EYF! Was published in March, 2005. Subsequently, through research and happenstance, I’ve become aware of more info on Shep –see my blog references for the complete essays on each subject. I’ve posted them on Facebook (Eugene B. Bergmann) and my blog, shepquest.wordpress.com. Here are the references to a couple of these. Below I just indicate a bit of each. Should there be an updated version of my EYF! (though I highly doubt it). I indicate where this info might appropriately be inserted.
Importantly is the information I’ve gathered on Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown, indicating their importance to Shep’s personal and professional life. For complete article, including visual material, see my blog for June 30, 2021.
Lois was the “listener” in Shep’s earliest New York days. She and Shep talked on the phone live on his program, met, dated, and married. She listened to his earliest overnight programs–she and Jean would discuss the shows afterward. She supported him professionally and personally.
Leigh began at WOR as an assistant and worked her way up to becoming his wife, helper, sometime-producer, and book agent for him. Many friends and associates indicated her importance to him—he could not live without her.
I’ve encountered many Shep enthusiasts subsequent to the book’s publication. Most interestingly and importantly is Dee Snider, leader/creator of the group “Twisted Sister.” Dee and I spent three hours in my “Shep Shrine,” discussing Shep’s influence on him. See my blog for February 21, 2013.
When exploring the ebay.com site for “excelsior,” I encountered the Shep reference to his reply to the greeting, “Excelsior, you fathead.” Without question in my mind, it is the Excelsior Soda Bottle Company! See my blog for September 20, 2022.
FOR A POSSIBLE BOOK ADDITIONS, INSERT AS NOTED BELOW:
Lois and Leigh page 293-300.
“Seltzer bottle” page 217.
Dee Snider (frontman/creator of group “Twisted Sister” (Best known for “We’re Not Gonna Take It”) at end of page 405 titled MORE ACCOLADES.
Excelsior, you fatheads!
That infamous phrase—and the name of a book: EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD.
See the book’s opening pages for the entire Wordsworth poem—I’d placed it in my chapter on WORDS, but the editor (without my knowledge) put it at the book’s very beginning—thus giving it prestige/prominence it does not deserve—didn’t he read my book manuscript closely enough to realize that Shepherd’s use of it is mostly a joke? Shepherd, for all his sensibilities wanted a certain amount of idealism (thus “Excelsior), yet he insisted on reality’s imperfections—thus, one who only expressed idealism and not the world’s imperfections, was a “fathead! (Note: Edward Lear and James Thurber both did parodies of Wordsworth’s “Excelsior.”)
For the book’s “excelsior” references, see chapter on words—Excelsior starting page 214.
Only after the book’s publication did I discover that the response to “Excelsior,” being “Seltzer bottle” (probably, with Shep’s secret amusement), referred, in part, to an actual seltzer company’s name! Naturally I now have several of said bottles. For one image, see my blog site, www.shepquest.wordpress.com April 8, 2019.
Viewers of Shepherd’s film, A CHRISTMAS STORY will note that the packing material for the notorious leg lamp, is, indeed, excelsior.
The wonderous ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE cartoon show (began 11/19/1959—several years after Shep began using the word “Excelsior,”). In the occasional cartoon segment titled “Bullwinkle’s Corner” I discovered the poem: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDYeav3nQEg), Bullwinkle acts out his silly, condensed version of the Longfellow poem. To which I say, “Excelsior, you fatheads!”
Every time I encounter an air dancer my heart leaps. When driving on an errand, as we pass one by, it waves to me. Wishing I could dance like that, I wave back. My wife maybe thinks I’m silly (wacky?)—but I follow my delights wherever they lead me (within the law).
My earlier wacky air dancer essay is on my blog
(www.shepquest.wordpress.com). for July 12, 2016.
For those interested in inflated objects, see my ARTSY RATSY (9/18/19)
Now I have a mini wacky of my very own.
(Photo by Allison Morgan Bergmann)
I’VE NAMED HIM WACKY D.
–On our bookshelves, I have over a dozen books I’ve read by and about Bob Dylan.–
What if you are a great enthusiast (as I am) of Michelangelo, Turner, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, and then you begin reading a compilation of learned essays founded upon the comprehensive archives in a university and you find that what you think you know is but an inkling?
(Cropped front cover.)
Such is my current experience in reading The World of Bob Dylan edited by Sean Latham, the director of Bob Dylan Studies at the University of Tulsa. (Dylan’s papers are now at the same location as those of Woody Guthrie.) The book consists of over two dozen essays by professors and other authorities on the life, influences, and essence of Dylan. Latham’s introduction begins:
Is there any writer or performer more haunting
—and more haunted—
than Bob Dylan?
Of the over 300 pages, I’ve just completed a part. And I’m overwhelmed. The first chapter, “The Biographies” by Andrew Muir begins:
Biographies can be curiously unfulfilling publications.
This is due partly to the ultimate unknowability of another person,
and partly to the motivations and circumstances
that bring these life-stories into being.
I’ve finished “The Blues” chapter by Greil Marcus–I hadn’t expected in it the depth and intensity I encountered:
In the blues, words first came from a common store of phrases,
couplets, curses, blessings, jokes, greetings and goodbyes
that passed anonymously….
As a modernist art, the blues is kin to
Cubism, Dada, Finnegans Wake (1939)….
Marcus describes the blues song, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” and describes how Dylan renders it and why he does it this way:
As Dylan sings, his voice is scraped and braying,
frantic, enraged, immediate, noisy….
At the end of the blues chapter, Marcus describes Dylan singing “Lovesick”:
You can hear the song come into its own body:
the voice searching its way through the sound the song
has called up from the band, the words like weights
the singer has been forced to bear,
the guitarist’s notes fracturing as they twist into the air,
the pieces trying to find their way back to the chord they came from,
and never quite making it,
speaking that language of suspense.
I’ve read chapter 9, “Rock Music” by Ira Wells. At the bottom of the first page, Wells startles the reader (and will ultimately go on to explain):
The story of Dylan”plugging in” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival
has seared its way into the American cultural imgaination:
it’s the Bob Dylan story known by those who
don’t know anything about Bob Dylan.
(Cropped back cover)
Amazon Customer Review
Allison5.0 out of 5 stars MARVELOUS BOOK! Reviewed in the United States on September 17, 2021 Verified Purchase This is the most interesting, informative, entertaining, and fascinating book I can ever remember reading. Don’t tell Hemingway, Mailer, and David Byrne that I said this.
(Allison Morgan Bergmann—the foregoing Customer Review is by my husband, Eugene B. Bergmann, for whom I bought this book—he is a published author who has been reading widely and constantly for well over 70 years. P. S. He is a Dylan enthusiast.)
In NYC’s East Village, I walked across the Square and entered St. Mark’s Bookshop. Right by the front cash register was a small table with two stacked up columns of paperbacks, Do It! by Jerry Rubin, a major revolutionary during the Hippy/Yippy movement. The listed publication date was March 15, 1970, so it must have been in that early Spring.
I picked the top book from one column—it was signed by Rubin with an innocuous inscription such as “Hello!” “Greetings,” or some such. I picked the top book from the other column and it was sighed “F…K!” and “Jerry.” But the complete four-letter-word was there in all its then-ignominious glory. I bought that copy and it’s been on a bookshelf in my study for about 50 years (snuggled up against Abbie Hoffman’s paperback, Revolution for the Hell of It!).
Below, my scan of that Do It! obscene word is obscured by me
so as not to offend,
and to avoid others from copying the scan.
But now, my censorship slip of paper removed,
it leaves, for me alone, the obscenity intact.
I must have read the book once, and it’s in perfect condition though the inside of the front cover and its facing inscription page are somewhat browned with age. Although there must be still in existence at least a couple of copies so-inscribed, I haven’t come across any.
Though I’ve always been rather timid/conservative (except in my quests for ARTSY FARTSY arts), for the last 50 years or so I’ve found myself to be politically center-left. Back then, however timid that I was, I’d been curious regarding the oddball bizarro goofy yippy world that captured headlines in the 1960s and 1970s–what are these people thinking and what are they doing? As I’d read the books, I must have had at least a bit of a clue.
But, for Jerry Rubin, the story ended rather sadly–and ironically. I still have a copy of the Times obituary–see below. Some years after his hairy revolutionary youth he rather transmorgrified–he’d shaved, cut his hair, joined Wall Street, and wore a suit. (He’s quoted as having said it was better to try to “change the system from within.”) He died at age 56–
when, one day in late 1994,
breaking a minor traffic regulation,
the former revolutionary and law-defyer
was fatally struck by a car—
I kid you not.
After re-watching the film STOP MAKING SENSE a coupla times,
having been grabbed by my mental and emotional innards—
following my frequent habit
I began questing.
I encountered: “The Untold Truth of David Byrne” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ0oKlICHQc
David Byrne, it turns out (I regret to admit my previous ignorance), has a wide-ranging and quirky intellect. Complex and often profoundly silly—I also found a short video interview in which, seated in a frequently changing setting, in a rather automaton-seeming attitude, wearing his “big suit,” Byrne sat opposite the interviewer—who kept changing, each persona oddly dressed and prosaic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE-mxVxFXLg
Inter: Why did you call the movie “Stop Making Sense”?
Byrne: Because it’s good advice.
Inter: How did you ever think of that big suit?
Byrne: I like symmetry and geometric shapes. I wanted my head to appear smaller, and the easiest way to do that was to make my body bigger. [I’ve encountered that Byrne was also influenced by Japanese theater costumes such as Noh and Kabuki.]
I later learned that Byrne portrayed himself
and all interviewers.
& & &
I’ve now finished reading Byrne’s book, How Music Works.
The New York Times: “Brilliantly original….“How Music Works” is a faux-naïve guidebook (meaning he reduces complex phenomena to simple terms, though not always),…
Amazon begins its page on HOW MUSIC WORKS:
“How Music Works is David Byrne’s incisive and enthusiastic look at the musical art form, from its very inceptions to the influences that shape it, whether acoustical, economic, social or technological. Utilizing his incomparable career and inspired collaborations with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and many others, Byrne taps deeply into his lifetime of knowledge to explore the panoptic elements of music, how it shapes the human experience, and reveals the impetus behind how we create, consume, distribute, and enjoy the songs, symphonies, and rhythms that provide the backbeat of life. Byrne’s magnum opus uncovers ever-new and thrilling realizations about the redemptive liberation that music brings us all.”
CHAPTERS: Creation in Reverse. My Life in Performance. Technology Shapes Music: Analog. Technology Shapes Music: Digital. Infinite Choice: The Power of Curation. In the Recording Studio. Collaborations. Business and Finances. How to Make a Scene. Amateurs! Harmonia Mundi.
The above images from the book were scanned by being propped open
by my signed copy of
Dee Snider’s Shut Up and Give Me the Mic
and by Musical Instruments of the World.
Byrne tickles the mind in the opening of the first chapter: “I had an extremely slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that context largely determines what is written, sculpted, sung, or performed….”
More than half-way through the book (page 223) he writes, “How important is getting one’s work out to the public? Should that really matter to a creative artist? Would I make music if no one were listening?…Is the satisfaction that comes from public recognition–however small, however fleeting–a driving force for the creative act? I am going to assume that most of us who make music (or pursue other creative endeavors) do indeed dream that someday someone else will hear, see, or read what we’ve made….” He continues, describing his pleasure in the creative act, yet hoping some others will appreciate it, and, while reading I think of my unpublished books–especially ARTSY FARTSY–and how good I believe ARTSY is and how much I dream of it being published and appreciated–even if that happens long after I’m gone! DAVID BYRNE, YOUR WORKS AND IDEAS STRIKE SUCH A SYMPATHETIC CHORD IN ME! Right now especially your creation of HOW MUSIC WORKS.
An intellectual whiffling book
that gyres and gimbles—
A Majestic Angelic Jabberwock.
O Frabjous Day!
Now I’m enjoying Byrne’s book Arboretum. which consiste of his word/drawing “tree diagrams” — simple lines of tree-forms and the words he chooses to inform/entertain/ amuse the reader in his multifarious mindscapes while tickling us.–that wiley trickster! In some of them he makes one’s mind work hard, and that is part of the pleasure. Here is part of the back cover:
(To enlarge, click on it.)
My intellectual buddy Riff and I headed for a movie theater in October, 1984. I believe I’d just read the New York Times review by Janet Maslin: “…it’s apparent that this is a rock concert film that looks and sounds like no other…. Talking Heads’ performance style is unlike anything that has ever been captured by a standard concert film,…”
I was 46 and Riff was in his early 50s, which is undoubtedly why the young guy in the ticket booth looked at us and said, in effect, “Do you two gentlemen realize that this is a rock-and-roll film? Sure you want to see it?” We bought our tickets and got two seats, center, closeup.
WE WERE MESMERIZED.
At the end I turned to Riff: “Want to see it again?” We watched it again.
(Regrettably these few images lack the manic music
and the musicians’ movement, camera movement,
cutting, scanning, etcetera of the film media.
& & &
I’d only thought about STOP MAKING SENSE occasionally in the next decades—but I always knew it was very special. So here we are, wife Allison and I on the sofa, I 83 and she in her mid-60s, searching for something to watch on the TV other than laughing our heads off at another rerun of “The Big Bang Theory,” “Why,” says I, “don’t we see if we can find STOP MAKING SENSE”?
WE WERE MESMERIZED.
I FOUND OUT THAT IT HAD BEEN HIGHLY REGARDED FOR DECADES.
I don’t know how we’re going to watch
“Jeopardy” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and other stuff.
I looked at Allison and said as seriously as I could fake it:
“Every night we’re going to have to watch
STOP MAKING SENSE.”
* * *
A once in a lifetime masterpiece.
What I see in David Byrne
(and his film director Jonathan Demme)
is a silly intense musical visual
artist mind at play.
In the beginning—it starts by bringing onstage the basic physical elements of his world—stage props, instruments, performers one by one, constructing—indeed creating in front of us his musical world. We are being shown his mind working. Byrne’s sounds and movements are unexpected, bizarre. He has, before your very eyes and ears skillfully, delightfully, with his controlled spastic shuddering and primal screams
stopped making sense.
MATERIAL I GOT AFTER THE BOOK WAS PUBLISHED
Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown were two very important people in Shepherd’s life and career that not much had been publicly known about when my Excelsior, You Fathead! was published. I had learned (and published in the book) what I could about their relationships with Jean from his associates at the Village Voice, WOR, The Limelight, etc. Subsequently I learned much more and have posted new material on my blog. But it was too late to contact some important people for the book: Shel Silverstein died the same year Shep did; Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns, etc.) was too ill to be interviewed.
The following is a condensed version of some old, and more importantly,
new information about Lois and Leigh,
beginning with Lois as the earlier contact with Jean.
NOTE: Listeners to Shepherd would never suspect that
he’d ever had a girlfriend, much less than that
he’d been married four times.
* * *
Lois, Miss Chicago, 1948, is probably best known
for her 1961 starring role in the Twilight Zone episode of
the sun dangerously close to Earth, “The Midnight Sun”;
a starring role in a 1963 episode of Route 66′s strange and wonderful
“Suppose I Said I Was The Queen Of Spain”;
playing opposite Frank Sinatra in Dirty Dingus Magee (1970);
and in the 1994 Seinfeld episode, “The Gymnast.”
Lois had been quoted in a magazine as saying she wouldn’t discuss her divorce from Shepherd, so I didn’t try to contact her for my book, but after its publication in 2005, radio broadcaster and Shepherd enthusiast, Doug McIntire, whose wife knew Nettleton, was able to interview her, and, because Doug had discontinued his efforts to write a Shepherd biography and admired my book, he sent me an audio of his interview, from which I gathered info including how she and Jean had met and the various ways they had assisted each other in their careers. I asked him for Lois’ Hollywood address, which he sent to me. I wrote her a note, inscribed to her a copy of my book, and mailed them to her. She called me, excited that someone had written a book about Jean’s creative work and thanked me vociferously. She also hand-wrote to me a long letter expressing her thanks and emphasizing that she believed that Shepherd was a genius on a higher level than her own field of acting. As she put it:
I really want him to be recognized for what he was—a brilliant genius.
The wonderful, wonderful unique—the wonderful thing that he was.
Although she had invited me to visit her at the East 57th Street Manhattan apartment where she and Shepherd had lived, in 2008 she died before that could happen. Her friend and executor, director/producer John Boab contacted me and we met in her apartment, where he handed me several dozen hand-written notes she had made regarding details in my book.
From these direct sources regarding Lois I learned that she’d heard Shep’s overnight broadcasts in early 1956, confirmed that she indeed had been his “Listener,” who had called, and who could at times be heard on the air–and that was what led to their meeting. She had participated in the protest gathering at the July 1956 burned-out Wanamaker Building site after Shepherd had been fired after suggesting his listeners buy “Sweetheart Soap” (because radio officials had considered him “un-commercial”). She’d also been in on Shepherd’s great I, Libertine book hoax, played a minor role in Cassavetes’ 1957 film, Shadows, and had attended the recording session of “The Clown” by Charles Mingus, narrated by Shepherd (1957).
Lois ended their relationship when she found that Jean was married. They began again when he knocked on her door with his divorce papers in hand. They married in December, 1960. Shepherd wouldn’t let her wear her wedding ring in public–she believed that he didn’t mention his women and family in public and on the air because that would have disrupted the image of his being a free-wheeling man-about-town without the equivalent of traditional family and a picket fence in the front yard.
She said that she would listen to his broadcasts, record them, and they would discuss them when he got home. She also helped him learn scripted lines for plays in which he had a role, but he had trouble remembering stuff that others wrote.
Lois commented that she felt that they were both successful professionals and were successfully married even though she was often out of town pursuing her acting career. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Lois banished Jean from their apartment (around 1965) and divorced him because she discovered that he was having an affair (very probably with Leigh Brown–more of this later). Lois’s executor and friend told me that Jean wanted to continue with Lois even after she’d discovered his “secret life.” I believe it’s more than a coincidence that during the period when Lois first threw Jean out, on his broadcasts he sometimes sang mock-plaintively “After you’ve gone and left me crying….you’ll feel blue, you’ll feel sad, you’ll miss the dearest pal you’ve ever had.”
Some years after, in a role in the TV sitcom “The Golden Girls,” Lois played the part of a lesbian named “Jean.” (Most likely the name is not a coincidence, don’t you think?)
Indicating to me that she retained strong positive feelings about their time together and continued to believe in his talent, soon after her death in 2008, many of her memorabilia items about Shepherd were encountered, saved in a closet. They were sold on ebay—news articles, ink drawings he’d made, and associated materials. I bought some–see two of them below..
Sketch of an actual Eastside restaurant. Note “Ad Lib”
as related to Shepherd’s improvised broadcasts.
Below, his enigmatic, hand-drawn valentine to Lois.
* * *
Checking out the guest comments on Jim Clavin’s encyclopedic website www.flicklives.com, I encountered Barbara, who wrote that as Leigh Brown’s best friend, she’d like to correspond with someone interested. I responded and was told by her that as a rebellious and ambitious young woman, in the late 1950s, Leigh left home. Barbara said that Leigh, eighteen, had eloped with a classmate right out of high school because she was pregnant, then left her husband and their baby because she couldn’t see herself as a conventional woman with spouse and kid living behind a picket fence in small-town New Jersey. She moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, the center of the artistic world where the action was.
Leigh Brown, aka Nancy Prescott, 1957 high school photo.
Picture the scene. Barbara reported that Leigh associated with many Village people who would one day be famous: artists, actors, playwrights, a cartoonist, a late-night radio broadcaster. You know the types—soon-to-be-known actor Rip Torn, and Jason Robards Jr. who played the lead in The Iceman Cometh and later starred in the play and film, A Thousand Clowns.
Leigh had a menial desk job, and at night as a full-fledged, aspiring, creative type, recited her poetry in coffee houses such as Raffio and Café Wha, drank with pals at the Cedar Tavern and the White Horse, worked on a play script and a flick, worked on her novel. (Barbara also noted that Leigh had a crib for her baby in her apartment.) Leigh, the free spirit, apparently had an affair with young cartoonist Shel Silverstein, who would introduce her to his best friend, Jean Shepherd.
How much more could be filled in by Barbara? Leigh had typewritten dozens of letters to her, and Barbara sent all she could find to me, just in case they might be of interest. “Just in case,” she said! In an early letter Leigh described herself, all caps:
I AM A BEATNICK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! WHY WON’T ANYBODY REALIZE THAT. I WAS BORN BEAT FOR CHRISSAKE. I BEEN BEAT FOR YEARS, SINCE WAY BEFORE KEROUAC ROTE ON THE ROAD.
In her letters Leigh seemed mature-beyond-her-years, but sometimes wrote in an exuberant, schoolgirl style that adds to our appreciation of what she was experiencing and expressing on paper. We observe Leigh’s thoughts, feelings, and actions regarding herself and her developing relationship with Jean Shepherd. She already knew him well enough to want him for her very own. She was enamored of his mind—the breadth of his knowledge, the depth of his thinking, his understanding about all things (Remember that at the time, Jean was still married to Lois):
He is courageous enough to detach himself to a certain extent—stand back far enough from involvement to SEE what is going on, and see it clearly and objectively.
Jean? Maybe. But in years, not weeks. We have time. I will wait and see how I feel, and how he feels. We have a good and warm relationship now. We like each other. We enjoy each other. I like everything about him. Everything he does pleases me. But hopping into the sack with him would be idiotic because I do not KNOW Jean. Knowing ANYONE is hard enough, but Jean is an unusually complex man, and his needs go much deeper than the average non-aware clown. I do not know if I can give him anything of value.
I will not trade my relationship with Jean, which is now a real friendship based on reality, for the Love Myth—based on sex appeal, or insecurity, or God knows what. And with Jean in my life, I am learning how to live—I am growing up.
On page one of a late January 1962 letter Leigh writes that her sometime-lover is jealous of Jean even though Leigh says they are just friends. She writes that R. “is always hollering that I am carrying on a love affair with a radio.” (A familiar complaint regarding Jean Shepherd’s devoted radio fans—enthralled by the tenor of his discursive and entertaining mind, Lois Nettleton and Leigh were both captivated.)
Then we turn to page two, top. It’s more than a simple page-turning.
The preface is long past, the introduction ended.
The main event is crashing in.
The lives of Leigh, Jean, and Lois, are about to be transformed:
Then Jean called. He asked me if I wanted a job. I will tell you one thing—if he is serious about this job business, I will take it….I will probably end up falling wildly in love with him and being miserable for the rest of my life…I can conceive of a world without sunlight easier than I can conceive of a world without Jean.
She continues that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get married because “the guy I’m hung up on is already married and intends to remain so. I dig tapdancing. You can’t tapdance if you are married. Who would marry a chick who has a sign in her bedroom: Help Stamp Out Reality.”
Oh, Leigh, Leigh, Leigh! You are about to start working with the guy you are hung up on. Leigh, forchrissake, you shoulda admitted to yourself right then and there that you’d gone off the deep end! The next letter I have is dated February 1, 1962. It appears that the serious “tapdancing” started at some time during the last week in January:
I’ve been deciding something important—I’m not fooling around with any more men—only with Jean. I love him plenty and don’t want anyone else.
By March, in the last letter I have, she writes an elaborate script for bamboozling Shel Silverstein, saying that he is “rather simpleminded at times, and easily distracted—like a horse—and will believe ANYTHING.” She intends to manipulate him so that he will unknowingly help her in what he would tell Jean, who’s returning from an overseas trip. She’d say she is in love with a married man, etc., etc. but make sure Shel doesn’t realize she is talking about Jean. She knows Shel will fall for it because, “In spite of the beard, and the swearing, and the Playboy routine, deep down underneath (about 1/4 inch) Shel is a big, fat, lovable, Sentimental Slob—in fact I suspect that he still believes in the Easter Bunny.” When Jean gets back he’ll hear all about her from Shel, who will be on her side.
The letters I possess straddle this crossroads of Lois and Jean and Leigh’s lives. We can see with these writings that Lois Nettleton—intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful, appreciative-of-Jean’s-genius-Lois—unbeknownst to herself despite her own genius-IQ, was threatened by a complex and unstoppable force. And then, about three years later, Lois discovered Jean’s secret life and she threw him out.
Jean dictating serious art to a seemingly subservient Leigh
Leigh, with her own artistic aspirations, from the early 60s onward, managed to successfully work both sides of a couple’s creative urges. She supported the genius, and with her professional world tied to Jean’s, she raised herself up from gofer to be his assistant, producer, agent, editor, co-writer, and even sound-and-scenic designer—his all-around artistic associate to the end of their lives. Yet, ofen on live broadcasts he would disparage her–after one nasty comment about her, he said (also on the air), “I hate to see a grown producer cry.” On a later broadcast, seeming to make amends, he said on his broadcast the night after his 1973 Carnegie Hall one-man show:
Now I’m going to credit where credit is due. All the lighting, many of the bits that were done in the show—these were the work of a very creative person I never talk much about, and that’s Leigh Brown. Leigh created the show….and I want to congratulate Leigh for this—publicly—for a change. And it was just a great job.
Through the letters I know more about the simple and complex, wise and foolish, foible-filled humanity of people I’d had only a shallow image of before. More understanding of the personal and professional relationship between Leigh and Jean. And, in a subsequent gift-from-the-gods, I now know even more about the two of them because Tom Lipscolm contacted me. Tom, publisher and editor, had met with Leigh in the early 1970s when she acted in her literary-agent role for Shepherd’s The Ferrari in the Bedroom. Tom published Jean’s book and later published Leigh’s novel. He talked with me about Jean and Leigh. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would provide new understanding of how Leigh’s talents, some of it acquired and honed years before she met Jean, became, from the early 1960s onward, the essential force that enabled his unique gifts to flourish.
Tom talked to me about Leigh’s novel, The Show Gypsies, and about Leigh as an expert horse-woman–an expert in show-jumping–the subject of her book. He learned from her that “The show-jumper’s job is to sell horses. That’s their real job. The riders would work for certain owners. The rider had to deal with the personality of the owner, the objectives of the owner, the personality of the horse, and the competition. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff—commodity traders don’t have that tough a life. Plus, the riders must have their own athletic ability to make it all translate. So you think of what she did in life for a couple of years there, as an attractive blonde—that’s pretty interesting.”
Her book dedication: “For Jean Shepherd…this fool’s rainbow.”
Leigh Brown: the persistent and gifted optimist.
Tom was obviously telling me all this not only to explain why he published the novel but also to show how Leigh’s many-faceted abilities translated into her successful efforts to promote Jean’s works in all media.
“She was toe-to-toe with anybody,” Tom told me. “She was just a delight. When you were inside her world, she never missed a trick. Everybody’s name, she’d know what this was and what that was and she’d have the horse’s weight, whether it was a crummy horse or a good horse, why the horse shied away. So it wasn’t just that she’d been a show jumper—she was that kind of observer of absolutely everything.”
“When she sat in a room with Jean and somebody else and they’d have a long conversation, she wouldn’t say a word, and afterwards Jean would say, ‘Well, what do you think? How’d it go?’ And it was like listening to an intelligent computer that cut through all the crap and that did the three deal-points that mattered in the entire four-hour conversation. Then she’d come with, ‘I wouldn’t trust him. I don’t think that gig will ever happen. Consider it a free dinner, Jean. That’s what you got out of this.’ “
Tom saw how the workings of Leigh’s mind enabled Jean’s success:
Then Tom put it another way: “No gearshift on Jean. Jean was always flat out. What Leigh did is she would direct him, she knew what his hot buttons were. She pushed the right button and the lawnmower, instead of heading up the front steps or into a wading pool full of toddlers, would go back to another patch of lawn that needed mowing.”
“Jean’s always in a sales mode. He seldom picks up that he’s pissing off somebody magnificently. Whatever he’s doing, he’ll keep on doing. And Leigh would pick it up and say something like, ‘Well, Jean, why don’t you tell him about the time you were training in the Army down in Florida.’ And he’ll move right over. He won’t know what ditch she pulled him out of.”
“She was incredibly loyal to Jean, spent all kinds of time talking to me about his talents and abilities—and what to do with them,” Tom told me. “And her thinking was top notch.”
Way back in 1972 Leigh told Tom that “If we can ever get A Christmas Story made as a movie using the Red Ryder BB gun tale, he will have it made.” It would be the ultimate perennial Christmas movie like It’s a Wonderful Life. She never forgot. Eleven years later A Christmas Story proved that Leigh Brown, co-writer of that film with Jean and director Bob Clark, just as in so many other circumstances, was right on the money.
(One of four relevant, opening credits.)
We see Leigh Brown, now flesh and blood, emotion, and intellect essential in providing what Jean Shepherd needed to bolster his creative genius and succeed in his career. She was dogged, dauntless, and driven, she was single-minded, tough, and unyielding, she had street smarts and skill. She was wise, perceptive, inventive, creative, vulnerable, thoughtful, funny, and truly a match for Shepherd. Early in their relationship she had wondered if she had anything of value to give him. We come to recognize the substantial value to their careers and their dreams—and to their increasingly professional as well as emotional dependence upon each other.
Leigh Brown died in 1998. According to several who knew them well, Jean Shepherd could not live without her—he died (“of natural causes”) the following year.
* * * * *
About a year after my Shepherd book was published (2005), I submitted the manuscript of my one-hour, one-person play to a small Bay Shore, L.I. theater group that produced three short plays per three-night performances only, Authors’ Playhouse. My play, scheduled for March 16, 17, 18, 200l had opening night cancelled by a sleet storm.
My cover design for my proposed, published play.
Intro to the original play below.
Authors” Playhouse set below.
SHEPHERD (Turns his head, looking back at the audience. Pause. He fingers the black armband.) It’s an old family tradition. Yes, Leigh’s gone. Leigh’s dead. You have no idea how much I love her. How much I need her. She was supposed to outlive me. (Pause, then he continues, almost uncomprehendingly.) I depended on her. (Turns completely around center stage front and bends forward at the waist.) Not a word to anyone, ya fatheads. Not a word—never!
JEAN LOIS LEIGH The End
NEW PERIODICAL DELIGHT!
The New York Times, on the front page and full, two-page inside of the Weekend Arts section (6/11/2021), finally did an actual review of the van Gogh multimedia folderol. Written by Jason Farago, virtually every paragraph is a major disparagement of the two van Gogh “immersion” extravaganza installations—as Farago begins one paragraph, “Like van Gogh, I, too, suffer for my art, and so I attended both of them.” He begins his review:
BABIES DON’T DEVELOP stereoscopic vision for the first few months of life; they have a hard time perceiving depth and dimensions, and therefore gravitate to swirling shapes and bright colors. They and others with similar tastes will find great pleasure in our culture’s latest virally transmitted spectacles, which distill fin-de-siecle French painting into an amusement as captivating as a nursery mobile.
Vincent van Gogh, his corpse moldering in Auvers-sur-Oise and his paintings out of copyright, has these past few years been dragooned into a new sort of immersive exhibition….
One of several NYT images, 6/11/21
(Photos by Sam Youkilis)
To put it generously, deluded Philistines may actually believe that van Gogh (or any other artist) deserves multi-media manipulations (distortions) as a way to elicit emotion and cash from the sometimes esthetically unsophisticated.
Playing with words (punning), when asked what I’m doing when merely resting,
frequently I’ll comment, “I’m just rusting.”
* * * * *
What is rust, literally? Just the detritus of water eating its way into metal?
What does a dictionary or thesaurus have to report?
Decay, corrosion, erosion, decomposition, demolition,
assault, adulteration, corruption, debasement, taint,
sabotage, ruination, outrage, devastation, spoilage,
Thus, only a negative, destructive force?
Or, in an artsy fartsy sense, is there an esthetics of rust?
A symbol of life on its way toward some other
kind of being in the universe?
( Click on the above. It’s a world. )
Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life And Rust!