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JEAN SHEPHERD’s Og and Charlie


I love Shepherd’s “Og and Charlie” stories.


New York Times January 30, 2014:

Studies Show a Little Bit

Of Neanderthal in Us All

Ever since the discovery in 2010 that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of living humans, scientists have been trying to determine how their DNA affects people today. Now two new studies have traced the history of Neanderthal DNA, and have pinpointed a number of genes that may have medical importance today. (Carl Zimmer  reporting)

neanderthal drawingNeanderthal?

Some believe that the Neanderthals were gentle, peaceful guys–and gals–but mostly we think of them as having been less than fully human brutes–less civilized than we are–maybe slaughtering each other even more than we do. Shep (as do many of us today) probably referred to less-civilized contemporaries of his as “Neanderthals.” Sort of like in that comedy team of “Og and Charlie.” (I saw them once at a burlesque house in Hoboken. Og wore a loincloth and carried a semi-automatic. Charlie wore a pinstripe thong and carried a seltzer bottle. Any of you who remember the routine will recall that after the silly little incident with the seltzer bottle–in the finale, Og slaughters Charlie. ♦If you believe this little Hoboken story of mine, you also still believe that all of Shep’s stories are verifiably true. At the beginning of a new, good, movie, “American Hustle,” I encountered this announcement appropriate to the issue: “SOME OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.”)

Shepherd told “Og and Charlie” stories a  number of times, as I discuss in my EYF! page 234-239:

Typically, Shepherd brought specific issues back to the problem within us. Although never put in religious terms, Shepherd frequently expressed an attitude not unlike a belief in original sin:

There’s only one problem, of course, in the end, and that is–why is mankind the way he is, and why is he so miserable? And that’s been the subject of all the great literature since  time began.

Why is it that we always discuss the results of some sickness in the human soul and we never really discuss the sickness? We discuss the war, and never discuss what brings about wars.

….and I might say that the same things that made that fistfight occur are always within people. Don’t think for a minute that they go away. You know we have this beautiful feeling among ourselves–this is one of the great illusions of mankind–and it is that he is a perfectible creature–like say–a portable typewriter can be perfected. That next year’s model is better than last year’s model.

Last year’s models were Og and Charlie, caveman types who appeared in Shep tales from time to time. Og with the primitive name, Charlie with the contemporary guy-next-door name. They were a linked pair. They seemed to be minor bit players–primitive comic relief around the edges of Shepherd’s world. They were not. Og and Charlie were central. They were “the only problem,” the sickness in the human soul, the things that made fistfights occur. One identified with Og and Charlie–they seemed so human. Yes–and they were brutes, not very far about the lower forms of land dwellers. Without the intervening evolution from lake dwellers through reptiles to primates, we crawled directly out of the ooze. Jean Shepherd described them:

There must have been the very first time when Og and Charlie crawled out of the muck and out of the mire–that ancient primordial lake from whence sprang all of us…and Og and Charlie crawled out of the ooze and the slime.

neanderthal-faceThis is Og. Charlie was clean-shaven and tweezed his eyebrows.

The researchers concluded that Neanderthals and modern humans must have interbred….Sir Paul A Mellars, an archaeologist…said that archaeological evidence suggested the opportunity for modern humans to mate with Neanderthals would have been common once they expanded out of Africa. “They’d be bumping into Neanderthals at every street corner,” he joked. [Don’t dwell too deeply on that one, ladies.]

….Living human beings do not have a lot of Neanderthal DNA, Dr. Reich [who led the research team] found, but some Neanderthal genes have become very common.That is because, with natural selection, useful genes survive as species evolve.

neanderthahl diagram

Shepherd told other Og and Charlie stories from time to time. One in EYF! goes this way:

You know there was a historic moment that was recorded by one of the great physical anthropologist–at the University of Pennsylvania. And he has reconstructed it. I thought you might like to know about it. It was one of the great–it was the time that man became man. It was a very important moment. These two guys are sitting on the shores of this antediluvian lake….

Then, without saying a word he reached down, picked up a large stone, raised it above his head, and brought it down with a telling, fatal crash between the eyes of Charlie. In that instant, man became man. He ceased being a beastie of the field….That moment modern man was born. that instant! It was the great, great turning point. and Charlie fell in a pool of blood, Og settled back on his haunches and continued to look out over the lake.

But they were seen–by another man, who crouched by his cave. He picked up a rock and moved into the shadows. And waited. Modern man had begun to progress.

An Internet article challenges that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens interbred: “The researchers say the DNA crossover is actually a remnant from a common ancestor from half a million years ago, not a result of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbreeding.” Oh yeah, so’s yer aunt Tillie! Whichever. Shep’s argument is still the essence of that old joke: “They’ve found the common ancestor of civilized man. It’s us.”

The Og and Charlie stories that I remember on WOR all ended in some sort of calamity indicating the pre-human/inhuman nature of the two beasts. And then, it so happens, I recently remembered the Og and Charlie story Shepherd told for his Syndicated shows in 1964-1965. It occurs in the boxed set titled KICKS, CD 3 “Og and Charlie.” Here are some excerpts of what I wrote:

Jean Shepherd told listeners so entertainingly over the years, in powerful fables, that Og and Charlie were us. In this episode, Shepherd tells us about the same Og and Charlie, those primitive men, but here emphasizes a far more benign theme than his usual story of brutality. In fact, as the subject is the birth and development of music, one can almost imagine a variation on the old saw–about music having charms to soothe those savage brutes.

Shepherd has always been a great enthusiast of music ever since high school when he became, as he once put it, “a dedicated tuba man.”   This program is filled with music of many kinds, starting with Shepherd’s over-the-top mimicking of primitive music and lyrics, then launching into a little lesson on origins with his caveman Og pounding a simple beat, then adding some simple vocal sounds until what one can recognize as a song of sorts emerges. He suggests that this invention of music was a great “kick.”

…he introduces the spiritual as well as the emotional aspects of music, as words with music are used to beseech the gods. Emphasizing the high level on which he regards music, he comments and elaborates on the idea of the musician as a magical creature, worshiped in the guise of Beethoven, Charlie Parker, and other varied notables.

The variety of music and musicians he presents emphasizes his theme of the broad importance of music to all of us….Toward the end of the program, he even uses a recording of what he claims is a headhunting tribe chanting a victory tune, returning home from a successful hunt, their trophies stuck on poles. How’s that for variety? Variety as a means to bring us back to Og and Charlie. He wants us to recognize our kinship with Og and other savages: “We’re all in it together, there’s no question about it, the same primal urge exists.” He repeats the idea: “You, Beethoven, the headhunter. It’s the eternal music of the spheres.” And I’ll bet you thought you’d left the cavemen far behind and you could pat yourself on your oh-so-musically civilized back!

Shep has described us all–we,

Og and Charlie–

are still those primal savages.


 (Aunt Tillie is the one to the left of Og) profiles



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