“I’LL AWARD THE BRASS FIGLAGEE
WITH BRONZE OAK LEAF PALM
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….:
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
“Jean Parker Shepherd invented the pursuit of trivia–everybody knows that!”