Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD –More Truth & Fiction

JEAN SHEPHERD –More Truth & Fiction


I want the truth!I WANT THE TRUTH

(says Tom.)

Here’s part of  a Customer Review of Shep’s Army

This is really vintage Shep.

When I received this book I immediately read it. On page 5 the editor, Eugene Bergman, says that Shepherd’s radio style, his stories, spoken and written appear intensely autobiographical, but–brace yourselves–they ain’t. That kind-of burst the bubble I’ve created about him. While a great, warm and wonderful story teller Shepherd was, I’d like to continue imagining him exactly the way he described in all his books and radio shows. And, I will.
Buy the book and remember him well.

Eugene B. Bergmann says:

You indicate that the book is “vintage Shep” and you recommend that people buy the book, but I’m sorry you are disappointed that I say that the stories aren’t true to fact. I would like to correct what appears to be your inadvertent misreading of what I said in the introduction. I didn’t say that “Shepherd’s radio style, his stories, spoken and written appear intensely autobiographical, but–brace yourselves–they ain’t.” By leaving out the first part of that sentence, one gets the impression that I said that his whole radio style (everything he said on his broadcasts) was not autobiographical. I do believe that most of what he said on the radio (other than his stories, which constituted only a fraction of his radio broadcast time) was true to himself–it’s a major part of what we love about him.

I said that it was his intimate, first-person style (of his entire shows) that influenced people into thinking that his “story” portions of his shows were also true to fact. Here is that sentence, complete with its first part: “For many people, influenced by his intimate, first-person radio style, Shepherd’s stories, spoken and written, appear intensely autobiographical, but–brace yourself–they ain’t.”

His stories, seeming to be an inextricably mixed part of the rest of his talk, are a somewhat different matter. In fact, he frequently prefaces them by saying something like, “Let me tell you a story.” Yes, “story” can be a truthful thing or a fictional thing. I believe he purposely creates this confusion–the listener maybe thinking truthful story, while he is saying (to himself) fictional story. In contrast, when he tells a narrative about one of his many travels, I believe he is just about entirely telling what actually happened–and, to my knowledge, he never prefaces a travel tale of his by saying “Let me tell you a story.” Although it’s usually difficult to tell when Shepherd is telling the truth in general, I do believe that what he says in what’s regarded as his final interview–with Alan Colmes in 1998–he puts it bluntly and truthfully:

“Every good performer should sound like he is–like it’s real…..I’m an actor, you know. And I want my stuff to sound real. And so when I tell a story, I tell it in the first person, so it sounds like–by the way, that’s the best way to tell a good story, in the first person–that it sounds like it actually happened to me. It didn’t.” He continued: “I’m a fiction writer. I’m not sitting there doing a biography or an autobiography. Those are all stories.” [He emphasizes the word “stories.”]

you can't handle the truth!


(says Jack)




  1. Frank in NC says:

    Like the writer of the review that you quoted, when I was young I listened to Shep thinking that everything was true and autobiographical or only slightly exaggerated. Now I listen knowing that the stories are likely either complete fiction or possibly retelling of events that happened to others but told in the first person and embellished for artistic effect. However, I notice that even in the fictional stories he often includes statements like “I’m telling the truth.” When you’re coming from the assumption that a tale is fiction these comments jump out at you. I guess it’s his way of staying in the storyteller persona.

    • ebbergmann says:

      As, indeed, I believed it was all true way back then. It was an adolescent version of what we mostly believed when we were pre-adolescents–always the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were the bad guys.

  2. mygingerpig says:

    body{font-family: Geneva,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif;font-size:9pt;background-color: #ffffff;color: black;}The odd thing is that many of us identify actors with characters they play and are not bothered by the reality that in “real life” they are actors, though we relate to them through the characters they play.  Shepherd created a character, a persona, for his radio show.  He has said as much.  That persona is not the “real” Shepherd, though it contains much of him.  I am sure that when we was with his friends, he was not the guy on the radio program, though he was an incessant talker and monopolized the floor, according to friends who have seen him in social situations.  So why do some people feel somehow hoodwinked when they learn that the BB Gun story is not an autobiographical reality, or that his stories about Wilbur Duckworth and the marching band are fiction, though he did play the Souzaphone in the high school band.  I suspect it is because they have created a personal relationship i ntheir minds between Shepherd and themselves.  The “one to one” nature of listening to himm at night, in bed in the dark made it very intimate and personal.  And his story telling style made it seem as though he were relating something that happened to him and his friends.  So once a listener was hooked on this persona and the belief that he was telling them things that happened to him, it just got stronger and stronger, and was a view they don;t want to shed.  it’s like losing a friend to admit these were fiction.  So they actually get angry.  In this case, they can’t handle the truth, as you write, GeneJoel

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