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JEAN SHEPHERD Trivial Pursuit a la Shep

“I’LL AWARD THE BRASS FIGLAGEE

WITH BRONZE OAK LEAF PALM

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

TO THE FIRST PERSON WHO CAN TELL ME…”

From time to time, Shepherd awarded the above. (That’s my interpretation of what it looks like, nestled on a bed of excelsior, as photographed by Jim Clavin.) Some of the following I quote from my “Cracks in the Sidewalk” chapter of Excelsior, You Fathead! :

Shepherd awards it for a manifestly minor feat of knowledge and memory. Every Shepherd listener heard that request for a piece of trivia many times. Within the sphere of humanity’s array of foible-filled activities, there lies the peculiar fascination with trivia, the often arcane and frequently inconsequential detail. Shepherd, with his pleasure in details, and his insistence that there is often more to life than most of us perceive, delighted in showing off his knowledge and his ability to make unexpected connections. It has been suggested that he originated the use of the word as used today to designate minor, nonessential facts of our existence….Of course, we see that, for him, the minor often signaled the major.

Trivia represents the culture of the common man, with whom Jean Shepherd had an uneasy love/hate relationship–because the common man is the dominant stuff of American culture, the frequent subject of his humor, and because he was both the harshly critical observer and the self-aware participant enjoying the foible. Big ideas and high culture are not the concerns of the common man–it’s the little things that define his life. Besides, these little things dominate not just the common man’s thoughts, but occupy more of everybody’s time than mot of us are willing to admit. He once commented that rather than concentrating on great thoughts, even the best of us are too often deeply preoccupied with what kind of gas millage we get.

As my informant Tom Lipscomb put it to me, some of New-York-types may be absorbed in big issues, but most other Americans are obsessed with NASCAR.  To put it bluntly, regarding trivia, Shep was full of it (full of trivia). And frequently said, “Why do I remember this stuff?” As I continued in my book in full Shep-trivial-pursuit, I wrote, “…the implication was that knowing the tiny piece represented knowledgeable familiarity with its surrounding gestalt. It represented the ability to make connections from a vast mental storehouse of information (not the result of a college education, but of his intelligence and far-flung interests).”

And why. indeed, are we pursuing this now? Recently, Shep sleuth Steve Glazer encountered and produced an article from Drexel University, January 28, 1966, by a Mike Wedler (a Shep fan, naturally):

What was the name of the Green Hornet’s car? Who was his manservant? What high school did Jack Armstrong attend?

With these, and with questions of similar import, the game of Trivia was invented in 1957 by WOR radio personality Jean Shepherd….:

shep invents trivia0009

A Christmas Story enthusiasts will remember the trivia-moment at the Shepherd Hammond-homestead when the old man, working on a newspaper contest, asks, “What was the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse?” An outrageous trivia question (did the Lone Ranger even HAVE a nephew? If he did, did the nephew have a horse?) In a bizarre piece of knowledge, Mrs. Shepherd comments that its name was “Victor.” As she nonchalantly puts it, “Everybody knows that.” In a perfect Shepherd world, everybody would always know everything like that crumb of immortal American history.

By the way, the next time anyone asks who invented “Trivial Pursuit,”

knowledgeable Shepherd fans (who believe everything a

university newspaper puts in print), will be able to say

(nonchalantly),

“Jean Parker Shepherd invented the pursuit of trivia–everybody knows that!”

_____________________________________________________

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4 Comments

  1. mygingerpig says:

    I mentioned in an earlier post that this “game” Shep played was one of several that engaged his audience in ways no other radio host or program did at that time, or since (except for call-in shows). One could hear listeners shouting out the answer to their radio, frustrated that Shep could not hear them. He rarely gave the answer, which was another aspect of his audience engagement techniques. His genius for bringing his listeners into his world was profound and unique.

    Another technique was to deliberately mispronounce the name of some character in his trivia journeys. He called Dicken’s character “Ebineezer Stooge” every time he referred to him, again causing some listeners to shout “No that isn’t his name.”

    I think Shep’s love of trivia was a way for him to separate himself from the average joe. His love of jazz led him to obscure and very niche artists, rarely to talk about “popular” musicians. He was hip to the inside, he wanted people to know.

    Joel

  2. Arthur Kurtz says:

    As an almost 60-ish individual with indelible memories of listening to Shep with a transistor radio hidden under my pillow in Brooklyn, New York, I find your website priceless. Thank you for the imagery and insights. Glancing on this page at the 1960’s college newspaper article ‘Confessions of a Triviaphile’ by Mike Wadler, clearly a great fan of Shepherd, I found myself googling him. Under the title “The Miracle Meal,” on a ‘Toastmasters’ website, he gives a talk reminiscing about his childhood. I wonder whether he still realizes the influence Shepherd had on him and his storytelling.

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