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!
By The (Black-Gloved) Hands Of Man
A Portrait Gallery
Of Toy Car Models
Scaveneged From The Earth-Bound Internet
Including Porsche In Ice
And BMW Aflame
MINI PORTRAITS OF MODELS
(Click on images for even more delectable views!)
All That Remains (just these images) Of
Ferrari, VW, Camaro, Maserati, Lamborghini. and Etceteras
Recently I saw a photo of a rusted toy truck.
I was immediately struck by its beauty.
The colors and even its tattered remnant were extraordinary! The wonderful oranges and the lopsided elegance of its misshapen remains—all created by decay.
I envisioned having it in our home full of arts and crafts, this decayed truck forever prominently displayed maybe, on a 7” X 12” X 1” high base of pristine white marble. Is it art, craft, trash?
It took decades for nature to make this living, elegant decay. Soon after seeing the photo I watched the YouTube video of its transformation—covered over by a master craftsman, who, with meticulous skills, made the relic into what it might have been when new—unimpressive and boring, encased–in a thin, simple, flat, modern, dull, squarish, black truck–irredeemably dormant, shrouded and forever dead. Apparently all this proud craftsman saw was a corpse to be brought to sterile life. The kind of thing, in all its workmanship, I would not even look at once.
What startled and dismayed me most in the video:
tidying up left-over rusty bits, no-longer-required,
shoveled to the trash.
Terminal assault. Esthetic sacrilege.
* * * * * * * *
I appreciate craft, with all its skill and sensitivity, separate
from what I hold to be on a higher level of human creativity–Art.
(Previously I’ve posted illustrated essays on my thoughts about the
uneasy relationship between arts and crafts:
My wife, Allison, whose intelligence and sensitivity I recognize to be above mine, disagrees. She believes that what I demean as mere “craft,” can be equal or superior to “art,” because it can combine both beauty and human function—two, so to speak, for the price of one. Despite our usual agreement on matters of taste in film, videos, etc., on this point we agree to disagree.
As an example, she refers to what we recognize as a very striking, truly beautiful hand-crafted water pitcher our good friend Peggy Cooper gave us decades ago as a wedding present. She is now long-gone and the pitcher is now broken but well-glued back together, so that its once dual-function as a thing of beauty and as a holder of water and flowers, now only functions for its beauty–and remembrance of our friend Peggy on that important day in our lives. Is our water pitcher both art and craft?
ART? CRAFT? BOTH?
I’ve written of Abraham Maslow’s studies of “self-actualization” before.
(See my www.shepquest.wordpress.com posts
of July 17, 2014 and July 23, 2014.)
Jean Shepherd enthusiast Dr. Edward Hoffman, who wrote the authoritative book about Maslow and his work, The Right To Be Human, contacted me upon reading my Shepherd book, and we have become friends, especially sharing our mutual interests in Shepherd and Maslow.
Recently, Dr. Hoffman gave me and my wife a signed copy of a workbook he and William C. Compton wrote, and this re-emphasized for me my interest in self-actualization.
I believe that one’s life is mostly determined by some combination of luck and skill. (I’ve been lucky to have had two important women in my life—my mother and my wife, Allison.) In my multifarious amusements, the combination of luck and skill has importantly affected me not once, but several times, namely: 1. my novels and poems; 2. designing exhibits for the American Museum of Natural History; 3. the influence of Jean Shepherd in encouraging me during my formative years to widely observe and analyze life around me, and then, rediscovering his importance in my life when I read his obituary in October, 1999; 4. remembering the important role my varied interests in the arts have meant, resulting in my writing and illustrating my nearly two-hundred “Artsy Fartsy” essays.
I realized that in different periods of my life, as I see it, some component of
self-actualization has been a part of my activities.
(Understand that I venture here into the audacious field that falls between
self-aggrandizement and false modesty.)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In my earlier years, I wrote three novels, all unpublished—not for lack of trying. In 1987, Dodd, Mead & Company responded: “Thanks very much for sending RIO AMAZONAS. I liked the manuscript….I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere describing it as serious literature. Oh, it is that, but I wouldn’t tell anyone. Not much of that is being published. Instead, stress the adventure aspect….“ I also wrote scores of poems and occasionally tried to get a few published. I succeeded with two poems in the book, Magnetic Poetry–I blush to admit–which still can be found in bookstores and online. More importantly, in 1997, a Canadian poetry journal, Undertow, published two of my short poems. Here’s one:
* * * * *
Because of my combined interest in serious literature and my education in design, I found that I could understand curators’ scientific ideas, and thus increase the public’s enjoyment and understanding through my exhibit design. Most “designers” merely put objects in exhibit cases without enhancing the content—when I could, I expressed content and sometimes emphasized content by creating an environment for the material. An example of this–designing my first museum exhibit, in which, to organize and express the relationship between larger groupings of animals (phyla) and the subgroups (classes) into which they belonged, I used color, dimension, and juxtaposition. (one-fifth of the exhibit is shown here.):
(In 1970, on a New York State Grant, I spent a month in Western Europe
discussing exhibit design with museum directors and designers.
In 1980, on a Fulbright Senior Lecturer’s Award, I spent four months lecturing
in Spanish and advising at Lima, Peru’s National Museum of Anthropology.)
* * * * *
As my final museum design years wound down, diminishing my creative design possibilities, I discovered an important obituary—of Jean Shepherd. Rediscovering Shepherd led me to write the definitive book about him; transcribe, organize, edit, and have published a second book, focusing on his stories; writing two additional unpublished manuscripts of his stories/narratives; posting on my blog hundreds of illustrated essays about all aspects of his life and work. These works on Shepherd also led me to have published about him several articles in books and periodicals, as well as being interviewed several dozen times in the media.
* * * * *
As new ideas for my hundreds of thoughts and discoveries about Shepherd posted in my blog seemed to diminish a couple of years ago, I realized that my nearly lifelong questing and encountering scores of adventures in the world of the arts deserved exploring and “immortalizing” in an addendum to my Shep-quests–in several hundred illustrated essays, which I came to call “Artsy Fartsy.” Art, architecture, museum work, music, books, artists’ books, graphic novels, you name it! (The ultimate quest’s destination, I hope, would result in book publication.)
* * * * *
All of these personal adventures seem to me
to somewhat include aspects of a self-actualizing persona.
Theo, Jo, and Vincent van Gogh
(Vincent at 19, his only known photo)
A recent article has revealed the major contribution of
Jo van Gogh-Bonger
to our knowledge and appreciation of Vincent van Gogh.
Russell Shorto investigated and wrote the authoritative and elegant article (in the New York Times Magazine, April 18, 2021) about the major significance Jo van Gogh-Bonger contributed to our recognition of Vincent’s art and life. I, and probably most others, had not previously heard of her–and without her, we and the art world may never have heard of Vincent van Gogh.
Jo, Theo’s wife, upon reading letters from Vincent to Theo, and seeing hundreds of Vincent’s work in the family’s possession after his death in 1890, became convinced of his artistic genius. Despite her lack of background in the arts, and, at that time, the resistance in the art world to her being a woman, she devoted much of her adult life to promoting his work, and lived to finally see Vincent’s work accepted and revered.
I reproduce a few of Shorto’s comments in the article:
* * * *
My van Gogh quest.
Over 50 years ago, in 1966, traveling through much of Western Europe, questing to see the art and architecture I’d previously seen only in photos, I encountered in Holland a small brochure for a museum I’d never heard of, located in a woods about 50 miles south of Amsterdam. I drove to it in my new VW Bug and discovered that they owned the world’s second largest collection of van Goghs.
Glorying in the experience, the moment I encountered a somewhat small van Gogh: “Pollard Willows at Sunset,” I immediately recognized that it was my favorite of all the van Goghs I’d ever see in the original or in reproduction.
For some cause I’ve never understood, this artwork, this painting, seems rarely reproduced and thus is rarely known. (The small reproduction on the brochure’s cover had failed to sufficiently excite me.) I went immediately to the Museum’s shop, found a good-sized reproduction and bought it. Framed, it now hangs in my study.
I’ve found that the museum is named after Helene Kroller-Muller, who had purchased her first work by Vincent in 1908—just 3 years after Jo’s major show in Amsterdam. Thus, this woman, just as Jo van Gogh-Bonger, had also been in the vanguard of Vincent’s admirers and promoters.
Some time ago I created and described my “Guernica Colorization Kit.” In it I suggested that Picasso’s great mural, all in black, white, and gray, might be done in colored Crayolas. I included an outline drawing and—significantly–a revered critic’s comments on the importance of Picasso avoiding color in the work. Note that my “Kit” was meant to be a joke, denigrating the colorization of movies, artworks, etc.
On March 14, 2021 I posted on my www.shepquest.wordpress.com an illustrated essay about a recent travesty regarding Van Gogh, one of my favorite artists.
In our world, there are many instances contributing to the desecration of the holy essence of art. Now I must speak out. The following ad appeared Friday, April 9, 2021. Dylan Thomas must be spinning and groaning in his grave.
Over the last few months, I’ve encountered at least three of these ads in the New York Times for a lamp company’s product. Once was too much, the second added to the insult, and now here’s the third.
The beginning of the Dylan Thomas poem:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The poem is about the dying of his father; “light” and “day” are metaphors for life itself. (not about an electric lamp).
The ad is
Someone (was it Mark Twain?) is quoted as having said that he woke every morning and read the obituaries—if he was not featured, he went about his day’s business. Twain is quoted as saying that the report of his death was an exaggeration. In 1954, while on safari in Africa, Hemingway was erroneously reported dead after two plane crashes. It’s said that he enjoyed reading the obituaries of himself.
I always check the New York Times obituaries. To see if someone I’m interested in has died, and to encounter information about someone I’m not familiar with but about whom I may find interesting information.
It is how I first found out that Jean Shepherd had died (October 16, 1999). As I say in the introduction to my Excelsior, You Fathead! “Recently I’ve gotten to know him a lot better, beginning when I read his obituary in the New York Times, and realized that I’d lost an old friend. It was then that I recognized how much he had meant to me—and means now. And how important his art is to American culture.” This moment led to the last two decades of my obsession and my writing about him.
My most recent encounter of an obituary that has fascinated me was on April 1, 2021, when I read about poet and publisher of poets, Robert Hershon (obit by Neil Genzlinger). What got me most is his seemingly casual funniness and the “Hanging Loose Press” poetry journal he co-founded—loose mimeographed sheets that could be deleted, posted on your bulletin board, and etcetera.
Part of one poem, titled “F Stop”:
There’s another F
train right behind us.
that’s faster and finer
than this F train is.
It serves French fries
And frogs legs….
(See YouTube for video. It should be noted that Lady Gaga also did an exceptional performance
of our Anthem at the 2016 Super Bowl.)
An unexpected work of art. I’m not a Lady Gaga fan.
But I was overwhelmed by her performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
at Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.
It’s important to note that this was just two weeks after the January 6 insurrectionary assault on our Capital building and all it represents for our democracy and our country.
As always, there were political luminaries on the Capital platform. As usual there were millions of TV watchers/listeners, but out there at the Capital in real life, instead of hundreds of thousand of people, there were mostly flags (The” Star-Spangled Banners” the symbol of what, shockingly, we might have lost as a country.) Sometimes it’s said that democracy is a fragile thing and could be lost if not sufficiently guarded and cherished.
All of us have heard our Anthem sung hundreds of times at ballgames and other occasions. By opera stars, popular singers, and by ordinary folk who their friends think have “good voices.” For my considered thought and heart, those others just sing the words, well or badly, without patriotic soul.
But Lada Gaga is something else.
With the traumatic events of January 6 in all our minds,
Gaga gave us a pitch-perfect and strong version of our song.
But she did more than that. At appropriate moments, reminding us of our love of country and flag and what they mean, on that public platform she flung out her hand toward us and those flags above and behind as if to remind us all of what we might have lost, and indicating that it was still there—if we can keep it.
And one other elegantly artistic thing she did–with the final, significant word “Brave.” After her pitch-perfect performance, in that last phrase (reminding us of that January 6 near tragic glitch in our heritage), her final “Brave” note began off-pitch!!!. On purpose! And then confidently slid to the on-pitch finale. She had performed in our Anthem the off-pitch symbol representing our near-tragic calamity–and its positive resolution for our democracy. She ended the performance with sublime resolution, fulfilling the song–our patriotism and our aspirations again in-tune.
The effect reminds me of what City Lights bookstore owner and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is quoted as
having written about poetry: it should “arise to ecstasy somewhere between speech and song.”
We have survived. And Lady Gaga has bolstered our hearts and minds.