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Home » A Christmas Story » JEAN SHEPHERD–a short chronology, 1960-1999

JEAN SHEPHERD–a short chronology, 1960-1999

Among the unpublished chapters in my book manuscripts, I encountered a chronology that, in its concentrated form, might be worth contemplating as a very short description of Jean Shepherd’s activities from 1960 on. It’s not complete or definitive, but should probably exist in some form other than in electronic blips on my computer and CDs.

1960-1977

The relative importance of his early, “night people” adult fans diminished in proportion to the subsequent, much larger student population who listened and who also attended his many high school and college appearances, and his many live talks around the country.  He met Leigh Brown, the cute, young, ambitious chick from the Village in the late 1950s, their relationship developing more strongly when she began working at WOR in the early 1960s.  His live broadcasts from the Limelight Café in the Village on Saturday nights began in February, 1964 and ended in December, 1967.  The basic week-nightly broadcasts were mostly 45-minutes long.  One never knew what sort of subject or mood he would be in and what sort of seemingly incongruent mix he might dish up on an evening, and the variety and quality of the broadcasts remained very high.

Sometimes he would tell a story or comment on the passing scene, read a bit from one of his favorite authors, sometimes play tunes on kazoo, nose flute, or jews harp, or knock out a tune by thumping on his head.  Some programs had all of the above and more.  As he loved traveling, by taking his tape recorder with him he would bring back audio samples and commentaries for his programs from such places as the Peruvian Amazon, Ireland, Germany, Australia, and the Windward Islands.

Several times over the years attempts were made to extend his listening audience by sending tapes of the broadcast programs around the country by syndication.  In one attempt, over 200 new programs were specially taped in 1964-1965, but little distribution was done before the project was lost and forgotten about in a warehouse.  Recently, these recordings, four and eight at a time, had been produced and sold in boxed CD sets. Then, more were released one program at a time at a much more expensive rate per show.

1961-07-25_038_destry_photo

Shepherd performed in several plays in the late 1950s and early 1960s, apparently wanting to concentrate on acting, but his then-wife, Lois Nettleton, noted years later, that as his natural style was improvising his own material, he had trouble remembering scripted lines.  No record exists for any acting after the mid-1960s. Of note, “Asylum,” which never opened, was an original play by Arthur Kopit, not a revival, so that its failure to open is doubly unfortunate for New York theater as well as for Shepherd in particular.

SHEP asylum

Regarding live performances, for most of his career he concentrated on performing his own material.  His attempt at doing his own storytelling by facing into the camera on television was not successful.  He did create, narrate, and usually perform, in nearly two dozen programs of two series of half-hour shows for PBS, Jean Shepherd’s America, in which, for the most part, the small video crew traveled the country filming subjects that struck them as relevant parts of American culture (1971 and 1985).  He also created Shepherd’s Pie (1978), a shorter series of half-hour programs featuring several subjects each, again mostly related to aspects of the culture that interested him.  He created three hour-and-a-half stories based on groupings of some of his originally published stories.  Most of his television work includes Shepherd himself as narrator, and he often appears on-camera.  He also created a number of other individual television programs that appeared from the 1960s on.

Although his short stories told on the air were so good and so popular, it seems that only a concerted effort by friends Shel Silverstein and Lois Nettleton had convinced him to write them out and submit them to Playboy.  (He had felt that the human voice was the most direct, and therefore best, medium, for telling tales.)  The first story appeared in June, 1964 and the last of the twenty-three in August, 1981.  He also wrote one humor piece for the magazine. Despite his antipathy toward the Beatles in particular and rock-and-roll in general, Playboy sent him to the British Isles in 1964 for their Beatles interview, which appeared in February, 1965.  Playboy gave him a “humor of the year” award four times.

Most of his short stories and some of his articles were published in his popular books.  He inevitably created odd and funny titles for his stories and books.  Although some of the names in his stories refer to actual people of his childhood, Shepherd’s short stories are mostly fiction.  (For example, Flick’s family insisted that he had never had his tongue stuck to a pole.)  Shepherd claimed that the themes of some of these tales were metaphorical.  For example, he noted that the BB gun story was an anti-war tale.  One might also find an anti-war message in his story of waring tops, “Murderous Mariah.”  Over the years, Shepherd wrote scores of articles for many diverse periodicals, and did forwards and introductions to books that related to one or another aspect of his wide-ranging interests regarding American culture.

Shepherd loved radio, but its importance in the culture began to decline in the 1950s with the coming of television.  His creative interests in other media expanded and his WOR Radio work ended April Fools Day, 1977.  Despite his love for New York City, he and Leigh Brown moved to a condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  In 1984 they bought a house on Sanibel Island, Florida, where they lived, becoming increasingly isolated, even from friends, for the rest of their lives.

sheps maine house

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1 Comment

  1. Bud says:

    An excellent chronology, Gene… enjoyed it very much. Thank you!

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