The Fred W. McDarrah iconic photo of Jean Shepherd represents the way I–and probably most Shepherd enthusiasts–imagine him to be. Despite all the varied photos of Shep over the years, it’s the one as I always imagine him–the once and future Shep. It’s why that photo adorns the cover of my Excelsior, You Fathead!
taken while Shep was broadcasting 11/30/1966.
It would be interesting to hear the broadcast
of that date, but I’m not aware of an audio.
The Sunday New York Times of January 26, 2014 has most of a page devoted to a feature, “Album,” with photos by McDarrah. The occasion is an exhibit of 130 images at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea from 1/30 to 3/8/2014. The short text by John Leland, accompanying the captioned images, says in part:
If we had known that the scrawny guy at that Greenwich Village folk club might some day amount to something, we’d have all been there, cameras in hand, to document the event. But we didn’t so we weren’t. Fred W. McDarrah, on the other hand, made it a point to be there. When Bob Dylan first performed in New York; when Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg held court at house parties in Greenwich Village, or Andy Warhol at his studio, the Factory; when hippies or the gay liberation movement found their voices; when downtown New York was the incubator for the cultural movements that shook the world. Mr. McDarrah, who died in 2007, was the first photo editor and for decades the only staff photographer of The Village Voice. He had a front-row seat for multiple revolutions….
Probably not known to most, but of significant importance for the historical record of Jean Shepherd, McDarrah took the finest image of Shepherd (at work on the radio, no less!) Also of interest is the photo he took of Shepherd on his opening night broadcasting from the Limelight, February 15, 1964. When I saw this image (inexplicably for the first time) being sent back from my publisher to McDarrah with me as the intermediary, I immediately called McDarrah and offered a hundred dollars for the right to use it in my book. He accepted–here it is:
Of possible interest to some, other than the cover image, all images within a book are paid for by the book’s author. Which is one reason why a couple of photos I’d have liked to include did not make it–because of the multiple-hundreds required by the photo-rights owners. (My publisher had told me that one shouldn’t have to pay more than $50 per image.) The multiple image of Shep from Playboy almost didn’t make it–the four-page contract for its use prescribed a fee of hundreds of dollars. I responded that it was a shame that I couldn’t afford it–Playboy was such an important part of Shepherd’s writing career and Playboy might indeed, reap benefit by readers encountering the credit line for it in the book. The response I got was that, if money was the only problem, I could use the image for free. Yes, money had been the only problem. I found that although the multi-portrait of Shep had originally included five portraits melded together (See image in my book), the photo as published in Playboy cropped the far right images out.
Many provided images for the book for free, and I credited them in the book’s acknowledgements. But several organizations denied use for any amount and several wanted hundreds. (See in my acknowledgements, for them, my group-disacknowledgement.) I’d have liked to have used the smiling-Shep image in front of a CBS microphone, but not for their outrageous fee–especially as I find it absurd that one encounters that image’s use in numerous locations on the internet (I wonder if all the users paid or have been sued), with its ignorantly implied suggestion that CBS was Shep’s home base. I’d have liked to have used it as it’s such a good shot of him, and my caption would have explained that in his broadcast career, CBS was such an extremely minor, side issue.
(CBS photos: Not by Fred W. McDarrah)
Besides, “CBS was such an extremely minor, side issue.”
A few years ago I bid for and won on ebay, a good photo print of Shep by McDarrah dated November 30, 1966 but, as his heirs might object. I won’t reproduce it here.
I’m pleased to receive this email from McDarrah’s son, Timothy:
”Loved this. As part of the Kasher show, there is a
display case of books that had my dad’s photos on the cover.
Your Shepherd opus is front and center.”
The Atlantic magazine, from what I remember, is an intelligent periodical with smart, accurate stuff. What happened? Below is most of a sloppy and ignorant article encountered on the internet.
The Largely Forgotten, Cynical Genius Behind A Christmas Story
Jean Shepherd was an icon in his time. Now he’s not. What happened?
CHRIS HELLERDEC 24 2013, 6:29 PM ET
….Today, it’s difficult to imagine a holiday season in America without A Christmas Story. More than 48 million people watched a 24-hour Christmas Story marathon last year, which airs annually from Christmas Eve until the evening of Christmas Day. It was adapted into a seasonal musical in 2011, with productions that appear every winter up and down the East Coast[It’s the non-musical play that appears up and down the coast these last few years]. There’s a Christmas Story museum in Cleveland, across the street from the house where the movie was filmed, stuffed with props, collectables, and other sorts of on-set ephemera. Fans can buy official Christmas Story leg lamps, vintage Red Ryder BB guns, and adult-sized bunny-rabbit onesies inspired by Aunt Clara’s “deranged Easter Bunny” pajamas. The movie even casts a cultural shadow as long as Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, according to a recent Marist poll.
While it’s all but impossible to make it through December without encountering A Christmas Story, though, relatively few know about the man who’s behind the story. His name was Jean Shepherd. An unconventional icon of the 1960s, Shepherd developed a cult following on late-night airwaves with his eclectic collection of improvised stories about childhood in the Midwest, military service during World War II, and life as an infamous radio personality[Plus many other amusing bits and pieces of his wide-ranging sensibility]. He was, in every sense of the word, a raconteur. Shepherd wrote bestselling books, two of which inspired A Christmas Story; he published columns in the Village Voice, Mad Magazine, and Playboy [NOT COLUMNS IN MAD AND PLAYBOY, BUT WROTE FOR]; and he starred in[MORE THAN THAT, HE CREATED] two television series. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Harry Shearer idolized [ IDOLIZE=PRESENT TENSE, PLEASE] him. His storytelling defined a style of radio that was later adopted by the likes of Garrison Keillor. A wave of nostalgic sitcoms, epitomized by The Wonder Years, owe a significant debt to Shepherd’s work. His influence alone should have made him a pop-culture icon.
It didn’t. Now, as Shepherd’s greatest success celebrates its third decade of relevance, a question remains: Why did the man’s legacy fade away [DIDN’T] just as his story joined the pantheon of Christmas classics?…
Shepherd’s famous wit soured into pessimism as he aged, too. During one of his last radio interviews, according to a Time column published soon after his death, he repeatedly dismissed his radio years as “just another gig.” (In an essay for Slate, longtime fan Donald Fagen guessed that Shepherd “succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing.”) At the very same time that A Christmas Story was growing into a latter-day cultural phenomenon, Shepherd was downplaying the bulk of his career. He sarcastically criticized his “night people”—the late-night devotees who listened to his wild, rambling stories [HIS STORIES WEREN’T RAMBLING. HE CRITICIZED THOSE WHO FOCUSED ONLY ON HIS RADIO WORK–MANY OF WHOM WERE ADOLESCENT FANS OF HIS OF THE 60s AND 70s. “NIGHT PEOPLE” SHOULD MAINLY BE THOSE WHO LISTENED TO HIS OVERNIGHT PROGRAMS–1-5:30 a.m.]—and disavowed radio as little more than a stepping-stone to television and film. To borrow his favorite slur, Jean Shepherd had become a fathead.
Longtime fan Donald Fagen guessed that Shepherd “succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing.”
Mercifully, A Christmas Story doesn’t share even a smidge of that cynicism [WRONG-HAS LOTS OF CYNICISM, OR WHAT HE CALLED ‘REALISM’]. The movie embraces all of Shepherd’s warm humor—tinged by the horror of childhood, of course—without any maudlin sentiment. Perhaps the movie outlasted the man because it’s bigger than he ever was, an ideal way to tell the stories he created decades earlier. It takes the greatest parts of Shepherd’s routine—his inimitable wordplay, the way he measured his voice to match a story’s mood, that friendly chuckle—and enhances them with on-screen magic. “The Old Man” and “Ralphie’s Mother” are ever-present in Shepherd’s work, but as played by Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon, they’re brought alive in a way they couldn’t be in print or on the radio. That’s what makes A Christmas Story special. Just as Shepherd narrates the movie as an adult, director Bob Clark presents it through the eyes of a young boy. This allows for a depth to Ralphie’s naïve viewpoint, while also making gags out of the things he doesn’t understand. When The Old Man wins a “major award”—a crude lamp shaped like a woman’s leg, which he won for reasons unknown [NOT UNKNOWN–HE WON A NEWSPAPER CONTEST PRIZE]—Ralphie lingers in front of it, smitten by the “the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” It’s a bizarre mixture of adult temptation and childish fascination, and it epitomizes the movie’s conflicted, nostalgic perspective [NO NOSTALGIA EXCEPT WHAT VIEWERS MISTAKENLY BRING TO IT. ONLY NOSTALGIA IN THE LAST 2 MINUTES].
The differences between A Christmas Story and Shepherd’s stories are largely insignificant, for what it’s worth. If you listen to “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” you’ll hear some many of his best lines. If you read In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, you’ll see that the movie is basically a collection of vignettes, inspired by his funniest work. The effect is clear: Without Jean Shepherd, there would be no Christmas Story—and the movie resonates so strongly because he had a unique talent for making his audience feel like his stories were their own. “You can tell a story about anything,” he told an interviewer in 1971, “but the only stories that have any fidelity, any feeling, are stories that either did happen to you or conceivably could have happened to you.”
I’VE TRIED TO COMMENT ON THE ATLANTIC’S WEB PAGE FOR THE ARTICLE BUT SIGN-IN HAS BEEN BLOCKED BY STUPID ELECTRONIC NONSENSE–SO HERE’S WHAT I WANT TO SAY: Jean Shepherd is not largely forgotten. Besides all the popularity of A CHRISTMAS STORY the movie, there’s the straight play and the musical based on the movie.
There’s Jerry Seinfeld (“He formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd,” See Seinfeld’s Paley Center tribute to Shepherd in January 2012), Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate) Donald Fagen, Dee Snider, Don Imus, Harry Shearer and most of those in the arts and media today who consider him their master and still discuss him.
Among us regular folks, over a thousand audios of his 45-minute radio shows are easily and cheaply available by the hundreds per CD–captured and preserved by dedicated enthusiasts over the decades. How many comics/humorists have so many dedicated to them decades after they left the spotlight? There are three websites (check out www.flicklives.com), two email groups, a blog with extensive illustrated essays about him (I’m the creator of this, www.shepquest.wordpress.com). There are two major books about him–both by me: the 500-page appreciation and overview of his career, EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD (Applause Books), and the 2013 book of my transcriptions of almost 3 dozen of his army stories told on the radio, SHEP’S ARMY–BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES (Opus Books), for which I’ve been interviewed numerous times since publication in August–twice by NPR, once by CBS TV, etc. A documentary about his work is being worked on these days. I could go on for hours–and frequently do. Excelsior, you fathead!
Hurrah, Gene! I knew this would get a rise out of you!
“That’s the difficulty with anecdotes. One cannot determine nuance.”
–Norman Mailer in 1962 reprinted in the 2013 selected essays
Mind of an Outlaw.
Worthwhile response on the email group–
especially the portion I highlighted in red:
Problem is, that the author is right about Shep’s work being out of the public eye. It has nothing to do with Shepherd’s personality, cynicism about radio, or attitude about the public. First, the vast majority of his work was broadcast to New York and the handful of stations who syndicated him throughout the years. I tell people I’m a big Jean Shepherd fan and the usual comment is, “Who’s he?” (I’m from the Boston area). If you couldn’t pick up WOR, you really had to look for this stuff. Hell, my wife’s from New Jersey and never heard of him until we started dating. As far as the PBS shows are concerned, try finding them. Outside of a few bootleg videos they are nearly impossible to get. I think the biggest problem is,though, you have to pay attention while listening to a Jean Shepherd radio show. Long form entertainment like Shepherd’s radio shows just doesn’t translate well to many from today’s generation. A while back I tried to get a 20 year old co-worker to listen to a Shepherd show. She told me, “I’m not going to sit for 45 minutes and listen to that. I lose interest after 10 minutes.” It’s a shame. I could (and have) listened to the man for hours at a time.
Mark Parisi Malden, MA
Donald Fagen of Steely Dan is a Shep enthusiast. He was a big fan while growing up. He even sent a clipping to Shep, who referred to it on a broadcast–so Fagen was one of “Shep’s spies.”
Fagen wrote a long (partly) appreciative essay about Shepherd for the internet’s “Slate” site, which appeared in December, 2008: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2008/12/the_man_who_told_a_christmas_story.2.html:
The Man Who Told A Christmas Story–
What I learned from Jean Shepherd.
<…Shepherd did a nightly radio broadcast on WOR out of Manhattan that enthralled a generation of alienated young people within range of the station’s powerful transmitter. Including me: I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.
In the late ’50s, while Lenny Bruce was beginning his climb to holy infamy in jazz clubs on the West Coast, Shepherd’s all-night monologues on WOR had already gained him an intensely loyal cult of listeners. Unlike Bruce’s provocative nightclub act, which had its origins in the “schpritz” of the Catskills comics, Shepherd’s improvised routines were more in the tradition of Midwestern storytellers like Mark Twain, but with a contemporary urban twist: say, Mark Twain after he’d been dating Elaine May for a year and a half. Where Bruce’s antics made headlines, Shepherd, with his warm, charismatic voice and folksy style, could perform his most subversive routines with the bosses in the WOR front office and the FCC being none the wiser. At least most of the time….
And then there was that voice, cozy, yet abounding with jest.
He was definitely a grown-up but he was talking to me—I mean straight to me, with my 12-year-old sensibility, as if some version of myself with 25 more years worth of life experience had magically crawled into the radio, sat down, and loosened his tie. I was hooked. From then on, like legions of other sorry-ass misfits throughout the Northeast, I tuned in every weeknight at 11:15 and let Shep put me under his spell….
Listening to Shep, I learned about social observation and human types: how to parse modern rituals (like dating and sports); the omnipresence of hierarchy; joy in struggle; “slobism”; “creeping meatballism”; 19th-century panoramic painting; the primitive, violent nature of man; Nelson Algren, Brecht, Beckett, the fables of George Ade; the nature of the soul; the codes inherent in “trivia,” bliss in art; fishing for crappies; and the transience of desire. He told you what to expect from life (loss and betrayal) and made you feel that you were not alone….
Because Shep made it clear he was just as dazed, enraged, and amused as you were, that he noticed what you noticed, he established himself as one of a handful of adults you could trust. (Others were Mailer, Ginsberg, Vonnegut, and Realist publisher Paul Krassner.) Night after night, Shepherd forged the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a whole generation of fans into an axiom that went something like: “The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something’s gonna blow.”…
As grateful as I am that Shep was there for me during those crucial years, my idealization of Shepherd the Man was not to survive much longer. In December of 1965, I came home from my first year of college for Christmas break and noticed that Shepherd was going to be appearing at nearby Rutgers University….
Onstage for almost two hours, he had the young audience in his pocket from the downbeat. But, for me, something wasn’t right. On the radio, speaking close to the mic, he was able to use vocal nuances and changes in intensity to communicate the most intimate shadings of thought and feeling, not unlike what Miles Davis could achieve in a recording studio. Live onstage, he spoke as though he’d never seen a microphone in his life, trying to project to the back of the room. Moreover, he blared and blustered like a carnival barker, as if he had the scent of failure in his nostrils and was ready to do anything to get the crowd on his side….
What I saw that night at Rutgers wasn’t pretty. In the studio, his occasional abuse of the lone engineer on the other side of the glass could be seen as the petulance of an artist trying to make things work on the fly. But, incandescent under the gaze of all those kids, his self-indulgences looked more like straight-up narcissism and his “hipness” was revealed as something closer to contempt. By the end of the show, he’d crossed the line between artist and showman and then some….
Not long ago,.. I started looking back at some of the things that used to inspire me as a kid, including some of Shep’s old shows, now available on the Internet. Hearing them almost a half-century down the line has been a trip. Despite the tendencies I’ve already mentioned (plus the gaffes one might expect from a wild man like Shep ad-libbing before the age of political correctness), much of the stuff is simply amazing: The guy is a dynamo, brimming with curiosity and ideas and fun. Working from a few written notes at most, Shepherd is intense, manic, alive, the first and only true practitioner of spontaneous word jazz….
Like a lot of fine-tuned performing artists, Shepherd increasingly exhibited the whole range of symptoms common to the aging diva. He became paranoid and resentful of imagined rivals, whether they were old ones like Mort Sahl or upstarts like Garrison Keillor. At the same time, he disavowed all his radio work, claiming that it was just a temporary gig on his way to some fanciful glory on the stage and screen. He even seemed to want to kill off his childhood, insisting that all those stories and characters were pulled clean out of his imagination. Old fans, for whom he had been almost like a surrogate father or big brother, were often met with derision when they approached him….>
In late 2013, Fagen published a book of reminiscences, Eminent Hipsters, the book’s title obviously a play on the Lytton Strachey book of short biographies, Eminent Victorians. The first part describes Fagan’s encounters with people and things which influenced him as he was growing up.
Fagen changed a bit of the early part of the Slate’s Shepherd piece, but basically he repeated it word-for-word in the book. He did change the title of his essay however. The book version is an entire chapter titled I WAS A SPY FOR JEAN SHEPHERD. What pleasure to read those words, presaging, I thought, a new or additional take on the master. But mostly it’s a carbon copy of the Slate piece, with its adulation and complaints.
As much I appreciate the essay, I do have some quarrel with the later parts. Fagen’s complaints about Shep’s live performance and later persona are rather accurate–but they lack any sense of what may have been extenuating circumstances for Shepherd’s flaws (shall we call them “foibles”?)
OCCASIONAL ABUSE OF THE LONE ENGINEER Most of the engineers cared nothing about the shows they worked on and hardly paid attention to Shepherd’s directions– Laurie Squire, who worked with him, said that many of these engineers were just wasting time on the job until retirement, and were referred to in the office as “button pushers.” They frequently screwed up–they undercut Shepherd’s art of improvised sound. No wonder Shep abused them.
RESENTFUL OF IMAGINED RIVALS They weren’t imagined–they were real humorists/comics who had received much more attention than he did. Attention and celebrity that he deserved more than they did. Now, they are little more than footnotes, while he, through his fans, continues in the minds and hearts of enduring enthusiasts more than three decades after his final radio broadcast, including so very many in the media he influenced and entertained on the highest intellectual levels (for instance Jerry Seinfeld and Donald Fagen).
DISAVOWED HIS RADIO WORK Yes, this is very sad–as though Michelangelo disavowed his sculptures of David and Moses. Sour grapes–considering how little he was regarded in the field–how radio dismissed him– maybe you should cut him a little slack for the sourness, Donald.
LIVE PERFORMANCES Yes, his enormous ego responded to the live adulation–he would have appreciated it at that level from the rest of his world. Plus, he obviously realized that the laid-back, contemplative style of his studio work would have been, in front of a live audience, lead-baloonsville.
“KILLED OFF HIS CHILDHOOD” But, Mr. Fagen, the childhood stories ARE fiction–I believe that Shep later insisted on it because he saw his artistic reputation devolving into that of a guy with a fantastic memory instead of what was the truth–a guy with a fantastic creative talent for fiction (for kid stories as well as for army stories). Among the many who, in our innocence, believed his stories were true-to-fact are comic Henry Morgan, me, and Donald Fagen.
“OLD FANS OFTEN MET WITH DERISION” Yes, unfortunate, but when he was constantly confronted in post-radio years by fans who insisted on focusing on his former radio work 1.) he resented and still felt pain that his radio career was cut short a bit before he would have chosen; 2.) he resented that his greatest genius was in that under-appreciated medium, so that he would probably never achieve the renown he deserved; 3.) he resented that people focused on his past and thereby negated the creative work to which, in his final decades, he devoted himself–they negated his life as he was then living it.
Donald Fagen, mourn, I implore–rather than complain. I believe you have missed the more three-dimensional persona that is Jean Shepherd–the radio genius who began high on a mountaintop where he belonged, and who, through little or no fault of his own, achieved in the public and critical eye, much less than he deserves. And this brought forth the more foible-filled parts of his being. There, worth contemplating and sympathizing with, is a classic tragedy.
A few years back I contacted you through email, hoping for somewhat of a dialog. I was disappointed that, although I was delighted that you responded, your final message to me was a curt, “Back at you,” rather than, “Yea, let’s talk.”
And let’s not forget, gang, that post-mortem, (in addition to accolades during his life) Ol’ Shep has received some tributes, including Radio Hall of Fame, Seinfeld Tribute at the Paley Center, and even a book about him, I blush to add. –eb
“That’s the difficulty with anecdotes. One cannot determine nuance.”
–Norman Mailer in 1962 reprinted in his 2013 selected essays,
Mind of an Outlaw.
JAZZ PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR
My Excelsior, You Fathead! book part titled “The Great Burgeoning” begins with the chapter titled Night People and All That Jazz. “All that jazz” is an expression meaning, in a sense, all similar kinds of stuff. But it also refers, in the chapter, to the many relationships Jean Shepherd had to jazz in those days. Besides the probable influence of jazz on Shepherd’s improvisatory monologs, I discuss the connections Shep had to the jazz world as far as I knew about them while writing the book.
As I noted, jazz was an especially important part of life in New York City when Shepherd arrived in 1955. He had played jazz records on his previous programs and would play more in his early New York radio days. His 1956 full-length record Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown with Jazz Music consists of Jazz pieces and his improvised short bits of monolog. [images from http://www.flicklives.com]
In 1957 he recorded his improvisation of “The Clown” with the Charles Mingus group and he was emcee for several important jazz concerts including the late-night one at Loew’s Sheridan staring Billie Holiday on June 15.
More connections to the jazz world continue to emerge. Program notes and ads in the New York Times showed “Jazz Under the Stars” at the Wollman Memorial Theatre in Central Park for fifteen consecutive days, from July 28 through August 11, 1957, with such stars as Billie Holiday, Chris Connor, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, Dinah Washington, Lionel Hampton, Dave Brubeck, and Maynard Ferguson, with commentary by Jean Shepherd and Al “Jazzbo” Collins. A Times article on September 27, 1958 described the midnight premier at Loew’s Sheridan of Alonzo Levister’s jazz opera, Blues in the Subway, and other jazz performances, with Shepherd as master of ceremonies.
Two short sets of articles by Shepherd have been discovered from this period, reconfirming the strong jazz connection Shepherd had in the 1950s. Audio magazine was mainly devoted to electronics and wiring diagrams, but Shepherd wrote four jazz articles for them in 1956. In the jazz magazine, Metronome, five previously unknown humor pieces by Shepherd from 1960 and two comments about him appeared. Shepherd was described as the magazine’s “humor editor,” and for their 1959 yearbook issue, they described him as a “philosopher, a gifted impromptu monologist, a social satirist, an iconoclast, a comic, a jazz soloist whose words were his instruments,” and named him “Jazz Personality of the Year.” And the first issue of the magazine Jazz Today, October 1956, commented that “In essence Jean is a jazzman in his own right, the only difference being that he improvises not on a musical instrument, but verbally; not on chords and melodic lines, but on thoughts, ideas, patterns of social behavior as they have affected his personal experience….” Wow, in those days the guy was ubiquitous and on top of the jazz world!
I’ve suggested that we youngsters didn’t have the sophisticated taste to appreciate the more complex jazz of Parker, Miles Davis, and their peers, and that the shorter, forty-five-minute broadcasts did not comfortably accommodate a more laid-back style and jazzier jazz. While Shepherd was gathering to himself that younger, less hip audience, before completely switching to the shorter shows, he did a few extended fictional riffs referred to as “Listen Baby” routines, in which we hear his voice as he talks to his wife or, more probably, his significant other. Although he would no longer be playing the hipper jazz, the unannounced background music to these “Listen Baby” segments and to some other of his riffs during this period were, indeed, of that hip jazz. I suggest that he chose for these particular riffs, that form of jazz—such an important part of himself—in order to sneak it in for maybe the last times before focusing almost exclusively on Dixie and other more easily understood styles. I include myself among those who did not and do not understand the Parker/Davis/Hawkins/Gillespie forms of jazz. I’ve tried listening and I’ve read books about it, but I still don’t get it. I consider my inherent limitations to blame.
I made this chart a few years ago to visualize for myself–and then for all other interested parties–just how Shepherd’s broadcasts over time, changed from a modern jazz presentation, to a more easily appreciated kind of music to accommodate a less sophisticated sensibility.
With all that, a recently rebroadcast tape adds more enigma to the subject of why Shepherd abandoned this strong involvement in the jazz world after he gained so many more young listeners earlier in the evenings. In this program, inspired by a “Harlem Day” tribute on WOR, Shepherd speaks about how important jazz is to Harlem and reminisces about his professional involvement in the jazz world of the late 1950s:
A few years ago I was deeply involved in jazz—and in fact in my private life I still am. You never get rid of it. I mean, once you’ve been bitten, man, it’s just—no way! And I used to work in jazz a great deal. As some of you may remember, I did a lot of concerts in Central Park. [Underline emphasis by me. He names many major performers he worked with and mentions the Loew’s Theater late-night concert featuring Billie Holiday.] (November 23, 1971)
This program is an incomplete revelation to Sherlock Gene for several reasons. More than a decade after Shepherd’s intense public involvement in jazz, he takes the opportunity of “Harlem Day” to seriously break his standard broadcast format in order to express this. He admits that he retains his strong interest in jazz; he does not explain why his interest has diminished to just private but not public manifestations; he plays not just snippets but complete jazz recordings, naming the performers and commenting on the pieces, just like a knowledgeable disc jockey: Duke Ellington’s “Rainy Nights;” Fats Waller; Duke Ellington doing “Take the ’A’ Train;” Billie Holiday singing “Easy Living.” Upon ending, he substitutes a recording of Fletcher Henderson jazz for his “Bahn Frei” theme music—a breach of implied contract with his listeners which until now he rarely transgressed in twenty-one years of programs. Seldom have I been aware of his most private concerns so obviously intruding upon his public persona. All unexplained but very serious business in the world of Jean Shepherd.
I thought that, as in my previous post I’d discussed “Excelsior” as Shep’s motto and its relationship to the Longfellow poem of that name, I’d definitively elaborated on the subject and I’d finished with it. NO!
Here’s a bit of that last post:
So remember, gang, although ol’ Shep had some happy and illusion-filled moments of his own (some of which, happily, came to fruition), as he put it in one of his less-than-joyous moods, in reference to that meaningful word (and not at all referring to wood shavings): ”And this is the story of all mankind.”
Avid and perceptive shepahaulic Joel Baumwoll commented on that post and what follows are illuminating post “comments” and emails between us.
JOEL: The use of the word “device” to describe the sign held by the frozen traveler is interesting. Device is defined as
1. a thing made for a particular purpose, esp. a mechanical, electric, or electronic invention or contrivance.
2. a plan, scheme, or procedure for effecting a purpose.
3. a crafty scheme; trick.
4. a word pattern, figure of speech, theatrical convention, etc., used in a literary or dramatic work to evoke a desired effect.
5. something elaborately or fancifully designed.
6. a representation or design used esp. as a heraldic charge or an emblem.
7. a motto; slogan.
Considering the way Shepherd used the word “excelsior,” definition # 3 is apropos. Shep spent a lot of time talking about illusion and disillusion. He was merciless in his commentary about how we delude ourselves, make plans we never fulfill, pursue the unreachable. I recall his talking about how many people had boxes of things stored in basements or closets, projects that were bought with the idea of building something–a model, a kit, even a house–and never opened.
It is not hard to understand his dissatisfaction with what he accomplished when you understand his grandiosity. I am reminded of a conversation I had with an engineer who was also a borderline schizophrenic who told me of his plans to design and build a bridge from the US to Europe, quite seriously and with conviction. I imagine Shep had visions of such grand achievements. Perhaps “excelsior” was his way of reminding himself to keep his feet on the ground and his knees loose while his head was in the clouds.
GENE: As for the broadcast you write of regarding having big plans in the attic that are never completed, there’s the one I write of in EYF! (see the book pages 240-242), “Dream Collection Day” [about starting to write a novel, learn how to play the guitar, etc.]
JOEL: One can infer that Shepherd had little time for idealism, if excelsior represented the ultimately futile effort to reach some unattainable goal, I guess you could say he was a realist to a painful extent. Yet he strove to achieve recognition and success on a larger scale than he had already. So perhaps he saw himself as that fellow trudging up the snowy mountain carrying the banner, and as far as he was concerned, that was what life was about.
GENE: You’re probably right that there was some of that striving up the mountain against the odds in him–another aspect of the enigma?! Probably that’s why he found the Longfellow poem so important to him–he recognized a part of himself in it.
JOEL: I think that is right. Has to be.
GENE: Joel, I think that our interaction regarding “Excelsior” has resulted in an important discovery of Shep’s enigmatic self–he did recognize himself in the innocent fellow of the poem!
JOEL: Why was the password response to “excelsior you fathead” “seltzer bottle, you slob?” On what was this based?
GENE: In EYF! p 217, where I discuss Excelsior, I say this about Seltzer bottle:
As for the “seltzer bottle” response one gave to “Excelsior”? It conveniently has the same “sel” sound as “Excelsior,” linking the pompous word to the common, unflavored soda at the candy story, a two-cents plain–and the self-deluding pomposity of “Excelsior” should deservedly elicit a slapstick clown’s squirt of seltzer in the face!
Subsequent to the book’s publication, I encountered that “Excelsior” was the company name of a seltzer bottle company! I now own (through ebay) a couple of the old-time bottles with the company name “Excelsior Water” on them. I imagine that at some point Shep knew of this and then maybe added “seltzer bottle” as a response.
[From the E. Bruce Bergmann Collection
of Excelsior Water Bottles
housed in “The Shep Shrine”]
An important discovery of Shep’s
enigmatic being—he indeed recognized
himself in the innocent fellow of the poem!
From one of the masterpieces of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, here regarding the death of Chuckles the Clown, who, in a parade, dressed as a peanut, was killed by a rogue elephant:
Chuckles the Clown’s beloved motto:
“A little song, a little dance–
a little seltzer down your pants.”
You know, Shep’s “dark side” was such a large part of his commentary on life. The failure of the intrepid climber with the Excelsior banner was one way he saw life. His love of Robert Service poetry connects with the image of the Longfellow poem. So many of Service’s poems tell tales of men done in by the icy cold in their quest for gold.
Is there also a connection between the innocent and naive striver, climbing up the icy slope with the Excelsior banner and the striving innocents featured in many of the fables of George Ade, whom Shep adored? Ade often wrote of the naive and vainglorious people who strive for recognition and admiration, only to be taken in by a slick huckster, duped by their own ambitions and blind to the dangers of the hustle.
The idea is that we are driven by our obsessive quests (BB Gun) only to discover that when we achieve them, life is more of the same, or that in the quest, we allow ourselves to buy into our illusions. Also, the object of our quest may turn out to hurt us. Like the people who warned the climber not to go on, the adults tell Ralphie “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Undeterred by this warning, he gets his gun and nearly does shoot his eye out.
So the word Excelsior is his code for that flaw in all of us, including himself. It is his Rosebud.
Another great comment! I just discussed “innocent” and “naive” with Allison (I’ve got a very smart wife!) and she believes that innocent suggests just a lack of knowledge, while naive suggests the the person fails to or doesn’t want to understand the issue.
I do think that “obsession” is a different thing–although one might be innocent or naive plus obsessed.
Gene, if we keep this up, you will no longer be able to call Shep an enigma.
Realist and idealist? Isn’t that an enigma? What about this thought found in the compilation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short ideas, “The Crack Up”: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see things as hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” That would appear to be what Jean P. Shepherd sometimes attempted to do. Sounds both foolish and wonderful simultaneously–sounds confoundedly enigmatic!
WHY SHEP’S “EXCELSIOR” REFERS
NEARLY EXCLUSIVLY TO
THE LONGFELLOW POEM
Shepherd’s various offhand mentions of his use of the word “Excelsior’s” have no point regarding something he would choose to be his motto representing his attitude toward the world. All but one are shallow. For example, “Excelsior” is the name of a fireworks company—mentioned during shows about the Fourth of July on 7/4/1975 and 7/3/1976. This is just a reference to the subject of the show and has no relevance to the essential Shep (Unless, as I think about it, fireworks themselves contain an ironic idea–our enjoyment of the stuff is inseparable from the potentially dangerous explosions which cause our delight.) Here’s a comment from Excelsior, You Fathead!:
But why did Shepherd choose to make it the important motto of his professional life? It fit perfectly with his consistent thinking embodied in the following [from a broadcast of his]:
And of course, the aphorisms. The aphorisms are a substitute for really looking at the world or/and thinking about it. And so wisdom today has become a kind of mixing around shifting of all these various little aphoristic, jingoistic ideas. “Every day in every way I grow better and better.” Why, this is obviously not true. Patently untrue. Every day in every way, each of us grows older and older. And the glands grow less and less active. The muscles grow less and less ready. Every day in every way, however, on the other hand, “I grow better and better.” And the mind grows more and more like a concrete block—in most people’s cases. Nevertheless, they repeat, “Every way, every day, I grow better and better.”
Yes, the notion, implied in the Longfellow poem, that “Excelsior” somehow means that we must strive onward and upward in some ideal world where the most unrealistic idea will persevere, represented for Shepherd the absurdity of the wide-eyed youth climbing foolhardily onward, pursuing the idea of success despite common sense. Everything is always improving, getting better, and if we only just carry on, we will assuredly prevail. Eternal self-delusion.
As in other circumstances, Shepherd did not exclude himself–in his promotion of one of his favorite sponsors, the Paperbook Gallery in the Village, he said that listeners who exclaimed “Excelsior, you fathead” to the cashier would be given a free pin with the phrase on it, and then he continued:
You know what “Excelsior” means, don’t you? We will not go any further. “Excelsior” has a really deep hidden meaning in our lives, and certainly in my life. As I lie on those snowy slopes, holding the sign up, with the touch of frozen North upon my brow, and the elderly farmer looking down on me—“You know what happened there, he died with the word ‘Excelsior’ on his lips.” [Laughs.]
And of course, what is the countersign? When you hear that password belted out at you, you just look the guy right in the eye and say “Seltzer bottle, you slob.” And you walk your separate ways. You never look back. Now, you want to know where that strange password comes from? [Pause. He reads verses from the Longfellow poem. For the full text, see the beginning of my EYF!] There now, you see where that comes from? [Laughs.] Yeah… As you clamber up the icy slopes, reaching forever, reaching, grasping eternally, forever, at that shifting cloud of reason, that chimera that seems to just drift out of your reach each time you grasp for it. And it moves further and further away. Excelsior!
Defeated by one’s own baseless optimism. The poem, with its sentimentality, is a quintessential example of what Shepherd referred to as “glop.” Yes, “a banner with the strange device.” The perfect Jean Shepherd ironic motto.
That, for him, represented all of humanity’s fate–including his own. Maybe convincing himself sometimes that his efforts would result in justified fulfillment.
Here is a quote found just a couple of years ago (on a tape among Lois Nettleton’s effects), from a Shepherd show of late 1958:
It’s like this kid jumping up out of the crowd at the University of Pennsylvania and yelling, “All right, Shepherd, What is the word then? Give us the word!”
What is the word? “Excelsior?” Would you like to go up that mountainside? Probably the parallel of it is this lone stranger carrying and baring the placard that read “Excelsior” as he moved up the mountainside and the peasant said, “Don’t go, don’t go,” And from the high, thin, thin air above the village could be heard the tiny, tiny wail, “Excelsior,” and sure enough, he was found in the morning frozen to death but nevertheless he had there next to him the sign that read enigmatically, “Excelsior.” And this is the story of all mankind.
I REST MY CASE
Ah, but there’s more.
I’ve encountered several parodies of the “Excelsior” poem,
which show that Shepherd was not alone
in finding the poem absurd in its eternal glop:
American humorist James Thurber, reprinting parts of the poem in his book The Thurber Carnival (See under “Excelsior” in http://www.flicklives.com ) illustrated those parts with an eye toward silliness:
English humorist Edward Lear, famous for his limericks, did a parody and illustrated it:
At break of day I had a dream
Methought I heard an awful scream
And a great pig with a claw of ice
Showed in the world this strange device
There in the twilight, cold and grey
Lifeless but beautiful he lay
And solemn voices seem to say
Fresh pork and sausages today
English poet A. E. Housman wrote a parody:
“Beware the pass,” the old man said,
My bold, my desperate fellah;
Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
And you’ll want your umbrella;
And the roaring torrent is deep and wide–
You may hear how loud it washes.”
But still that clarion voice replied:
I’ve got my old galoshes.”
Last, and maybe most absurd, the television cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (in 1959, Season 2, Episode 18), in a segment called “Bullwinkle’s Corner (poetry for demented youth),” did a parody, begun with the title, which, at the top of this most educational post, is gloriously depickled .
“Hello there, culture gang. Today’s poem is ‘Excelsior’
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The shades of night were falling fast….”
As he continues the poem, Bullwinkle charges up the mountain.
At mountaintop, Rocky approaches Bullwinkle:
Rocky: “‘Pray tell me,’ said a mountaineer,
‘What in the world you’re doing here
And why you climb up here so high
Just to give that silly cry?'”
Rocky: “That’s the one!”
Bullwinkle: “The answer came both quick and blunt–
‘It’s just an advertising stunt.
I represent Smith, Jones, and Jakes,
a lumber company that makes–
You see, for those poor young folk who have always lived in a bubble-wrapped world: the real stuff (not the kind made of plastic), used for protective packaging (the stuff the “Leg Lamp” was swaddled in), is a kind of thin, noodle-like shaving, a wood product:
So remember, gang, although ol’ Shep had some happy and illusion-filled moments
of his own (some of which, happily, came to fruition),
as he put it in one of his less-than-joyous moods,
in reference to that meaningful word
(and not at all referring to wood shavings):
“And this is the story of all mankind.”
With this downer–so to speak–the curtain drops.
(See dropped curtain immediately below.)
As an enthusiast for almost all of Shepherd’s creative works, I nevertheless believe that his first years in New York City were the great expansion/blossoming of his artistic life. He seems to have been waiting for the moment when he could arrive in the city, which was famed for being the center of the country’s–and the world’s–creative life at that time. Describing its importance to him in two of his broadcasts, he said:
Three of them looked at me with one eye, and all three of them said, “If you go anywhere, man, the only one place to go–New York! I mean the Big Apple–that’s the big time!…I looked at the three guys and I said, “You’re right!” Ohhh.
I was in the East. The effete East. The East of golden promise. what was it that Thomas Wolfe used to call Manhattan? “The Enfabled Rock.” And I was here. I mean we’re all here. Do you realize how–how fortunate we are?….You have no idea what a terrible lure this place is to people who live outside of this place.
This is not to necessarily say that this was the height of his artistic achievement, but it certainly was a great time for him. A few years ago I made a chart noting what he had done in those first years. Think about it!:
(Click on images to enlarge)
–-NEW YORK TIMES, JUNE 3, 1961–
George S. Kaufman the playwright, director and producer
died yesterday of a heart attack at his home,
1035 Park Avenue. He was 71 years old.
Authoritative info is scarce as to what Shepherd did in his early days in New York City. He arrived some time in 1955.
Why and when did he come here? What was it like for him then? Circumstantial evidence based on one of his broadcasts suggests that it was an undeniable force that drew Shep as well as innumerable others to the the Big Apple, as it was considered the height of the artistic and creative world at that time in addition to tops in radio broadcasting. In one broadcast in which he says he was offered a radio job in Juneau, Alaska, three co-workers convince him that the place to go for radio is NYC.
In another broadcast he says, “I came to New York as a television performer and I worked in television for a long time before I got to town.” True, he did some TV work earlier. But he was a radio man. A special kind of radio man. Newspaper radio schedules show that he began New York broadcasting at WOR in 1955 in a variety of time slots, mostly daytime. (Not until January 1956 did he begin his overnight shows.)
Immediately upon notice of Kaufman’s death, in the broadcast of June 2, 1961 titled “George Kaufman,” Shepherd talks about how lonely and depressed he was when he first arrived, presumably in early 1955. Author and playwright George S. Kaufman had phoned him at WOR — an important moment for Shepherd. Shepherd discusses this experience–not in his “story” mode–as a part of his life, and I believe that he accurately describes it.
An internet site reports that Kaufman was born in Pittsburgh in 1889. That he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his collaborations in the theater, that he was best known for his sharp wit, his eye for social satire, and his ear for comic speech. That he worked with and befriended famous actors such as the Marx Brothers and authors such as John Steinbeck. No wonder that Shepherd was impressed and proud.
GEORGE S. KAUFMAN
JEAN P. SHEPHERD
Shep describes what happened. [Be advised that, to keep the post relatively concise and to concentrate on Shep’s appreciation of Kaufman, I’ve cut a number of minor side issues and little “He said”/”I said” bits from the original transcript] :
I arrived in this town a completely unidentifiable object. Most of us need identity to tell what’s good or bad….I was here about two weeks, maybe three weeks. I felt very depressed. I was in New York City and New York City is a very closed city, particularly in the field of theatrical entertainment. And especially in the field of humor.
If you’re not doing it on the stage of the Blue Angel you’re not funny. That’s all there is to it. If you’r not doing it on an LP with a crowd of idiots cheering you–you’re not funny.
I came on here and I was very lonely, and the people here at the station–they had no idea what I was doing. So this kind of entertainment was difficult. It was a new kind of thing. The engineers were looking at me blankly, because it didn’t fit into one of their categories. The program directors here were confused, and it was like I was speaking Sanskrit in a world where people spoke Pidgin English. I arrived a lonely figure here, believe me. I had come from an area where people did understand. I had been there long enough–they had listened carefully, you see. People in New York hardly ever do. New York is a much faster area. People have to understand something in thirty seconds–or whatever it is is nuts–“it’s no good–it’s a nut, why doesn’t he play the record?”
You can imagine the struggle I had. It’s not that my stuff is long–not at all. But what it really is, is that it takes a great deal of listening to understand the whole aura, the point that I’m making. It is a sprawling thing. And I agree, I understand this. Well, through a series of odd little circumstances, I did get on the air and it was on a Saturday afternoon.
I can’t tell you how depressed I was. I was extremely depressed because immediately after I would go off the air, hundreds of New Yorkers would call up. And New Yorkers, by the way are among the most intolerant people I’ve ever encountered, and they would be very indignant–“What is this–what is this nutty stuff on the air, what is all this going on here? What is this trivia stuff here? Get it off! Get the record on. Gimme the news, I want the news there.” And of course, this went on hour after hour. Well, the people here stuck with it.
Then one day.This was only about three weeks after I had been there. I was depressed. I was earning minus two-dollars a week. I came out of the studio and there was a phone call. And of course all of these irritating phone calls I had not been bothering with.
I picked up the phone because the guy said, “You better talk to this one,”
And there was a voice on the other end. Sort of a nasal voice. He said, “You know you’re one of the funniest men I’ve ever heard in thirty-five years of show business. Don’t go away.”
I said, “Who are you?”
“Well, doesn’t really matter.”
I said, “Well, thirty-five years in show business, who are you?”
“My name is Kaufman. And I called up to talk about your program and I want to meet you and I want to talk to you about something.”
Well, to make a long story short, it was George Kaufman. And Kaufman was a man of unusual courage. He was also a man who had, as far as I know, and in my contacts with him–which were necessarily brief–were–he had qualities which went beyond the problems most of us are constantly running into. Such things as rank, such things as the little idiotic, trivial things like–this is something that you don’t do.
Well, I was very depressed, and this was a tremendous shot in the arm, truly. And Kaufman said he had been listening for the last two weeks. He’d almost caught the first show!
He said, “Come on over.”
Well, I visited–I went to his apartment on Park Avenue, the one where he died, and I got upstairs where he lived. It was not sumptuous. it was a nice place, of course, very small, very compact, very unpretentious.
I walked in and he greeted me at the doorway. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
He said, “I’m sure pleased to meet you. You know what, I’ll tell you something.” He said, “Come on in, come on in.” He was a very frail man and at that point his hair was almost completely white.
He said, “Would you like a drink?”
I said, “Yeah, yeah, fine.” I didn’t know what to say. This is George Kaufman, see, and I’m the bumpkin from Middle West.
He poured me some Scotch and we sat there. He said, “You know, I want to tell you something about your work.” And he talked about my work for about an hour-and-a-half.
He said, “You know what you’re doing is a kind of theater. It’s a different kind of theater.” And he said, “I’m sure that nobody’s going to know that. I think you’d better get into real theater. The theater that everyone understands, because they’ll understand it then.” He said, “I want to work with you.” He wanted to collaborate. I’m just telling you the straight story. He wanted to work on a piece that I had done on the air. He said, “We ought to make a play out of that.”
We had several meetings and unfortunately, just at that point he got into very bad health. He was really badly off. He would call me every couple of weeks and his voice got weaker and weaker, and he said, “I wish we could work, but I can’t. But I’ll get back.”
I met him several times after that, but there’s one thing you’ve got to remember. He was a listener. He really was one of us. Every night and every Saturday–he rarely went out–he would listen.
And one time he called me over. “You know who just got into town?”
I said “Who?”
He said, “Well, it’s a funny thing .” And he proceeded to tell me about one of the Marx brother’s wives. He said, “You know, she arrived into town here last night and she was a New Yorker, and the first thing she said was, ‘Is Shepherd still on the air?’ And she and I sat and we talked about things you’d done and she said she wants to meet you.”
So I went over there and shot the breeze with one of the Marx’s brothers wives and we talked for three or four hours and we discussed F. P. A. and all the other great people who had worked here in New York in humor in days before.
And the last time I saw Kaufman–and this was only about eight months ago. He was standing in the doorway and he said, “You know, I’m working on something . When I finish it, you and I are going to work together. We’re going to get working on this project.”
I picked up the Times and saw his picture–and I was very sad to find that he had died. A wonderful man. Somehow, a really important one. Not because of what his work was–because his work was good–but because of his attitude and his viewpoint.
From the New York Times obit:
Mr. Kaufman was an eccentric character. He was always hatless, his brushy pompadour untidy. He talked to himself and grimaced as he walked along the street. Detesting vegetables, he was said to subsist on meat, bread and chocolate peppermints.
Oh, what a piece of theater it would have been!
I’ve encountered that the 4th of the 5 parts of the NYC career chart does not enlarge when clicked on and is not sharp (at least on my computer), so it cannot be read. I’d done it exactly the same as the other parts! Here I re-do the whole operation–scan, import to blog media, and input it into this post. I trust it works now for those who want to read and maybe copy it:
Part 4 revise
And why not add the details of where the story parts of A CHRISTMAS STORY and Shepherd’s three long-form TV dramas originated (Most of the following info is derived from Jim Clavin’s http://www.flicklives.com) —
A CHRISTMAS STORY
The Red Ryder BB Gun– “Red Ryder Nails the Hammond Kid,” Playboy, 12/1965, then in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966 titled “Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid.”
Wax Teeth, Flick’s Tongue, Writing A Theme
The Leg Lamp– “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966. (See PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH below.)
“How Does the Little Piggy Eat?” — in “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss” Playboy July 1968.
Little Orphan Annie Secret Circle Decoder–“The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Changing the Flat Tire – “Oh Fuuudddggge”
Blinded by Soap–“Lost at ‘C’ ” Playboy May 1973
Visiting Santa, The Bunny Pajamas,
The Bumpus Hounds–“The Grand Stand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds,” Playboy 4/69, then in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES–AND OTHER DISASTERS 1971.
Christmas Dinner Chinese Style
PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH
(1976 television long-form drama)
Gravy Boat Riot–“Leopold Doppler and the Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot,” Playboy 10/65 then in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Sears Pre-fab House
The Leg Lamp– “My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art,” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966. (Major component of A CHRISTMAS STORY)
Going to the Prom With Wanda Hickey–“Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories” Playboy 6/69 then in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES–AND OTHER DISASTERS 1971.
Baseball for the United Brethern
GREAT AMERICAN FOURTH OF JULY AND OTHER DISASTERS
(1982 television long-form drama)
Wilbur Duckworth and His Magic Baton–Playboy 12/64“Waldo Grebb and His Electric Baton” and as “Wilber Duckworth and His Magic Baton” in IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
The Blind Date–“The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose” IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
The Wash Rag Pyramid Scheme
Uncle Carl’s Fireworks Stand
The Old Man’s Fireworks Display
Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb IN GOD WE TRUST 1966.
Fireworks on the roof of Roosevelt High
Sack races at the picnic
THE STAR-CROSSED ROMANCE OF JOSEPHINE COSNOWSKI
Going to a Polish Wedding–“The Star-crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski and Her Friendly Neighborhood Sex Maniac” Playboy 1970 and titled “The Star-crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski” in WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES 1971.
Friendly Fred’s used car lot
Randy plays a turkey in the school Thanksgiving Day play
The boys eat at John’s hamburger joint
Scragging for Polish girls*
[*At least one story that never made it into a published Shepherd story he told on the air: On March 23, 1968 he told a tale of Scragging and Bolus’ wedding.] Scragging is what some male teenagers do in a car in summer–they drive by one or more attractive young girls and make adolescent remarks such as “Hey baby! Oh Wow! Holy Smokes!”]
Please report errors and omissions, including exact references if known. –eb
Jean Shepherd’s artistic career is far more elaborate and varied than most of us ever imagined. When I began working on my Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd in early 2000, I felt that, in order to comprehend the complexities, I had to visualize it all chronologically. This way I could more easily see how parts related to the whole. The long, horizontal chart I produced and printed out on several 11″ X 17″ paper sheets, was done in 2002, and served to assist me in “seeing” his career more clearly. In my personal reference copy of the published book, I have a small, taped-together, folded version glued to the inside back cover.
I had wanted this, plus a CD–a representative sampling of Shep’s radio bits–to be included in the book, but I was informed by the publisher that the cover price would have been raised too high.
CHART–Here it is in 5 parts to be visualized as a continuity.
These five images need to be visualized one after the other and butted against each other. The above is what I could do in the post. Remember that each can be enlarged by clicking on it one or even more than one time. In preview form, before being posted, they enlarged sufficiently for me to be able to read them.
Despite this having been designed and printed over a decade ago, nothing major, and only some minor additions would have been required to update it. (Some additional work in jazz is now known, and other information and material continue to appear.)
One of the aspects of Shepherd’s career that the chart confirmed
for me is that much of his original creative work
occurred in the earlier NYC years,
and that much of his later work
on television and in film consisted of
his re-working and re-creating his earlier material.
The major exceptions to this are his WOR radio broadcasting,
that continued until April, 1977, and the
two-part television series of
JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA
(made in 1971 and 1985)
which I consider to be
a major, incomplete,