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JEAN SHEPHERD–Shep, Paddy, Herb, & Shel

Shel Silverstein and Shep and Herb and Paddy careened down many a Village street together,” according to a very authoritative source.

What should we call each of them?

Free spirit?

Nonconformist?  

Curmudgeon?

Wild Man?

The same authoritative source also recognizes the obvious echo between the incensed invective of Howard Beale, Chayefsky’s mad broadcaster in Network, and Paddy’s pal Jean Shepherd’s hurled invectives.

It’s wonderful to realize that these four creative individuals, all  anxious to do new and unconventional work, gathered in New York from the late 1950s on–knew each other–exchanging ideas and, just by their association,certainly  encouraging one another. Careening together. Oh, Jean Shepherd listeners and enthusiasts, if we only could have realized the extent that this kind of comradery was happening right under our ears!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PADDY CHAYEFSKY

Paddy Chayefsky had strong opinions/emotions and he had the ability to express them with style and intelligence. And he wasn’t afraid to upset folk who he knew would disagree with him. He did what he did and had the good fortune to be able to survive while doing it. Author Jonathan Mahler describes Chayefsky this way on the back cover of the book Mad as Hell: “The story of Network is the story of a prophetic screenwriter and his unrelenting determination to make the film that would not only change the way we looked at television but free us to express our anger, individually and collectively.”

P. Chayefsky photochayevskys-notes2“I amuse them, I entertain them, and if they’re bored,

they’ve had a few good couple of hours.

They paid their money, they’ve enjoyed themselves.

If they got something else out of it

that’s my own personal gravy.”

–Paddy discussing Network.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JEAN SHEPHERD

Jean Shepherd came to New York already understanding what an artistic skill he had, hoping that the world would recognize and reward him. As he said on his last broadcasts from Philadelphia regarding his style (even before arriving in New York): “…the avowed purpose of my program is not to please, but to begin trains of sequence, to begin trains of thought…” As I put it in EYF! “…he seemed like a brash young kid feeling his oats, knowing he had talent. He was energetically, youthfully strong, with the power of being on the verge of full flowing.” Ability to create and improvise like a jazz musician–“into the unknown.”

young shep

Into_Unknown_Front

“We have nothing but time here.

Spinning all those poor little idle dreams.

You know? Sort of? It’s sort of like a jigsaw puzzle.

They took a couple of the pieces once–you know–

and didn’t bring them back.”

–Shep, broadcasting, June 16, 1957.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HERB GARDNER

Herb Gardner created Nebishes–the quirky, common-person who expressed–without often realizing it–the everyday life of the common, “walking around type,” as Shep might have put it. One can see why Shepherd would have responded to this cartoon version of humanity. Gardner said that, as a comic strip, his characters began to express so much in their word balloons that the words began to crowd out the drawings of themselves. So, of course, he had to drop them and express himself with words in plays. and, inspired by his friend, Jean, he created a quirky individual who had a worthwhile world of his own, but the character could not incorporate that personality into an efficient entity in our tidy little world.

gardnerob26p4

Nebbish_02

 “I feel A THOUSAND CLOWNS is his masterpiece.

It is a real human comedy of poignancy and laughter,

with all of humanity’s foibles and eccentricities.”

–Jason Robards (played “Shep”  in ATC on stage and screen.)

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SHEL SILVERSTEIN

Shel Silverstein, said his best buddy Jean, was the most continuously funny person he’d ever known. Shel was a wild man–because he did those little kids’ books with those bizarre and scary little poems–that made oodles of money, he could do whatever he damned pleased–and get away with it. He wrote and sang his own goofy and sometimes obscene songs (See/hear him on Johnny Cash’s TV show singing “A Boy Named Sue.” Youtube has it.) He traveled the world and wrote/drew about it for Playboy. He seemed to be out-of-control and lovin’ it. The cartoon he drew of himself in a tub full of naked people probably is as good a representation as one could imagine of what his life was like.

shel fotoshel drawing

“In some cases, what artists do on paper

has nothing to do with their personal lives.

But that’s not the case with Shel.

He was Uncle Shelby.

He was the dreamer.

He was his work.”

–Hugh M. Hefner

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 These four comrades-in-arts lived, worked, and palled around together beginning in the mid-to-late 1950s. Below are just parts of the creative highlights of each . It must have been both a rich and a joyous time for them.

PADDY

’53 “Marty” TV, ’55 film; ’64 script for The Americanization of Emily. (Network arrived in 1976.)

JEAN

’56 radio overnights, I, Libertine hoax; ’50s jazz concerts emcee, hurling invectives; ’59 creator/participant “Look, Charlie; ” ’60 George Ade book; ’64 first Playboy story.

HERB

 ’55 “Nebbishes”; ’59 participant “Look,Charlie;” ’62 play, ’65 film A Thousand Clowns.

SHEL

’56 begin  cartoons in Playboy; ’59 participant; “Look, Charlie;” LP “Hairy Jazz;” ’60 cartoon book Now Here’s My Plan; ’63 begin children’s poem/drawing books.

__________________________

(: PS. The Nebbish under  Herb Gardner’s photo is the type I bought in the late 1950s. It is four inches high, hollow, it has gone pale-tan-with-dust,  but is still eminently squeezable. It sits in my study, not far from my Shep Shrine, questioning and accepting the unanswerable.

–eb 🙂

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4 Comments

  1. Great post Gene. It adds a lot of perspective to see these four as a gang of “troublemakers” in New York in the early 50s and 60s.
    Joel

  2. I was 18 in 1958 and remember identifying with the anti-establishment, authority-challenging attitude that Shep conveyed on his early programs. Also the connection with cool jazz, the psuedo-beatnick pesona I adopted, growing a beard, smoking a pipe. Looking back on myself then, I was trying so hard to be cool, and being part of Shep’s inner circle (or so I imagined), was part of that. I listened to WBAI back then, in the early days of Larry Josephson and others, the Goon Show, and late night jazz on new FM stations. I can see how Shel, Herb and Paddy fit into this scene.
    Joel

  3. mygingerpig says:

    Did Shep and Herb part ways over One thousand Clowns, with Shep feeling Herb never asked him if he could use the character that is believed to have been derived in large part from Shep?

    • ebbergmann says:

      First, my publisher, who published Herb’s plays tells me that indeed Herb admitted that the character is inspired by Shep. Second, I don’t think asking Shep for permission would have had anything to do with it. See my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD pages 176-177 for my interpretation of why Shep hated it and felt disparaged by a good friend. Third, I recently realized that Murray’s brother’s diatribe against him must have also hurt Shep.

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