This post continues the description of publications in which Shepherd contributed an intro or foreword. (FYI, the books illustrated in these posts are from my collection housed in the Shep Shrine.)
Foreword by Jean Shepherd
This book consists of many hundreds of photocopies of entire news articles about baseball from 1876 through 1974. Of this multitude of high points and mind-deadening trivia, for game seven, the deciding one of the 1955 World Series, a one-half inch by less than three inch box score is the book’s only indicator that, in the Boys of Summer’s entire history as the “wait-till-next-year kids,” the Brooklyn Dodgers had won their only World Series. Unbelievable and inexcusable.
The book’s only text besides the foreword by Jean Shepherd is the “authors'” acknowledgements, so there is no part of the book to which the book’s actual authorship could be attributed. Those listed are not “authors,” they are compilers. Here’s a bit of Shep’s foreword, its beginning and its end:
My very earliest memory of my Old Man is of him sitting in the kitchen, waiting for supper (they always called it “supper” in the Midwest; “dinner” was something that Clark Gable and Carole Lombard had), reading the sports page and muttering. My mother, hanging over the sink, knew from long experience that it was time to keep her mouth shut. The Old Man was getting his daily dose of bad news. He was a White Sox fan, who grew up on the South Side in the very shadow of Cominsky Park….
They’re all here in these pages, alive, slugging, booting ground balls, winning, losing, making predictions, getting fired, going off to war, and even sometimes coming back. It is always Summer in these pages, and the Pennant Races of 1924,1932, 1941, 1950 still hang in the balance.
VIC AND SADE
The Best Radio plays by Paul Rhymer
Edited by Mary Frances Rhymer
Foreword by Jean Shepherd
Shepherd loved the quirky, dry humor in Vic and Sade, and on the air sometimes read from its scripts. He was also fond of giving some of the bizarre names of people in Vic and Sade and quoting bits of it. In my Excelsior, You Fathead! I describe the book this way:
Shepherd often referred to a 1930s and 1940s radio show called Vic and Sade that might (inadequately) be referred to as a situation comedy. This fifteen-minute program concerned a small family, talking of everyday small matters in small ways in a small town in the Midwest. It had a dry, unforced wit that required close attention. Shepherd was amused by the program’s focus on mankind’s obsessions–giving disproportionate importance to trivial matters. For example, one of the character’s extensive dishrag collection….his appreciation for Vic and Sade came through in a variety of ways that related to his own work:
…Rhymer created true humor. He did not deal in jokes, but human beings observed by a sardonic, biting, yet loving mind.
…Judging from his scripts, if Rhymer were alive today he would probably snort in derision at the pompous tone of this foreword, but I also suspect he would secretly have enjoyed it. Rhymer was an artist, and no artist who ever lived ever turned down a tribute to his work.
Selected by Ken Graves and Mitchell Payne
Introduction by Jean Shepherd
Now why the heck would Shep have bothered about a book like this? Here’s why–it fits so perfectly into his interest in, as he puts it, “Humanus Americanus (common).” Let him tell it:
Don’t ever let this book, this definitive collection of twentieth-century American folk art, get out of your hands. I say this for two very good reasons. First, it is a touching, true, Common Man history of all of us who grew and lived in America in this century, in addition to being very funny and highly informative. Second, it is a collection that will grow in value, both historically and intrinsically,with each passing year….
They are all of a piece, each piece part of our own lives, and Graves and Payne, George Eastman, and Uncle Clifford or Aunt Mabel have captured that piece of all of us, for all of us, for now and forevermore, like a tiny high school cheerleader frozen for all eternity.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH
A Film For Television
Co-ordinated by Leigh Brown
Introduction to the Film Script by Jean Shepherd
This book documents the first part of a trilogy of 90-minute television films based on some of Shepherd’s short stories. One might wonder what Leigh did to be the “coordinator,” but it’s nice to see her get some credit for all the hard work she obviously did over the years on behalf of Shep’s creative works. The book has many black-and-white stills from the production, interspersed with the script. The intro is about twelve pages long, so Shep seemed to care about it a lot:
Since this was a comedy, director Fred Barzyk and I worked together very closely on every scene. My humor is not the one-line insult-joke style of, say Rhoda or M*A*S*H but rather humor that arises out of inflection, a character’s attitude, the predicament he’s in, and the constant struggle to remain afloat in a sea of petty disasters….
The Narrator is actually the voice of Ralph, grown up, but at the same time he is somehow mysteriously, in communication with the viewer. The viewer then becomes the second half of a dialogue between the Narrator and himself. The Narrator is both viewing the scene as it occurred or as he lived it and commenting to you about it, but never directly.
One will note this Narrator-technique used by Shepherd in 1976 (two years before the script version was published). One will recognize that technique as it was used again by Shepherd in the movie A Christmas Story in 1983, and then by others appropriating it without attribution for the TV sitcom The Wonder Years starting in 1988. More about this in my EYF! Ah, what a sad story that is–but back in 1978 Shep could not know of the malingering distress it would cause him, what internal kerfuffle.
[Side note: The technique of the Narrator that Shepherd used, and the tone of that narrator’s style in The Wonder Years, were essential parts of why the series was so good and why it was so popular. For years enthusiasts, frustrated, longed for its availability on DVD or in some other form. It was said that the many contemporaneous musical clips from the turbulent era depicted (the late 1960s and early 1970s) would cost too much to gain permission to use. Recently, parts of the series appeared on Netflix. Oh joy? No, not quite. 1. Opening musical theme, Joe Cocker’s rendition of The Beatles’ “A Little Help From My Friends,” was mimicked well by another voice, but not quite the same; 2. A majority of the rock and roll musical clips–that were important to set the scene and, indeed, provide a touch of ironic leitmotif–are absent; 3. The original Narrator is gone, replaced by another voice that misses the tone that had contributed so much to the original.]
♥♥♥♥In mid-February a company announced the upcoming production of the complete Wonder Years series that suggests they are fixing all the problems and will produces it exactly as originally broadcast–I hope so!♥♥♥♥
[Another side note: I just encountered a newer sitcom that uses the narrator-looking-back-on-his-childhood–“The Goldbergs.” The one episode I watched was better than most sitcoms, but that’s not necessarily saying much. I have not found any acknowledgement that the narrator-technique comes from Shep.]
NEW JERSEY RESTAURANT GUIDE
by (?) Ruth Alden
Nobody I’ve encountered knows a damn thing about this book. I’ve done some futile research and that’s about it. Why would Shep have been interested in a NJ restaurant guide? Here are two maybes: 1. He often made fun of Jersey and lived for a while in Jersey, so he must have eaten in some restaurants there; 2. Lois Nettleton, his wife from late 1960 to about 1967 says that he was such a gourmet cook that she happily cleaned up after his mess in the kitchen–there’s a surprise talent of our ol’ Shep! (Greatly appreciated would be knowledge of what he wrote for the book.)