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JEAN SHEPHERD–Great Expectations


My Shep-quest is never-ending.  Working and networking go onward and upward.  Seeking, gathering, creating, promoting—however I can.  Why?  Spreading the word about Shep for its own sake; expanding the historical record about him; the thrill of the chase through networking and having unexpectedly enjoyable adventures; and let’s not forget the possible financial gain and ego-enhancement via book, or play, or film, or television.

Every day on the computer I check, the shepgroup email, and facebook-Shep-group chats and ebay for some previously unknown item, and I sometimes search a book site or for Shepherd’s name in hope of some new gold panning out.  Indeed, at times, I encounter a new nugget.


As of this writing, no new material has come forth from Shep’s will—all the known radio, TV, film, and writing has been available for years before Shepherd’s death. And the ACS musical, good as it is, derives from the movie, which comes from the printed stories, which come from Shep’s spoken work on the radio.

In mid-2006 a newspaper article featured the promotional efforts of Spalding Gray’s widow: a play, a CD, and a documentary.

spaldinf gray

Spalding Gray:

a documentary, a play, what else?

One wishes that someone with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject and who has power and access to media would do the same for Shepherd.  A proposed sitcom has not happened, but it would’ve had the mere ghost of a chance of having some value—it probably would have been written and produced by people without sufficient understanding of Shepherd’s wide-ranging and complex work and life, probably on the same dismal level as most sitcoms.

I push for news and I wait—like the kid who’d sent a quarter and a proof of purchase and now daily checks the mail for the equivalent of the secret decoder pin—like little Ralphie Parker.

atom bomb ring

I was the kid who sent a quarter

and waited,

checking the mail daily for–

The Atom Bomb Ring!

One never knows what will turn up, what major recognition of our hero!  A while ago I was surprised that recently deceased Harvey Pekar, creator of the serious, multi-issue autobiographical graphic novel, American Splendor, has his own rather diminutive bobblehead.  I wonder how he felt about that.  (I gather that it was produced for the opening celebration of the movie based on American Splendor.) But wouldn’t it be a nice recognition if our hero Jean Parker Shepherd could be so-honored?  I know I’d want one to add to my Shepherd shrine, and if I know ol’ Shep, I’d expect him to do two things:  conceal his secret delight; gather every-one he could find and smash their bloody slob-art bodies to smithereens.

shep bobblehead

Jean P. Shepherd Bobblehead–

In my  dreams.

As I quest, I imagine a scowling Shep himself pacing and fuming from the heights of heaven or the depths of hell, praying that I’ll find the holy grail of early radio recordings.  Will I receive the call from possible fans such as Bob Dylan, Dave Brubeck, Woody Allen, and who knows who else?  Maybe a call from TV-land or  from Hollywood saying yes, Kevin Spacey wants to play Shep in a Major Motion Picture—yes, yes, yes!  All dreams.

shep portraitKevin_SpaceyWho could ask for anything more?

       J. S.                        K. S

Never the end concerning Jean Shepherd.  Special announcements to come? Even more episodes to come?  What has the picaro learned, and will he finally tie it all up into a neat bundle of profound truths?  Listeners, the baton has been lifted—kazoos at the ready!  Listen to that announcer’s deep baritone:  “Don’t touch that dial!”  Bahn Frei theme music starts here.  Remember it’s a polka, so get up on your hind legs and dance.

“…let’s go out into the fields dressed as shepherds,

as we decided to.  Perhaps we shall find the lady Dulcinea behind some hedge,

disenchanted and as pretty as a picture.”

—Sancho Panza to Don Quixote

in the final chapter

of their book of knight errantry.


Fields, Shepherds, Sancho, Rocinante, the Lady Dulcinea disenchanted, pretty as a picture.  And of course, the grail.  “This glorious quest.”  “With my last ounce of courage….”  Can you hear triumphant theme music?  Is it from Man of LaMancha or is it that equally stirring piece of intoxicating inspiration, “Bahn Frei”?


Sancho Panza,

in Bronze,

in Madrid.

Sancho Panza said that the great highway to glory looked to him just like the road to a little village where one could buy chickens cheap.  Cheap chickens as ancillary compensations?  Okay, you arm-twisted me into admitting it: the highways of the internet and the byways in the real world I travel by snail mail, phone, and loose-knees-assisted shanks’ mare; the peasants and lords and ladies I meet who assist me and give me gold to present in posts—the stuff I learn and experience along the way, are a joy.  I enjoy the nuggets.  Shep stories, Shep stories, Shep stories—the good, the bad and the sad, but I hope, all entertaining and informative.  Essential for the historical record of Jean Parker Shepherd’s creative career and the quest it engenders.  I get great pleasure out of this quest.  It’s worth any number of my other potential creations that will never be.  Ah—the thrill, ah the realization that the quest, the journey itself, with all its intermediate little defeats and triumphs, is indeed the best and ongoing treasure of the enterprise!  Yes, it’s  a good journey in the land of Shep.  For all I desire that damn grail, “the journey is the destination.”  See, I’ve said it, you Infernal Gremlins in the Works—no longer any need to torment me with denial!  Destiny, you stingy, double-crossing son of a bitch, now that I’ve said that I might even be able to live without it, fork over that Holiest of Holies!

Come forth, Unknown Specter,

and dump your treasures into my sweaty lap.

Hey, man, you got tapes?

A comment of Adam Thirlwell in his The Delighted States, a book about the sometimes combative relationship between translation, style, and art.  He is discussing a lecture on that subject that Vladimir Nabokov gave in 1937: “Life—this was Nabokov’s final point, in exile, in Paris—life, this succession of failures and mistakes, at certain visionary moments was structured with the deft formal properties of art.”nabokov Nabokov hunting



and art.

I hope that out of Jean Shepherd’s disasters and artistic triumphs, the gods-of-fate have been at least a bit artistic.

Were Jean Shepherd’s disasters and artistic triumphs worth it for him?  Life short, Art long?  Faulkner said art was worth any number of old ladies.  Was Faulkner serious or was it a tasteless joke?  What about any number of Shepherd’s friends and lovers, wives and children?  Worth it?  I’m not going to answer that one.

But how about us, milling around on this Great Playing Field of Life?  We’ve discovered that Shepherd’s Art is not just a coldly calculated construction; that his Enigmas can coalesce into more solid figments than we’d believed possible; that this goofy Game we’re in, in all its unexpected surprises and connections–almost as if it had a mind of its own–had launched, as Shepherd might have it, a nutty fruitcake of existence careening at each of us across life’s shaggy infield grass. And that some of this phantasm even makes sense.  Sure, as we lunge to make the catch we may bobble it a bit, but we snag the nutty confection going away.  In the middle of our leap we twist into a 180 and sling the baked goods straight and true to first like a Yankee shortstop (Derek, in my mind, I see ya doin’ it).

derek jeterDerek

in a 180,

slinging it fast and true. 

So we grasp some of the fundamentals. We make the play (at least this time) because all our sensibilities are attuned to that Voice in the Night and we’ve managed to keep our knees loose.

Shep, ya did good!





  1. Steve says:

    Gene, I know it’s been awfully hot and humid the last few days. You need to sit down, relax, and drink some ice-cold lemonade. Put on some Bach (perhaps his Saint Matthew Passion or even the D-minor double violin concerto). Or if that’s not your taste, go see “Woman in Gold” (if you haven’t already) in a nice air-conditioned theater; I believe you have a background in art publishing. In any event, soothe your fevered brow.

    Seriously, though, there is a lot of really great stuff on this planet besides Shep . . . . Remember, Shep himself had a lot more interests than his creative work to consume his time on this planet (e.g., ham radio, flying, antique cars, jazz, etc.). In fact, why don’t you get your own ham-radio license? (It’s not all that hard, and there is no longer a Morse Code requirement.) Then you can actually experience some of the same thrills about which Shep so often spoke and wrote. You might even contact some folks who spoke to Shep on the air.

    Oh, and here’s a very small “nugget” for you. Before Shep appeared in “New Faces of 1962” in New York, he performed in it in an off-off-Broadway production at the Cass Theater in Detroit, Michigan, from January 16 to January 27, 1962. (I have hundreds of such “nuggets.”)

    And speaking of Shep’s will, here’s an interesting factoid. After Shep passed away in 1999, his good friend, accountant, and business manager, Irwin Zwilling — who also served as Shep’s executor — told the probate court in sworn documents filed in Florida that the totality of Shep’s intellectual property was then worth only $75,000! (His Florida home was said to be worth almost four times as much.) So if that’s any sort of objective assessment of Shep’s creative work, it suggests a rather limited demand (if not appreciation). Perhaps that’s why few people have pursued follow-on creative projects about Shep since his death. (By the way, I haven’t heard much lately about the documentary said to be in the works by Nick Mantis. Do you know where that stands? I believe it’s been in “production” for some years.)


    • ebbergmann says:

      Regarding great stuff on the planet besides Shep: You should see our house with its artworks of all kinds lining the walls! I’ve written 3 unpublished literary adventure novels; written over 150 poems, 3 of them published; I have a decent collection of hundreds of artists books (not only books about artists, which I have hundreds of, but books created as art by artists) and I’ve designed and made scores of them myself; I’m an enthusiast of Picasso, with a 3′ bookshelf with only books about him,in addition to a couple of very minor works by him–including a signed etching; enthusiast of American modernist John Marin, with a signed original watercolor; enthusiast of Hemingway, Mailer, E. E. Cummings with first editions of almost all their works; etc. etc. So you see that Shep, my main squeeze these days, is not alone in my heart. I’ve recently become re-enthusiastic regarding Andy Kaufman–several post relating Andy with Shep to come.

      When I’m in my study, I often gaze upon my Shep Shrine; when I’m in our living room, I gaze at my Picassos, Japanese woodblock prints, and various primitive art works from New Guinea, Africa, modern and ancient Peru, and stuff like that. Tires me out just listing all my enthusiasm–besides Shep!

      See Nick Mantis as a member of the Facebook/Shep group, and his company making the documentary.

      Cheers and Excelsior!

      • Steve says:

        Gene. as you have responded to me in the past, “you take me too literally” . . . . (Although I would still recommend the Bach.)

        And I don’t access or support most social media, including Facebook. So what is the status of Mantis’s documentary?

      • ebbergmann says:

        Nick tells me that he hopes to have a rough of his documentary complete about the end of the year. He’s interviewed lots of people including Zwilling and myself and many people who knew him in the early radio business. He’s also interviewed a college professor who knew Shep and who has taught courses in Shep’s work. Here’s the Youtube site:

  2. Steve says:

    Oh, and it’s funny that you mention Kevin Spacey playing Shep. As I posted here four days ago, Spacey shares his birthday — July 26 — with Shep. And I also mentioned in the same post that the birthday of Jason Robards was July 26. Robards played the character — “Uncle Murray” — believed to be modeled after Shep in the 1965 movie “A Thousand Clowns.”

    • ebbergmann says:

      Yes, I’ve noted the coinciding birthdays. See my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! for a discussion of why there’s no question that Murray is modeled on Shep. And recently my publisher, who knew and published Herb Gardner, said that Herb had told him that yes, Murray was modeled on Shep!

      • Steve says:

        I had read pages 176-77 prior to my post to see if you had already noted that Shep and Robards, in a bit of irony, shared the same birthday. You had not. Nor have I seen anyone else ever make the connection.

  3. Hi Genemeister,
    Just an aside. In 2001, Ovaltine ran a promotion, you got a brass reproduction “Ovaltine Secret Decoder Ring” if you sent in some labels. I felt like a kid again, when I sent away for Captain Crunch’s model ship and the time I sent in boxtops to win a ride in the Monkee mobile and visit the set of The Monkees.
    Anyway I still have the ring in it’s box with a letter from Ovaltine.
    I dont know how successful this Ovaltine promotion was as a Shep fan/ buddy of mine tried to find one on line and couldnt find one anywhere.

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