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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 4 of 5 & (17) ARTSY “Guernica Colorization Kit” Augmentation Annex

fig ded

In part we create and admire artworks with diverse ways of seeing and diverse attitudes toward the subjects.  Jean Shepherd’s drawings will remain treasures for his admirers, and worthwhile objects for detailed scrutiny.  During that newspaper interview noted earlier, regarding his special ways of observing the world, promoting his own artistic priorities, he was quoted as saying that, “Artists miss the point by spending time on people’s faces,” adding that, “Faces haven’t changed in years!  A telephone reflects 20th century man much more than his face does.”  That may be true, but human forms and faces have been a prime focus of artists throughout history for good reasons—unchanged over the millennia, faces and figures tell us who we are as individuals, they are subtle and complex, and they provide a good gauge of the skill and sensitivity of the artist depicting them.  For all his ability as an observer and all his aptitude as a visual artist, maybe Shepherd lacked the particular skill or empathy required. (And maybe he disparaged depictions of people because he recognized his own deficiency.) Whatever the rationale, it seems rather odd—and enigmatic.

From what’s available to see, he sketched only a couple of people, and those without much detail.  For the most part he didn’t do faces.  Rather odd and seemingly contradictory for a humorist—observer of the human condition— who in words so skillfully depicted the human comedy, but maybe it fit within the parameters of his idiosyncratic and self-contained world.  After all, everyone doesn’t bring the same appetite or skill to the table or to the sketchbook.

To repeat from Part 1: Many additional drawings can be seen on www.flicklives.com

under “Achievements. Line Drawings.”

To end with another repeat:

leigh in bird book

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“Guernica Colorization Kit” Augmentation Annex

Previously I described my “Guernica Colorization Kit” as a vehicle for commentating negatively on the colorization of movies, and positively on Picasso’s rationale for painting “Guernica” in black, white, and grays.

While pondering my enthusiasm for graphic novels, I encountered in my Facebook inbox (5/8/2016), “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip creator Bill Griffith’s* newly posted strip. The middle panel shows Zippy in a typically innocent-but-absurdly-realistic mode:

zip to crop

I recognize that “Guernica” is, indeed, a sort of gruesome comic-strip-like image. I knew that Picasso had made, in connection with the large mural, numerous smaller works, and I note that Picasso did an etching–a two page, 18-panel one related to “Guernica.” It’s titled “The Dream and Lie of Franco,” and might be considered a mini, wordless “graphic novel.” Knowing that Franco was the fascist leader who fought against the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, it’s obvious which image represents Franco. But the poem Picasso wrote to accompany the etchings, for me, fails to elucidate its meaning. (Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently surrealistic mind.) I quote a translation of the opening portion of Picasso’s page-long, single-sentence-epic:

fandango of shivering owls souse of swords of evil-omened polyps scouring brush of hairs from priests’ tonsures standing naked in the middle of the frying pan—placed upon the ice cream cone of cod
fish fried in the 
scabs of his lead-ox heart—his mouth full of the cinch-bug jelly of his words…

DreamLieFranco part 2

dream and lie plate 2

There you have it, the whole kit and its caboodle.

(One can see that a couple of the panels in the

second sheet echo parts of “Guernica”):

Picasso’s graphic novel!

* Many will recognize Bill Griffith as the creator of the Zippy comic strip tribute to Jean Shepherd that appeared January 9, 2000 (reproduced in my EYF!).

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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 3 of 5 & (16) ARTSY-NEW YORK TIMES DELIVERY!

Another of Shepherd’s drawings shows a restaurant façade, with a window through which we see a self-contained composition of flower vase on a table and a waiter’s hand delivering a drink, showing a personal interaction going on just out of our view. At the corner of the building over the front door, is the establishment’s name, reminding the viewer of Shepherd’s improvised radio work:  “Hutton’s AD LIB.”

Here in a drawing we see one of the few instances

of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.

shepherds AD LIB

Hutton’s Ad Lib.

I did some research and determined that it was probably

located in New York, about Lex. Ave. and 47th St.

[Collection E. Bergmann]

The drawings by Shepherd so far seen in public have precise and objectively observed details—a strict depiction of what he saw—which is to say, an observation, but seemingly without an intellectual viewpoint and without feeling.  Apparently done with no preliminary pencil lines (Unless he subsequently erased them?), in a straightforward, simple style, only a couple are what one might describe as “sketchy,” but that occasional sketchiness tells us nothing new either.  On the other hand, his spoken and written words, based on the same acute ability for fine-tuned observation, produced humorous forays into humankind’s foibles.  None of the ink drawings I’ve seen seem to have any of the sense of humor or warmth (except for the Ad Lib one) for which his words are considered an equal to those other Midwesterners, Mark Twain and James Thurber.  With pen and ink in hand he saw clearly and depicted accurately, but I see no attempt to incorporate commentary except in the window scene in Hutton’s Ad Lib.

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NEW YORK TIMES DELIVERY!

Saturday mornings are a glorious time at our house, full of wild anticipation. The daily Times arrives on the lawn, encapsulated in its blue, plastic, Times bag including some sections of tomorrow’s Sunday Times. I don’t believe that any other newspaper in the world is so likely to contain such possible subject matter that thrills me so! The Wall Street Journal might approach my high standards. Tabloids are below contempt—even if they do mention some worthwhile artsy subject that entrances me, I know, from long-past experience, that the quality and thoroughness of their coverage will be vastly inadequate.

The Saturday, April 30, 2016 delivery contained major, illustrated articles, on not one, but three of my favorite creators. Kahn, Sunday Art Section; Bosch, Sunday Travel Section; Whitman, Saturday Main Section, page 1. (Understand that I have significant books and stashes of clippings and personal memory-holdings on each of these masters.)

LOUIS KAHN

After Frank Lloyd Wright, my favorite architect is Lois Kahn (1901-1974). His buildings exude a richness of materials and a warm and life-affirming feeling for light as a substance nearly on a par with material. It’s glorious to see and be within a building by Kahn. I’ve visited the one shown. Here’s The Times opening page on Kahn:

NYT Kahn l0002

HIERONYMOUS BOSCH

One of my favorites, Bosh’s work is bizarre, it is quirky, it thrills me—especially his “Garden of Earthly Delights.” I’ve been in its presence several times. Here’s The Times opening page on Bosch:

Bosch Garden travel 4.30.16

WALT WHITMAN

My favorite poet is Whitman. Some of his words and lines and poems, such as “Song of Myself,” grab me as do few other creative works. Here’s The Times continued page on Whitman that began on the main section’s front page:

W.W food tips0002

I must criticize The Times for its faulty choice of that photo of the poet—but Whitman himself bears much blame, as he promoted himself as the “Good, Gray, Poet.” Thus, he’s usually thought of and depicted as a really old guy with a long white beard. When he wrote and published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass in 1855, photos show him as a vigorous young man (about age 36). Even the Matthew Brady portraits of him taken several years after he wrote this “health” article in 1858, show him to have been much younger and more vigorous than The Times image—shame! They probably grabbed both of their printed images from the originator of the story, without the grabber thinking more knowingly. But even The Times isn’t (always) perfect.

W.W civilwar Brady

Whitman by Brady

during the Civil War (1861-1865)

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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 2 of 5

The basic materials of his art didn’t seem to concern Shepherd much except for his choice of pen.  On one occasion, in what appears to be his most prolific drawing period, the late 1950s and early 1960s, he drew while being interviewed for a newspaper interview, revealing the kind of instrument he used.  The New York Post reporter wrote that, “While Jean Shepherd talks—an activity at which he’s a virtuoso—he draws pictures of a well-worn chair, a stylized Coke bottle, a Village pad, a typewriter,” and he notes that “Shepherd clutches a German-made pen with a tip like a hypodermic needle….”  This seems to be a “technical pen,” quite popular with draftsmen and commercial artists at the time.  Although a couple of brands exist, he probably used the German-made Rapidograph, whose trade name had become so commonly used to describe the type, that it had become the generic term.

Rapidograph image

Rapidograph, still available in art supply stores.

In my design career I frequently used one.

The ink in an internal reservoir is released at the tip through a thin metal tube with a tiny rod inside it.  At least during the 1960s, as the ink would dry up in the tip when the pen hadn’t been used for a while (like for an hour or less), the pens were known for their difficulty getting started, so one can imagine Shepherd, anxious to begin, agitatedly shaking the pen up and down to unstick the tiny rod in the tube to get the ink to flow.  (These days the manufacturer claims to have solved this with an ink that is “specially formulated to be non-clogging in technical pens.”)  Despite the annoying problem back then, in contrast to pens that produce varied thicknesses of line depending on the pressure applied to the point according to the user’s inclination or even emotion, Shepherd probably decided that the consistent width of the Rapidograph stroke better served his more straightforward notions of objectively getting the subject matter down on paper.  Interchangeable Rapidograph tips allow for consistently wider or narrower strokes, but the width he seemed most disposed to was probably a number 2, for a medium-stroke, neither very thin nor very thick.

For paper surface, he must have been happy with whatever came to hand.  His sketchbooks of choice were not of a standard that, for purity and longevity, would better serve posterity. And nothing seemed to significantly affect the quality of his line—in lieu of a pad, with his obsession to get an image down with his pen, he’d draw a tiny sketch on a postcard to send to his wife, draw on a paper napkin, or, in one impressive example, on a length of paper towel.

When Shepherd sketched by himself or planned a sketching excursion with his best friend, cartoonist Shel Silverstein, or with Playboy illustrator of the current scene, LeRoy Neiman, or with watercolorist Don Kingman, usually he seemed to carry spiral-bound sketchpads of sizes from 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 to 14 by 16 3/4.  On sheets from such pads we find drawings of his apartment, one of an artist’s easel in a room, sketches of the dressing room of the Morosco Theater where his wife, Lois, was appearing, of objects on restaurant tables, of an old car, many of building facades, and a couple of churches done while wandering the streets of Manhattan and touring Europe.

shep napkin draw0002

Sketch on a Schrafft’s Restaurant napkin.

I wanted an example of Shep’s work on a napkin!

Collection of E. Bergmann

Several ink drawings stand out.  On a section of paper towel over sixty inches long, he precisely drew objects on a table including fruit on a plate and an artist’s paintbrush, and a few inches away on the towel he did a large, sketchy image of an antique Bugatti Royale limousine.

bugatti, table setting

Table setting on paper towel roll, and a sketch of a Bugatti limo,

the halves now cut apart for framing. 

Collection of E. Bergmann

 ♠

One of his drawings shows the corner of an old building in Manhattan with a tall vertical sign, EXCELSIOR, obviously chosen because the word was his favorite, friendly battle cry that ironically suggests that idealism without a firmly grounded footing is foolhardy.

Shepherd-Excelsior-small

END Part 2

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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 1 of 5 & (15) ARTSY-EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE 2 OF 2

Not many people who are aware of Jean Shepherd in the media know of the importance to him of drawing, his mostly private avocation. (Shepherd seemed to do many of his known drawings circa 1960 although some are dated as late as 1962. When I visited the apartment Shep had shared with his third wife, actress Lois Nettleton, several mid-size painting of Shepherd’s were pointed out. They were neat, well-organized abstractions, but, for me, not distinctive or innovative.)

After many years during which the pen and ink drawings of Jean Shepherd had only been known through an occasional reproduction in the Village Voice, some sketched tableware reproduced on the back of a fast food restaurant paper place mat, and two of his own books of stories and articles, more artwork recently appeared. The new and unpublished materials offered on ebay from the estate of Lois Nettleton were snapped up by Shepherd’s fans.  These drawings, mostly black ink on white paper, only a few with a touch of color, now permit a better appreciation of this part of a creator’s wide-ranging interests.

Shepherd prided himself on his close observation of all sorts of major and minor details (which he called “straws in the wind,” or “cracks in the sidewalk”), referring to their significance as often overlooked indicators of worthy concern.  This interest in observed details led him to explore and express in many media, anything and everything that came to his attention.  Shepherd said that, although people in the mass media denied that one could be competent in more than one creative field, in his many activities he proved them wrong. As his friend, Helen Gee, founder of the Limelight Café and photo gallery put it, “The amazing thing about Jean is that whatever he decided to do he did rather well….He decided to draw and he drew very well….He wanted to become an artist.  An artiste.”

010_limelight line drawing by Shep

An early drawing of the Limelight from Helen Gee’s estate

(from before Shep had broadcast there).

John Erdman, of Gee’s estate, sent me a copy of this.

When I asked about Shep’s drawings on napkins that she told me she had,

he said that they had been thrown out.

(Thank you, Jim Clavin, for this copy)

 ♠

On a radio broadcast, describing his adventures in headhunter country of the Peruvian Amazon, Shepherd commented with an idea relevant to his skills as an observer: “I was there.  I am a trained reporter.  Those of you who listen to me know that.  My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening….I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something and would like to transmit his impressions to you.”  Yes, the self-description, referring to his radio talk, applied as well to his other mass-media creations and also to his lesser-known work as a visual artist with pen and ink.

In his The Natural Way to Draw, Kimon Nicolaides begins the introduction to this important book of drawing exercises on how to observe and how to express what one sees in visual media, with a statement as appropriate to Shepherd’s spoken words as to his pen on paper: “The impulse to draw is as natural as the impulse to talk.”

 ♠

[In the next part, see more drawings. Many additional ones can be seen on www.flicklives.com under “Achievements/Line Drawings.”]

END PART 1

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(15) Emotion Outranks Technique Part 2

John Marin 

I discovered John Marin’s work in the 1970s. In the early-to-mid-20th century, he was voted the top living American artist by his peers. He had been one of the Alfred Stieglitz circle, but not as celebrated as Georgia O’Keeffe and some other modernists, in part because he had mostly worked in watercolor. I believe that what most attracted me to his work was the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I visited Maine one summer vacation because that is where he had usually painted in the years before his death in 1953. I visited his home there. His son and his son’s wife invited me to view his work on their walls and in their files. (Their hospitality gives another instance where my struggle to be adventuresome triumphed over my natural timidity.)

I found, at the time, that if I were lucky, I could probably afford a small original Marin at auction. (Prices for his work were not too high yet.) A major New York auction house had one for sale and I asked to see it out of its frame, especially because the dusty glazing somewhat obscured it. The process of removing it by their person caused the frame to come apart, so that, after I’d looked at it, it was placed in its unstable frame horizontally in a glass exhibit cabinet where it could not be adequately viewed. I’d seen it well. I bid and won. I had it re-matted and re-framed as close as I could to the original. It’s been in my view daily for decades. (I saved the old backing—it has what I identify as Alfred Stieglitz’s signature.)

Marin & I (2)

Me and my Marin

Photo by Allison M. Bergmann

Though the painting is smaller than his major watercolors and not a great masterpiece, it’s an early and decent example of his mature style and I revere it. A few years after buying the painting, I saw at auction a low-priced and unsigned (except in the plate) Marin etching I liked and bought it. What I didn’t realize until much later is that the watercolor and etching both have the same dynamic composition of a strong arrow-shape wide at the right, pointing diagonally upward toward the far left. Also, now I can’t look at the etching’s cloud formation without thinking that it also points upward to the left in a shape much like a penis and testicles.

marin paint yes

marin etching yes_resized

Ivan Hitchens

Browsing through a box-full of small publications at The Strand bookstore on Broadway and 12th, I encountered a slim monograph of an English artist I did not know of, Ivan Hitchens. The cover reproduction (shown below) struck me powerfully. It was a landscape scene of a waterfall and pond in oil that, though different from Marin’s work, struck me because of the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I have a framed reproduction of the cover image in my study and several catalogs and a major monograph of his work, but I’ve hardly ever seen an original.

Hitchens

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JEAN SHEPHERD-favored arts and artists Part 1 of 2

Shepherd sometimes talked about, or in other ways indicated, what arts and artists he loved

and even hated. What did he “vibrate to?”

MUSIC AND SOUND

He’s known for hating city-folk music and rock and roll. One wonders how much of it he’d heard, especially the later, most sophisticated styles of rock. It’s certainly understandable that he would hate the fad of relentless even rhythm of piano chord-plunking background that nearly covered the sound world of radio for an interminable time–back in the seventies was it? But how could he not vibrate positively to such masterpieces as “Satisfaction,” “Respect,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Great Balls of Fire” (surely, in its sound, the most erotic rock song ever!), “Life’s Been Good,” and “Who Put the Bomp”(one of the most playful, funniest songs I’ve ever heard!) Rock and roll expanded into so many sophisticated varieties over the decades, but I never heard Shepherd comment on rock after his early put-downs and his inaccurate prediction of  its imminent demise. (His good friend in his last years says that they talked about rock and roll–but what did they say about it?)

We know he loved classical music, opera, and modernist jazz–and jazz was an essential part of his professional life as announcer, commentator, emcee, etc. And, of course, his style of talk flowed with the rhythms and style of jazz.

1953-shep opera

 

 

 

1957-06-15_022_Concert_VV_pic

He turned many listeners (myself included) on to Django Reinhardt, whose two-finger style (necessitated by an old injury) had a lovely, lilting effect. I do believe that a major force in the great sound his group produced was his jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

Django-Reinhardt-Stephane-Grappelli He much-enjoyed, for its cuckoo-ness, Paul Blackman’s “one-man-band.” He frequently played various Dixieland jazz pieces by various groups. (In a book I just read parts of, The Village: A History of Greenwich Village, it comments: “It was no coincidence that a renewal of interest in old-school Dixieland jazz occurred around the same time….Dixieland was big in the Village clubs throughout the 1950s.”) His favorite old jazz piece must surely have been “Boodle-Am Shake” by the Dixieland Jug Blowers. (See my EYF! page 409, the beginning of the final chapter, titled “These Guys Can Play at My Funeral Any Day” for the lyrics to “Boodle-Am Shake.” The book also includes my puny attempt to describe the sound, but one must see http://www.flicklives.com to hear a bit of it.)

He was also fascinated by the myriad sounds that make up the world–and that we hardly notice–such as those of airplanes and train engines.

ART

He hardly had anything to say about visual art that he might have cared for. Picasso, maybe? He palled around with Don Kingman, Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman.

WRITING

Shepherd loved reading, and sometimes discussed and read fine poetry (including haiku–undoubtedly for its precise concision, and the amusing–if not quite fine– Archy and Mehitabel for its sharp and quirky irony and wit),archy and mehetabel cover

novels including Moby Dick and Look Homeward, Angel. He once commented that “Nelson Algren is probably as close a–a blood brother as far as philosophical outlook on–on the world…as anybody I know in literature. When I say blood brother, I mean to me. If there is anyone I vibrate to it’s probably Algren.”

HUMOR

Among humorists/comics, he definitely liked Mark Twain, George Ade (sharp and ironic criticism of ordinary people), Paul Rhymer’s “Vic and Sade” (gentle but pointed commentary on small-town mentality), P. G. Wodehouse, S. J. Perelman. He gave an enthusiastic appreciation of Jack Benny on the air.

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”

Stay tuned

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Views of Shep

We’ve seen lots of photos of Jean Shepherd and I’ve commented on how different he looks over the years–altering the physical image of himself so often–wondering and guessing as to why he does so. There are also a few images of him that are not straight photos, but are, in sense, interpretations. For amusement and amazement, here are a few:

SHEP drinking glass

Radio station promo for a pre-WOR Shep (and others)

Mad 4.1957

Shep depicted in Mad Magazine, April, 1957.

In the illustrated story titled “The Night People vs ‘Creeping Meatballism'” Shepherd’s words describe his gripes. The illustrator is EC Comics’ famed artist Wally Wood.

shep as ewing

“Full color” image of Shep on back cover,

as bogus author of I, Libertine, Frederick R. Ewing.

The full black and white image, as seen in a promo flyer shows him clearly in a kind of jungle-like environment. The New York Times, either mistakenly, or somehow contributing to the hoax-like nature of the book, in its review of it, reproduced this image and simply titled it “Jean Shepherd.” U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, upon seeing this (and having placed it above his writing desk), commented that Shep “looked sad,” not realizing that it was a consciously posed shot of the bogus author.

Jean-Shepherd-Your-Great-Shep-19581-242x300

1958 (?) photo. Pay absolutely no attention to the improper

spelling of the first word in the photo–and the lack of

a comma after the word “Great.”

look.C on bikeshep.by shelBoth images by Shep’s best pal, Shel Silverstein

(who drew the entire  “Look, Charlie”program).

The left image, from the cover of Shepherd’s theater piece, “Look, Charlie,”  shows Shep riding his motorcycle up the leg of the title’s K. On the right, from the overleaf of the program we see the cast members of the piece, beginning with Shep rapping out a tune by thumping on his head, as he did not only in “Look, Charlie,” but sometimes on his broadcasts.

WOR ad

Shep emanating radio airwaves from a WOR ad.

His is one of 25 similar images in the ad.

southern shep

Shep as a Southern gentleman in a 1971 episode of

“Jean Shepherd’s America.”

In some of these episodes, in addition to narrating, Shepherd plays the part of some character appropriate to the subject matter. (Image captured from www.flicklives.com)

1991-12-14_022_bozo_shep

Ho ho ho!

Is this fellow as jolly as he should be? Shepherd plays Santa in a television show! Can ya believe it?!

Shep photo .drawing

Traced-over-Shep.

Somebody traced over the iconic Fred W. McDarrah photo of Shep. Encountered on the web.

250px-CowboyX

Cowboy X

Shepherd did the narration for the Sesame Street animated cartoon “Cowboy X,” and he also did all the voices for it.  I’m certain that he also wrote the script, as it so profoundly represents his attitudes, and indeed, the Cowboy X character is obviously Shep himself, a clever, witty, and hostile desperado.

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Other  encountered interpretive images of Shep would be appreciated.)

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JEAN SHEPHERD Spoken & Written & Army Stories

The similarities and differences between what Shepherd spoke on the radio and what he submitted for print publication is a subject that arises from time to time. I’ve written about it and others have alluded to it in one way or another. I’ve written that Shepherd commented on a Long John Nebel show about someone saying that all he had to do was transcribe his radio stories: “Have you ever seen a tape transcribed? Well come on now.” He says it took him about ten or twelve years to get the feel of someone talking into his writing, and that as for just transcribing, “That is the last thing you can do.”

The New York Times reviewer comments that In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash “is billed as a novel, but listeners to Jean Shepherd’s late nighttime radio show will not be fooled. They will recognize this as a switch of the oral memoir the author has been ad-libbing beautifully for around 10 years.”

The Village Voice reviewer of In God We Trust wrote “Relax, gang, this isn’t a novel after all. Or at least not a Novel novel, … It’s just old Shep telling a series of loosely related stories, each close to 45 minutes long, about childhood back in northern Indiana.” With that “45 minutes long” he may be suggesting that the stories are taken directly from the radio versions—not so!

V Voice IGWT reviewVillage Voice review (12/29/66)

(Book published in October,

review missed holiday shopping orgy.)

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In the foreword to my Shep’s Army, Keith Olbermann,  from what he remembers of an encounter over thirty years before, quotes Shepherd: “It’s just that I love the radio shows. But the books! I slave over the books! They have to be exactly right. Exactly!…” There is a possible implication here that the radio stories and the printed stories are different creations entirely, yet we know that almost all of the printed stories are transcribed, edited, and expanded versions of the same stories Shepherd told on the radio. (In Shep’s Army I’ve transcribed and edited, but not expanded, Shepherd radio stories.) By comparing what he said and what he published in print it’s easily seen that there are both great similarities and some differences in the basic story and in some details between Shep’s radio stories and the printed versions.

I’m not going to analyze a story in detail, but just give indications of some differences there can be between Shepherd’s spoken and written stories. Maybe the best-known previously published one is commonly called “Troop Train Ernie” and, among the times Shep told it, is in a Limelight broadcast of July 10, 1965. Then that or another spoken version of it was subsequently published in Shepherd’s 1981 A Fistful of Fig Newtons as ”The Marathon Run of Lonesome Ernie, the Arkansas Traveler.” I’ve chosen a part near the beginning of each and a part of each that forms the basic conclusion of each version, plus a studio version’s ending.

signal corps insignia

Brass Signal Corps Insignia

LIMELIGHT NEAR THE BEGINNING: Company K has been put on the alert. And we’re in this Midwestern camp. Fantastic camp. There must have been ten-hundred-thousand-million people in it. Barracks as far as the eyes could see. And they had a siding, came right into the middle of it with trains.

And every night we’re scared out of our skull. We could hear those trains leaving. You could hear companies marching past, you could hear the equipment rattling—they’re goin’! And now it is our turn. Company K is called to attention.

FIG NEWTONS NEAR THE BEGINNING: Without warning, Company K, our little band of nearsighted, solder-burned Radar “experts,” had been rousted out of the sack at three o’clock in the morning, two full hours before revile, given a quick short-arm, issued new carbines and combat field equipment, and had been told to fall out into the company street when Sergeant Kowalski blew his goddamn whistle. Stunned, we milled about under the yellow light bulbs of our icy barracks. Some laughed hysterically; others wept silently. A few hunched over their footlockers, using stubby pencils to make last-minute finishing touches to their wills.

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LIMELIGHT NEAR THE ENDING: And suddenly it hit me. I can see right at this very minute, now, July 1965, there is a gaunt figure wearing a pair of archaic army shoes, World War II, battered, torn, his dog tags are worn to a mere nubbin, he’s got three cans of beer and he is hiding out in the woods, he’s afraid of the MPs. Have you ever heard about those Japanese who are out there on those islands? They don’t know the war is over. Do you know anything about Arkansas? I suspect that out there, in the darkness right now, my friend Ernie doesn’t know it’s over.

Ernie, wherever you are, are you aware, Ernie, that you were posthumously made a T/5? Ernie, you got back pay comin’.

A STUDIO RENDITION ENDING (February 14, 1963) And as far as I know, Ernie is still out there in Arkansas wearing those old brown shorts carrying his dog tags, hiding in the woods. He’s scared to come out. You don’t goof-off a troop train. You don’t get away with it like that. I don’t know what he did–you can’t go down to the police station and say, “I’m Ernie.” You’re walking around in your shorts, your dog tags, your GI shoes. I don’t know where Ernie is now. But it was all for the country. Ernie did it for all of us. I want you to know that. The stars and stripes forever. Hey, Ernie! Hey Ernie, I’m sorry, Ernie. You did your best, Ernie. I’ll tell you, Ernie, it’s our fault. We shoulda hollered. We felt it goin,’ Ernie. We just didn’t have the guts to do it. We didn’t have any guts! I’m sorry, Ernie. [Instead of Gasser as fellow KP grunt, this version costars Zinsmeister.]

FIG NEWTONS NEAR THE ENDING: There are times when I awake at 3 A.M. from a fitful sleep hearing the clink-clink-clink of poor Ernie’s dog tags. Ernie, lost forever in Arkansas, wearing only his GI underwear, forever AWOL, a fugitive from a sealed troop train. Is he out there yet, a haggard wraith living on berries and dead frogs? A fearful outcast? Does he know the war is over? That all wars are past?

The clink-clink-clink of Ernie’s dog tags says nothing.

dog tags

Dog Tags drawn by Jean Shepherd

near the beginning of

“Marathon Run of Lonesome Ernie,

the Arkansas Traveler”

 I can think of a way to clarify the issue, at least for some particular story that has appeared in both formats—first told on the air, then published in Playboy, then published in a Shepherd book.  But here’s the difficulty. For one thing, Shepherd may have told the story several times, such as the “Troop Train Ernie” story which he told in both the studio and at Limelight live broadcasts.  Each live version, being extemporized, would be a bit different (and who knows how many times he might have told it on programs of which no recordings have yet surfaced). And then the printed version would again be different.

Years ago, as a Norman Mailer enthusiast, I not only read his novel An American Dream, but thought it would be interesting to read the first published version as he wrote it for Esquire magazine, chapter by chapter under a monthly time restraint, as Dickens did for some of his books. How Mailer might have changed the text for book publication would be of literary interest to me in terms of style and content. I bought the dozen used issues on ebay.com and from other sources. But I finally decided that although this would be a great project for someone working toward a Masters in American Literature, the word-by-word studying and comparing the two versions would be more tedious work than I cared to expend. As one can imagine, despite my eagerness to know what the differences are and why the two versions are different in the Mailer work and in the Shepherd work, I can’t imagine myself doing the grinding, painstaking job necessary to find out. I figure at least a year or more, doing and thinking about nothing else.

The only things I know for sure are that Shepherd made the published versions longer and, in at least a couple  of them, he added obscene dialog for soldiers’ comments.

More about the obscenities to come.

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