Maybe his stuff doesn’t date so well, maybe he was imitated too often, maybe he became a parody of himself, his later work turned to schtick, overshadowing the former excellence. Whatever the case, Jimmy Cannon has not aged well. And it’s a shame because at his best, he was not only a terrific big city sports columnist, but one of the best we’ve ever seen.
A friend hipped me to this little piece on him from the Time Magazine archives (circa 1952):
When Jimmy Cannon was a newspaper shaver, the late Damon Runyon gave him some advice: “The best way to make a living is to be a sportswriter.” Cannon followed the advice, and Runyon liked the results so well that before he died he made Cannon “the custodian of my reputation when I’m gone.” At 43, as sport columnist for the New York Post, sad-eyed Jimmy Cannon has also come closer than any other sportswriter to taking Runyon’s place. His favorite columnar character is Two Head Charlie, a thoughtful horse player, who talks like this: “You take a real ugly bum . . . with a face a monkey would be ashamed of. Let him get a shave and a haircut and meet a broad. What’s the first thing the broad says to him, she says you look cute tonight . . . I admit I look like a kangaroo . . . But every broad I take out tells me I’m cute. Soon as a dame says that, I know I can’t trust her.”
Delicatessen Nobility. Bums, bettors, Broadway guys, hangers-on and contestants at every sports arena are material for Cannon’s column; his ear is finely tuned to their talk. “They’re a kind of delicatessen nobility,” says he. “I know lots of guys who talk like Two Head.” Cannon knows them because he was born & raised in their midst, on Manhattan’s lower West Side, still lives in a hotel midway between Broadway and Madison Square Garden. At 17, as a copy boy on the Daily News, Cannon’s skill with words caught the city editor’s notice. Once, when a crank invaded the city room and introduced himself as “God,” Cannon answered: “Pleased to meetcha. Heard a lot aboutcha.”
There is a decent collection of Cannon’s work called “Nobody Asked Me, But…” that you can find on the cheap.