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JEAN SHEPHERD –Present for Duty!

Why couldn’t Shep get his army stories published? Three times Playboy announced the book’s forthcoming publication (Obviously from info give to the magazine by Shepherd): Announced in September 1967, December 1967, and May 1971. At an appearance in 1968 he mentioned the book. He mentioned it in a radio interview in April 1970. As late as December 1976 he had mentioned the book’s publication in a New York Times interview. (Most of the info’s mentions and dates from www.flicklives.com)

There would seem to have been a problem with Doubleday, his publisher. In 1966 they published his In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash which mostly consisted of kid stories, with a couple of adolescent stories. This was claimed to be a “best seller.” In 1971 Doubleday published his second book of kid stories (with a few more adolescent stories including the title story about a high school date) Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and Other Disasters. Also claimed to have sold well. But, instead of there being an assumed publication of his next book by Doubleday, Leigh Brown, then his radio producer and assistant, was shopping the manuscript around and negotiated a contract with Dodd, Meade, and Company, for that third book, A Ferrari in the Bedroom, a book of Shepherd’s comic articles (not stories), published in 1972. Maybe Doubleday didn’t care for Shepherd’s articles, which I tend to characterize as comical griping.

Nine years later (1981), Doubleday published A Fistful of Fig Newtons, with only about one-third stories, including one army story, generally known as “Troop Train Ernie,” which he had told on the radio as far back as July 1965. We know that other army stories were available as early as the middle of 1965. In fact, Playboy had published “The Secret Mission of the Blue-Assed Buzzard” in September 1967, “Banjo Butt Meets Julia Child” in December 1968, and “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League” in May 1971. In addition, “T. S., Mac,” Shepherd’s story of griping to the army Chaplain had been considered his army book’s title as far back as the late 1960s.

Despite the fact that Jean Shepherd had a fan-base, a couple of profit-making books in print, and his army stories were very popular to his radio listeners, he could not get his army stories published.

Only after the overwhelming popularity of his movie A Christmas Story, did Broadway Books, a part of a part of Doubleday, a couple of decades later, again publish him in the 2003 book, deceptively described as “the book that inspired the hilarious classic film.” Titled A Christmas Story, it just grouped together and reprinted the earlier published stories upon which the movie had been based.

1942-mm-dd_042_Shep_Army2

(Dorothy Anderson’s collection, from http://www.flicklives.com)

Finally, in August 2013, nearly three dozen of Shepherd’s previously unpublished army stories saw the light of day. The new publishing company, Opus Books, operated by two Shepherd enthusiasts (one of whom had known and worked with Shepherd to promote his Ferrari book), as one of its first publications, brought out my Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles.

So far it has garnered a great review in Publishers Weekly (I’m so delighted with some of the critical praise for my part as editor: “surprisingly unified and confident account” and  “against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling”):

Editor Bergmann attempts with much success to simulate a posthumous memoir of author, comedian, and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s army years. Utilizing years of broadcasts and taking advantage of multiple retellings of the same events, Bergmann has assembled a surprisingly unified and confident account of oppressive years spent in the army’s Signal Corps from 1942 to 1944, with factual commentary between chapters providing context. Shepherd was never shipped to a warzone; thus the incidents recounted mostly concern the accommodations at a series of stateside camps, the cruelty of the fellow soldiers, and the sometimes Kafka-esque bureaucracy. His service was not without the defiance of death, and seems to have damaged both Shepherd and his compatriots; the pessimistic tone may surprise fans. The collection is otherwise a compliment to Shepherd’s usual storytelling and the exaggerated melodrama of his signature narration style, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments in a presentation that, against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling.   The book is reminiscent of Spike Milligan’s WWII memoirs; both include stories told in hindsight of the authors’ young goofball selves before their respective fame as radio comedians.

 Also, several significant radio interviews, and a good television interview on CBS TV Sunday Morning (http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/07/21/new-book-looks-at-jean-shepherds-fictional-military-service/)

back cover

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1 Comment

  1. jack lynch says:

    Flick Lives

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