Shepherd enthusiasts may not be aware of some of the introductions and forewords he wrote for a variety of publications–all related to strong interests of his. Even for those aware of them, I thought it good to list and provide parts of them as well as some comments. Here they are:
THE AMERICA OF GEORGE ADE
Fables, Short Stories, Essays
The front jacket cover of the hardcover also states: “The Great American Realistic Writer who in the early Twentieth Century created Modern American Humor.” The back cover, with a photo of Ade also has a photo of Shep, captioned: “One of the most prominent of the young American social critics and commentators, Mr. Shepherd has made a special study of the life and works of George Ade.” Listeners to Shepherd are aware that he sometimes spoke of his admiration for Ade and read some of Ade’s fables.
Shepherd both “edited,” wrote the preface, and introduced the book. We don’t know what, in this instance, “edited” means other than choosing which pieces of Ade’s to include. The preface begins this way:
One night after a broadcast on which I had performed one of the lesser-known Fables by George Ade,I took a phone call which turned out to be from S. J. Perelman. He was practically in tears. We exchanged Adeisms for over an hour. It was his considered opinion that Ade was undoubtedly one of the greatest American humorists, if not the most outstanding, humorist, America has yet come up with.
The preface is followed by Shepherd’s fourteen-page introduction. I hadn’t read it in a few years, so recently I was especially struck by its second and third paragraphs:
Eugene Gant, Holden Caulfield, and Ahab were all blood brothers. The Great Gatsby, wandering through his Long Island parties always alone in the midst of revelry, personified The American. He was beaten by his white whale too, and Nick said about all that could be said when Gatsby’s coffin was lowered into the rain-soaked American earth at a funeral no one had time to attend: “The poor son of a bitch.” He might as well have been speaking of Willy Loman, who never did get that final Big Order or really learn the territory. Kerouac’s Dan Moriarty, meandering off into the night lit only by the buzzing neon lights of The West Side, was fighting the same nebulous desperate war that James Jones’ Private Prewitt fought and lost too. The list goes on almost endlessly, since there are 180 million American wanderers. We secretly feel that we are about to be lowered into a lonely grave unsung, to be forgotten in three weeks or three minutes. The knowledge that we are all in it together does make it easier to take, if not more understandable.
Some writers weep over the plight of man while others laugh. Many more ignore it altogether and become wealthy. It takes a particularly wide perspective and more than the usual amount of love of mankind to be able to laugh. It also involves a certain quality of detachment. And that is where George Ade and the Midwest fit into the literary battle of the individual caught in the maze.
I was struck again because I realized anew how much of what
Shepherd wrote here he was applying to himself.
“NOW HERE’S MY PLAN”
A BOOK OF FUTILITIES
by Shel Silverstein
Shel and Shep, according to an interview of Shel, were best buddies–at least from the late 1950s into at least the early 1960s. We just don’t know much more about it than that, which is a shame. Lois Nettleton is quoted as saying that while Shep was on the air, sometimes she and Shel would wander the streets of Manhattan together, and I’m told by Leigh Brown’s best friend that Shel introduced Leigh to Shep (In the mid-to-lat 1950s, which began a personal and professional relationship crucial to Shepherd’s life and work.)
Shep and Shel wrote appreciations for each other’s early creations. Before any intros or forewords, they wrote the liner notes for each other’s early records. Shel wrote the wacky/funny one for Shep’s first comedy album “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles” and, it seems, Shep shortly after retaliated with goofy words for Shel’s first album, “Hairy Jazz” later in the same year, 1959:
The storied technical prowess and magnificent control that has long made Silverstein’s name a byword in the Green Rooms of the world are still here and in full flower. Attention is called to the lacelike delicacy of the attack shown on “Go Back Where You Got It Last Night”….
One needs to be aware that Shel’s voice and style–attack–would make a grown Pavarotti choke. Here’s a bit of Shep’s foreword for Shel’s book of cartoons, Now Here’s My Plan:
Since Shel Silverstein is a close friend of mine, I would very much like to be able to recommend him to everyone without reservations of any kind. This I cannot do. For one thing, he is not for children.
Obviously this was written before Shel became the darling of the pre-teen crowd–and their parents–with his books of quirky kid-poems, after which he became so rich and famous he could do what he wanted when he wanted.
….In appearance he is Neanderthalic: stocky, bearded, vaguely stooped, and unbelievably sloppy. Yet there is also a distinct air of imperious Edwardian dignity about him….Shel is the only continuously funny man I have ever known. Ideas for humor flow from him in such a rich, prolific stream that he frightens most of the rest of us who work in the field….I am proud he is my friend.
THE NIGHT PEOPLE’S GUIDE TO NEW YORK
[no authors listed though authors of the preface are
June Wagner, Gilman Park, Jack Rennert]
Jean Shepherd, once he began living in Manhattan, considered himself a true New Yorker, and, though he traveled widely, lived for a bit in New Jersey and had a summer house in Maine, and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else than NYC. It does make one wonder why, after his radio days were over, he chose to move to Florida. Here’s part of his intro to The Night People’s Guide:
As an old New York hand, I have just about given up any ideas that I might have had about what the city is or isn’t, what it has or hasn’t, what it can or cannot do, since I have come to realize that it can do everything and is everything and will always be.
It’s a great town to live in, and a great town to flee from but once you have really tasted it you can never forget it completely, or even drive away that insistent pull from inside that says that you’ve got to go back just once more.
JOHNSON SMITH CATALOG
Reproduction of 1929 edition,
introduction by Jean Shepherd.
In his essay titled “Mail Order America,” Shepherd wrote an appreciation of all the strange, goofy stuff one could buy–especially if one were a true American slob. (In another–but similar–context, he once said, “I like this vitality! there are those who think Shepherd is against the slob. Not at all! I think the slob gives spice and the piquant–just the piquant savoring of life.”) He wrote in part:
Johnson Smith & Co. is and was as totally American as apple pie; far more so in fact, since they do make apple pie in most places in the civilized world. Only America could have produced Johnson Smith. There is nothing else in the world like it. Johnson Smith is to Man’s darker side what Sears Roebuck represents to the clean-limbed, soil-tilling righteous side. It is a rich compost heap of exploding cigars, celluloid teeth, anarchist “stink” bombs….
Students of the future, in deciphering it, will learn far more about us through its pages than through any other single document I know of. Read it, enjoy it, and honor it. It is about us.
Stay tuned for Part 2