(Photo captured from http://www.flicklives.com)
Shepherd drove many different kinds of cars, a scooter, and at least one motorcycle. He and others have described their experiences aboard his Cushman. He apparently liked to drive fast. Reports suggest that the experience was thrilling–and somewhat scary for his passengers. I transcribe some of his broadcast about riding it in my Excelsior, You Fathead! Here’s what he had to say:
I’m riding along on my motorcycle. I’m just going along, and there’s a car behind me and to my right–you see–you know where everything is–and we’re on a one-way street. Namely Second Avenue. And we’re gooing down Second Avenue. Just light to light, and without any warning my ears pick up this pshish-hihihi–the sound of tires doing it–and sure enough, out of the corner of my eye I see this coming like a bat out of hell across my bow! These chicks are just cutting me off for the sheer kicks of it! they go WHOOO! And I go SCHHOOO! I’m pretty good on that little motorcycle now, so they couldn’t really do it–they couldn’t throw me up on the sidewalk. And these chicks are: “Marlon Brando, buddy?”
And they: “All right!”
I was ready to go! Sadly enough they chickened out. It would have been the first true fistfight!
Helen Gee, founder and first owner of The Limelight cafe (which was, at that time, a photo gallery) In a personal interview with me in her Manhattan apartment she described her experience:
He invited me to ride on his motorcycle. What a mistake. I thought he was going to kill himself–or me. [He drove] very fast…he’d swerve and I was hanging on. He did have an accident at one point, and he also didn’t see too well. He was wearing contacts.
Lois Nettleton, Jean’s girlfriend and then wife (1956-1967 in total). She read the inscribed copy of EYF! I’d sent her and wrote many notes about the book to discuss with me, but her final illness prevented such a meeting. Her executor gave me the several dozen small, hand-written sheets. On one she described her memory of riding with Jean on his motorcycle:
We went all over on his motorcycle–even in the rain or dressed formally.
Tanya Grossinger, author and PR person for Playboy. friend of Jean’s in the 1960s:
My relationship with the master storyteller and radio personality began on two levels. His late night radio show on WOR drew an audience similar to avid Playboy readers and with my prodding, he made it a point to mention the magazine, including his own short stories, quite often. He was described by many of his peers as an oddball, detached, and downright bizarre. I, on the other hand, delighted in his idiosyncrasies. Our relationship was platonic from the start and unusual to the end. I never knew when I would hear from him but when I did, I knew the outcome would be unforgettable.
One night very late at the Playboy Club where I periodically entertained him, I received a call. Jean had just finished his radio show; did I want a lift home? Anyone on the corner of E. 59th St. that night couldn’t possibly have missed me. Straddling his waist, not sure where to put my legs and hanging on for dear life, there I was hugging Jean and screaming my head off as we careened down Fifth Avenue, the first time I was ever on a motorcycle. It was late summer and Washington Square Park was bustling. As we approached the famous Arch on lower Fifth Avenue, I let out a cry. “Ouch!” Someone in a nearby apartment house had flung an egg, a raw one, at my head (protective helmets were not mandatory at the time.) Jean turned to check that I wasn’t injured and accelerated to full speed. Two blocks later he pulled up to a local diner. “I’ll be right back.” It took close to ten minutes before he returned, a container in his outstretched hand. “Some bacon to go with your egg, Madame!”
In December, 1958 and early 1959, Shepherd produced (with Lois Nettleton, Shel Silverstein, Herb Gardner, and a few others), his off-Broadway theater-piece, “Look, Charlie.” It only had about a half-dozen performances. Shel drew the folded playbill, on the front of which, as it’s reported, that’s Shep riding up the letter K of the title, so Shep and his motorcycle are immortalized there. (I bought a copy of the program on ebay from Lois’ estate. The first offered for sale went for many hundreds; this one I got for about $60. This cropped image reproduces with a toned background instead of white–the tone is the light brown stain obviously caused by a newspaper clipping on top of it as it had been stored for decades):
Shepherd, Cushman, chirpers, and barkers.