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Guys and Dolls was conceived by producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin as an adaptation of Damon Runyon's short stories. These stories, written in the 1920s and 1930s, concerned gangsters, gamblers, and other characters of the New York underworld. Runyon was known for the unique dialect he employed in his stories, mixing highly formal language and slang. Frank Loesser, who had spent most of his career as a lyricist for movie musicals, was hired as composer and lyricist. George S. Kaufman was hired as director. When the first version of the show's book, written by Jo Swerling, was deemed unusable, Feuer and Martin asked radio comedy writer Abe Burrows to write a new version of the book.

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