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Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD– I’m as Mad As Hell

JEAN SHEPHERD– I’m as Mad As Hell

mad as hell bookcover

A book was just published describing the making of director Paddy Cheyefsky’s film “Network.” The film features an invective by the newscaster in the process of having a nervous breakdown:

“I want you to get up now

I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.

I want you to get up right now and go to the window,

open it, and stick your head out and yell,

‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.'”

mad as hell 2

It has long been my contention that the “Mad as hell” scene, so crucial and famous in that film, is a tribute to Shepherd’s “hurling an invective.” I remember Shep saying in a broadcast that he’d gotten a call from Paddy Cheyefsky asking if he could use that idea for an invective. My publisher says that indeed Shep and Paddy were friends. I checked the book’s index online and found no reference to Shepherd–I’ve reserved the book from the library for a further investigation. Meanwhile I sprang into action–and received from www.amazon:

***************************************************

Dear Eugene B. Bergmann,

Your latest review has just gone live on Amazon. We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to write about your experience with this item.

This review is from: Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies (Hardcover)

INSPIRATION FOR ”I’M AS MAD AS HELL” INVECTIVE

      By Eugene B. Bergmann   on February 26, 2014

How many people know that the “I’m as mad as hell” speech is reliably reported to have been inspired by Paddy Chayefsky’s good buddy, radio humorist Jean Shepherd?

From time to time Shepherd, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, would tell his listeners to go to their windows, open them, place their radios with loudspeakers pointed out into the night and turn up the volume.
Shepherd would then yell some startling comment that would be heard throughout the neighborhood. He called this act of comic defiance, “Hurling an Invective.”

Shepherd said that Chayefsky had called him and asked if he would mind if in “Network” he could, in a kind of tribute to Shepherd’s “invectives,” use the idea.

Read more description of Shepherd’s invectives in my “Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd.” See pages 210-211 in the chapter titled “Hurling invectives.”

Excelsior, you fatheads!
Eugene B. Bergmann

***************************************************

→Excerpted from Excelsior, You Fathead!←

[Shepherd speaks in low, conspiratorial tones.] Put your radio on your windowsill now! Do it now! [Pounds on desk.] Now! The loudspeaker pointed out–toward the neighborhood….And when I give you the clue, turn that radio up as loudly as it will go! We’re going to use a very special kind of invective tonight….radio on windowsill now! [Whispering.] turn it up! Lights out! For heaven’s sake, turn the lights out. Turn the radio up. Pretend you’re looking at television. Pretend you’re asleep. [The invective follows, in the most extensive audio of an invective yet to have surfaced.]

[Here are more of Shep’s invectives]

•You don’t think for a moment you’re fooling anyone, do you?

•How long do you think you can get away with this? The jig is up!

•You filthy pragmatist!

During the 1998 Alan Colmes call-in show, a caller said, “But you got me in so much trouble that night, ’cause I actually did it. And my mother came running down the hall and she stormed into my room and she started screaming at me. And I was lying on the floor laughing. I couldn’t stop laughing. You got me in a lot of trouble that night.”

Shepherd responded, “Oh, that’s good. Trouble is always good for the soul.”

The caller asked, “But what did you yell? I forgot exactly what you said.”

Shepherd: Drop the gun, you rat! I’ve got the drop on you! Move one more time and you’re gonna get one between the eyes!

Shepherd’s invectives also appear in a play/film, and, inadvertently, it seems, in a well-known song:

1) “A Thousand Clowns” I’ve always contended, based on a number of prominent actions of the protagonist in the film, that Murray, that main character, represents a fictionalized portrait of Shep. My publisher, who knew Herb Gardner, author of “A Thousand Clowns,” says that Herb confirmed that Murray represented his friend Shep.

thousand cns invective image

Murray hurling an invective at houses

on an early-morning, peopless street.

 In a more specific moment, in his apartment,

he hurls an invective through his open

window into the alley he shares with his neighbors.

invective out airshaft

Murray hurling invective out his window:

“This is your neighbor speaking.

I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that

something must be done about your

garbage cans in the alley here….

So let’s snap it up and get on the ball!”

2) “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the Twisted Sister song written by Dee Snider.  When I asked Dee about this, he said he hadn’t been aware of the connection to “Network,” so it must have been a coincidental idea or unconsciously inspired–after all, not wanting to tolerate something any more is certainly a common feeling, so perfectly expressed in both the song as well as in “Network.”

were not gonna visual

“We’re not gonna take it,

no, we’re not gonna take it.

We’re not gonna take it anymore!”

____________________________________________

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6 Comments

  1. I vividly recall listening to Shepherd when he did the radio on the window sill bit. It was 1957, and I was a callow youth of 17. Here is a link to the “hurling invective” program segment. http://www.myoldradio.com/old-radio-episodes/jean-shepherd-hurling-invective/11

    • ebbergmann says:

      He did a number of invectives with radio at the window, but only a rare few have been reported and saved on audio. The extensive buildup one I describe both in the post and in my EYF! actually comes from my recording of it that I’d passed over to Max, who played it on the air. It and the other early recording of June ’57 were both played by Max from my original tapes–one encounters them now on many CDs and websites.

  2. Note the mellow, laid back tone of his voice here. He spoke like this often in his early days.

  3. “Hurling invectives” was one of several “pranks” in which Shep cajoled his listeners to participate as co-conspirators. As far as I know, this was unique among radio or television performers. He made the listeners feel they were part of his act, and I think that created a strong bond between him and the “kids” who listened to him. The idea of “milling” was another. The “I Libertine” prank required listeners to pull off. The request that listeners go out and buy a brand of soap that was not his sponsor was another. At the Limelight, he got the audience to shout the station call letters and “Excelsior you fathead” on cue to the radio audience. These were innovative techniques for audience participation and I’ve not seen anyone give him credit for them.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Joel, that’s a marvelous comment–I hadn’t thought of this at all. I think I’ll work up a blog post around this idea–and, of course, give you credit for coming up with it!

    • Anthony Chopkoski says:

      Having been to at least one Limelight Show in 1964, I did not see that audience usage, although it could have come at other times or time. But it sounds totally real as per Shep.

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