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JEAN SHEPHERD Enthusiasts—a few of them

I think that many/most creative people who lived in the New York area, or congregated in New York’s Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s (and, of course, many who encountered Shep in other ways in other places), listened to Jean Shepherd. Many of them, even those still alive, are hard to contact, separated from we who quest to get past multiple layers of gate-keepers and unknowledgeable assistants, so their enthusiasm for Shepherd cannot be confirmed). But the following accounting of known enthusiasts, partial as it is, gives an idea of the influence of Shepherd on so many of those whose works we admire. A large percentage of people influential in the media claim to have been listeners. Just the other day, on West 60th Street, NYC, as I sat in a six-by-nine room waiting to be interviewed by a notable Sirius broadcaster who was on the other end of microphones and earphones in Washington, D. C., I found out that both he and his producer were Shepherd enthusiasts. Most interviewers and others in the media I’ve met are listeners.

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PADDY CHAYEFSKY

Playwright, film script writer. (Network, in which TV newscaster telling watchers to open their windows and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Shepherd claimed that Chayefsky asked him if he could use his idea of “hurling an invective.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThB0uAbjhGY).  The publisher of my Shep’s Army confirms that Chayefsky, whom he knew, told him that this claim is true.

BOB CLARK

Director of the films Porkys and A Christmas Story described how, as a young man he first heard Shepherd on the radio and vowed to make a film of Shepherd’s stories someday.

BILLY COLLINS

Poet and U. S. Poet Laureate, told me that he could not imagine growing up without listening to Jean Shepherd. He also said, “Shepherd had the best influence on my sensibility.”

MIKE DAISEY

American monologist, raconteur, whose current work is a series of evenings (each what one might think of as a “chapter”) in a work called “All the Faces of the Moon.” He sits at a table and talks. The New York Times reviewer comments, “His facility for impromtu asides and entertaining digressions is formidably effective.” His answer as to his knowledge of Shep: “I’m a huge fan of Shepherd—he’s absolutely one of a kind, and wonderful.”

DONALD FAGAN

Musician with Steely Dan wrote that “I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.” Wrote that his song “Nightfly” refers to radio talkers he listened to in his adolescence, and that “The greatest was the monologist Jean Shepherd.” He wrote an extensive essay on Shepherd for the Internet’s Slate website.

BARRY FARBER

Radio broadcaster and friend of Shepherd’s. In the early days, Shep was Farber’s mentor at WOR. When Farber won 500 pounds of candy/cough drops and he said he wanted them delivered to former headhunters in the Peruvian amazon, Shepherd agreed to go in his place, resulting in several of Shepherd’s best, most memorable travel narratives.

JULES FEIFFER

Friend of Shepherd’s from the Village Voice and early Village days, commenting that, although Lois Nettleton always asked him about himself, Shepherd only talked about Shepherd. Shepherd on occasion described and read a Feiffer cartoon from the Voice on his broadcasts

JOE FRANKLIN

Radio and TV broadcaster knew Shepherd and talked about him during the times he interviewed me about my Shepherd books.

HERB GARDNER

Friend of Shepherd’s, one of the very few guests on Shepherd’s broadcasts. He wrote the play and film, A Thousand Clowns, in which the main character was modeled after Shepherd and his radio traits, about which Shepherd complained bitterly. The publisher of my Shep’s Army confirms that Gardner, whom he knew, told him that this claim regarding the character’s attributes is true.

BILL GRIFFITH

Comic strip creator of Zippy the Pinhead.  Did a tribute strip after Shepherd died, in which he wrote, “His wit was like a life raft to me, adrift as I was on the sea of Levittown. I confess…I was a cultist… and Jean Shepherd was my guru. Who knows what deep subconscious effect his late-night loquaciousness had on me.”

HUGH HEFNER

Publisher of Playboy, published 23 Shepherd short stories and his interview with “The Beatles” in the magazine. Hefner told me that Shepherd “was a tremendous addition to [Playboy] and a part of Americana, and I loved his work.”

DAVID HINCKLEY

New York Daily News entertainment columnist, said, “His nightly suggestion that laughter is the only real defense against the shrapnel of life was memorable largely because he shared it in language and tone quiet enough that his voice could be heard.”

DON IMUS

 Radio broadcaster who several times has expressed his admiration for Jean Shepherd, including this on his program, referring to Shepherd: “A genius! A genius!”

PENN JILLETTE

Radio broadcaster, comic. Washington Post, 9/3/2006:“Jillette says he patterns his approach to radio after the work of Shepherd and his other spoken-word hero, the great satirist and parodist Stan Freberg. Jillette considers himself lucky to have seen both his heroes make speeches to college audiences: “Freeberg told the students, ‘Do not make fun of anything unless you hate it,’ and Shepherd said, ‘Do not make fun of anything unless you love it.’ “

ANDY KAUFMAN

Comic, performance artist, he listened to Shepherd as he grew up.. “I don’t think any sense of humor is funny. Rarely. Jean Shepherd is funny.”

ERNIE KOVACS

Video comic. He and Shepherd were friends and Kovacs had him on The Tonight Show as a guest. They must have had a mutual admiration based on very different but wondrously quirky and inventive creative styles.

LOIS NETTLETON

Actress, wife of Shepherd, 1960-67. She was “the listener,” whose comments appeared on Shepherd’s early New York broadcasts. She recorded his shows and they would discuss them when he returned home at night. Upon reading my Excelsior, You Fathead!  she wrote me, “I think what he was doing, was so—it was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!…I really want him to be recognized for what he was,” and here she gropes for the right words, “a brilliant genius.  The wonderful, wonderful unique—the wonderful thing that he was.”

KEITH OLBERMANN

Television commentator on politics and sports. Among other comments about Shepherd, on the air, he said: The immortal humorist and sometimes Chicagoan Jean Shepherd put it best,” and on Countdown: “Well, we had some doozies in this 21st week of 2005, more examples what the late, great Jean Shepherd used to call ‘creeping meatballism.’” Olbermann wrote the foreword to my Shep’s Army, describing how he and a friend once met Shep.

VIN SCELSA

Free-form radio broadcaster. “Ain’t no one else ever gonna come close to what the man accomplished…in the dark…with a microphone, a kazoo and 50,000 watts!”

JERRY SEINFELD

Stand-up comic, television sitcom creator/comedian. “He really formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd.”

During his tribute to Shepherd at The Paley Center for Media in January, 2012, among many other things, he said: “I saw him at Carnegie Hall….I just was in love with the guy. Still am.”  “He could go into his own mind as if it’s this attic of wonderful thoughts. And he would take you through it.”  “…there was that great wonderment and he saw that exciting, cataclysmic drama in the ordinary. And that was really the same way my mind had always been set up and I didn’t know it until I kind of saw him and I thought, ‘Yes, that is exactly t way I see things as well.’ So it really excited me to watch him work, and I saw just a way for myself to think and perform and do everything that I do.”

HARRY SHEARER

Comic, actor. As narrator of the NPR 2-hour tribute to Shepherd, he said, “Jean Shepherd invented a form of radio storytelling to which all of us still on the air are indebted.”

SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Cartoonist, song writer, writer of books of children’s poetry. He once called-in to Shep’s broadcast and got to say a word or two by phone. Shep’s best friend in the early days. They wrote forewords, liner notes, etc. for each other’s works.

DEE SNIDER

Musician, front man for rock group Twisted Sister.     

 He spent three hours in my “Shep Shrine” with me, talking about Shepherd. Here are excerpts: Dee says he listened to Shepherd broadcasts from the late ‘60s until about 1974, when he became a full-time musician. These days he’s catching up, listening to tapes of Shep’s shows. “Now he’s my radio guy—he’s who I listen to.”  “Jean totally affected my storytelling ability.  I think it was by osmosis.  “

“I adore his books.  I think his writing is so much more focused than his talking—when he put pen to paper he was able to refine his rhythm—and you heard his voice, you knew his voice, unlike other authors where you kind of fill your own voice in.  When you read Jean’s books, you hear his voice and he had a great-sounding voice.”  He said that part of what attracted him to Shepherd on the radio was the cadence and tonality of Shepherd’s voice: “I think I’ve stolen this from him in my own way.  There was something very alluring.  The way he phrased, there was something going on there that was hypnotic and it pulled you in.”

R. L. STINE

Author of the popular “Goosebumps” series. Says, “My job: to terrify kids.” He knows what kids will laugh at, as well as what will frighten them. He commented that listening to Shepherd helped lure him to New York City.

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 Anyone with verifiable information regarding other well-known fans of Shepherd, please contact me.

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