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JEAN SHEPHERD–Allegories/metaphors Part 3

The question of metaphors and allegories is not an easy one to answer in any definitive way. Certainly to create and perceive a story as mainly or only a metaphor would be rather simple-minded. Yet some of our most important.memorable stories in our culture are allegorical in nature. The allegory is preferably not up front in our minds as we read it, but is an undercurrent. Some stories that come to mind:

Moby Dick

The Old Man and the Sea

The Grapes of Wrath

The parables of Jesus

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Joel Baumwoll brings some intelligent, thoughtful comments to the discussion:

<Methinks we need to be careful reading too much into his work. I agree with Murphy. Sure there are messages in his stories. They all have to do with the human condition. Huck Finn was a metaphor? No, it was a story about how people are and think.

The famous battle of the tops has been referred to as a metaphor for the mutual destruction of nuclear war. I think it unlikely he started with a plan to write a story which would be a metaphor for that and arrived at the battle of the tops as the answer.

I take issue with the anti-war interpretation of the BB Gun story. The woman with the button that said “disarm the toy industry represented a but of a kook, I think, who finds danger in so many things. Remember, the BB Gun fantasy Shep described was protecting his family from marauders (Black Bart). One might even say he was supporting the NRA idea that we should have guns in our homes for our own protection against evil. He ended the sequence by saying the BB Gun was the best present he had ever received or EVER WOULD RECEIVE! Now that is a big statement.

A lot of Shep’s stories had to do with fantasies and dreams dashed by reality. Zudock’s plan to build a house from a kit, Shep and friends building a hot air balloon and burning down the high school, Bumpus’ dogs eating the ham or turkey…etc etc…The theme of the poem Excelsior speaks to that.

In any case, I suggest we take his stories on face value for their insights,humor and fun.

Knees loose gang, metaphorically speaking.
Joel>

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Without suggesting any definitive answers, I respond with the following:

Barry Farber (quoted in my EYF!) said that Shep delighted in Farber’s finding the metaphors he was suggesting in his stories–of course, maybe Shep was simply playing around and didn’t really mean it–or only meant it at that particular moment.

As for the BB gun story, Ralphie’s sequined attire is a child’s silly fantasy of reality (what cowboys are/were really like). Ralphie’s idea of his personal reality is indeed a “rhinestone cowboy.” He is, as I like to put it about superficial imitations, a rhinestone in the rough. ralphie rhinestonecowboy As are the bad guy’s phony prison get-up and their ease of defeat, and the cartoon-like crosses over their eyes to represent that they are “dead.” We laugh in part because we know that a BB gun wouldn’t stop real criminals. All that is a put-down of Ralphie’s “reasoning” of why he should have a gun. And that the BB ricochets back and hits him is surely an irony (a metaphor) for what might easily happen with weapons.

That Ralphie, at the movie’s end, hugging the gun that nearly shot his eye out, muses that “the BB Gun was the best present he had ever received or EVER WOULD RECEIVE! ” I suggest that:

1. Whatever the present would have been, as it was his supremely hoped-for one, of course it was the best present he’d ever receive, especially as narrator-Shep nostalgically envisions it;

2. As his father (a bit of a curmudgeon) gave it to him, it was a special bond that Ralphie thus formed with him;

3. As I comment in EYF! the sweet and idealistic ending of the parents snuggling in the glow of tree-and-snowACS mom and dad
may well have been an arm-twisted finish the movie studio insisted on after all the funny downers the movie is replete with–Ralphie’s childish thoughts in bed as the movie closes could be seen as another sugar-coated dumpling.

ACS ralph in bed.rifle

The long horizontal line below represents the end ↓

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JEAN SHEPHERD & LEIGH BROWN-Part 7.

CONTINUATION OF  LEIGH’S KNOWN WORKS WITH JEAN

Assistant Director

The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters

Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss

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Co-writer–Title credit for script of the film A Christmas Story: 

Jean Shepherd & Leigh Brown & Bob Clark.

(Disregard the surround–this is a “Print Screen” capture)

ACS script credits

While engaged in the simple act of transcribing for Jean,

Leigh often made editorial suggestions.

leigh,shep 1977

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Agent–Among other possible times, Leigh was Jean’s literary agent for his book manuscript of The Ferrari in the Bedroom, which she submitted to Tom Lipscolm at Dodd-Mead, which published it.

1972-11-dd_022_ferrari_cover______________________

Bit-player in films and videos

A Christmas Story film–Leigh seemed to want to make herself unattractive standing in line to see Santa. Editor/publisher Tom Lipscolm tells us that she had been pushing for years for this film to be made featuring the BB gun story.

The Phantom of the Open Hearth–television film: Leigh is shown at

the Red Rooster as “The Lovely Arlita.”

arlita

The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters–Leigh sings “The Ballad of Ludlow Kissel.”

Jean Shepherd’s America–video series:

Leigh in a bar where Jean sketches her in the New Orleans episode.

Leigh dances with Jean in the Wyoming blizzard episode.

JSA 1971 wyoming Shep and Leigh dance

The loving couple dancing in the Little America Motel

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AND WE MUST HAVE MISSED LOTS MORE!

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WORDS OF LOVE AND DEDICATION:

To Leigh and Daphne who share my bed, my board,

and walks along the sea.

May they never regret it.

–JEAN SHEPHERD (Fig Newtons)

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To little Leigh with love.

I hope it’s been worth it all…

–JEAN SHEPHERD (Wanda Hickey)

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…the suspicion that she could actually live without him ran out of her…

–LEIGH BROWN (The Show Gypsies)

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I can conceive of a world without sunlight easier

than I can conceive of a world without Jean.

–LEIGH BROWN (Personal letter)

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For Jean Shepherd,,,this fool’s rainbow.

–LEIGH BROWN (The Show Gypsies)

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leighExcelsior 2

Leigh signing “Excelsior!” to a fan

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Views of Shep

We’ve seen lots of photos of Jean Shepherd and I’ve commented on how different he looks over the years–altering the physical image of himself so often–wondering and guessing as to why he does so. There are also a few images of him that are not straight photos, but are, in sense, interpretations. For amusement and amazement, here are a few:

SHEP drinking glass

Radio station promo for a pre-WOR Shep (and others)

Mad 4.1957

Shep depicted in Mad Magazine, April, 1957.

In the illustrated story titled “The Night People vs ‘Creeping Meatballism'” Shepherd’s words describe his gripes. The illustrator is EC Comics’ famed artist Wally Wood.

shep as ewing

“Full color” image of Shep on back cover,

as bogus author of I, Libertine, Frederick R. Ewing.

The full black and white image, as seen in a promo flyer shows him clearly in a kind of jungle-like environment. The New York Times, either mistakenly, or somehow contributing to the hoax-like nature of the book, in its review of it, reproduced this image and simply titled it “Jean Shepherd.” U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, upon seeing this (and having placed it above his writing desk), commented that Shep “looked sad,” not realizing that it was a consciously posed shot of the bogus author.

Jean-Shepherd-Your-Great-Shep-19581-242x300

1958 (?) photo. Pay absolutely no attention to the improper

spelling of the first word in the photo–and the lack of

a comma after the word “Great.”

look.C on bikeshep.by shelBoth images by Shep’s best pal, Shel Silverstein

(who drew the entire  “Look, Charlie”program).

The left image, from the cover of Shepherd’s theater piece, “Look, Charlie,”  shows Shep riding his motorcycle up the leg of the title’s K. On the right, from the overleaf of the program we see the cast members of the piece, beginning with Shep rapping out a tune by thumping on his head, as he did not only in “Look, Charlie,” but sometimes on his broadcasts.

WOR ad

Shep emanating radio airwaves from a WOR ad.

His is one of 25 similar images in the ad.

southern shep

Shep as a Southern gentleman in a 1971 episode of

“Jean Shepherd’s America.”

In some of these episodes, in addition to narrating, Shepherd plays the part of some character appropriate to the subject matter. (Image captured from www.flicklives.com)

1991-12-14_022_bozo_shep

Ho ho ho!

Is this fellow as jolly as he should be? Shepherd plays Santa in a television show! Can ya believe it?!

Shep photo .drawing

Traced-over-Shep.

Somebody traced over the iconic Fred W. McDarrah photo of Shep. Encountered on the web.

250px-CowboyX

Cowboy X

Shepherd did the narration for the Sesame Street animated cartoon “Cowboy X,” and he also did all the voices for it.  I’m certain that he also wrote the script, as it so profoundly represents his attitudes, and indeed, the Cowboy X character is obviously Shep himself, a clever, witty, and hostile desperado.

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Other  encountered interpretive images of Shep would be appreciated.)

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JEAN SHEPHERD & LEIGH BROWN-Part 6.

Joel asked if I intended to post  Leigh’s contributions to Shep’s work, so here it is in all its incompleteness. Anyone with more info, please let me know.

What we actually know of specific instances of how Leigh contributed to Jean’s success and well-being is undoubtedly just a small percentage of what she actually did day-by-day and in many particulars that just have not been recorded or encountered.

For example, as I’ve noted, Tom Lipscolm, editor/publisher, who knew her well, indicated that she frequently steered Shep away from negative results and toward the positive–not quantifiable, but nevertheless important. It’s also said that she, along with others, pushed Jean into putting his stories on paper and getting them published in print, beginning with Playboy and then collected in In God We Trust–All Others Pay Cash, etc. One might also remember the rather back-handed compliment Shepherd once gave her, indicating that he valued her judgement as an average person–a litmus paper–in her response to some things he’d been working on.

The listings below are undoubtedly very incomplete,

as many  projects  Leigh must have also worked on, remain uncredited

as far as we ignorant fatheads would know about them.

(some of this material=thanks to http://www.flicklives.com)

Radio Producer–Leigh’s foremost job for many years was as Jean’s producer of his radio show. Although it now appears that she began at WOR in early 1962, we don’t know when she added new roles to the list.

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Gate-keeper-many people have admired/complained that Leigh protected him from intrusions, thus keeping him able to concentrate and function at his high level.

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Assistant–The word “assistant” can mean everything from getting him something he wants to helping with his makeup–to giving suggestions, to who-knows-what important tasks?

1983-mm-dd_005_at_the_movies_shep_leighPhoto by Dan Beach during preparation for a scene

in a television production of shorts.

Director Fred Barzyk standing.

(This photo is also in my

Excelsior, you Fathead!)

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phantom titlt

Leigh is listed as Production Associate  for this TV film.

In addition she got her name on the title page of the published text.

In one of the many stills in the book, she appears as “Lovely Arlita.”

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Creator/scenic designer–Shepherd credits her on the air for doing a great job in creating the effects for his 1973 Carnegie Hall show.

1973-09-22_025_Carnegie_4

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Associate

“Staggerwing Productions”–some if not most/all of Jean’s live shows seem to have been done under this name. Leigh, of course, was part of the action.

“Pholly Productions”--Various Shepherd films?

“International Jawbreaker”–the team consisting of Leigh, Jean, Laurie Squire, Herb Squire in an early syndication of Jean’s radio shows–mostly to college radio stations.

010_INT JAW 3

“Snow Pond  Productions”–Leigh is listed as a co-producer of both Jean Shepherd’s America series–1971 and 1985.

MORE TO COME ON LEIGH’S WORK WITH JEAN

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Allegories/metaphors Part 2

 Many locales and situations other than the army are subjects for

Shepherd allegories and metaphors.

More examples:

“Excelsior” as a metaphor for unwarranted idealism.

shep signature

“Seltzer bottle” as the proper response to “excelsior,” as I commented in Excelsior, You Fathead!” the “self-deluding pomposity of ‘Excelsior’ should deservedly elicit a slapstick clown’s squirt of seltzer in the face!”KYKL bottle cover

“Keep your knees loose” as a metaphor for being flexible in life, with its obverse, in the Army’s directive to avoid falling off a pole: “Keep your knees tight,” representing the need to act counter-instinctively in the military.

Og and Charlie, the symbolic cavemen, as not only our former but current selves: not yet civilized.  As the old joke has it, the missing link between savages and civilized man is us.

Ludlow Kissel’s giant Fourth of July bomb that goes awry—as Shepherd once commented, represents the desire we all have to blow up the world.

Equally, the murderous Mariah and its near duplicate, Wolf, the two battling tops that disappear, lost down a sewer, are our seemingly invincible armaments that simply destroy each other. ToyTop3x

The great ice cream war, with two stores in competition, each lowering its price to the level of self-destruction.  What should be a simple pleasure becomes the subject of conflict and riot.  Also a symbol of total war with its mutual destruction.

Shep, Schwartz, and Flick, as youngsters, begin popping pills which they encounter in a medicine cabinet of an empty house.  They become very ill.  Shepherd, telling this story, says that he is sometimes asked to tell of his first experience with drugs.  Obviously the question is asked in order to tell a tale of the kind of drug-taking that became so dangerously common in the 1960s and 1970s.  He turns this around, telling a kid story in order to give an anti-drug allegory.

The old man’s Chinese nail puzzle and the three against-the-rules ways he has of solving it by destroying it, as a metaphor for solving problems by cheating.bent-nails-97

“Cowboy X” is Jean Shepherd himself, who makes his mark everywhere for what he accomplishes, yet who is unrecognized by the “not very smart” townspeople—the ignorant American masses.250px-CowboyX

Shepherd’s fly hook. We know that fishing is a pursuit often steeped in deferred, if not doomed, expectations.  Consistent with his general philosophy, at various times Shepherd commented on how life often deals an unexpectedly disastrous blow.  On a show he says, “You can do everything perfectly and have it blow up in your face.”  He  mentions that he loves fishing.  He comments that fishing tells something about life. He describes how he was fly-casting and a fish grabbed the bait perfectly—but it broke loose and the fly hook whipped back and caught him in his left ear.  It had to be removed in a nearby emergency room.  Another illustration from Shepherd about how faultless acts can, nevertheless, end in disaster. Did this really happen?  We’ll never know what the reality was, but I believe that he made it all up in order to give us unsuspecting listeners what might have been his last, surreptitious parable.  He told this story on March 29, 1977. He had forewarned his listeners, who were already emotionally dressed in mourning, that three days later, after twenty-one years on New York radio, not by his own fault or choice but through a corporate bloodbath against long-standing segments of its talk-format, Shepherd, after twenty-one years at WOR doing “everything perfectly,” April Fool’s Day of 1977 would be his last broadcast.

Seated near the back of the school room because his name started with S in a world of not-always-fair alphabetical arrangements, causing potential difficulty in hearing the teacher as well as not being able to read the blackboard, suggesting that totally arbitrary circumstances in life can cause important problems.

Morse Code and Mark Twain’s River episode described in EYF! pages 357-360 about being a “sorehead.”  He uses expertise at Morse code as a metaphor for there always being someone better than you are.  He uses the Mississippi River as a metaphor for life always having some hidden dangers that can kill you.

Eating escargot for the first time as symbolic of all the wonderful things out there beyond the narrow minds in one’s immediate environment. escargot

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Considering the above interpretations, Jean Shepherd seemed to be enamored of allegories and metaphors.  And, as these are only those that have been easily remembered from the over a thousand available programs heard, and these shows are only part of his radio broadcasts that have surfaced and are available for listening, many more recognizable ones undoubtedly exist out there somewhere, waiting to be found and interpreted—or misinterpreted.  As one email correspondent put it: “…to paraphrase Freud, ‘Sometimes a leg lamp is just a leg lamp’” (Frank in Jersey).  Ah, yes, some might be wrong interpretations, but Shep also produced many direct, unequivocal doozies:

 “New York is a summer fistfight,” and walking up Sixth Avenue “knee-deep in cigar butts,” frequent disparaging comments on the thoughtless slovenliness of Americans.

Warren G. Harding school as being made of balsa wood and silly putty.

A simile from In God We Trust: “[Hohman] clings precariously to the underbody of Chicago like a barnacle clings to the rotting hulk of a tramp steamer.”

His mother’s knee: “She had this huge, giant, wonderful old granite knee.  Had these handholds,” as symbolic of a child’s image of the mother as a chiseled-in-stone subject of truth, wisdom, and security.

Kidhood as a jungle is the direct ,extended, many-faceted, hyperbolic metaphor in Shepherd’s own narration at the end of his television drama, “The Phantom of the Open Hearth,” taken from the published script: “The male human animal, skulking through the impenetrable fetid jungle of Kidhood, learns early in the game just what sort of animal he is.  The jungle he stalks is a howling, tangled wilderness, infested with crawling, flying, leaping, nameless dangers.

phantom of o.h.end

Ralph, after the prom and its aftermath

are all over, trudging up to bed.

“He daily does battle with horrors and emotions that he will spend the rest of his life trying to forget or suppress.  Or recapture.  His jungle is the wilderness he will never fully escape, but those first early years, when the bloom is on the peach and the milk teeth have just barely departed, are the crucial days in the Great Education of Life.”

Pretty strong, that one.  But others can hold their own, too.  Whether Shepherd used metaphors and allegories consciously or not in every sited instance is impossible to say, but that he used them sometimes is undeniable.  In fact, I suggest that Shepherd’s penchant for the vigorous, descriptive language he is so admired for, especially in his writing, owes much to his sometimes strong and surprising metaphors.

And, to end our incomplete little lecture,

here is our fearless leader with arms and legs

akimbo (3 out of 4 of which are edging out of the picture)

in front of a Howard Johnson’s,

a pose that may well be a metaphor fer sumpin’.

Shep-HowardJ.'s

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JEAN SHEPHERD & LEIGH BROWN Part 5

show gypsies

Leigh’s novel, The Show Gypsies, which I didn’t at first find engaging, eventually led me to an appreciation of what she’d done in it.  As someone unfamiliar with the subject, I found the details about show horses too arcane, requiring previous knowledge, but the overall effect did indeed result in my gaining some feeling for that world. On the Internet I’ve encountered several reviews of the book written by people familiar with the horse-culture described in it, and they all exclaim that Leigh fully and exactly captured that world.

Similarly, many of the detailed conversations between the main characters didn’t add much to my understanding of the characters or to seeing any furtherance of the story, but these dialogues did represent for me a well-understood depiction of peoples’ casual talk, something not often encountered in literature.  So I also see value in the novel (I wonder if she got the idea of people’s casual, seldom-depicted-talk from Jean).

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” For Jean Shepherd. . . this fool’s rainbow”

ShowG. dedication

Also, I propose that the book, beyond dedicating it to Jean, is somewhat related to her real life, not in the basic story, but in its themes and personal relationships.  That story, which, in an early draft she co-wrote with her friend Barbara while they were teenagers and both involved in the equestrian world, contains a plethora of ambiance and information on the sport of show horses.  No wonder that people in the horse business love it.  The flyleaf of the book describes Leigh as a professional rider and a member of the Professional Horseman’s Association.  According to Barbara, Leigh added more sex to the original story at Jean’s suggestion so Barbara chose not to be listed as an author—we don’t know what else Leigh might have changed or added once the authorship resided solely with her.  But in addition to the few sex scenes, that in our day seem rather tame, evidence suggests that Leigh included some autobiographical elements.  (Yes, I finally got a copy of the book and read it carefully, ever seeking grains of grail.)  Recognizing the peril of interpreting fiction as fact in an author’s life, I nevertheless believe that some of the relationship between the fictional Diane and Davy suggests a conscious or unconscious connection to the life of Leigh and Jean.

Although specifics of the book’s story are not similar to the lives of Leigh and Jean, the emotional attitudes and kinds of issues between the two main characters resonate with what happened in Leigh’s real world.  There’s at least a hint of soap opera, of a women’s romance novel, in the love story between Diane, an intelligent, sensitive, and idealistic young woman, and Davy, a smart, but rough-at-the-edges horseman.  The story of girl-meets-boy to whom she’s very attracted: girl-rejects-boy/girl-gets-boy situation bears some connection to Leigh and Jean during times that had to be very difficult for her.  Leigh, strongly attracted to Jean, endured the first years while she worked at his side at WOR and he was still with Lois Nettleton, then she endured the decade after his divorce when they were living together but not married while Jean sometimes treated her badly even on the air (which is to say, in public).

Despite what at times must have seemed to be unfavorable odds for her, Leigh’s 1975 dedication of The Show Gypsies links her persistence to the book’s theme regarding the value of pursuing a dream: “For Jean Shepherd…this fool’s rainbow.”  “This fool’s rainbow” is a line from a song by Merle Haggard referred to in a conversation between Diane and Davy late in the story.  “Every fool has a rainbow” go the lyrics, which continue by saying that the singer will give up a bed of roses for thorns and will chase rainbows “every time the dream is born.”  Davy dreams of winning first place in the horse-show world, a world to which he is strongly committed emotionally and financially.  And Diane, in addition to wanting to have a man she can love and admire, also dreams of success—of being chosen for the U. S. Olympic Equestrian Team which, at the time, required amateur status.  But in order to help save Davy’s financially imperiled horse business, she turns professional, sacrificing that part of her dream for him.  Leigh had artistic ambitions in several creative fields before her relationship with Jean began, but early in their relationship she became obsessed with what she saw as Jean’s genius and his dream of ever-more artistic and popular recognition, so, with her desire to be part of his life and art and to promote them, she focused on his creative work, seeming to sacrifice her independent artistic ambitions—her dreams–she chased the rainbow of his art and his love. To her credit, she became an important part of Jean’s creative life, including its commercial component.

Near the end of the novel, Diane somehow finds the stress of her involvement with Davy and his world too much for her and she rejects their relationship (boy-loses-girl).  Regarding Diane’s dreams and feelings, one should remember Leigh’s feelings toward Jean as she had expressed them in one of her letters to her friend: “…I can conceive of a world without sunlight easier than I can conceive of a world without Jean.”  So, after Diane has left Davy, inevitably they encounter each other and dance for what she expects is “one last time,” but:

“…the suspicion that she could actually live without him ran out of her like rain going down a gutter.  She couldn’t leave him….There was no passion in either of them, just an easy fitting together of two halves of a shattered whole.”

Despite the peculiar rain-and-gutter simile, Diane knows what she feels and knows what her life must be. (This is a bitter-sweet variation on the usual romance-novel finale.)  On the last page of the book, with Davy expressing his love in words as best as he can, saying that he couldn’t take it if she left him again, Diane says, “Of course I’ll go with you.  Only I’ll expect you to make an honest woman out of me.”  He responds, “Yeh, I’ll get around to that one of these days.”  (Was this, indeed, Leigh, fiction writer, expressing her hopes for marriage with Jean? One might well think so.) As for such a guarded promise from Davy in the fiction, nearly two decades after Jean and Leigh first met (1961) and a decade after his life with Lois Nettleton ended (1965; divorce 1967) and two years after The Show Gypsies was published (1975)—at the time when their real life in his art of radio was ending, reader, he married her. (Forgive that line evoking, though altering the Victorian Jane Eyre--in our politically-correct world, one should say, “Reader, they married.”) From a song Diane and Davy hear on the radio, the final words in the book are two lines from the Kris Kristofferson lyric that might well describe not only Diane and Davy’s situation, but Leigh’s assessment of her sometimes turbulent but loving life with Jean:

from the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse

the goin’ up was worth the comin’ down

As early as 1971, Jean had dedicated his second book of stories, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories–and Other Disasters: “To little Leigh with love. I hope it’s been worth it all….” Ten years later Jean dedicated a second book to her, seemingly reiterating his maybe guilty fear that their long-time stressful relationship was too difficult to bear: “May they never regret it.” The life she lived with Jean was apparently well worth the dedication and emotional pain.

fig dedDedication page of Jean’s 1981 book
 A Fistful of Fig Newtons,
published four years after Leigh and Jean married.
Daphne is their dog, who played supporting roles
in several of their projects.

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Tom Lipscomb, not only editor and publisher of Leigh’s book, but her close friend and confidant, speaking in a way that suggests Leigh’s dedication to her passions, comments that even though she was deeply immersed in Jean Shepherd’s life and career, with the world of horses still in her blood, she would sometimes go to Aqueduct and Belmont just to help exercise the thoroughbreds.  In Shepherd’s 1976 New York Times article about the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, he claimed to have been an enthusiast of horse shows for about two decades–about the time he first met Leigh.  One would like to think that Leigh’s interest in horses had rubbed off on Jean.

With her many-sided work for Jean’s advancement, Leigh’s early artistic ambitions didn’t have the freedom to fully flower—except in the writing of The Show Gypsies. Her book might well be her creative, artistic expression of her dedication to Jean.  And, of course, her practical and artistic involvement in his art developed into what became important work for his benefit, some of which contributed to his artistic successes, which, from time to time, he acknowledged on the air:

Now I’m going to credit where credit is due. I want you to listen carefully–all the lighting, many of the bits that were done in the show–including visual bits, the stuff that was done in the dark during the show–we did a lot of things during the dark–we would cut all the lights and use lights and so on–up on the ceiling and so on–these were the work of a very creative person I never talk much about, and that’s Leigh Brown. Leigh created the show… A really good producer–Leigh is really a director/producer. Yes. So she created the set… and it was beautifully done and I want to congratulate Leigh for this–publicly–for a change. And it was great job. (Broadcast the day after his 1973 Carnegie Hall show.)

Early in their relationship she had wondered if she had anything of value to give him. Her achievements in fostering his career and dreams were of substantial value to both of them.

The modern, fictional, romantic narrative ends with Diane speaking to Davy on the book’s final page, when he expresses the fear that he might loose her again. We can imagine echoes of Leigh to Jean:

“Oh come on,” she said; “since when have I been a cop-out?

Of course I’ll go with you.”

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Tom Lipscomb, who knew Leigh well and published/edited her The Show Gypsies, (See my Leigh post Part 4) responded to this current post about the book:

<This was wonderful. Of course a LOT of the choices Leigh made were between us. We talked them over. Jean pushed for the sex scenes and I pushed for the rebellious ones… . Leigh was ordinarily SO quiet. “Too quiet” as they used to say in the Western movies just before the rustling midnight sagebrush turned into a screaming Indian attack.

What was key to me was that these show jumpers were totally dependent for their livelihood on the confidence of the horse owners and their ability to keep winning and running up the price of the horses until they were sold out from under them, JUST when the horse and rider had formed a bond. What I was struck by was the many ways the show jumpers established their independence for their OWN sense of self-worth.

Hence the scene in which they get drunk and start jumping valuable horseflesh over a truck, in which they only risk EVERYTHING… for the sheer illusion of being free….. not really because they were drunk.

I remember Leigh taking me to the National at Madison Square Garden and the line occurring to me as I saw the various Equestrian Teams in their lovely “pinks” and the various show riders in competition  , how elegant it all looked…. “Everything was beautiful at the ballet.”

She laughed and took me with her sideline pass down to the arena where I could see the innumerable darns and patches on the riding coats, invisible from the seats above, but evidence of a thousand falls and missteps and the sheer hand to mouth living most of the riders were enduring. Hardly anyone but members of the National Teams had a backup riding outfit. Leigh said the various repairs each had their own story to go with them the riders remembered well, like the campaign ribbons on a veteran soldier’s chest.

What an eye she had…. And how much I would have missed of her world without the glimpses she afforded me.

“Made you look” might well have been her epitaph ….>

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Allegories/metaphors Part 1

ALLEGORIES AND METAPHORS—HIDDEN IN PLAIN HEARING

Jean Shepherd said that some of his stories were done as allegories.  Barry Farber, quoted in Excelsior, You Fathead! said that:

 He liked me because I could see the allegory.  He would question me like a professor: “What’s the meaning of this?”  “Well, Jean, this is like the eternal war between the younger and the older.”  And he liked that… He was very big on recurring themes.

 On the other hand, Shep’s good friend Murphy Grimes remembers that, although Shepherd, in his later career, claimed to have hidden meanings in his writings, a younger Shepherd had said that his stories “were just stories, some true, some amalgamations of fact and fiction, and the product of a sometimes warped memory and imagination.”  Murphy, himself a sometime standup comedian/storyteller, says that “Personally, I think he was just a great storyteller and as for all the metaphors, I don’t buy it… Leigh pumped his ego big time, pushing the image of him being the great artist to him.”

Regarding the uncertainties of interpreting meaning in someone’s writing, Murphy remembers that a kid once sent Shepherd a school test concerning In God We Trust—All Others Pay Cash, so Shepherd answered the test and sent it back.  The kid submitted it and the teacher wrote in red ink across the test answers that they showed that “either he had not read the book at all or he had absolutely no idea of what the author was trying to say.”  Murphy recalls that Shepherd saved the test and said that he’d had it framed.

So we don’t have a definitive answer, but as Murphy reminds us regarding many issues including this one, “what he would say one day he contradicted on another.”  Yet through evidence within some stories and the nature of what Shepherd told and wrote, at least sometimes there are undeniable allegories, metaphors, and similes.  What follows is not comprehensive, but a mere selection of what I’ve gathered.  I requested that the email shepgroup help in my little quest for examples.  Most of the following are my own list and analysis; others I credit in parentheses at the end of the contribution.

 The A Christmas Story movie and the stories upon which it is based contain

some of the most easily recognizable examples:

 Shepherd claimed that the BB gun story, around which the movie is based, originally published in Playboy with a slightly different title and then in his first book of stories as “Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” was done as an anti-war tale.  The opening words of the printed story are: “DISARM THE TOY INDUSTRY,” and one can easily interpret the tale as suggesting that guns, even toy guns, are dangerous—“You’ll shoot your eye out”—and can cause accidental as well as deliberate injury. And, of course, many believe that giving toy guns to kids to play with promotes in them the idea that shooting real people is less horrific than it should be considered.

The BB gun is also a metaphor for any obsession such as a sports car, mansion, etc. (Joel B).

Flick’s Tavern, the continuing locale from which the linked stories of In God We Trust—from which most of the movie was adapted—as a metaphor for the home of nostalgic illusions and unfulfilled human potentials.

The Little Orphan Annie decoder pin—“A crummy commercial!” shows Ralphie that the source of one’s great expectations in our world are frequently commerce-backed deceptions.   _decoder_date1

Ralphie “beating the crap out of Scut Farkas” (Suellen).  Seems to me to show that bullies of the world might not be as powerful as feared, and can sometimes be defeated by a sufficiently goaded victim.

Santa Claus shoving Ralphie down the slide with his big black boot.  Even an ultimate symbol of loving, jolly largess might in reality just be a truth-telling, grumpy old man not willing to work a minute after hours.

The mother’s blue bowling ball present that she plopped into the old man’s groin as duel symbols—the woman, lacking a good sense of the male psyche, doesn’t know the inappropriateness of a man having a colored bowling ball (especially in the 1940s); and her accidentally (?) dropping it on the center of his masculinity shows her unconscious hostility toward the man of the house.blueball

The leg lamp, the old man’s “major award.” At first it was his joy that he had won something—a major award…when he saw what it was, an erotic masterpiece, a man’s dream-object, he lit up.  He evinced a romantic nature in his appreciation for art—“FRA-GI-LEE.” It was a signal of hope, a dream, a stairway to heaven out of the dreary mill town grit of his daily existence.  The old man’s genuine heartbroken response [to the breaking of the lamp] was a metaphor for…disappointment in married life, being saddled with a mundane family life (Gene B2).

No wonder the mother breaks the lamp—this symbol of male sexual fantasies.  After a failed attempt to repair the lamp, the old man buries it out by the garage, the narrator imagining that he can hear the playing of the ceremonial “taps”—a symbol that the old man’s dreams are dead.  All this interpretation might seem like a stretch unless one knows that Shepherd’s real father, one day, left his family in the lurch, driving off to Florida in a convertible with a blond secretary from the office.

The Bumpus hounds who invade the Parker house and carry off the turkey.  As Shepherd, the narrator, puts it, when you think all is right with the world, disaster may well be about to strike.

“The Chinese turkey,” a duck—served to the conventional American family which is used to the nearly pre-digested sensibilities of meatloaf, must be, even dead and cooked, deprived of its head, that “smiling” symbol that it was once a real animal, not just a piece of food.  

duck dinner

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 A few of the many military metaphors from Signal Corps-Shep. There are probably many more in my Shep’s Army book:

The dead soldier’s effects given to Shepherd, who, feeling uncomfortable with them, abandons them, only to have them returned to him as indicative of the difficulty of walking away from life’s sadness.

Sleeping unknowingly on a dead soldier’s coffin on a train, indicating the close interrelation in war between the living and the dead.

Shepherd’s army glasses, through which he can’t see, suggesting the military’s obliviousness to simple human needs.

Shepherd’s post-service date with a minister’s daughter, meant to reintegrate him into “normal” civilian life, turns out to be a falling-down-drunk, honky-tonk girl.  People tend to be the same, no matter what their background.

PART 2 TO COME

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JEAN SHEPHERD & LEIGH BROWN Part 4

Yes, here’s even more.

We know that from time to time Jean would refer to Leigh on the air, and we know that sometimes he demeaned her–on the air. (See especially, my EYF! pages 293-300). At least once he also made a point of emphatically complementing her during a broadcast. (See EYF! pages 298-299.)

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TOM LIPSCOMB

What else can we know?  Regarding my Excelsior, You Fathead! in 2008, I received an email from Mr. Tom Lipscomb, with whom I’d never had contact. He wrote, noting with obvious surprise that indeed, as I’d never known Shepherd, “I don’t know HOW you did this book. This is the Jean that Leigh and I knew! Lipscomb had published Shep’s 1972 The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and subsequently at another publishing house , Leigh’s 1975 novel, The Show Gypsies. One does not know why Doubleday, who’d published Shep’s In God We Trust and Wanda,  didn’t publish Ferrari–maybe, because it was not Shep’s kid stories, but humorous articles that they didn’t think would sell enough to make their bean-counters happy. (Years later, a publishing conglomerate that includes Doubleday has the rights to it and other Shepherd trade-paperback books, all of which have sold in dozens of trade paperback printings. Stick that in your pot o’ beans!) For whatever cause, Leigh, in her literary-agent role, brought the Ferrari manuscript to publisher Dodd-Mead, where Lipscomb was its Editor-in-Chief. This began a strong professional as well as personal relationship with Leigh and Shep.  Tom has the utmost admiration for Leigh. In one email to me, he explained in part:

lipscolm email 2

 Tom asked me to come over for a chat.  Though unlike Quixote’s steadfast peregrinations through the arid plains of La Mancha, most of my picaresque travels in quest of Shep have been mental rather than geographical–but on a fine summer day I sallied forth in my minivan, voyaging from the ancient Indian “land of many waters,” Massapequa, Long Island, to Tom’s home just south of the wildly wooded glacial moraine of Forest Park, Queens, NY.  As sole provisions, I packed my tape recorder, blank tapes, and fresh batteries.  We met to discuss Jean and Leigh.

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What I didn’t anticipate was that, just as Leigh’s letters had given her self-portrait from 1961-62 when she and Jean first became intellectually and emotionally involved, Tom’s comments would provide new understanding of how Leigh’s talents, acquired and honed years before she met Jean, became, from 1962 onward, an essential force that enabled his unique gifts to flourish. Tom gave me a bit of background on his encounters with Leigh and Jean and why he published Shepherd’s book and hers.

Tom said, “I’d known his work for years.  I have a weakness for Americana.  You’ve got to go out to where the market is.  I like George Ade, I love Robert Benchley, a list of people—that doesn’t mean I don’t love Dorothy Parker, too–but basically, I knew there was a market in the United States for American stuff, and the thing that puzzles the New York Times people and my friends in the literary group always is, ‘Why would anybody buy a book by Bill O’Reilly?’  And I said, ‘Because they think it’s terrific stuff!’  They love it!  They’re normal Americans.” Looking at me, Tom said, “You’re not a normal American—you’re a neurotic New Yorker.  And you worry about all kinds of things nobody else in the country gives a shit about.  They’re worried about the NASCAR races.”

1972-11-dd_022_ferrari_cover

show gypsies

So Tom published Ferrari and a couple of years later, when he co-founded a new publishing company, he did Leigh’s The Show Gypsies.  He talked about Leigh as an expert horse-woman, an expert in show-jumping, the subject of her novel.  She seemed to be fearless.  Tom said, “She lost all her teeth jumping.  She had total plates.”  He learned from her that “the show jumper’s job is to sell horses.  That’s their real job.   The riders would work for certain owners.  The rider had to deal with the personality of the owner, the objectives of the owner, the personality of the horse, and the competition.  That’s pretty sophisticated stuff—commodity traders don’t have that tough a life. Plus, the riders must have their own athletic ability to make it all translate.  So you think of what she did in life for a couple of years there, as an attractive blonde—that’s pretty interesting.  So I thought The Show Gypsies was a good book—I enjoyed publishing it.”  He was obviously telling me all this not only to explain why he published that book but also to show how Leigh’s many-faceted abilities translated into her successful efforts to promote Jean’s works in all media.

 “She was toe-to-toe with anybody,” Tom told me.  “She was one of the boys when it came to that kind of role.  She was just a delight.  When you were inside her world, she never missed a trick.  Everybody’s name, she’d know what this was and what that was and she’d have the horse’s weight, whether it was a crummy horse or a good horse, why the horse shied away.  So it wasn’t just that she’d been a show jumper—she was that kind of observer of absolutely everything. 

“When she sat in a room with Jean and somebody else and they’d have a long conversation, she wouldn’t say a word, and afterwards Jean would say, ‘Well, what do you think?  How’d it go?’  And it was like listening to an intelligent computer that cut through all the crap and that did the three deal-points that mattered in the entire four-hour conversation.  Then she’d come with, ‘I wouldn’t trust him.  I don’t think that gig will ever happen.  Consider it a free dinner, Jean.  That’s what you got out of this.’  And Jean would kind of weakly protest, ‘Gee, he seemed like such a nice guy.  And all the things he’s done and all the people he knows.’  She said, ‘I wouldn’t bet on it.’”

So Tom felt that Leigh was a major force behind Jean’s success in his career.  “Jean’s always in a sales mode.  He seldom picks up that he’s pissing off somebody magnificently.  He won’t pick it up.  Whatever he’s doing, he’ll keep on doing.  And Leigh would pick it up and say something like, ‘Well, Jean, why don’t you tell him about the time you were training in the Army down in Florida.’  And he’ll move right over.  He won’t know what ditch she pulled him out of.”

In that regard, I mentioned that Bob Clark, director of Jean’s A Christmas Story, commented that Jean became a problem on the set and that after a while Clark had to see that Jean went home, and that when Steven Spielberg met Jean to talk over doing the narration for the forthcoming sitcom, The Wonder Years, Spielberg told Clark that there was a problem.  Tom, who had discussed Jean with Clark, said that:

“It wouldn’t be anything Jean said that turned Spielberg off—it’s rather, how do you get a nozzle on this fire hose?  You can’t have him take up all this time.  Production companies are as efficient as they can be—you’ve got to shoot—a movie has to shoot on-budget in 21 days, 34 days, whatever. You can’t have a fire hose drowning everybody, delaying everything, screwing everything up.”

Then Tom put it another way: “No gearshift on Jean.  Jean was always flat out.  What Leigh did is she would direct him, she knew what his hot buttons were.  She pushed the right button and the lawnmower, instead of heading up the front steps or into a wading pool full of toddlers, would go back to another patch of lawn that needed mowing.  That’s one of the things that goes wrong with careers of entertainers—quite often they get too big for their britches.  Now, some of it’s arrogance.  It wasn’t arrogance with Jean, it was this extraordinary manic personality.  Manic in the sense of inexhaustible energy on full throttle at all times.”

I said that I would have thought it was also ego.

 “I don’t think it came from ego as much as from a childish sense of wonder—at the world and everything in it,” Tom said.  “He seemed fresh all the time, and like the child who tells you ‘the grass is green’ with wonder in his voice, Jean is seeing everything new all the time.  He would tell you the same story fifteen times, changing it each time, not because of his ego, but because it would occur to him again—it would pop up, and I quite enjoyed it.  I found it quite interesting.  I like talent.  I put up with a lot of crap from talent.”

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So Tom, with his extended contact with Jean and Leigh, encountered many aspects of their professional life in addition to some of their personal conflicts.  He got to know Leigh especially well.  “What a gal she was!  She was just a remarkable person.  Remarkable person.  And she and Jean would have these terrific fights and I guess I got to hear what it looked like from her side, and she had a dry wit about her.  She wasn’t just a crazy lady screaming about her boyfriend.  She was very, very, very funny.” 

As a close friend of theirs and using his professional observation, Tom recognized Leigh’s importance as Jean’s enabler in the real world.  “She was incredibly loyal to Jean, spent all kinds of time talking to me about his talents and abilities—and what to do with them,” Tom told me.  “And her thinking was top notch.  After all, what does a publisher do—our job is to husband talent and bring it to the marketplace—so I had a lot of skill-sets that she wanted to hear about.”  To her own innate perceptions and abilities, she added Tom’s knowledge of the creative world’s marketplace.

For Tom, here again is one important example of what he sees as Leigh’s effect on Jean’s career:  When Leigh and Tom first met in 1971 she said that it was the Red Ryder BB-gun story that would eventually become Jean’s most important success.  She was convinced it would be the ultimate perennial Christmas movie like It’s a Wonderful Life and make him a fortune. She never forgot.  Fourteen years later A Christmas Story proved that Leigh Brown, co-writer with Jean and Bob Clark,  just as at so many other times, was right on the money.

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Jean Shepherd had many women in his life, and sometimes, over the span of it, he might truthfully have been called an MCP, but that would not have been the whole truth–there’s more to the story.  There were times when he loved and appreciated some of the women in his life—and through our new-found knowledge encountered during our diverse, picaresque episodes, we’ve come to much better understand and appreciate the women, too.  Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown, we see, were important in his world.

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Some of the material in my blog posts comes from my miscellaneous thoughts and gatherings subsequent to Excelsior, You Fathead!’s publication. The subtitle of one of those two resultant, unpublished book manuscripts is: “Questing for Jean Shepherd.” Part of that manuscript’s original dedication belongs here:

….And to the memory of two women who were so important

to the life and legacy of Jean Shepherd,

Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown.

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MORE ESSENTIALS ABOUT LEIGH BROWN FOLLOW

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JEAN SHEPHERD — “I Love Cars, So There!”

Among the many aspects of Americana that Shepherd enjoyed was his love of cars. Here in italic (now with some added illustrations), is the beginning of my early post about the Bugatti sports carimgres

(I know I’ve posted this photo before, but I’m obsessed with it.)

and the Royale limo, which he did a pen and ink drawing of that I possess:BUGATTI DRWG SCAN

Jean Shepherd was a connoisseur of many arts, including the design and driving of cars, motorcycles and the like.  His interest in them extended to his role as emcee of the Greenwich Village sports and antique car rallies from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s,

31 chevy with_Miss_Beatnick-mcdarrah

(Miss Beatnick, 1959, with Shep’s 1931 Chevrolet Independence,

photo by Fred McDarrah, image from http://www.flicklives.com )

to the scores of columns he wrote for Car and Driver magazinecar & driver in the 1970s and, not least, to his penchant for racing perilously through the streets of New York City and environs on his motorcycle or scooter, in his Morgan or Porsche, or in some other exotic species of automobile, such as an Isetta and a  funky little Goggomobil whenever he could.  He was, indeed, a motor-cuckoo—a car-cuckoo.  1959goggo_ad

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He often spoke about them in his broadcasts, many times about his childhood being driven in them by his father, “an Oldsmobile man,” in his teenage years driving them and riding in them. After all he was from the Midwest and had been to the Indianapolis 500.

He talked about his father’s troubles with keeping the family car going–his father was a connoisseur of used cars. Many will recall the trouble with the family car as it appears in A Christmas Story. When he got out of the army and before he’d gotten a job, he told how he had driven his MG-TD sports car up north, been spooked by the strange darkness of the sky in the morning, and had rushed back home. Other than the indomineble Morgan

morganmg.td

(Morgan in black and white photo–the classic Morgan color was

a dark forest green known as “British racing green.”

MG-TD in color. Color cars that Shep had are unknown.

I had a bright red MG-TD, just as the one pictured.)

 the MG he drove was the last of the old-style sports cars, the TC and TD models said to have been brought back to the States by GIs in the first years after WW II, beginning the sports car popularity in this country.)

He once mentioned that in his early days, he’d been in charge of a VW dealership (If true, this probably would have been in the late 1940s or early 1950s). One of his stories was published in the 1967 Volkswagen promotional booklet that contained a selection of articles and cartoons about VWs, Think Small. Shep’s article is the longest piece in the publication and it is a story about buying his first car–but it has nothing to do with VWs:

shep vw

He talked about what it was like to be a passenger when his father was driving the family somewhere. He said his own first car was a black, 1933 Ford Roadster. Sometimes he talked about cars he owned as a teenager, in such stories as going on a date and the problems of getting to the girl’s house when trying to pass through a herd of turkeys and other problems trying to get the car to function.

He talked about going to the Indianapolis 500 with his father, and he even wrote a piece for Popular Mechanics about the Indy 500. I discuss it in one of my unpublished manuscripts about Shep:

“The Two Faces of Indy,” a May 1976 article on the Indianapolis 500 car race.  When he writes about something he dislikes, for me the result is only occasionally amusing, a cranky burlesque.  But here, as he relates the racing tradition to American customs, one of his favorite themes, his style and his sharp eye for the unexpected, yet telling detail, shine.  Note how he wraps it all up with a disparaging comment on the common folk, in a long, one-sentence concluding paragraph chock-full of crying, barking, popping of cans, and the sun-struck image of eating a wiener:

“Weeks before the day of the race, the faithful begin to gather from all parts of the land, lining the streets of Indianapolis with their cars bumper to bumper, their sleeping bags, their campfires, their jackets covered with patches, their beer cans, their crying babies and barking dogs, all waiting for that boom of the cannon which announces that the infield is open, to go charging fender to fender like a herd of demented buffalo to get that same spot they have occupied for years, to put up the tent and pop the first can, and to instinctively celebrate something indefinable in the restless American spirit, the urge to move, to compete, and to eat hot dogs in the sun.”

In May of 1974 he published three articles about the Indy 500 in the New York Times.  In one, he wrote:

“To understand the 500, you have to have at least a faint whiff in your nostrils of those far-off times in the dreamy Indiana cornfields when the roar of a motor was as incredibly magical to the earthbound natives as space travel is to us today.”

He owned several cars that he advertised on his radio shows, including the English Rover and the French Peugeot. One of his Jean Shepherd’s America episodes is all about cars, includes him waiting for his new car to come off the line in Detroit, and him while taking a lap around Indy with racing great Duke Nalon. The title of the episode is “I Love Cars, So There, Ralph Nader.” (Nader was well-known for criticizing the quality of many American products, including cars.)

shep in JSA Cars

Shep at the wheel.

One of my favorite stories about Shepherd and cars is him claiming that in his over-night radio days, to get to the station’s transmitter for his show, he would race down the New Jersey Turnpike in his Porsche, and one night he crashed it into the WOR Radio’s 50,000 Watt cooling pool.

porscheThis is a Porsche of about the time Shepherd

said he had one, 1956. I assume he had a convertible.

I don’t know what color. Visually, later models were slimmed down

and lose the look of power those of this era had. No photo does justice to

the powerful look of this car–I describe it as looking

rounded and muscular and like a clenched fist.

Shepherd also, at times, drove a scooter and a motorcycle in addition to piloting his own small plane.

shep in gocart

Shep at the wheel

Among other things, Jean Shepherd lived a life of improvisation (which includes some daring), creativity, adventure, and a sense of widespread taste in the arts. I believe the summit of much of all this in his life was in the 1950s to the mid-1970s. And cars were a kind of symbolic embodiment of it all.

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PART OF COMMENT BY JOEL

Beyond cars, imagine he saw the growth of radio into a ubiquitous medium. The transformation of air travel from a military to a civilian more of transportation. The talkies. Television. The ability to travel long distances, affordably, happened in his youth, and travel he did.

His excitement over technology, whether cars, boats, motorcycles or airplanes was infectious. And as a sports car dreaming kid, he fed my fantasies.

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JEAN SHEPHERD & LEIGH BROWN Part 3

Leigh’s letters can’t hurt any of the protagonists now.  But they can help us.  Through them we know more about the simple, complex, wise and foolish, foible-filled humanity of people we’d had only a shallow image of before. And we can maybe understand better both the personal and professional relationship between Leigh and Jean.

The letters we possess straddle the crossroads of Jean and Leigh’s lives.  He’d recently married the up-and-coming actress who was beginning to surpass him financially and in renown, and he’d left behind his longer, later-at-night, more contemplative, expansive style of broadcasting for the shorter and tighter format compatible to his larger, newly predominant, school-age audience.  And he had begun expanding into more commercial fields such as soon beginning to write for Playboy.  As for Leigh, the artistically ambitious young hippy chick, in her quest for her own, not-quite-yet-articulated personal grail, began an affair with this man she idolized, and she took a job at WOR as a gofer.  She would have to endure, for at least a couple of years, the role as the secret lover of a married man who would have hung onto his wife at all costs, and who, though losing the wife, sometimes tormented that lover, sometimes publicly, for another decade before they shared that wedded bond that continued sustaining the two of them emotionally and professionally for another two decades.

What follows are thoughts of two other women on the issue of “standing by their men.”:

 “Most girls took on the life of their boyfriends unquestioningly and made their own lives within those boundaries.  Instinctually I chafed at that but did my best until I couldn’t breathe.”  So wrote Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan’s lover for four years, in her A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties.  Lois Nettleton, with her ever-more successful acting career in the 1960s, felt this same difficulty and forty years later expressed it to me: “Leigh must have been perfect for him in some way—being an adoring, devoted, worshipful fan.  I left him out of self-preservation.”

Leigh, with her own artistic aspirations and activities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, managed to successfully work both sides of a couple’s creative urges.  She stuck with her man, supported the genius, and with her professional world tied to Jean’s, she raised herself up to be his assistant, producer, editor, co-writer, and even sound-and-scenic designer—his all-around artistic associate.

Although Jean seemed to have had a positive relationship with his mother, we hadn’t known much about Leigh or about the other women in his life until recently.  We know virtually nothing about the real or imagined girls of his youth except for Dorothy Anderson Martin, to whom he wrote unavailable “love letters” while in the Army and to whom he sent a number of photos of himself, at least one of which he inscribed with his love.  But what do we know beyond that? (I wouldn’t believe what he may have said in any of his “stories.”)

Until very recently we’d known very little. There was the totally unknown first wife, there was wife number two, Joan Warner, who refused to say anything. ” The Vampire Lady” I interviewed, after my first book was published, appeared miraculously out of the e-mail-world, but would say nothing except that she’d been a “romantic interest” of his in the earliest New York years (before Lois).

Then Lois Nettleton who, thanks to new information, we began to understand by herself and in relation to Jean and his work.  And then the previously almost imperceptible Leigh Brown.  Lois’s executor and friend told me that Jean wanted to continue with Lois even after she’d discovered his “secret life” and dismissed him from her presence.  As we know, sometimes during the period when Lois first threw Jean out around 1965, he sometimes sang mock-plaintively on his broadcasts, “After you’ve gone and left me crying….you’ll feel blue, you’ll feel sad, you’ll miss the dearest pal you’ve ever had.”  Now when we rehear one of those mid-1960s renditions, it’ll have a bit more resonance, won’t it?  Apparently, Shep wanted to have his cake and more cake and more cake but Lois decided that she wasn’t giving him any more of hers.

As we can see by Leigh’s written observations of Jean’s mind and attitudes, he must have talked a lot to her, even beyond what she heard of him on the radio, but we don’t know what she might have said to him or even if she managed to get a word in edgewise.  So what did he think of this cute, artsy, smarty little adorable acolyte back in the early 1960s?  We have no clue—it’s tantalizing and forever beyond more than unreliable surmise.  But as for me, Nancy Leigh Brown won me over.  I used to think she was a cute chick, clever, intelligent, strong, and a shrewd home-breaker.  She was so much more than that.  Yes, Leigh Brown Shepherd had her faults—her sins—but she was a more fascinating person, a better person, than I ever would have imagined.  Now I know her at least a little bit, and my own life is richer for it.

Leigh Brown, now flesh and blood, emotion and intellect, self-aware and clever enough to pursue, grasp, and hold onto for the rest of her life that clever egoist and libertine, Jean Shepherd.  With all her being she not only held his body and soul (at least we can imagine so) but would make herself part of his creative ambitions.  She helped guide her Shepherd through creative fields—the competitive, no-holds-barred jungle of the sometimes cruelly unfair and unappreciative Great American Wasteland of show biz life known as Entertainment. Fred Barzyk, Jean’s director/producer on many of his TV projects, says: “Leigh was the tenacious one who tried to keep it organized–tried to keep the space around him clear so he could continue to do his thing….She was sort of his enabler.”  She was essential in providing what he needed to bolster his confidence in his creative genius and to carry on his quests in his career.  What Laurie Squire, their broadcast producer for 1976-1977, saw manifest during that last radio year, was that Leigh, by then, had the wherewithal to hold her own with the best of them.

And knowing Leigh through her letters, we can understand how she managed it.  Ready for this?  She was wise, perceptive, inventive, creative, vulnerable, thoughtful, funny, and truly a match for ol’ Shep.  She had street smarts, plain luck, skill, she was dogged, dauntless, and driven, she was single-minded, tough, and unyielding, and she knew when to throw caution to the winds.  She was a quick read and knew how to put her skills to use.  From her earliest days at WOR, she grew in professional stature and for nearly forty years, she was Jean Shepherd’s enabler.  Ladies and gentlemen, put it all together—she was quite a woman.

Yes, there’s even more.

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