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Jean Shepherd was an icon in his time. Now he’s not. What happened?”
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Photo by Dan Beach
What!– ME largely forgotten?!
The author of The Atlantic article, shown above, is wrong–as I trust we all know. Jean Shepherd is not largely forgotten. Let us begin by admitting that even at his most popular, it was, relative to big celebrity fame, a “cult” enthusiasm. So there were never many millions who knew his name and appreciated what he did. Many aspects of his life and work that are a part of American culture remain, by the majority of Americans, unnamed–unrecognized. For example, we can imagine that the vast majority of those who love A Christmas Story have no idea of the name of the creator and narrator. But, besides all the popularity of A Christmas Story, the movie, there’s the straight play based on it shown in innumerable tiny town throughout the land, and the musical based on the movie.
There’s Jerry Seinfeld (“He formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd,” See Seinfeld’s Paley Center tribute to Shepherd in January 2012) Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate) Donald Fagen, Dee Snider, Don Imus, Harry Shearer and most of those in the arts and media today who consider him their master and still discuss him. New essays and comments about Shep continually appear on the Internet.
Among us regular folks, over a thousand audios of his 45-minute radio shows are easily and cheaply available by the hundreds per CD–captured and preserved by dedicated enthusiasts over the decades. There are three websites (check out www.flicklives.com), two email groups, a blog with extensive illustrated essays about him. There are two major books about him–my 500-page appreciation and overview of his career, and the 2013 book of my transcriptions of almost 3 dozen of his army stories told on the radio, for which I’ve been interviewed numerous times–twice by NPR, once by CBS TV, etc. Shep’s own books continue to sell, as can be noted by checking the colophon page of the top 2 trade paperbacks, where one sees that the re-printings have gone into well over two-dozen each. (From time to time I check this out at my local B & N, where I inevitably find one or more of Shep’s books for sale. IGWT has now reached 46 re-printings). A documentary about his work is being worked on these days by Nick Mantis. I could go on for hours–and frequently do.
See the list of dozens of 1960s then-renowned comic figures in the book Seriously Funny and ask how much celebrity and fan-enthusiasm they have today. Some of the very greats from the golden age of radio–Fred Allen, Jack Benny–how much interest in them, listening to them, reading them, watching them– is there today compared to Shepherd? In terms of current enthusiasm, aren’t all of them more “largely forgotten” than Shepherd is?
How many comics/humorists have so many
enthusiasts dedicated to them decades
after they left the spotlight?
Excelsior, you fathead!