O'Rourke and team created groundbreaking print (National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody) and film (Animal House).

O'Rourke has written for Car & Driver, PARADE, The Weekly Standard, House and Garden, Automobile, The American Spectator, Forbes FYI and The Atlantic Monthly, and served as the foreign-affairs desk chief of Rolling Stone for 15 years. He's also the author of 12 books, including three New York Times best-sellers: Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance and All the Trouble in the World.

With a well-deserved reputation as a political curmudgeon, O'Rourke believes that "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys."

His fans are legion as are his critics. From Publisher Weekly: "O'Rourke has made a career out of telling people off." From The New York Times:

Only a stick-in-the-mud could deny a pearl like: 'The thing I like about Republicans is that they're no damn good at all. I know, I'm one of them. A Republican just wants to get rich, buy oceanfront property, dump the old wife and get a new blond one who'll listen attentively while the Republican talks about unfunded mandates over the arugula salad.'

The Runyon banquet is the Denver Press Club's premier event of the year. The club's building, at 1330 Glenarm Place, has been designated an historical landmark by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. The Society for Professional Journalists named the club a "significant historical place in journalism" in 2008.

The club maintains a year-round schedule of member events, a buffet-style restaurant and catering services, with space for hosting private events such as weddings, press conferences, seminars, workshops, networking, book clubs and holiday parties.

And it's rumored that some of its late members still reside, playing a late-night poker game. Manager Carmen Green should know. "I've spent countless hours here by myself, but I don't truly feel alone," he said.

"Every morning when I open the door, I'm never quite sure what I'll find what mysterious noise I'll hear, finding glasses on the bar that have moved by themselves, or when I'll see something moving from the corner of my eye. And it's not just me - others have experienced the same things. It makes it a really interesting place to work."

The club was close to bankruptcy in March 2006, but today it's thriving, unlike many other media associations. "We have about $70,000 in the bank, we are ahead of schedule in paying off the 30-year bank note taken out in 2006, we have about 450 members from a wide variety of professions, we've renovated most of the inside, and we're booking more events than ever," Goldberg said. "Not bad for a landmarked building that opened in 1925."

Damon Runyon undoubtedly would approve.

Details about the Runyon Award:

Date: the 16th Annual Damon Runyon Award Banquet, Friday April 9th, 2010,

Location: the Denver Marriott City Center, 1701 California Street. Doors open 6 p.m., dinner 7 p.m., program 7:50 p.m.

Cost: $80 for members of the Denver Press Club, Denver Woman's Press Club, Colorado Press Women, PRSA Colorado chapter and for Colorado SPJ; $100 for non-members. Interested in sponsoring a table of 10? Contact Mark Stutz, 303-294-2080 or Bruce Goldberg, 303-803- 9226.

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