JEAN SHEPHERD QUEST—AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BLOG
Let me introduce myself. I’m Gene Bergmann and I am a Shep-kook. I’m obsessed with the art and enigma of Jean Shepherd.
Jean Shepherd Quest is a blog devoted to ideas and commentary about the art of the great American humorist Jean Shepherd. I try to post about every three days.
My nearly 500-page book, Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, contains as much information and ideas as I was able to amass by the end of 2004. (The book was published March 2005 by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.)
Shepherd was very secretive about his life, and much information about his work has also remained unknown to most of the world until recently. New material continues to emerge and new informants contribute new information and commentary (some surfacing through their encounters with my first book). I have enough material to fill the several so-far -unpublished book manuscripts by me now sitting in file folders and CD copies in cardboard boxes in my personal “Shep Shrine.” My intent is to expose little-known material and ideas about Jean Shepherd in this blog and in new book volumes which I hope will enjoy print publication some day. (As of early 2013, my first book has sold well over 7,000 copies in hardbound its only edition. And there are an estimated 50-to-100,000 Shepherd enthusiasts out there, plus many others who would be interested in American culture and humor, and in Shepherd’s life and work. We just need to get the word out. My second Shepherd book is scheduled to see the light of day in August 2013 as an early imprint of the new commercial publishing house OPUS, see below.)
My continuing research and ideas, and my contacts with many previously undisclosed Shepherd enthusiasts will expose much that we hadn’t known about Shepherd’s creative arts. In Jean Shepherd Quest, the arts will be foremost. His life, as potentially interesting as it may be for the curious, is not my primary focus of attention—although fascinating bits and pieces of it will emerge in this blog from time to time.
There is much to discuss. Among those whom I’ve encountered personally and discovered through my access to letters and other sources since the first book appeared, are Jerry Seinfeld, actress Lois Nettleton who was Shepherd’s third wife, his producer and fourth wife Leigh Brown, an early flame of his I refer to as the “Vampire Lady,” and Dee Snider, the enthusiastic Shep fan and articulate front man of rock and roll’s “Twisted Sister.” I have much to say about Shep: comparing him to his best friend, Shel Silverstein; discussing his important Sesame Street animated cartoon “Cowboy X,” which is a cry from the heart regarding his disappointment in the Great American Public’s failure to sufficiently appreciate his accomplishments; and, of course, my extensive musings about his outrageously popular holiday movie, A CHRISTMAS STORY.
I encourage everyone to submit ideas, information, and questions to this blog so we can all learn by participating in open discussions regarding every aspect of Shepherd’s creative world. I also encourage everyone to explore www.flicklives.com, the vast and comprehensive website maintained by Jim Clavin—it contains a tremendous amount of information on the life and work of Jean Shepherd. I would like to think that flicklives, with its encyclopedic and continuingly updated factual material about Shepherd’s life and art, and Jean Shepherd Quest—with what I hope will be a source of extensive commentary as well as some bits of previously undiscovered information on Shepherd—will be great companion pieces. Both important to the understanding of a unique American genius.
My new book of Shepherd material, Shep’s Army, is published by Opus Books, August of 2013, with a foreword by political commentator and Shepherd enthusiast, Keith Olbermann. The book contains several dozen of my edited transcripts of Jean Shepherd’s army stories as he told them on the radio over the years. None of these stories has previously been in print. (His well-known short stories already in print are his own edited transcripts of his stories improvised on the radio.) I’ve written an extensive opening introduction and short introductions to the several parts of the army book.
The parts, with their stories organized in a rough chronology and read in sequence, are what can be understood as a narrative of Jean Shepherd’s time in the army: induction; his Signal Corps education at Camp Crowder, Missouri; some general army experiences; his radar training at Camp Murphy on the edge of the Florida Everglades; and ending with his final army tales about his discharge and return to civilian life. Although the foregoing description represents Shepherd’s real-life time in the Signal Corps, it should be understood that, although inspired by his time in the army, the tales are actually created fictions, with who-knows-what parts derived from his actual experiences.
As I listened to his audios of his radio stories and transcribed them, I became increasingly impressed with the variety and quality of Shep’s created tales based on his army experiences. They are like a soldier’s comprehensive diary, like letters home to a best buddy. Shep’s Army, the book, in its arrangement of stories, might be read as Shepherd’s coming of age adventures, as “Shep’s army novel.”