A recently discovered parody of Playboy from an issue of Punch in 1971 contains only the beginnings of a story, “How Pliny Fluck Nearly Got What He Wanted and Almost Lost a Finger,” tagged as “humus, americana, and naustalgia by Genes Sheepherder. “ That a humor magazine published in England chose to include Shepherd’s work suggests that he must have had at least some degree of renown there. The opening paragraph:
“Crash! CRUNCH! KAVOOM! BAM!” sang the scissors in Pliny Fluck’s freckled fingers. It was Saturday afternoon in Bedspring Falls and all the boys were hanging around Pliny Fluck’s Barber Tonsorium, Pool Hall and Weltschmerzerie, swapping dirty stories and baseball cards. Except Marv Kluntsch and Jeb Phrigg who were saving time by swapping dirty baseball stories.
There are not many parodies of Shep (is there more than one?)–and not too many attempts to analyze his writing or his style except for Professor Quentin Schultz, who has taught courses in Shep. (A student cheat-essay for sale noted below may be another “parody.”) Some might think that Garrison Keillor must have been influenced and others would say that Keillor goes his own way. Probably most Shepherd fans would disparage Keillor as inferior. There was a moment, however, when Shep himself admired the early Garrison Keillor. See below.
A Website containing thousands of high-school-level essays for sale to student cheats gives, as an example, an essay illustrating comparison-and-contrast titled “Gene Shepard’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash vs. The Christmas Story.” Eagle-eyed and even bleary-eyed Shep fans will note that his first and last names are both misspelled, and the movie is incorrectly titled.
HAPPY TO BE HERE
— A Garrison Keillor ANECDOTE—
Thoughts on another literary matter. According to people I’ve interviewed, Jean Shepherd hated Garrison Keillor “with a passion,” and Keillor was “the person he was more embittered toward than anybody.” Obviously Shepherd envied the accolades Keillor got for his radio storytelling. But before all that happened, Shepherd wrote one of the blurbs for Keillor’s first book of stories, Happy to Be Here, published in 1981:
“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.
Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”
Later on Shepherd seemed to feel that he had much cause to be embittered. He did not achieve the acknowledgments for his work that some of his peers he considered his inferiors got. His first and greatest love, radio, during the years of his most important broadcasting, did not have the capacity to allow him to achieve nationwide acclaim. (Not just school kids, damnit, but a wider listenership among literate adults.) Some of his later television and movie work did not even get produced, some did not turn out as well as he had expected, and he did not achieve the break-through popularity he wanted except for the later television re-broadcasting of his A Christmas Story. Most of the millions who love the movie are probably not even aware of who created and narrated it. Who reads those opening titles, anyway? Even if four of them refer to Shepherd’s important role in the film.
Irony is never far away in the world of Shep.
(Once, just a couple of years ago, Garrison Keillor,
on a radio program devoted to important dates,
mentioned Shep in what must be recognized as a positive way.
I think it was his birthday.)