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Home » A Christmas Story » JEAN SHEPHERD–His books’ contents

JEAN SHEPHERD–His books’ contents

A basic description of Shep’s basic books.

Only those which he entirely wrote as stories and articles. So this does not include The Phantom of the Open Hearth, which is the script of the video drama based on several of his previously published stories.

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IGWT cover

IN GOD WE TRUST: ALL OTHERS PAY CASH

Doubleday, 1966

The book’s title doesn’t reference a story title, but refers to a sign in Flick’s Tap when Ralph is leaving, described on the last page of the book:

I glanced back over the mob of lumberjacketed, safety-shoed beer drinkers. Above the bar, under a Christmas wreath I noticed for the first time, a sign:

IN GOD WE TRUST

ALL OTHERS PAY CASH

On a WOR program, Shep announced that he had written a novel and had delivered it, complete, to his publisher. The dust jacket of the book says, “a novel by.” The full-page ad by Doubleday, appearing in the New York Times Book Review refers to it as a novel. The author’s disclaimer states:

The characters, places, and events described herein are entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.

Other than the specific wording, that kind of disclaimer is rather standard, but here Shepherd does his best to insist that the entire book is fiction, despite what listeners and nearly everyone subsequently has called autobiographical or semi-autobiographical. The book’s dedication states:

To my Mother, and my Kid Brother

And the Rest of the Bunch…

Many of the stories originally appeared in Playboy. The contents consists of Ralph Parker (Shep) returning to his home town as a reporter. He visits Flick in the tavern his father had run, and which he now owns and in which he tends bar. They discuss old times in short chapters that alternate as lead-ins to short stories about their past when they were kids.  All the short stories concern their young childhood when they were about ten or twelve, up to and including dating age. Reports indicate that the book sold exceedingly well.

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Wanda Hickey cover

WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES: AND OTHER DISASTERS

Doubleday, 1971

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s stories of that name. The stories originally appeared in Playboy. The stories are of Ralphie as a kid, but also includes “The Return of the Smiling Wimpy Doll,” the story of Shep as an adult grown up, living in Manhattan and receiving a box with a note:

Merry Christmas. I was cleaning out the basement the other day and I came across all kinds of junk you had when you were little. I figured rather than throw it out, I’d sent it on to you. A lot of it is still good and you might want to play with it, especially the Kangaroo Spring-Shus that Aunt Min gave you for Christmas.

Love,

Mom

After looking through the mementos of his childhood, he considers hauling the box-full out to the garbage landing of his apartment:

But I chickened out. Staggering under the load, I dragged my childhood to the hall closet.

We note that his childhood is, symbolically, a staggering load, and that he can’t just trash it. He saves it all (nostalgically), on his closet’s top shelf. A wonderful and ironic way of dealing with his past. Yes, the Jean Shepherd persona succumbs to nostalgia!

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Ferrari cover

THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM

Dodd, Mead 1972

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s articles of that name. Most of these articles (not fictional stories) are curmudgeonly commentary on a variety of subjects that Shepherd found annoying. Many of the comic articles are reprints of his nearly-monthly columns in the magazine Car and Driver. (Note that some of the Car and Driver articles of his have nothing to do with cars or drivers, but they published them anyway. Shep’s then-editor at C. and D. told me that he often had trouble getting Jean’s article in a timely manner for the magazines deadlines. Sometimes Jean, during their phone call regarding the submission on time, simply spoke the article–apparently off the cuff–during their conversation, and that is what was published.)

Why did Leigh Brown have to go peddling the Ferrari  manuscript as Jean’s agent, rather than Doubleday being delighted to publish it? Recently I asked Tom Lipscolm, who was then editor and publisher at Dodd, Mead. Our correspondence went like this:

EBB: A question that has been occupying my thoughts for a long time.  As Jean’s first two books of stories, IN GOD WE TRUST, and WANDA HICKEY, both sold well with Doubleday, why did he and Leigh seek publication of THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM with another publisher?

Did Doubleday feel that, as the manuscript wasn’t exclusively of kid stories, that it wouldn’t sell well enough? For some reason had they had enough of Shepherd? Did the manuscript come too closely on the heels of the previous one? What might explain that they went elsewhere?

TL: My recollection is that the editor at Doubleday whose name I forget, simply wasn’t able to get a collection of auto magazine stories through the editorial board. Jean and Lee liked him, but felt he was narrow gauge given the larger list of subjects they wanted to cover. They were snobs. I am not sure anyone there on their ed board READ them. I thought they were charming and a look at American culture that foreshadowed what would become his PBS series.. JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA.

In short… I simply lucked out.

ferrari title page

Title page with portion of a Shep ink drawing

The Shepherd line drawings scattered through the book are mostly of New York City buildings and other inanimate objects. Although the book was published in 1972 (same year as Wanda Hickey), my impression is that Shepherd was most involved doing his drawings in the late 50s and early 60s, when he would go out on sketching expeditions with Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman, or others. Indeed, of the dates seen in a few of the drawings, they are late 50s up to 1960. I can imagine that, to give this miscellany of text  material some additional interest, Jean and Leigh sifted through sheaves of old drawings.

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Fig Newtons

A FISTFUL OF FIG NEWTONS

Doubleday 1981

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s stories of that name. There are a couple of actual fictional stories scattered among the articles. The items are mostly reprints from magazines such as Playboy and Car and Driver, etc. However, the much-loved army story, “The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler” (aka “Troop Train Ernie”) seems not to have been previously printed–STRANGE! Shep told the story several times on his broadcasts.

“The Whole Fun Catalog of 1929” article, an appreciation by Shep of the quirky catalog of curiosities and gags, was recycled several times after originally being written as the introduction to the reprinting of the Johnson Smith and Co. Catalog original.

[Note: although I have these four books, I took the easy way out and copied/pasted

the images here from http://www.flicklives.com.]

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3 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    A few years ago I was enjoying a night of too many beers and “remember when” with some old buddies when the discussion turned to Shep’s stories. We debated how a full-length Jean Shepherd novel might have worked out had he chosen to write one. The eventual concensus? That his brilliance was much like that of the Three Stooges. Their artistry was perfect for a 15-minute short, but downright mediocre for a full-length movie. I haven’t thought about that night until I read this post and am now re-visiting my opinion. I’d be interested to hear what other fans think.

  2. mygingerpig says:

    That is an interesting subject, Tom. It is hard to tell, since he did not write a full-length novel. His stories have an arc with a perfect build up and ending. A full length work would have to be a tapestry of detail that he was so good at creating wrapped around a plot. His big themes: school, army, growing up, life’s folly might be stretched. One thinks of George Ade, whose works were short. On the other hand, Mark Twain, with whom Shepherd is often compared, found the long form worked well for him. I can imagine him writing a long form story about a kid growing up from grade school, through the army in to the adult working world.
    __Joel

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