HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Some time after Shep first perpetrated it (said to have been in April of 1956), a Wall Street Journal writer, who knew of the hoax, it’s said, asked Shep if he could publish a piece revealing the fakery.
Ads appeared in the Village Voice. The authors’ publication day celebration, in September, just a few months after the original hoax was perpetrated, took place at Liggett’s Drugstore on Times Square, NYC.
Ad image from http://www.flicklives.com
WHO WROTE THE BOOK?
Publisher Ian Ballantine, who may or may not have been originally aware of the hoax, it’s said, sought out the author. Eventually he, Shep, and Si-fi author Theodore Sturgeon met and decided to publish the book. It’s said that the basic story idea was by Shepherd. It’s said that Sturgeon wrote as fast as he could, fell asleep before the last chapter was written, and Betty Ballantine, wife/editor, says she wrote the last chapter. Kelly Freas of Mad Magazine fame, did the cover, including a couple of clues regarding the hoax. Some references to the book do not include Shep as the instigator–probably because the writer didn’t know it.
CLUES AND MISSING INFO
(In the scene on the Ballantine cover is a tavern sign. As the book’s narrative puts it, “A shepherd’s crook and a bony sturgeon swung in the bright noon sun over the entrance to the Fish and Staff.” A sign emblazoned on the fancy coach says EXCELSIOR. There is no photo credit of Shep/Ewing on the back cover or elsewhere, but a flier for the book, with a large photo of Shep/Ewing credits Roy Schact. In the back of the book,”Ewing” thanks Shepherd, Sturgeon, and Shep’s Night People for helping bring the book into existence.
The New York Times Book Review did a review and described the photo of the fake Frederick R. Ewing as “Jean Shepherd.” The Authors Guild quarterly, in its timeline of 20th and 21st century hoaxes, lists I, Libertine. My descriptive essay of the hoax appeared in Paperback Parade, February, 2006, a fanzine, under the title “I, Libertine–from Hoax to Best-Selling Paperback.”
Paperback Parade opening page of article
A book on Sex, Scandal, and Celebrity in Late Eighteenth-Century England, by Matthew J. Kinservik includes an entire chapter near the end, recounting the I, Libertine hoax.
The main female character, it seems, was a real person:
“I, Libertine includes all the main events of Elizabeth’s remarkable story, but it also takes great liberties, for which Shepherd and Sturgeon were unapologetic, In an afterword, they invite ‘historically-minded sharpshooters to draw their beads on this narrative….When they are done, let them proceed to Aesop and delete everything they find there about talking animals.’ “
Joyce Brabner wrote an article about it that appears online. (I haven’t been able to find/access it recently). It begins, “Late-night radio yarn spinner Jean Shepherd was convinced that the New York Times Best Seller List was a sucker’s game. He decided to test the theory: Some little guy(‘s)…job is to call bookstores and find out what’s selling this week. Well, Fred Applerot recently bought 500 copies of Who Shot John?, and he still has 497 copies on the shelf. The guy calls and asks what’s hot…”Who shot John? Big Hit!” the little guy puts it on his list and soon everyone goes out and buys it!
Joyce Brabner, also, sometimes co-author with
her husband Harvey Pekar (now deceased) of “American Splendor,”
the autobiographical, episodic, graphic novel
published first as individual comics.
(See the well-done film of that name.)
Further I, Libertine fun includes a radio interview with an impersonator of the bogus “Ewing,” perpetrated in August 1956, which noted that Ewing had received the fake Burbage Award for “outstanding historical research.” And the folk at Montclair State University did an audio reading of the entire tome.
I, Libertine itself is now history—nearly 60 years old, and most of those who made it happen are gone—Shepherd, Sturgeon, Freas and Schatt, and Ballantine, the publisher who brought them together in a collective act of creative wit—the great literary hoax of our time.
[Did I mention that I have 5 copies of it? 1: paper signed personally for me by Shep; 2: paper signed by Sturgeon; 3: U.S.hardcover; 4.: British hardcover; 5: British paperback.]