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JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 5

flag nigeria

“In A Year or Two He was Right in

the Same Boat With All of Us, You Know.”

I came across a notebook which I kept when I was in Nigeria.  It was not quite a diary, it was a notebook of things that I felt, which is quite different from a diary.  A diary says, “This morning I took a trip to the museum.  Wrote letter.  Talked to L.”  That kind of thing.  This is a notebook where I really put down impressions of things that I wanted to remember, and then I immediately forgot about the notebook—which says something about life there too.  I took this notebook out today and I looked at this thing for a minute.  It didn’t occur to me what I was referring to because, when you’re in a place and you see all these things, you write in a kind of shorthand, because you forget that one day you will not remember.  You just sort of write it down.

Shepherd spoke on the radio several times about the notebooks he kept on his travels. It would be such an extraordinary find to encounter some of them!

Well, here I’m trying to tell you what heat does to people, in relation to some time ago when we were talking about how a place will change even your morality.  Whether you know it or not, or whether you want it to or not, it will.  With the heat, with the kind of sand there is, with the kind of leaves there are, with the sort of caterpillars that crawl over your shoe.  All of these things will combine to change you into another kind of person.  And I was in a place—Bagady is a place that is closer to the equator than Legos, and is south of Legos on the Bay of Guinea—or the Gulf of Guinea.

First I will have to tell you what kind of place the Gulf of Guinea is.  It is one of the most interesting looking seas I have ever seen.  The sea comes rolling in and is almost frighteningly innocent looking.  Because the combination of the white sand ion the beachhead and the kind of sun that shines down two or three degrees north of the equator, combines to make the sea look almost like milk.  It is not blue, it is not the color of the sea off Coney Island, which is a kind of slate gray, sometimes gets a little green, sometimes a faint blue, but mostly gray.  No.  This sea looks almost white—it’s an illusion of course.  A blue sea is literally reflecting the blue sky and that’s why you see it blue.

But the sun and the sky in Africa, particularly right after noon, does not stop—there’s no place where you say, “There’s the sun.”  It’s like the whole sky is the sun.  Oh boy, I’ll tell you!  It just comes down.  It hits you on the top of the head with great big hammers.


Well, the sea reflects the sun and at the same time, the bottom of the sea there happens to be very white sand, so you wind up with the sea looking as though it were sort of skim milk.  It rolls up in great, long comers, just shrooooooo—long, rolling comers.  Shrooooooo!  It rolls up and it looks very innocent with this little white foam and it recedes, and that sun is beating down and that heat has got hold of everything you own and those palm trees are hanging down and behind you there are huts that are sort of conical, made out of rattan and bamboo and palm leaves.  Shrooooooo—water’s coming in.  That’s Bagady!

I’m walking along this beach and I met there an Englishman who had been in Nigeria and that area for many years, working for some kind of paint company.  We’re walking along the beach and talking about the sharks.  I don’t know why, whenever I read about sharks, they always talk about the sharks along the Great Barrier Reef, they always talk about the sharks in certain parts of the Pacific, but they continually ignore the Gulf of Guinea where the sharks are truly legendary.  Apparently these sharks have been known to come up and just leap right out of the water, bit off fourteen-hundred pounds of bananas, and leave.  That kind of thing.  Giants.

And all the natives in this area are fishermen.  They fish out of long, the most graceful dugout canoes I’ve ever seen in my life.  Probably thirty feet long and sometimes four feet wide, carved out of a gigantic tree.  They soak these in salt water for a long time and then they dry them and then cover them with some kind of pitch, so they’re black and then they paint over the entire length of them in big white and red swirls.  They paint big red eyes on the front of them and they name them, like “A Very Truly Love,” in big, white English letters on the side.  Or something like, “Never Trust a Woman—boat.”  A great name for a boat.  Or, “Trust Only A Few.”

About ten guys at once will push these things out, run like mad, the big comers go shrooooo!—push them all back on shore.  Then they get the thing pointed out again.  They run as soon as the wave goes out, they run like mad—shrooooo!— pushes them back again, and finally they get the thing going and a wave will take them fifteen feet up in the air  shrooooo!— shrooooo!—they’re paddling like mad with their little wooden paddles, they’re insanely paddling straight out to sea and they’ll get going.  About three of these go out and finally make it.  They’ll be a couple hundred yards out from the beach where the water has stopped being big comers, and is comparatively calm, and they put up a little, dirty, rotten, crummy sail like cheesecloth that’s been used to clean a lot of old Oldsmobiles, and they’ll put these things up and they’ll start floating away and they’re going down, way down the coast someplace to fish.

They will be out three days—never come back and boy, is that a sea!  They tell stories about sharks.  When the guys are launching their boats, sometimes two or three will get belted at one time.  Oh boy, these babies just lay off shore there and they’re about twenty-eight feet long—they’re long , white, and cool.  They just lay there and they strike like lightning.


This kind of place, of course, does different things to people.  It is not quite the same as, let’s say, Queens.  Not at all.  Very little parallels between Queens and Nigeria.  Perhaps the only thing they have in common is they occupy the same planet.  That’s about all.  Other than that—wow!  And a few of the same physical laws obtain.  Like gravity.  They have gravity there.  Everybody there, unless you’ve been around the sharks too long, you have two feet, or nearly.  But all the while that sea— shrooooo!  and it just looks great.  You lie on your back and you think, Oh boy!”

The only hooker of it is that they seem to loose on the average, one to five people a day!  Life is very different in many parts of the world.  And people laugh about it.  “Oh yeah, we loose many people, ha, ha, ha, ha, many people in the sea, ha, ha, ha.  Stay away water.  Water no good, sir.  Water no good, ha, ha.  I tell you, my aunt one day, she—oop, gone, gone, like that.”  They don’t lose them to sharks—they have an undertow that has been known to draw in entire African villages, right into the water!  It’s like the ocean itself comes out and grabs you!  Whooo!  Down you go.  And they’ve been carried as far away as Portugal in fifteen seconds under water all the way.  Holy smokes!  You get so you’re afraid to go down there and just stick your foot in the water.  You think either a giant fist is going to come out and grab you—it’s the ocean itself—the Atlantic Ocean grabs you by the foot—with teeth that run all the way back to its stern—starts eating you like a corn on the cob.

It’s a different thing.  The sun is coming down.  And now you want to get to the point of my somewhat sinister and very, very enigmatic writing in my notebook.


This Englishman and I were walking along on the beach—he’d been there for about ten years and I said, “What does this heat do to you—after a while?”  I meant, how do you—I feel like all the time I was there I felt half-sick.  Like something wasn’t working right all the time.  Of course, if you’re there a year or so, I suppose, even if you’re there a couple of months—that you get over.  But other things begin to set in.

He says, “Actually, old chap, things happen.  Oh, a chap, Henderson, he was working for Shell Oil in Ghana, and the heat—very little energy.  Heat actually.  This chap was in Ghana and his wife was getting a bit irritated—had no energy at all, actually.  And so one day she announced that she had taken a lover, you know.  A man from Luxemburg who had just arrived.  And I—I asked, ‘Henderson, old man—‘ actually thirty years ago—not very good show, actually.  And Henderson says to me, ‘Oh, oh, Fred is—oh, no, no, I’m actually very relieved, actually.  It takes a lot of pressure off me, you know.  I’m very relieved—I—yes, it’s all right.  Takes some of the pressure off me.’”

Well, we walked along a while there and I began to realize that the world of Graham Greene is not exactly the world of Babylon.  If you wrote a play about that, no one would believe you.  They’d say, “Nobody acts like that!”  Oh no?  When you’re in Ghana and the temperature is one-hundred-and-four, and you’ve been there nine years, I suspect you do not quite act the same as you do on McDougal Street.


So I looked at this little note in my book.  My note reads, “Men in tropics have no energy whatsoever.  Relate incident of Ghana friend of Luxemburger, whose man approved of wife’s lover.”

The Englishman carried the story a little further when I said, “What about the guy who was the lover?”

He said, “Oh, actually, you know, in a year of two he was right in the same boat with all of us, you know.  This damned heat, you know.  Let’s go over to the club and have a drink.  I feel like a drink of gin.  What do you say to a little gin?”

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JEAN SHEPHERD–in the public domain

C. public domain

A major question in the world of Jean Shepherd’s radio broadcasts (in NYC 1955-4/1/1977 plus a couple of years before that in Cincinnati and Philadelphia) is whether they have a copyright–whether they are in the public domain.  If they are in the public domain, anyone can sell the audios without fear, and anyone can transcribe the audios (as I do) and publish them without fear of legal problems. Although people have been distributing Shep’s audios since before he died, the tricky and subtle issue had never been resolved beyond some peoples’ doubts as far as I know.

Library of Congress

“What Is Not Protected by Copyright? Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others: • works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)”

[I believe that what’s important here is “improvisational

speeches or performances”]

Here’s what the Stanford University Library website declares


Welcome to the Public Domain

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. An important wrinkle to understand about public domain material is that, while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright. If, for example, someone has collected public domain images in a book or on a website, the collection as a whole may be protectible even though individual images are not. You are free to copy and use individual images but copying and distributing the complete collection may infringe what is known as the “collective works” copyright. Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process, for example, a poetry scholar compiling a book — The Greatest Poems of e.e. cummings.

This would apply to those who sell audios of Shep’s radio programs (as does Max Schmid:, my extensive transcript excerpts in my EYF!,  and my own recent manuscripts consisting of my edited transcripts and commentaries on Shep’s Army stories, my transcripts of his travel narratives, and much more. Max good photo


Without these uses of Shepherd’s broadcasts, I’d fear that his main claim to creative immortality would be gone with the wind into the ether. (Shep is acknowledged four times at the beginning of A Christmas Story but almost nobody reads opening film titles.)

♦  ♦  

The above was preface.

Below is a condensed narrative regarding my current adventures.

For years I’ve been searching for the answer as to whether Shepherd’s improvised broadcasts are (and can be proven to be) in the public domain. All evidence–the U. S. Copyright website, the lack of legal action against their use, massive commercial sales of thousands of his radio audios (and many other old time radio audios)–all indicate that they are being sold without legal hassle and are thus probably in the public domain.

Publishers of my Shep’s Army wanted a definitive answer to prevent possible legal problems. Through the help of Nick Mantis (Creator of the documentary-in-progress on Shep’s life) I requested an answer from a copyright lawyer. I got a good but not 100% definitive response–so my publisher took part of my royalty rate to secure safety from possible lawsuit.

On the colophon page of Shep’s Army, it states:

“Published by arrangement with the Estate of Jean Shepherd, Irwin Zwilling, Executor.”

public domain artwork

A couple of years ago I completed another manuscript of Shep’s stories but my publisher has not responded to my questioning: ya gonna publish or not publish? To avoid the inevitable hassles of the entire  process from query letters to editorial and accounting conflicts, I’d nearly decided not to attempt more efforts to get my Jean Shepherd Kid Stories published.kid stories cover 1

Photo of kids courtesy of

Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

I ‘d decided to simply publish them on this blog as I’ve done with Shep’s travel narratives.

(Exchanging publication-stress for pure blog-bliss.)

Allison, my wife, suggested that I give print publication one more try (I’d indicated to her that a book one can hold in one’s hand is what both Shep and I would have preferred.) As I have no agent (I tried and couldn’t get one years ago for my EYF!–ain’t that a drag? But then, remember how Leigh had to act as agent herself and hunt for a publisher for Jean’s The Ferrari in the Bedroom.).

I knew I’d have to deal with the public domain question again before I could get a contract for the kid stories, I emailed Irwin Zwilling, Shep’s friend/accountant, who was willed all his creative rights. Mr. Zwilling responded that he’d tried to resolve this issue for years and responded:

“Yes, it is our understanding that his radio shows are

public domain.”


Thus, the audios are available. And my editing of them and using them in my two so-far-unpublished books of transcripts–kid stories and travel narratives–are protected for me according to the Stanford U. description: “Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process,…” (My editing for smoothness, continuity, and organization–retaining the feel of Shepherd talking–and especially in the kid stories, to form a “novel-like” whole.)

I await the next stage of the process.


JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 4

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“How are You, Sir?  How?  Hi, hi, hi, Sir”

Probably the greatest experience I ever had in traveling is the moment that I landed in Lagos, Nigeria.  The minute I came down in Lagos and that door swung open on that plane, and you could smell Africa!  Africa has a smell all of its own, too.  Just like Asia does.   When the door opened, whooooo—this heat came in!

This particular part of Africa was the part that Edgar Rice Burroughs had used for the background for the Tarzan stories.  Tarzan_of_the_Apes_in_colorThis is Tarzan country.  When you go into the bookstores in Lagos or Ibadan they are loaded with Tarzan stories.

Now, the reason I’m telling you all this about Nigeria is because I had one of the most insane eating experiences I ever had in my life.  I could not believe it!  Unbelievable—what happened to me in Ibadan.  I was in Nigeria at that point for about a week and I decided to take a trip inland—in-country.

I got myself a driver who was willing to take me into Ibadan, a trip of about a hundred-and-fifty miles inland.  That’s a lot more than a hundred-and-fifty miles along the Jersey Turnpike, which is nothing.  But a hundred-and-fifty miles through the bush of Nigeria—that’s a trip.  I got together with the guy who was going to take me.  Fantastic dress.  Long, flowing, purple and white robes.  Wild flowing robes.  And a peculiar, wild sense of humor.  Instantly, the minute we got together, there was something that clicked.  He found what I said very funny and I found what he said very funny.

So we began to dig each other within five minutes of getting in the car and taking off into the bush, and so we must have gone about two hours, and oh, it’s hot, boy is it hot!  And now we’re getting into the area where there is very little population, just a lot of bush country.  We see these plains, you travel further, you’re in the high trees.  The trees in Nigeria have to be seen to be believed.  Some of them are, I’d say, two-hundred feet tall, which is a twenty-story building.  That’s a lot of tree!  and they just sort of hang there, lean over the road, and they’re so big, the canopy that they cast is so powerful, that nothing can grow under them, so you get the sense that you’re always traveling through some surrealistic park.

And once in a while you hear the sound of some animal in the distance go Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!  Just Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! it echoes.  Then you see a great yellow bird or red bird Raaaaaaaaaaaaa! across the road.  Then occasionally you see some kind of wild pig.  They have many wild pigs, and some of them are very ferocious.  You see this wild pig with big tusks run along the road.  Ohghohghohghohgh!  They run right alongside of the car!  Ohghohghohghohgh!  Into the bush he goes.

And then we stop for about five minutes.  We’re hot and he has some water in the back of the car so we stop, he throws open the trunk and we walk around and he pulls out the water bag, so we have a drink of water.

And out of the bush come these guys, they just drift out.  It’s a hunting tribe.  A tribe of bush natives.  They’re dressed only in these short loincloths.  Tall, magnificent!  Wow, do these guys have muscular development.  Magnificent, they come floating out.  And they all speak English of course, because English is the national tongue, see.

They say, “How are you, sir?  How?  Hi, hi, hi, sir.”

They stand around and laugh.  Everybody laughs continually.  The most laughing, wildly funny country.  So we talk a little bit, and one of them is carrying a beautiful muzzle-loading rifle.  Beautiful thing that he had made! They make their own rifles.  And you would never guess where they get the barrels.  Sears Roebuck.  Sears Roebuck has a special African catalog.  Oh, what a collector’s item.  I saw one of the African catalogs.  You know, people walk past a Sears store and don’t realize what a world-wide thing their business is.  I never knew it and what very special things they have for all parts of the world.  So they have these rifle barrels, special rifle barrels that are not even rifle barrels.  Actually, they’re lengths of specially treated pipe.  Very straight, but they’re pipe, and you go in and you buy this if you’re a native and you want to make a rifle.

You buy it and you season it with heat—they temper it until it gets that dark blue color, and they polish it and they carve it with all kinds of little tools and they make this thing into a beautiful piece of metal sculpture, which is what it really winds up being.  Sometimes they even inlay silver in it.  And they get a special kind of wood that grows deep in the heart of the jungle.  It’s a very rare kind of hard, beautiful wood that’s almost the color of dark, clotted blood.  They call it bloodwood.

It’s a very tiny gun that’s no more than, I’d say, it doesn’t weigh more than two pounds.  It’s a shotgun.  They buy these tiny cartridges which they fill themselves.  And it’s a flintlock, and you’ll never guess what they use for the flint in this thing.  Zippo lighters.  They take the guts out of a Zippo lighter and they make a little pan out of sheet steel where they put the powder.  It’s a flintlock muzzle-loader.  When this little spark lands on it, it goes punk! like that.  The little cartridge has a cap in it and it explodes and shoots out through the barrel a tiny charge of birdshot that is so fine that it’s almost like mustard seed.

It’s what they use to hunt monkeys and very tiny birds.  They don’t fight lions, they don’t fight rhinos, they don’t fight boars with this stuff.  They drift through the woods like shadows, hunting with these tiny rifles.

My guide had said, when they come out, they often come out for the purpose of selling something to you.  That’s why they’re there.  Well, I see this guy’s rifle and I say to him, “You have rifle, you want to sell rifle?  Beautiful little rifle.”

He says, “Oh, you want rifle, oh?  Very expensive rifle.  Very expensive.”

I say, “How much?”

He says, “Oh, more than one pound, very expensive.”

I’ll have to tell you that the pound is three for a dollar.  So that means the rifle went for about forty cents, see, and I felt terrible, so I said to the guide, “You know, I don’t think we—that’s terrible!”

And immediately there is a lot of conferencing going on—four or five of them— and one of them turns and says, “Well, ah, one pound.”  It’s now coming down!  I feel worse.

Finally the guide says, “Oh, no.  No, no.  Too much.  No, no.  We get in the car.  Bye.  Bye, bye.”

In the car we go and they laugh and off we drive.  End of scene.

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So we drive on about another fifteen miles and I’m talking to the guide.  A great guy.  We’re talking back and forth.  I say, “You know, from what I’ve seen around, the food look very interesting.”   I’d had a little bit of, let’s say, borderline true, native African food.  Borderline.  I didn’t know it at the time.

So he says, “Oh, you want try real food.  I know very good place.  Very good place.  We be there maybe four or five minutes.”  And we are driving through the jungle at about ninety miles an hour.  I’ll tell you, if you think that Madison Avenue cab drivers are insane, if you think that Sixth Avenue is the ultimate in the Gran Prix department, you should sit in a car anyplace in Central Africa.  They just don’t know of any other speed than top speed all the time.  So you go ninety miles an hour.  And it’s very scary when you’re going around an S-curve and you’re meeting other cars going ninety miles an hour and they yell at each other when they meet.  We go past, skid, and around.  Ahhh! Oh !   And I’m trying to play it cool.

“You want to try food?”

I say, “Yes, I want to try food.”

So we stop at a place—of all the places I’ve ever been in my life, I will never forget.  To begin with, there was probably the most beautiful girl that I have ever seen in my life!  What a girl!  I mean, she was like—have you ever seen somebody or something so beautiful that it’s unbelievable?  It’s like an apparition.  Really, it’s like a genuine—live—living—work of art!  Magnificent girl.  (And, you know, I hate to admit this—she kind of dug me.)  I’ll tell you, it was a very funny moment.

We arrive at this place.  It is open, and he knew the people.  And the lady came out and she had a big red dress with big yellow flowers all over it.  We did great!  They gave us bananas, we had a wonderful time.  I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country that I dug more—than Nigeria.

And as we’re sitting there eating the bananas, my guide said, “Mammy, you know how to make”—and he gave two or three lines of beautiful native dialect.

She said, “Oh, ya, ya, you want this?”

And I said, “Yes.”

Five minutes later they brought out three dishes and all of us sat around.  The girl, Mammy, the father, the guide, and me.  Three great big bowls of this innocuous-looking stuff.  One was kind of white, and then there was a kind of a dish full of brownish red—it looked a little like Hungarian goulash or beef stew, and so they just dip in.  They said. Dip right in.”  They took a piece of bread and they dipped in and started to eat.  “Eat, eat, eat!”

So I dipped this piece of bread in—oh, did it look beautiful and oh, did it smell great!  They use peanuts in it.  It’s got peanuts and all kinds of herbs in it.  I dipped in, I put it in my mouth and—boooooooom!  Wow!  Have you ever wondered how it feels to be ionized?  I’m telling you, I was turned into a total mass of positive and negative ions.  I was reduced to a gaseous—owhhh!  and I had to be polite.  I was sitting there and my eyes were watering and my guide was laughing his guts out, ohho, ho, ho!

Oh, wow!  There’s a lot of things in this world.  Not only cabbages.

Thus ended the broadcast.  Not the only time Shepherd has had his mouth burned out by spicy food.  But one had expected the best-tasting food he ever had!

And what about: “the most beautiful girl” he had ever seen in his life?  He leaves us hanging. And how did his beautiful wife, actress Lois Nettleton, feel when she heard that? And how did Leigh Brown, his cute little producer-chick in the control room, feel?  We will never know.

In the following Nigerian tales, Shepherd elaborates on the short comments he had made in his travel notebook the year before, suggesting how physical environment—especially, here, the heat—can change our very character, and then, in the finale, how, being in a strange cultural environment can make us realize that we are truly formed by our national heritage.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Gene B.’s Rant. Part 2

Because of all the foregoing [in Gene B. Rant. Part 1.], I’d decided to take my transcripts of that “sure-to-be-a-hit other manuscript of Shepherd material” and soon I was gonna start posting it on this blog too. (Hey, publishers and agents, why not take a look?) Just as the army stories joined into what I like to think of as a “coming of age novel,” I believe the same can be said of the gathering and organizing of my third book of Shepherd transcripts, tentatively titled:


kid book cover

Photo of kids courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

A book of


Jean Shepherd

kid stories

that read in sequence

as a coming-of-age novel.


From kindergarten through grammar school,

ham radio,

high school dating,

the steel mill,

and two college-age



I love epiphanies, don’t you?

→ ? ←


GE TV ad:”Ideas are scary”


1) My kid stories book would increase interest in: the movie ACS; the straight play of ACS; the musical of ACS; all the statuettes and leg lamps and costume sales and board games and Christmas tree ornaments associated with ACS; and the sales of all of Shepherd’s previously published books still in print.
2) My Shep’s Army book has a little note on the colophon page: “Published by Arrangement with the Estate of Jean Shepherd.” (Has anyone who has picked up the book noticed that?) That note, my publisher tells me, represents the deal they made that gives a chunk of my royalties for that arrangement.
3) Beyond all those legalities and financial ditherings, my Jean Shepherd Kid Stories book would become part of Shep’s permanent, published creative works–and, I believe, further enhance his critical and popular reputation. IS THIS NOT “WORTH” SOMETHING IN OUR WORLD OF COMMERCE and our weak and undernourished world of ART?
GE idea 1


 I can’t fight it any longer
and still remain the sweet, all-loving, wise and wonderful person that I am.
(Please note the irony here, folks.)


I will no longer attempt to get these kid stories printed.

I will begin posting them on this blog.

Should something change,

and a publishing opportunity fall into my lap,

I’ll go for it.



may never be published other

than on this blog.

GE idea in box“Don’t cry for me, all you Shep fans–

the truth is I never left you.”

[A line from “Shep,” the (someday) great, operatic musical film

co-starring me as Antonio Banderas.]

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

“I’m one of the great underground performers.

In spite of the fact I have millions of fans,” he proclaims,

“I can’t imagine why [someone] wouldn’t know about me . . .

I’ve had three best-sellers, I’ve published forty-eight stories in Playboy.

[By my count, 23 stories, one humorous article, and The Beatles interview.]

Critics have done papers on me. I’ve influenced more kids.

I’ve done thousands of shows at colleges. I’ve been

on the Carson show many times and on the Merv Griffin show.

I’ve had my own television series for years on PBS.

And yet [some people] never heard of me.

Now you’re understanding the nature of twentieth-century fame.”

–Jean Shepherd quoted in Maralyn Lois Polak’s

The Writer as Celebrity.


“…sure enough, he was found in the morning frozen to death but

nevertheless he had there next to him the sign that read

enigmatically, ‘Excelsior.’

And this is the story of all mankind’.”

Jean Shepherd, 1958.

“Never give up!”--Gene B. 2015.


Hey, gang, this all sorta sounds like the kind of justified complaints that Shepherd engaged in from time to time over the decades. Maybe all of the above is nothing but my parody of Shep’s complaints? Maybe. But then, maybe not. 

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Stay tuned.



Gang, this is an extra and important

Shepherd-related blog post.

Steven Glazer continues to devote his time to researching and distributing much relevant information about Jean Shepherd’s life and work. His December 16 illustrated lecture about the movie A CHRISTMAS STORY is bound to be exceptionally informative and entertaining. I hope that I and many others will continue to benefit from this and all of Steve’s future work on behalf of Jean Shepherd’s legacy.

ACS brochure.Steve Glaser0002

Have a Merry!

Gene B.

JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 3

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Nothing works like at home

One of the funny little incidents that happened to me one day when I was in line at the post office.  I was buying Nigerian stamps.  I said to the clerk, “I want seven Nigerian international airmail stamps for regular letter-weight.”

As he was getting them, I looked around and couldn’t find the place to mail the letter.  I was in the post office so I expected to see the slots, so I said, “Any place where you mail this?”

Before he could answer, the guy behind me, who was wearing Western clothes, said, “Oh boy, dad, nothing works like home.  They got a box out front there.”

I turned around and this guy behind me was an American and he was a negro.  So we went out and he said, “Can I give you a lift anywhere?”

I said, “Sure.”

It turned out he was a listener, by the way.  He was astounded to find me in a post office in Nigeria.  The guy was from Brooklyn.  We started off in his little car.  He worked for an American film company.

We started to talk about Nigeria and he said, “Boy, you know, I’ll tell you, when I first came here I thought I understood everybody.  I’ve been here now six months. And every day now, I realize more and more that I understand less and less about the people, the place, the way they think, the whole business.”

I said, “Gee, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”

He said, “Let me tell you, boy.  I really discovered how American I am here.”  He said, “I really discovered that I am really an American.”

Computer generated image of an American flag isolated against a white background. Please note that this image is drawn to the exact dimensions for a real American flag.

I said, “You know, this is an interesting thing coming from you, realizing the situation.”

He said, “Let me tell you, I got friends back in the States.  I would love to have twenty of my friends here who think they know all about this and bring ’em here for about six months.  They would realize then just exactly what they are and they would know their own true identity.”

So we rode around town a little bit and he was sort of laughing and I was laughing, and finally he said, “Well, I never figured I’d see you here in Nigeria!”

I said, “No, well, I didn’t either, dad.”  I got out in front of Kingsway and he drove away and I sat around and that was the end of that.  But the thing is, you really realize how Western you are in a place like Nigeria, Ghana.

You also realize that the beliefs that Americans have—that any problem can be solved.  You know Americans really believe that problems can be solved.  They will not concede that there is an unsolvable problem—of any kind.  Nothing is really unsolvable in the affairs of men.  Wow.  Boy.  You stick around this place for about twenty minutes and you begin to feel that communication just doesn’t exist.  Not really—on a very basic human level, maybe yeah.  Like my friend from Brooklyn said, “Man, you really know that you’re an American.  You really know it.”  And he said, “They don’t know from an American here.  They don’t understand us either.”  I suppose we are the mysterious Occidentals.

“You also realize that the beliefs that Americans have—that any problem can be solved.  You know Americans really believe that problems can be solved.  They will not concede that there is an unsolvable problem—of any kind. “

[Wow! Shep really nailed it–even to today, with the issues of ISIS, etc., I still believe (maybe not as strongly) that any problem can be solved. What I recognize once again is that much of what Shep had to say about the nature of people in general, and Americans in particular, is quite true.–eb]

flag nigeria


JEAN SHEPHERD–Gene B.’s Rant. Part 1

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“You could be on New York radio for many years

and be widely unknown.” –Jean Shepherd

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Regarding Shep’s third book of short pieces, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, Shepherd’s main publisher, Doubleday, who had best sellers publishing his first two books of stories, rejected it. Leigh Brown had to go shopping it around until Dodd Mead bought it.

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Ferrari cover

Where were/are all the Fatheaded Jean Shepherd fans?

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(This is a desert.)

Lemme put it to you another way: the number of listeners Shep had during his live broadcast days has been given at many hundreds of thousands; the lowest figure I’ve ever come across is 60,000.

If there were only 60,000 of us in the 60s and 70s, where are they now—maybe 10,000 are dead; maybe 20,000 don’t pay attention and don’t know there are thousands of free and nearly free audios of Shep shows, three websites, one blog, several trade paperbacks of his stories and articles easily available, two books focused on his work, numerous books with significant references to him, and the Internet with numerous articles about him including Donald Fagan’s on “Slate” and Richard Corliss’s marvelous tribute on the Time Magazine site. And what about the hour Seinfeld talked about him at the Paley Center?  Wake up, Shep enthusiasts!


30,000 FANS.

Shep listeners are not like other people–

They are enthusiasts–fanatics,

understanding from their first contact with him

that he is their intellectual soulmate, mentor!


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The only positive note I can come up with is that In God We Trust, his first book of kid stories, is now, according to its current colophon page, into its 46th trade paperback printing. Encountered recently in a book store. How the xxxx did that happen?! See below–earlier (only 38th) printing 

IGWT colophon page paperback

Why hasn’t the Paley Center released on DVD the Shep-tribute hour as they have all those other programs (that are apparently very popular, but which I’ve never heard of)?


Don’t they care about promoting and disseminating

their fine Seinfeld tribute to Shep

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And why does the Facebook group, with its bold and straightforward name “I’m a Fan of Jean Shepherd,” have less than 700 members instead of tens-of-thousands? And why does only a small handful of those few hundreds ever post on the group? Two of those maybe-a–dozen who post (Max S. and Gene B.) mostly promote their basic Shep-work from elsewhere for anyone who might care.

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Why has the only book about his career (my Excelsior, You Fathead!) in ten years not quite sold 8,000 copies yet? Where are the other 22,000+ Shep enthusiasts? (I recently encountered that on, EYF! and S’s A each have about 43 mostly very enthusiastic Customer Reviews.)

Why doesn’t some theatrical producer, or influential Shep-enthusiast, grab my play about Shep? Kevin Spacey, where are you?

play scenery

Why did my current publisher inform me last year that, after a year on the market, my Shep’s Army book had yet to sell 2,000 copies?

Because of those less-than-2,000 copies, my publisher doesn’t want Shep’s travel-story manuscript, which is why I’m posting the chapters on this blog. And my publisher has even failed to respond to my other manuscript of Shepherd material that’s sure-to-be-a-hit-if-people-pay-attention.

“Get an agent!” Tried that–and no agent is interested even in books with somewhat of a built-in audience. Way back, looking for a publisher for EYF! I chose a dozen agents that seemed likely prospects and sent them query letters with SASEs. I received back 5 no thanks, 4 lots-a-luck but no thanks, and 3 no response. An agent’s commission even on my EYF! would have been under $3,000 so far–is that piddle worth any agent’s time? (And, in recent decades, most publishers won’t even look at a book that isn’t submitted by an agent.)  I do not have an agent–not because I haven’t tried.

“Self-publish!”  Got any idea how much that costs? Any idea of the non-creative drudgery that involves? What about promotion? Of course I’d broadcast to the email group and the Facebook group and my blog, and I’m sure that would promote it, but, based on previous experience, would that sell enough even to get an agent’s attention? What about distribution? Without having to spend thousands on  a small ad somewhere, how would anyone find out about it?

Why don’t I start sending out that sure-hit manuscript to more publishers and more agents? Because I’ve spent over 45-years struggling to get my varied manuscripts accepted and I’m tired of that struggle—it’s a hassle and mostly a time-waster. (“Had we but world enough and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime.”) I’ve experienced many of the aggravating but inevitable snags on the route to publication. The least of which is having to wait–hanging by my thumbs–at least 3 months for a reply for each submission. Should I get an offer out-of-the-blue, yes, I’ll take it. Then I’ll do my very best in the pre-publication process–even though knowing through previous experiences that I’ll have to struggle and spend my precious time going through those grueling pre-publication frustrations and compromises endemic between contract and publication day–yet, it would be worth it all! And I ain’t in it for the nickels  and dimes.



010_bergmanncrowd_smallCBS image

• Gene B. and Max Schmid at Old Time Radio convention.

• 70 people at a CT library to attend my discussion of EYF!

• Only TV interview: SHEP’S ARMY.

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And, speaking of my blog, why has it taken several years to even build up what I estimate to be only about 100 readers per post? My site statistics indicate that recently I’ve just achieved 110 “followers,” whatever that means. And why do so few of those 100-or-so people think to comment about Shepherd at the site?

And talking about posting my Shep’s travel manuscript on the blog, I’ll remind you—and myself—that a fair portion of the posts of mine on varied non-travel Shep subjects I’ve cannibalized from my other two unpublished book manuscripts of miscellaneous (and wonderful!) content about Shep.

So—where does that leave me? Am I discouraged? Yes.

But I carry on with my Excelsior banner held aloft.

bullwinkle up mtn


Shel's excelsior drawing


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JEAN SHEPHERD Nigeria Part 2

flag nigeria

I’ve suddenly been deluged.  People have been writing letters and questions and stuff, and I’m not really working for the Chamber of Commerce of Nigeria.  I have no vested interest as far as the West Coast of Africa is concerned.  But I do realize now that hardly anybody knows anything about it.  It’s almost totally unknown to a large percentage of the American population, and, as matter of fact, the world population.  I don’t stand here before you as an expert.  All I can say is that I was in Nigeria, I was in Ghana, and I saw things, I absorbed things, and what I saw and absorbed are mine.  And being mine, undoubtedly they’re very prone to error.  However, I will say this, that a lot of interesting things happened to me there, and things which have made me alter my thinking about a lot of things, which have, from time to time occurred to me, which I’ve heard discussed.  And I realized it just isn’t black and white as far as the questions of political problems are concerned.  You know, one of the things that everybody seems to be interested about is the political situation in Nigeria.  Well, I don’t think anybody can really tell you about it.

 A Peculiar Kind of Flavor

Coming back from all this, I came away with a peculiar bitter-sweet taste in my mouth that is, I suppose, connected with the fact—you know, whenever you go as a traveler—I’ve traveled throughout most of Europe, throughout the Middle East and as far east as India at one time or another, and I found that no matter where I have gone in the past, there is a common base.  In other words, if you go to Sweden, even though you don’t speak Swedish, the people live the same way you do.  You can understand them.  If you go to Denmark it’s the same way.  If you go to France or Spain, it’s roughly the same.  There are little differences, but you know the foundation is the same.  And so, you can make contact with people.  It’s almost exclusively a matter of language.  But in Africa there is something there that is impenetrable.  You may think that you’re making headway, you may think that you are making contact with people but when you get away from it you have the sense that you haven’t really gotten through.  You haven’t really understood it.

It’s disconcerting, too.  A friend of mine is another traveler-type—Shel Silverstein—who has traveled all over the world.  And Shel one time told me a thing before I really traveled in equatorial Africa.  He said, “You know, you gotta see Africa.  You have to see it, you have to experience it.  But nobody can tell you about it.”  He said, “And furthermore, when you get out of Africa you will feel not so much like you have left Africa, you’ll feel like you’ve escaped.”  Now that’s a big difference.  I didn’t quite understand what he meant by this.  And now I do.

I do know that there is a feeling—and again, this friend of mine who does travel a great deal—he has the same sensation that whenever you go you can somehow make a  group of friends, you can somehow establish rapport with people.  But you just can’t in Africa.  There is a thing that drops down, there is a great grill or some kind of a fence that just comes down between you.  And the last couple of days thinking about this experience, it’s been the kind of experience that you can’t say is a good one or a bad one.  It’s a baffling experience. 

It had a lot of great moments and I had a lot of moments that were not so great.  And yet, on the other hand, overall, the whole experience is one of a peculiar kind of flavor that you don’t know whether is a good taste or a bad taste, and you don’t know whether it’s going to hurt you or whether it’s going to be good for you.  And as you taste it you have a vague suspicion that whatever it is, it’s habit-forming and can somehow do you harm.

Almost everybody I’ve ever talked to who knows Africa very well has said that same thing, up to a point.  When I say Africa, I’m talking about equatorial Africa and in particular, the west coast, which is part of the world hardly anybody seems to know much about these days, and yet is one of the swingingest parts.

An Almost Palpable Sense of Loneliness

A funny thing was said to me about this part of the world by a young man I know who is an executive over there, who has been there seven years in a very good capacity.  He said that the thing that begins to bore itself into you after a certain length of time is an almost palpable sense of loneliness.  A tremendous boring, knowing, devouring loneliness.  He said there are a lot of Europeans around here, but even they are lonely within that framework.  It’s like being marooned on a desert island.  He said, “They have a lot of friends.  I can’t understand it.  But there it is.”

He said that year after year it gets worse.  We were sitting having dinner at a place called Antoine’s, which is down Broad Street, right down through the middle of Lagos, and he said, “If I don’t get out in the next year, I know that I’ll never be able to leave.”

I said, “What do you mean you’ll never be able to leave?”

He said, “Well, it’s just that way.  Guys who are here too long can’t go, because they can no longer get back into life.”  He said, “It’s just like that.  I had a lot of trouble myself.  I had a vacation last year and I went back to Germany and I was like a fish out of water for about a month till I came back here.  It’s a sickness.  It’s really got me.”

“What is it that’s got you?”

“I don’t know.  I can’t explain it.  I just don’t know what it is.”  And then he said, “You know, there’s another thing.  There’s women trouble here.”

“What do you mean women trouble?”

He said, “Well, there are no European women to speak of at all.  I’ll go for months without even a date.  Every night—how long can you spend coming back to the club and drinking gin tonics till you go to bed?  Once in awhile you read an old magazine.  I haven’t had a date in a month.  And any date that I have is some girl who’s coming through here on a two-week tour and that’s about the end of it.”

I said, “What about girls around here?”

“Oh boy, that’s dangerous.”

He had a wild look in the eye.  Up to this point I had thought, this guy’s really made it.  He’s got the big house with the patio, the company has provided him with servants and the whole business.  He’s got this big sports car and he lives up on the hill.  The whole bit.  And he’s got a wild look in the eye.

“Oh, it Happens to All of Us.”

I went to the Lido one night, a local nightclub.  A real, swinging, open-air place.  Not a nightclub like we have.  In one way it’s far more sensual than any you ever saw, and on the other hand it’s far more Victorian.  Sensuality can be so pure that there is nothing wrong associated with it.  In its raw state, sensuality is pure.  You understand me, madam? No.  Well, that’s the kind of thing it was and I was sitting there at the table drinking Nigerian beer.  It’s the only beer I ever had that has fur on it.  Let me tell you, boy!  This is fightin’ beer.  It fistfights all the way down.  For twenty minutes later you can feel it kicking and struggling.  It’s real beer.  It comes in a great big jug and it’s called Star Beer.

nigerian beer

Star Beer and a few companions

I was sitting there drinking the Nigerian beer when I noticed the entire crew of an office in town.  That was the thing that got me.  These guys were the Lagos representatives of a very official organization that is world-renowned for its absolute efficiency.  You should have seen these guys.  There were four guys over there—the managing director, his assistant, the sales manager, and his assistant, and they are pie-eyed.  They were sitting there hollering, they were knocking over the glasses.  All four of them.  It’s Saturday night and it was wild.  I was with their boss, who had just arrived on the plane from Germany today.  He looked over there and he saw his crew falling under the table.  One would get up and another would slide under.

He looked over.  “Is that Herr Schultz?”

I say, “It is indeed.”

It was getting hotter and hotter, the music was playing, the dance was going on and it was like I was in a terrible scene out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.  The next thing I knew the sales manager was weaving his way over toward us.  He reached down and grabbed the boss.  Obviously jungle rot had affected the rear part of this guy’s brain.  He grabbed the boss by the tie and he said, “How are you, old blank-blank, how is everything back there in Cologne?”  He pushed him back in his seat and knocked the beer over his lap and went reeling back to his table.

For three hours that night in the hotel, I could hear reports being written out in the next room.  I know these guys are not that kind.  They all have that kind of very official look.  It’s like if you took the most official, Madison Avenue guy you know who never gives up—you give him two years in Lagos and his eyes start looking in two different direction simultaneously.  I had this terrible feeling I had seen something out of Somerset Maugham or Joseph Conrad.  You remember those great stories of guys going slowly downhill until you could barely see them on the bay rowing their dugout canoe, in the heat, and they’re drinking stuff out of a gourd?

The next day I was talking to my friend from the other outfit.  I said, “What about this?”

He said, “Oh, it happens to all of us.”  This wild look.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Projects Galore!

Will my obsession never end?

As the (slight) possibility looms that I may get a contract to publish another Shep project, my egocentric mind goes back to all the various Shep projects I’ve produced, both published and unpublished. However, I see that I’ve already blogged my list of all that stuff–by searching the date in the right-hand column of this site, see my February 2, 2014 blog titled:

“ebb’s Jean Shepherd Bibliography.”

The categories, (with a few representative samples here) are: BOOKS (EYF!, Shep’s Army); THEATER Excelsior play about Shep); ARTICLES AND A FOREWORD (Foreword to A Christmas Story: Background...); PROGRAM NOTES (Syndicated audio program notes); UNDISTRIBUTED STUFF (Graphic novel); SPECIAL APPEARANCES Old Time Radio Convention); INTERNET (

Oh, dear, what is an obsession?


Shakespeare.Shep cartoon0002

Oh. Wow. Another Jean Shepherd Project.

(Apologies to:


Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets,

Trevor Spaulding,

The New Yorker 10/5/2015 issue,

and to my wife, Allison Morgan Bergmann.*)

*For Allison, I apologize for putting her in my little joke, and for my big obsession.

For anyone not aware of it, the process of creating, searching for an outlet for, getting a publishing contract for, struggling through the slings and arrows until publication day for–is stressful, to put it lightly. Decades ago I struggled through the search with several unpublished novels. On the verge of giving up, I was brazen enough to send material to Norman Mailer, at the time, my favorite living novelist (He’s no longer living, but still a favorite). Eventually I received his response, which I still possess, framed in my study/Shep Shrine. I’m grateful that he took the time and creative effort to respond. Here’s what he wrote:

Mailer to eb 1988

As I type this with fingers, toes, and mental wiring crossed,

I think back on those days and on Mailer.

Shep, are you with me on this one? I believe you’d be happy with the subject of my new project possibilities.

I will keep everyone informed.

Meanwhile, write if you get work.

(I’m hanging by my thumbs.)


JEAN SHEPHERD Travel in Nigeria Part 1

nigeria map

One never knows where Jean Shepherd will turn up next, what he will encounter, and how he will feel.  It’s said that his producer (and other things as well), Leigh Brown, fearing for his safety, pleads with him not to go, but in early 1962 he writes a postcard from Nigeria to his wife, actress Lois Nettleton, expressing what a great time he’s having.

He talks about his Nigerian experience as soon as he returns to New York.  He finds the experience puzzling—disconcerting, as no other travels have been for him.  He is not sure how he feels about it all.  Bittersweet he says.

Despite this immediate response, over a year after he returns, for the only time so far encountered, he says that he found one of the travel notebooks which he uses to remind him of his experiences.  It is his notebook of his Nigerian trip.  He comments, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country that I dug more—than Nigeria.”

Nigeria postcard

Card from Shep to Lois:

Hi Babe!

Just got back from the bush in Eastern Nigeria and it is something not to be believed! I’ll have shows for the rest of the year. What a place this is. There are so many things to write about that I can’t even begin a card. Am taking a run to Ghana and Cameroon this week. The people are absolutely great! Will arrive home Monday around 5 PM–would love to see you at airport. Love Love J.

Quite a contrast from his somewhat troubled, perplexed feelings articulated immediately following the trip itself.

In one of these earlier broadcasts he describes his encounter with an African-American waiting in a post office line, who recognizes his speech as American.   In the social unrest back home in these turbulent, confrontational 1960s, and now being in Africa for months, the black guy understands for the first time that “I am an American.”  Shepherd’s travel notebook reminds him a year later of this encounter.  He describes it again, and we have a unique opportunity to enjoy how Shepherd takes a little tidbit of abbreviated notation in his journal to jog his memory.  He elaborates on it in a different context so that we find it well-worth reading about again, because it is so different.   This time as a parable for patriotism on the Fourth of July. No matter where one goes, not only in his speech but in his very being, an American is still an American—and Shepherd is proud of it.

As an introduction to Nigerian history and life in the early 1960s when Shepherd traveled there, and to understand a bit about why Leigh Brown might have been worried about his safety, here is a BBC website’s description regarding the period:

1960 – Independence, with Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa leading a coalition government.

1962-63 – Controversial census fuels regional and ethnic tensions.