In recent years a number of publications, in traditional print form and on the Internet, have contained articles about Jean Shepherd. My book Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (March 2005) remains the only book entirely devoted to him.
Following is an annotated compilation of those books and articles that have come to my attention. It’s not necessarily complete, and neither is it definitive in its descriptions. All comments in the books and articles are laudatory with a few negative criticisms (mostly about Shepherd’s personal life), and most have at least some misstatements.
BOOKS WITH ARTICLES OR SIGNIFICANT MENTIONS
Helen Gee founded the Limelight in the 1950s as both a photo gallery and coffeehouse. Jean Shepherd and Lois Nettleton visited frequently and became friends with Helen. He wanted to broadcast from there, but Helen wanted to keep the Limelight focused on the photo gallery aspect. She writes a bit of her friendship with Jean. I interviewed her for my book and quote her. Until a photo of Jean and Lois surfaced among Lois’s effects after she died in 2008, no photo of Jean and Lois together had been known. Note that this, the only photo of them known at the time, ironically consistent with Jean’s desire to keep his private life a secret, only shows the back of Lois’s head. Jean on far left, Helen top center,
Lois with back to camera
Sounds in the Dark (2001) by Michael C. Keith
This book discusses the nature of listening to the radio at night. A lot of people in the radio industry are quoted in the book. It has about six contiguous pages about Shepherd, as well as short references on other pages.
Seriously Funny The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (2003) by Gerald Nachman.
As I was awaiting my book’s publication I heard about this book and feared that it might have so much about Shep as to be competition for mine. I needn’t have worried. It contains essays on about two dozen of the prominent, new voices in comedy of the period, with the Shepherd material being but the first eighteen pages of a chapter shared with Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.
The book has many good pieces of information on all these important comedians, but at least in the Shepherd article there are numerous inaccuracies. For example, his programs were never, to anyone’s knowledge, called “Voice in the Night” (this mistake could have been picked up from the title of the NPR tribute); he did not tell yarns of growing up “in the thirties and forties,” but, as he was born in 1921, yarns of the twenties and thirties (in the forties, he was in the army during the war, followed by the post-war years); Shepherd was not “a more blue-collar, urban comic,” but lower middle class, as his father had a white-collar job at the Borden milk company.
Cropped image at beginning of article
Incidentally, the small and poorly cropped iconic photo of Shepherd that begins the article is the version that has a thin black negative scratch line going from under his upraised arm down almost below the table in front of him. Most prominent of those who noted the line as obviously a scratch was Jim Clavin of www.flicklives.com. The line is far too sharp for the slight blurring in the rest of the photo, and a magnifying glass used on the clear 8 X 10 glossy I was given for my book’s cover shows that it’s not one of the headphone lines because it stops just before it reaches the table below which one might think it disappeared. Over the phone I said this to the photographer, who was outraged at my accusation. This photo, when reproduced for the large Shepherd poster for sale in the 1960s has no thin line–the scratch must have occurred in later years. For the book jacket of Excelsior, You Fathead! I had the offending line removed, as seen below in detail:
Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (March 2005) by Eugene B. Bergmann.
I tried to make this book as comprehensive as possible regarding Shepherd’s creative work in all fields, with biographical information as it seems to relate to his work. Most who refer to the book (including the publisher) do so as a “biography,” although I don’t. In the book’s introduction I make this clear. So that his career can be seen as an unfolding enterprise, and as he used bits of his own biography in his work, I do indicate in the introduction that, “I describe his artistic career as a whole in an attempt to grasp the unique artifice of his constructed art and persona in a biographical framework, using the range of his stories, ideas, observations, and themes in chapters arranged within that chronology.” I also point out that the book “documents and describes what he produced in many media, and it is an appreciation and analysis of what he accomplished. And, importantly, it attempts to impart to the reader some measure of the great pleasure Shepherd’s art gave to his audiences.” Professional reviewers and most Customer Reviewers concur in believing that I was successful. Other than adding some recently emerging material and thoughts, I stand by what I wrote.
New information has arrived on the scene subsequent to the book’s publication. Some is in the form of newly encountered, minor created works by Shepherd, and some has added important information regarding his life as it affected his works. I’ve also done much additional study and contemplation of his work, resulting in some published articles and sufficient numbers of essays on important and dramatic matters that add up to two completed book manuscripts desperately seeking publication. My blog is also evidence of some of this activity.
Something in the Air: Radio, Rock and the Revolution that Shaped a Generation (2007) Marc Fisher.
Most of the “Night People” chapter of this book concerns Shepherd, written by an author who is obviously a Shepherd enthusiast. As he writes, “I heard Shepherd through my pillow, from the transistor radio cradled in my palm. He told me bedtime stories. I would stay up into the night because Shep was revealing himself and I never knew what might come next.” He continues, “Everyone who followed Shepherd’s path on the radio—and there is hardly a creative soul in the medium who does not trace his work back to Shep’s stories—was enraptured to discover that in the darkness and quiet of a windowless studio. One person could step inside an audience’s imagination.”
This book, despite my comment to Shep’s photographer in 2004, also uses the image with the black scratch line as noted above.
More to come.