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When Shep Was a Tadpole
For the years in radio before he arrived in New York, the important thing to know about his career would be if we had more audios of this early work to compare with later broadcasts, but basically we do not. So, although people knew him and heard him then and still talk about those good early days, almost all we have other than his last two half-hours in Philadelphia and a few other tiny bits, is their remembrances that he had already developed much of his style and content. His first album, “Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music” seems to indicate that, but the most interesting thing would have been if the jazz musician who was still alive until recently had only responded to requests to give his remembrances. He never did. He died. After “Into the Unknown,” he had gone on to write the music to the Broadway smash, “Man of La Mancha.” Imagine what he could have told us about early Shepherd in relation to how he worked and in what ways he thought as a jazz artist with words.
When Shep Was a New New Yorker
Photo by Roy Schatt circa 1956
What we know of interest of Shepherd’s early New York years became much more of an open book than it had been through information regarding his relationship with actress Lois Nettleton and with his producer, Leigh Brown.
(That Shepherd himself had kept his friendship and relationship with
Lois and Leigh hidden from his audiences didn’t help.)
I’ve reported in this blog much of what Lois had commented. She had spoken in an interview with Doug McIntyre in 1960, and she had spoken to me by phone and written a letter to me as well as dozens of notes about my EYF! that I’ve also reported here. This information reveals that she had been more than just “the actress Shep had married.” She was a strong influence on him and had helped him in his efforts in his aborted acting career. She also recorded his shows for him and had discussed them with him on what seemed to be a nightly basis. Considering her genius IQ, she must have been a considerable help and might have given us many more insights than I reported in blog posts about her interactions with him. She might have told us more about the I, Libertine affair, relationship with John Cassavetes and his making of Shadows, the making of the Charles Mingus “The Clown” improvised Shepherd narration (all of which she witnessed). She could have had more to say about her and Jean’s interactions with Shel Silverstein, and maybe more memories about his avocation in the field of painting and pen-and-ink drawings. Her additional thoughts were never revealed, because, though she and I had expected to meet in New York on her next trip, before that could happen, she became ill and died in January, 2008.
Because of the many letters that Leigh Brown wrote to her best friend and that I obtained and reported on, we now know that Leigh was far more than the almost nameless cipher she had appeared to most of us. She was a smart woman who helped Jean’s career in important ways previously discussed here. In fact, she is the one brought his manuscript of The Ferrari in the Bedroom to Dodd Mead publishers after Doubleday had turned the book down. We now know that in many ways, she had been crucial to his life and work.
Hokusai’s “Both Banks of the Sumida River”
I’m a great enthusiast of Japanese wood-block-printed pictures, and my favorite artist is Hokusai, whose series of “36 Views of Mount Fuji” contains what is probably the finest and best known image of the genre, showing an enormous wave overarching a small boat and its occupants. On the far horizon is Fuji.
Individual images are the best known and most-collected Japanese woodblock-printed works—because they can be framed and hung on walls. Especially fine first printings of well-known works sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The traditional Japanese woodblock artists, especially in the 18th and 19th century, also made numerous groupings of smaller images designed and published as books. By their very nature books can only be appreciated by turning the pages one by one. Some of these woodblock books achieve the level of the finest “artists books.”
I’m the fortunate/lucky owner of Hokusai’s masterwork in book form, an original printing (1805/1806) of his “Both Banks of the Sumida River.” No telling how many copies were printed or still exist, but I believe that it is extremely rare. Jack Hillier, an authority on Japanese art, in a major publication, uses pages of Hokusai’s “Both Banks…” in color on both front and back of the dust jacket, and describes it as “…justifiably considered as one of the outstanding Japanese colour-printed books.”
Internet Repro of Cover
Internet Reproduction of a Double-spread.
The book, with 23 double pages, is a continuous panorama of the environs of the river that flows through Tokyo. If one opens two contiguous pages, one sees that the work consists of one unending scene.
Scan From my Original Book
(Left Side of a Double Spread)
In the upper left corner of the scan from my copy, one sees a kite with string–if one turns the page over, as one does a Japanese book– one sees that attached string and the continuation of the scene. The double-spread scenes change from season to season, some depict rainy weather, and another shows snow-covered buildings. The entire 3-volume book is one continuous view of the river, its weather, its landscape, and surrounding human activities!
When I encountered a major auction house’s sale catalog that included “Both Banks…” for the first time I recognized my opportunity, not to just see reproductions, but to see and hold in my hands, for a few minutes, an original copy. (At auction galleries, during the exhibition before an auction, one has the unbelievable opportunity to see and snuggle up to masterpieces!) The item was described as “one volume of the two-volume set,” I’d be able to determine which volume was for sale (Only one volume of the two or three?), and why the set was mis-described as consisting of only two volumes, when my Japanese-published book I’d bring with me, apparently reproduces three volumes complete–in color.
My Japanese Book Reproducing Hokusai Works
Showing the Covers of the Three Separately
Bound Volumes and the First-Page-Spread of “Both Banks…”
At the auction house, with the original and my book illustrating all three volumes alongside, I compared them page by page and discovered that the single volume for sale contained all three volumes bound together as one—it was complete! What a find! I bid, I won. For decades I have daily looked at my original Hokusai book displayed in our living room in its full, open, 10¾” X 13” width. I sometimes take it down, fondle it (I own an original masterwork by one of my favorite artists!), and view all the pages, replacing it on its stand with a different double-page opening to view.
How was I able to possess this?
Most rich collectors want art they can display on a wall, and don’t appreciate the value of a book–an art object one can hold in one’s lap.
I recognized the mis-description and proved to myself that it was complete. Most of those who read the catalog (rich collectors and their dealers) would only want a complete work, not “one volume of the two volume set.” After my purchase, a Japanese print authority I questioned told me that sometimes a wood-block-print publisher, after assembling sheets into separate volumes for sale, would indeed, bind additional sets of sheets into a single volume.
As one can see in my scan, the book is water-damaged on the lower corner of nearly every page, and may or may not be a consciously paler-printed, or somewhat faded-copy. Rich collectors only want pristine stuff to show off. (I believe the pristine appreciates in monetary value faster, too.) Yes, I’d prefer the pristine but could never afford the price, even if one did come on the market.
I pursued my quest.
I encountered fortuitous circumstances.
I especially treasure my wounded masterpiece.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I try to avoid psychoanalyzing Jean Shepherd–or anyone else. (My Excelsior, You Fathead! indicates some bits about Shep’s attitudes, but mostly these are described by those who knew him, rather than through my own interpretations.) But–after perusing a new book about Shakespeare’s evolving attitude toward women as seen in his plays–I thought it of interest to attempt to objectively describe some aspects of Shepherd’s life and works as it relates to what might be interpreted as his changing attitude toward women.
Shepherd, in his talk and writing, infrequently deals with the female of the species, so the following is not suggested to be any kind of encompassing description–much less a conclusive analysis–it’s just some observations that might have some connection to Shepherd’s way of being and his creative works.
His kid stories mainly relate to young boys at play, and a few of his teenage stories do relate to dating. His army stories infrequently relate to encounters with women. One, in my Shep’s Army concerns a sexual encounter (implied). Another story, about when he was stationed in Ft. Monmouth, NJ (a very short stay, I imagine) relates to he and a buddy encountering a sad woman–I don’t remember the details and don’t like the story much. Not much else.
Some of the material and thoughts here are based on comments found in Excelsior, You Fathead! Chapter 13, “Tiny Embattled Minority.”
MOM AND SOME EARLY “LOVES”
Fictional mom in A Christmas Story
Some really young females in Shep’s early life–
Dawn Strickland, Esther Jane Albery, Dorothy Anderson
[Dawn Strickland cropped from photo courtesy Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.]
Mom is traditional, nurturing, hard-working over the kitchen sink and cooking the conventional meat loaf. Conventional both in fiction and as one might gather about her when Shepherd speaks of his “real” mother. Soon after he graduated from high school, his father left the family forever by driving off with a young female co-worker in a convertible.
Shepherd told various stories of his experiences (mostly in fictional form) with grammar-school and high-school girls, sometimes on dates, some of whom he had a crush on. He reportedly wrote love letters to Dorothy Anderson while he was in the army in his early 20s.
Years later (1959), in Shep’s theater piece “Look, Charlie,” it’s said that, in a very old-fashioned image of female-as-underling/slave girl, he scripted actress Lois Nettleton, his girlfriend at the time, to feed him grapes as though he were a Roman emperor and she a servant:
Lois, as subservient hand-maiden,
presumably as seen in the theater piece,
depicted in Shel Silverstein’s
for “Look, Charlie.”
In those early days, Jean Shepherd seemed to have a very traditional image of girls and women. His early marriages seem to show him with a similar attitude.
Only recently has it been confirmed that Shepherd had been married very early on. Nothing much is known of this brief and well-hidden marriage except for this:
Credit: Steve Glazer
Jean Shepherd’s second marriage was to Joan Warner, mother of his two children. (Joan does not want to be interviewed regarding her former husband–I’ve tried several times.) Evidence from some general comments and actions by Shep suggest that she had traditional ideas of what marriage should be. Here they are, the happy couple:
Shepherd had some general comments to say about adult women/wives. One comment related to a husband whose wife arm-twisted him into doing some work on their house– because of his digging around the house foundation, the end of the house sank. In another similar instance, the digging under the house demanded of the wife resulted in unearthing a den of rattlesnakes. He seemed to be suggesting that doing what a wife nagged one to do could result in horrible disasters.
Regarding the entire idea of a permanent commitment such as marriage, Shepherd seemed negative. In what one might be forgiven in interpreting as a comment on clinging women, Shepherd on a broadcast commented that some people were the hulls of ships while other people were the barnacles that clung to their undersides.
In an earlier post I suggested that Shepherd wanted to be free and able to do just exactly what he wanted without being tied down to a little house with a lawn and a picket fence, and that this may well have caused him to leave the family he was married to and seek freedom and further fame in the Big Apple.
Lois Nettleton, in an early interview after Shep’s death responded to a comment by saying that he had strongly disliked family get-togethers: “Oh, hated them!”
WOMEN’S LIB AND EQUALITY
Shepherd sometimes had strong opinions about women’s lib. On July 31, 1960 on his program he said:
“I’ll tell you–most chicks today want to be treated as though they are tender flowers–and they prefer to act like King Kong. You see there’s that neat split–you want me to pick up your handkerchief while you are kicking me in the duff–with a pair of hobnailed boots. Now which do you want? Now I can do either, and can take either.”
Maybe he’d just had a bad day, but there are other Shepherd quotes in a similar vein.
Shepherd’s third wife, Lois Nettleton, was a very intelligent, very independent woman. She wrote that she felt that they were both independently successful in the entertainment field and were a good match for each other. She may have agreed to playing the subservient woman in a scripted part in “Look, Charlie,” but it doesn’t seem her general style. She believed in and assumed that she had total equality with Jean.
Mr. and Mrs. (Lois) Jean Shepherd, early 1960s.
Lois Nettleton a few years later as a Hollywood star.
Lois commented, “To me, our marriage was an ideal pairing of two famous career people who didn’t need to lean on each other, who enjoyed getting to know more about each other each day. Who made no demands, were flexible, and loved getting back together again after long absences. Glamorous, exciting! Very naïve of me—but actually very good for him in many ways—even after divorce, which he tried to avoid, he wanted to keep the relationship.”
When Leigh Brown and Jean first became friends, he was married to Lois. Leigh became obsessed with Jean’s mind–and with his genius on the radio. She would do anything to have him. And eventually she managed to separate Jean from Lois. According to WOR General Manager Herb Saltzman, she began at WOR as a gofer and “She bought into the myth [that he was a genius].” She had seemingly given up all her early ambitions in order to be with Jean. But, little by little, she became Jean’s editor, agent, producer, co-creator (to some extent). By the time his career in radio was about to end, she could hold her own with his dominating personality. At the time that Jean left his radio career, they had been living together for some time, and in 1977, they married.
By the time Leigh Brown died in 1998, she had seemingly become a major force in Jean’s professional as well as in his personal life. Laurie Squire, their coworker and close friend for decades, puts it (quoted in my EYF!): “They were Jean Shepherd. She sublimated, but she had a very--I can’t emphasize enough–she had a very strong personality. And I think he admired that….Quite a temper. She could hold her own! The power behind the throne. He was the creative genius. She knew how to operate in the real world.”
From those who knew them well, it seems as though Jean could not live without her. He died the year after she died.
I’d say that by the end, she and he were equals.
She had made them so.
Thinking about Shepherd’s important moments and decisions in his life.
How did he get to where he became.
Some repetition and a continuation to not really a conclusion
in enigmatic, unsatisfactory endings–that can only continue.
WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN!?
Why–was he happy with his choices–what might he otherwise have done?
This is a difficult area and one which I usually avoid, because it is to a large extent speculative, and based–inevitably–on incomplete/inaccurate information. But maybe by doing little more than listing some milestones, one might get some clues about the Jean Shepherd enigma.
Photo courtesy of
Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
I believe it of value to note and define, what to my mind are important points of Shep’s life and career. Some relate strongly to his creative world. Surely there will be some disagreements in this list. (It should be noted that, although years of publication are given, some of these activities/creations obviously were in progress at least in the previous year as he worked on the project.)
• • •
Moves to New York City, the center of the artistic/intellectual life he desired. It leads to almost all of his important creative achievements. At some early point in his life in NYC, he becomes involved with many of its artistic activities, including connections to: Greenwich Village and the Village Voice; relationship with Lois Nettleton; his reported introduction by Shel Silverstein to Leigh Brown.
• • •
This is the period I describe as “The Great Burgeoning.” It includes what I can think of as crucial and innovative parts of his professional life: Overnight, improvised radio from January to August 1956; Village Voice connections; connections to the modern jazz world including emceeing important jazz concerts, narrating Charles Mingus’ “The Clown,” and writing periodical columns on jazz; creating his I, Libertine book hoax; promoting John Cassavetes’ Shadows; editing and writing intro to his George Ade book. (From the front page of the Voice, the first image shows left to right: Shep, Lois Nettleton, Anne Bancroft.)
• • •
Convinced (according to Hefner by Shel; Lois said convinced by herself and other friends) to transcribe and edit his improvised stories and get them published (Playboy and in books).
• • •
Creation of first season of the television series
Jean Shepherd’s America.
• • •
Co-creation and narration of movie A Christmas Story.
• • •
Moving to Florida. Shep had numerous times expressed that New York City was his true home because of its vitality, artistic ambiance–why did he move? Finances? Lessening of his intellectual interests? Other?
• • •
Creation of second/final season of the television series
Jean Shepherd’s America.
• • •
Leigh Brown, helpmate, supporter, and love of his life, dies.
• • • • • • • • •
10/16/1999–into the future
Shep dies. Tributes and remembrances flow from many sources.
• • • • • • • • •
(As always, I’d appreciate any and all comments,
including additions, subtractions, corrections,
and further thoughts.)
Excelsior & seltzer bottle
More to come
“Don’t Go, It’s Dangerous!”
“I’d like to thank the people who made it possible for us to go.
The Luden’s Candy Company footed the bill for this fantastic trip
and provided me and the two other men with an adventure
which I would like to tell you about. An adventure which I’m sure
not many men have ever had.”—Jean Shepherd
Live life to the fullest. Pick it up and lay it down. Move forward. A nine-foot behemoth striding in fantastic steps across the tundra of existence.
Hey, should I really go? To Peru? This is no funsville. Everybody thinks I’m going to take one of these little Pan American flights where they give you martinis, give you some cashew nuts, and you whoopee and holler and get down there and they start playing “Begin the Beguine.” I’m talking about the Peruvian jungle, of which there are few more jungle-like, and the waters are full of crocodiles and electric eels. People down there have strange appetites. They tell me the one thing they really dig are guys with beards. You know, they can’t grow beards themselves.
Believe me, John Wayne, when he’s about to storm the pillbox, does not look back at the battalion and yell, “Shall I go or not, fellas?” To a man they’d holler, “Go! Go on!” Everybody’s for me going to see the headhunters. They all want to hear about it. Typical twentieth-century man—he wants to hear about stuff.
Shall I go or not?
[A pleading, nearly sobbing female voice, undoubtedly that of Shepherd’s producer, gofer, editor, agent, confidant, lover, Leigh Brown, cries out from the control room: “No, don’t go! No!”]
Leigh Brown: “No, don’t go! No”
What was that?
[“No, don’t go!”]
[“Don’t go!” says the plaintive voice.]
[“’Cause,” she says more quietly, but still afraid. “Don’t go. It’s dangerous.”]
Oh, ha, ha, ha, what is danger to a happy-go-lucky rake like me? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Well, I’ve been debating about this. In case you haven’t heard, I have been more or less euchred. It’s like a crummy avalanche, I tell you. At first I thought it was kids laughing about it, and the next thing I know, guys are calling me up and offering me curare cures. They’re calling me up and saying, “Of course I’ve got the stuff if you get a piranha bite.” Gee whiz, I guess you don’t get one piranha bite, do you? Piranha bites come in bunches, like bananas.
My Playboy editor called and says, “Are you really going to go on with this nutty thing? Shave off your beard.”
I say, “Why?”
He says, “They like beards.” He says, “It doesn’t make any difference how Christian they are, you know. If they’re ex-headhunters, you can’t tempt them that much. You’re liable to be the greatest head that’s shown up there. And one guy’s gonna be skulking in the back of the tribe who says, ‘Well, all right, so I did swear off headhunting. But just this once! A guy can fall off the wagon once.” And the editor says, “You can always grow another beard, but it’s a little hard with a head.”
Gee, wow, I just don’t know what to do.
[“Don’t go! No! Don’t go.”]
The voice of a listener is heard throughout the land. Oh yes, real-life adventure always leaves real-life listeners very cold. Yes indeed. We’re aware of that, friends.
We’re not going to talk about headhunters, but I’ll state my case for what it’s worth. That there are very few areas of existence today that allow for actual, true adventure. Now, getting fired from BBD & O is not adventure. Trying to get a job at Y & R is not adventure. Being rejected by a chick on McDougal Street is really not the same as Captain Ahab gettin’ belted in the chops by a white whale. Although many a pimply-faced youth thinks it’s the same problem.
So I feel, as our life gets more and more under control, as we get our world more civilized, more paved—oh, by the way, speaking of the natives down there of this particular tribe, the Shapras, they have a real hang-up on T-shirts, so we’re going to take some white T-shirts to give them. And some red beads. I’m seriously thinking of buying a bunch of those little phony shrunken heads—you can get them in novelty stores on Sixth Avenue. Bring a whole bunch of them down there and say, “Look, fellows, if you really want some heads—.“ Just sort of unload them on ‘em….
When you think of guys on a fantastic dig somewhere, near the mountains of the moon, somewhere in central Africa, you’re always imagining them uncovering this rare jawbone of Australopithica camperus, some really rare creature—great moment. “Aha! Will you please come here! Oh, please, oh!” And when the natives are coming over the tundra with their flags flying and they’re attacking the camp, you don’t see the scenes before and after, and you don’t even see the scene of preparation, really. And I wonder about that moment when you step out of the plane. We get to our location by helicopter—there’s no other way to get in. There’s no Peruvian Jungle Hilton and it’s doubtful whether they honor Diners Club Cards. The Shapras live at the headwaters of the Amazon, and they live in the jungle that is filled with jaguars.
“Jaguars and pirhanas, oh my!”
The rivers are jammed gill to gill with piranhas all looking with little red-rimmed eyes, waiting for somebody to slip on the bank. In between the piranhas are crocodiles, who live on the piranhas. Next to the crocodiles, lying down there at the rocky bottom of the river, are electric eels who generate power roughly the equivalent of Trenton with all of its lights on at once. They tell me that every electric eel down there is roughly about two-hundred-thousand Watts, and when he lays it on, he can light up light bulbs all the way down in Argentina, twelve-thousand miles away, just by sticking his eyes out of the water and squeezing hard. Under practically every rock and tree is a boa constrictor.
What has this done to the natives? Well, let me tell you. You have no idea. But I understand that for the natives, life is one long worry. Apparently the stone-age life is not exactly what most of the people who believe in the “noble savage”—like Rousseau—thought it was. Life is one long nip-and-tuck. According to the fellow who was in touch with me, these people don’t grow to be forty, you see, the attrition rate head-wise being what it is in the neighborhood. And they’re all roughly five-foot-six and extremely muscular—and touchy.
So, I don’t know. The thing that makes me wonder is getting out of the helicopter and the jungle is all around you and you can hear the piranhas feeding off in the river there.
The chief comes forward: “Ungwawa.” And he raises his skull and rattles and all the others peer out of the undergrowth. After you have made contact, then what?
You sit: “Nice day, chief.”
“Aya mula dagwaya.”
“Nice little place you got here, heh, heh.”
“Uya agarrwa. Ga waya.”
“What did he say?”
You look over to your interpreter and his face is dead white. “Oh, sorry, chief. Sorry.”
You wait for the helicopter to come back ten years from now.
An old friend of mine who does travel pieces for Playboy—Shel Silverstein—really travels around—and I mean there’s a difference between traveling and tourist things. Usually a traveler is a lonesome, solitary figure….
(Self portrait of Shep’s
best friend, Shel.)
Whereas the tourist remains part of the thing that he was that he’d left at home. He really remains a Texan or a guy from White Plains. Because he usually travels with a lot of other guys from White Plains and Texas. They travel like a little knot of migratory birds moving across the landscape. You hear people who don’t travel a lot, but once every five years they make their two-week trip to Paris, and they talk about how they’ve really been there and really know about it….I’ve often read in the angry-type magazines about the American who goes to other countries and he refuses to be anything but an American and they somehow put that down. Well, I can only submit that the saddest American of all is the American who goes to Karachi and buys himself a robe and squats down beside a sacred cow and pretends that he’s a guru. [Probably referring to Allen Ginsberg here.] And this attempt to be something you aren’t is, to me, the most profound kind of dishonesty. So it’s a profound kind of comment on a sort of cosmic rootlessness.
Shepherd often drifts into a related subject and gives his philosophical opinion. As we note, he does not like the tourist who gets off a plane and into a limo to be escorted through some exotic place, and neither does he like the American who goes to some exotic place and tries to be one of those exotic creatures. In the 1960s, many young people did don the native robe and attempt to take on a life other than the American one they probably could never escape.
Shepherd is neither one kind nor the other. He is always an American and proud of it, but he is an American who loves to experience other places and understand them in his own way—and interpret those other places for those who care to attend to him. To some extent he seems to take pleasure in frightening friends (and maybe a lover) in regard to the dangers he is about to face—and he is known for his occasional forays into hyperbole.
Stay tuned for further parts
of Shepherd’s Amazon
What’s Shep all about, anyway?
I wish I knew.
Chapter 1 ??? Chicago South Side??? I’m a kid, see. Hammond, W. G. Harding.
Chapter 2 …Dorothy Anderson, Helen Weathers, Flick, Eileen Ackers, Patty Remaley, Ester Jane Albery, Randy Shepherd, et al…..
Chapter 3 !!! Steel-mill mail boy!!!
Chapter 4 !?!?→↑→↓ Crowder, Murphy. T/5 →↑→↓,!?!?
Chapter 5 Cinci, Philly, married (Barbara Mattoon), divorced, married Joan Warner.
Chapter 6 NYC, Jazz, WOR, burgeoned, night folk, divorced.
Chapter 7 Libertine, ↓ fired/rehired=Sweetheart, married Lois Nettleton↑.
Chapter 8 Playboy, IGWTAOPC, divorced.
Chapter 9 TV
Chapter 10 ACS (aka In God We Trust, etc.)
Chapter 11 Married ↑Leigh Brown. April Fool=1977: bye bye, WOR.
Chapter 12 Lady Finger Lake Road on Snow Pond Lake: Sanibel Island.
↓Leigh died 1998. JPS died: RIP 1999↓.
Chapter 13 ↑Radio Hall of Fame, EYF!
Chapter 14 Seinfeld nails it↑.
Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Oscar, Obie, etc., etc., etc., (Not altogether true.)
But why doesn’t Shep have far more important tributes–like Harvey Pekar, creator of the American Splendor graphic/autobiographical novels? Recently a statue was created in Pekar’s honor, installed in his favorite Cleveland library:
Pekar stepping out of a “comic book page”
on a real library desk.
Oh, sure, Shep got a Community Center:
But, is Shep immortalized in a booblehead? Pekar is!
[Bobblehead is ridiculous, right?
But how many of us would like to see (and possess)
a Jean Shepherd bobblehead?
Damn near all of us fatheads, right?]
♦ ♦ ♦
[December 10, 2014. This post comes a day earlier than my usual schedule because of the complexities of moving our home about 2 miles further east on Long Island. I’m expecting that the next post and those following will be on the usual schedule–following one on 12/14.]
♦ ♦ ♦
The above title is the name of a newly surfaced Shepherd Holy Grail we didn’t even know existed. In that regard, the front matter of one of my unpublished Shep book manuscripts states:
The author beseeches all those potentially munificent fatheads who harbor miscellaneous Jean Shepherd holy grails to come forth with them now before their ignorant heirs toss them in a dumpster.
A Shepherd fan, Jonathan Sanger, after many years of holding onto it, passed along to Jim Clavin a 20-minute video made, apparently, in 1966, by Sanger and his friend Al Tedesco, graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania.
As Jim Clavin comments, it seems a bit like the broadcast program, “Three Worlds of Jean Shepherd,” in which a WNYC production crew followed Shep during his perambulations in Greenwich Village and elsewhere in 1967. Jim describes that 30-minute program:
“Not much is known about this. I recorded the audio from the show, but can only describe the video portion. The 3 worlds are ‘Radio’, ‘Limelight Shows’ and ‘Writing’. The show follows Shep through the moments right before he goes on the air, walking down the hall and into the studio just as his theme begins to play. Along the way he speaks about the Limelight performances and his writing as he is interviewed in his WOR office by John Wingate (?). There is even a minute of Leigh Brown describing how it was to work with Shep.”
“Channel Cat” also follows Shep around, in this case, mostly within walking distance of his New York WOR broadcast studio at 1440 Broadway (just south of Times Square). Parts of the audio are recordings of Shep talking. What is so wonderful about this video is that we see Shepherd in motion: walking along Broadway, entering WOR premises, being in his office space showing his desk area, in his studio broadcasting, and some shots of producer Leigh Brown in the engineer’s booth on the other side of the glass. Here are some stills, all in glorious black and white video.
Shep walking the streets of Mid-town with his
small-brimmed, tan hat.
[By pure coincidence, during the mid-60s, for years,
in cool weather, I daily wore the exact same tan hat!]
Shepherd performing at the Limelight.
Shep in the WOR studios, at his desk.
Note the Laurel and Hardy picture, upper left.
There’s also a Buster Keaton portrait there.
Leigh Brown in the engineer’s control booth.
Shep on the air.
On the air, obviously enjoying himself!
Many thanks, for making this video and allowing it to be seen by one and all! Jim Clavin will have more on his http://www.flicklives.com site. Let us hope that any others who have Shep material make it available before it’s too late (the dumpster looms for all of us and for all historical records!).
The happy couple(s)
As with virtually everything else about the life of Jean Shepherd, even the number and the details about his marriages are confused. Until now! Of course we know that Shep himself was mostly guilty of hiding and confusing the facts of his life.
The most mysterious and unknown aspect was about his first marriage–did it really exist–before he married Joan Warner, mother of his two children, Randall and Adrian? That mystery has been solved by Shep fan Steve Glazer, who recently emailed me and Jim Clavin with what seems to be definitive evidence. Shep’s first wife was Barbara Mattoon. of Hammond, IN.
Puzzle and enigma.
Let’s do the accounting backwards.
[From most recent and familiar to earliest and most mysterious.]
Leigh Brown (Nancy Prescott), married March 2, 1977 until her death July 16, 1998, she was his constant companion, his assistant, editor, producer, co-creator, steadfast support for some years before and then after their wedding in March, 1977 (just as he was about to end his WOR Radio career).
[The person charged with clearing out their Sanibel home
claimed he had the marriage license for Jean and Leigh.
He has disappeared with various important items
in the life and art of Shep.]
Lois Nettleton, married December 3, 1960 until the divorce papers sometime in 1967, “The Listener” to his “overnight” broadcasts in early 1956. She was an actress, most famous for her staring role in The Twilight Zone episode about the sun nearing the earth. She recorded many of Shep’s programs and they would discuss them when he returned after work.
[The New York Times, in its obit (by stating as fact what was obviously a
misunderstanding by whoever gave them the info),
erroneously states that Randall Shepherd “…was not aware of his father’s
second marriage to the actress Lois Nettleton….”
Randall was not aware of Lois having married Jean twice, because it is not true.]
Regarding more details about Leigh and Lois,
see my previous posts. (see my blog’s left column
and click on their names.)
Joan Warner, married September 9, 1950-1957. Shep, Joan, and son Randall moved to New Jersey when he began radio broadcasting for WOR in 1955. Without telling Lois Nettleton about his married state, Shep began seeing her, until Lois said she found out and stopped the relationship–until he produced his divorce papers.
Barbara Mattoon, married 29 March, 1947. When Shep got out of the army in late 1944, according to Steve Glazer, “Shep’s first professional broadcasting job as an adult was apparently also at WJOB, shortly after his discharge from the Army. Working at WJOB at the same time as Shep was a young and pretty Hammond resident named Barbara Mattoon, who helped maintain the radio station’s library.” During the war she had reportedly written to dozens of military personnel, in a way that could be described as “flirting.” At some point Shep moved to Cincinnati. (Jean and Barbara were married for about three years or less–until about 1950.) Then Jean married Joan Warner, who had graduated from the U. of Cincinnati in 1950.
Regarding Barbara, for many years, only Lois Nettleton and Randall Shepherd
seemed aware of this early marriage. Steve Glazer,
whom we thank for this information about Barbara and Jean,
believes that after their divorce, for whatever reason,
they both did what they could to make their marriage disappear.
They almost totally succeeded.
In June, 2014, after posting my series on Leigh Brown, it occurred to me that such a story of a woman who fulfilled (at least a good part of) her dream, would be an appropriate subject for MS Magazine. She had intelligence, talent, love, and perseverance. I condensed the posts into what seemed to be the appropriate emphasis, word-count, and number of illustrations for MS requirements. I submitted it, and about a month later I got the manuscript back with a form-rejection letter. With the slight variation and considerable condensation from the original 7 posts, I thought it would be useful to post it here.
* * * * *
LEIGH BROWN, CREATOR AND ENABLER
The Lives and Love of an Arty Village Chick
by Eugene B. Bergmann
Leigh Brown, from the early 1960s through the late 1990s, was the steadfast, all-purpose, vital element in the life and art of the raconteur and wit, Jean Shepherd. Considered a worthy successor to Mark Twain and James Thurber, Shepherd was the master of talk-radio, known for his nightly improvised broadcasts from the mid-50s to April Fool’s Day 1977 on New York’s WOR, entertaining and intellectually tickling the better parts of the minds of generations. Jerry Seinfeld exclaimed: “He really formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd.” Shepherd published twenty-three of his short stories in Playboy and interviewed The Beatles for the magazine. He created successful television series including Jean Shepherd’s America, and created the popular holiday film about the kid who wants a BB gun and nearly shoots his eye out, A Christmas Story.
Leigh and Jean married in 1977 and she died in 1998. He died the year after—those who knew them surmised that he could not live without her. What hasn’t been sufficiently known until now is that Leigh Brown was the power behind the throne and fulfilled some of her own aspirations—not all she hoped for maybe, but more than any of us ever imagined she had.
A little back-story. Leigh Brown’s best friend from her teenage and young adult years, Barbara, on the main Jean Shepherd web page (www.flicklives.com), said she’d like to talk about Leigh. I, as the author of the only book about Shepherd’s work, leaped at the opportunity. I wanted to understand the personal and professional relationship Leigh had with Jean and in what way it all mattered to his life and art. All we Shepherd enthusiasts knew was that she began at WOR sometime in the early 1960s as Shepherd’s gofer, worked her way up, contributed to many of his projects—and eventually published her own novel.
* * * * *
Who was Leigh Brown, the person who would put all her abilities to work for Jean Shepherd for the rest of his career? Just the meek and efficient acolyte, brow-beaten by him on and off the air—at least until near the end of his radio years, when she could hold her own? If this be gossip, make the most of it—because it’s on the highest level, in which we understand what makes people tick and interact with each other for their mutual benefit. The story proves to be a revelation regarding the creative life of Leigh Brown.
Leigh Brown, aka Nancy Prescott, 1957 high school photo.
Barbara told me that Leigh, eighteen, had eloped with a classmate right out of high school because she was pregnant, then left her husband and their baby because she couldn’t see herself as a conventional woman with spouse and kid living behind a picket fence in small-town New Jersey. She moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, where the action was. The understanding is that Jean Shepherd left his wife and kids because he couldn’t see himself as a conventional guy with a spouse and kids living behind a picket fence in small-town New Jersey. He moved to New York’s Greenwich Village where the action was. Imagine where these coincidences are heading.
* * * * *
Before Leigh arrived on the scene, Lois Nettleton, actress and Miss Chicago 1948, an avid radio listener of Shepherd’s, was forming an intellectual and emotional attachment to him by 1956, not yet knowing that he was married. She found out and ended the relationship until he got a divorce and she got his wedding ring in December 1960. Jean wouldn’t let her wear it in public because it spoiled his radio audience’s image of him as a “free spirit.” Jean was now forty, married to Lois, the beautiful actress of thirty-four. At that time, free-spirited Leigh was twenty-one. Lois, during this crucial period of this real-life-drama, acted in television programs including Naked City, Great Ghost Tales, starred in the Twilight Zone episode, “The Midnight Sun,” and featured in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ Period of Adjustment. Busy woman away from home. If you have to ask what connection that has to anything, fuhgeddaboudit!
* * * * *
Picture the scene. Barbara reported that Leigh associated with many Village people who would one day be famous: artists, actors, playwrights, a cartoonist, a late-night radio broadcaster. You know the type—soon-to-be-known actor Rip Torn, and Jason Robards, Jr. who played the lead in The Iceman Cometh and later starred in the play and film, A Thousand Clowns. Leigh had a desk job, and at night was a full-fledged, aspiring, creative type, reciting her poetry in coffee houses such as Raffio and Café Wha, drinking with pals at the Cedar Tavern and the White Horse, working on a play script and a flick, working on her novel. Leigh, the free spirit, apparently had an affair with young cartoonist Shel Silverstein, who would introduce her to Shepherd.
How much more could be filled in by Barbara? Leigh had typewritten dozens of letters to her, and Barbara sent all she could find to me, just in case they might be of interest. “Just in case,” she said! In an early letter Leigh described herself, all caps:
I AM A BEATNICK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! WHY WON’T ANYBODY REALIZE THAT. I WAS BORN BEAT FOR CHRISSAKE. I BEEN BEAT FOR YEARS, SINCE WAY BEFORE KEROUAC ROTE ON THE ROAD.
In her letters Leigh seemed mature-beyond-her-years, but sometimes wrote in an exuberant, schoolgirl style that adds to our appreciation of what she was experiencing and expressing on paper. We observe Leigh’s thoughts, feelings, and actions regarding herself and her developing relationship with Jean. She already knew him well enough to want him for her very own. She was enamored of his mind— the breadth of his knowledge, the depth of his thinking, his understanding about all things:
He is courageous enough to detach himself to a certain extent—stand back far enough from involvement to SEE what is going on, and see it clearly and objectively.
Jean Shepherd, circa 1956.
October 1961 looms large in the Leigh/Jean legend. Leigh writes Barbara, “After meeting Jean, how could I dig another guy?” Jean is asking Shel about her and Shel tells her that, “I think you have made an impression on Jean.” She exclaims to Barbara, “Oh god, I would dump every man in the world for a shot at him.” Leigh reports that “Jean is talking to me now on a different level.” Yet, she is what we call “conflicted.” She writes:
“Speaking of Jean, although I have given up plotting and etc., as far as he is concerned, I still think he is the END great guy and all that. I suppose I shall go through the rest of my dumb life having a half-assed crush on Jean,…Anyway, I don’t mess around with married guys. I am going to be very straight arrow and moral in my old age. Something I should have done YEARS ago, for crying out loud.”
She continues that Barbara should “tell me in 2,500 words or less” why she should not have an affair with Jean. Also in October, her doctors are divided over what fatal disease Leigh might have. One doctor thinks it might not be as serious as the other doctors believe (and he would later prove to be correct):
But I will tell you one thing. If my days on this kooky earth are numbered, Jean and I are going to have the wildest love affair you ever saw in your life….After all, what would I have to lose?
You know, it might be worth it after all. Sort of like “see Paris and die.” After all, after J. I am sure I would be sort of spoiled, to say the least, and wouldn’t be CAPABLE of digging another guy.
Yes, Leigh is very conflicted about Jean and the rest of her life that fall and winter. Regarding her baby, who’s been left with relatives in Jersey, she has a crib in her NY apartment, so her daughter has not been totally abandoned. Leigh is just going through a complicated period—she’s smart and sensitive and young and hasn’t “gotten it all together yet,” but she’s working on it:
I want something real when I really love again, when I REALLY commit myself wholly to a man.
Jean? Maybe. But in years, not weeks. We have time. I will wait and see how I feel, and how he feels. We have a good and warm relationship now. We like each other. We enjoy each other. I like everything about him. Everything he does pleases me. But hopping into the sack with him would be idiotic because I do not KNOW Jean. Knowing ANYONE is hard enough, but Jean is an unusually complex man, and his needs go much deeper than the average non-aware clown. I do not know if I can give him anything of value.
I will not trade my relationship with Jean, which is now a real friendship based on reality, for the Love Myth—based on sex appeal, or insecurity, or God knows what. And with Jean in my life, I am learning how to live—I am growing up.
On page one of a late January 1962 letter Leigh writes that her sometime-lover is jealous of Jean even though Leigh says they are just friends. She writes that R. “is always hollering that I am carrying on a love affair with a radio.” (A familiar complaint regarding Jean Shepherd’s devoted radio fans—enthralled by the tenor of his discursive and entertaining mind, Lois Nettleton and Leigh have both been captivated.)
Then we turn to page two, top.It’s more than a simple page-turning.The preface is long past and the introduction has ended. The main event is crashing in. The lives of Leigh, Jean, and Lois, are about to be transformed:
Then Jean called. He asked me if I wanted a job. I will tell you one thing—if he is serious about this job business, I will take it….I will probably end up falling wildly in love with him and being miserable for the rest of my life…I can conceive of a world without sunlight easier than I can conceive of a world without Jean.
She continues that she doesn’t think she’ll ever get married because “the guy I’m hung up on is already married and intends to remain so. I dig tapdancing. You can’t tapdance if you are married. Who would marry a chick who has a sign in her bedroom: Help Stamp Out Reality.” Oh, Leigh, Leigh, Leigh! You are about to start working with the guy you are hung up on. Leigh, forchrissake, you shoulda admitted to yourself right then and there that you’d gone off the deep end! The next letter I have is dated February 1, 1962. It appears that the serious “tapdancing” started at some time during the last week in January:
I’ve been deciding something important—I’m not fooling around with any more men—only with Jean. I love him plenty and don’t want anyone else.
By March, in the last letter I have, she writes an elaborate script for bamboozling Shel Silverstein, saying that he is “rather simpleminded at times, and easily distracted—like a horse—and will believe ANYTHING.” She intends to manipulate him so that he will unknowingly help her in what he would tell Jean, who’s returning from an overseas trip. She’d say she is in love with a married man, etc., etc. but make sure Shel doesn’t realize she is talking about Jean. She knows Shel will fall for it because “In spite of the beard, and the swearing, and the Playboy routine, deep down underneath (about 1/4 inch) Shel is a big, fat, lovable, Sentimental Slob—in fact I suspect that he still believes in the Easter Bunny.” When Jean gets back he’ll hear all about her from Shel, who will be on her side.
The letters I possess straddle this crossroads of Lois and Jean and Leigh’s lives. We can see with these letters that Lois Nettleton—innocent, intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful, appreciative-of-Jean’s-genius-Lois—unbeknownst to herself despite her own genius-IQ, was threatened by a complex and unstoppable force. And then, three years later, Lois discovered Jean’s secret life and they divorced.
Leigh, with her own artistic aspirations, from the early 60s onward, managed to successfully work both sides of a couple’s creative urges. She supported the genius, and with her professional world tied to Jean’s, she raised herself up to be his assistant, producer, agent, editor, co-writer, and even sound-and-scenic designer—his all-around artistic associate to the end of their lives. As he put it on his broadcast the night after his 1973 Carnegie Hall one-man show:
Now I’m going to credit where credit is due. All the lighting, many of the bits that were done in the show—these were the work of a very creative person I never talk much about, and that’s Leigh Brown. Leigh created the show….and I want to congratulate Leigh for this—publicly—for a change. And it was just a great job.
* * * * *
Through the letters I know more about the simple and complex, wise and foolish, foible-filled humanity of people I’d had only a shallow image of before. More understanding of the personal and professional relationship between Leigh and Jean. And, in a subsequent gift-from-the-gods, I now know even more about the two of them because Tom Lipscolm contacted me. Tom, publisher and editor, had met with Leigh in the early 1970s when she acted in her literary-agent role for Shepherd’s The Ferrari in the Bedroom. Tom published Jean’s book and later published Leigh’s novel. He talked with me about Jean and Leigh. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he would provide new understanding of how Leigh’s talents, some of it acquired and honed years before she met Jean, became, from 1962 onward, the essential force that enabled his unique gifts to flourish.
Tom talked to me about Leigh’s novel, The Show Gypsies, and about Leigh as an expert horse-woman, an expert in show-jumping, the subject of her book. He learned from her that “The show-jumper’s job is to sell horses. That’s their real job. The riders would work for certain owners. The rider had to deal with the personality of the owner, the objectives of the owner, the personality of the horse, and the competition. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff—commodity traders don’t have that tough a life. Plus, the riders must have their own athletic ability to make it all translate. So you think of what she did in life for a couple of years there, as an attractive blonde—that’s pretty interesting.” He was obviously telling me all this not only to explain why he published the novel but also to show how Leigh’s many-faceted abilities translated into her successful efforts to promote Jean’s works in all media.
“She was toe-to-toe with anybody,” Tom told me. “She was just a delight. When you were inside her world, she never missed a trick. Everybody’s name, she’d know what this was and what that was and she’d have the horse’s weight, whether it was a crummy horse or a good horse, why the horse shied away. So it wasn’t just that she’d been a show jumper—she was that kind of observer of absolutely everything.”
“When she sat in a room with Jean and somebody else and they’d have a long conversation, she wouldn’t say a word, and afterwards Jean would say, ‘Well, what do you think? How’d it go?’ And it was like listening to an intelligent computer that cut through all the crap and that did the three deal-points that mattered in the entire four-hour conversation. Then she’d come with, ‘I wouldn’t trust him. I don’t think that gig will ever happen. Consider it a free dinner, Jean. That’s what you got out of this.’ “
Tom saw how the workings of Leigh’s mind enabled Jean’s success:
“Jean’s always in a sales mode. He seldom picks up that he’s pissing off somebody magnificently. Whatever he’s doing, he’ll keep on doing. And Leigh would pick it up and say something like, ‘Well, Jean, why don’t you tell him about the time you were training in the Army down in Florida.’ And he’ll move right over. He won’t know what ditch she pulled him out of.”
Then Tom put it another way:
“No gearshift on Jean. Jean was always flat out. What Leigh did is she would direct him, she knew what his hot buttons were. She pushed the right button and the lawnmower, instead of heading up the front steps or into a wading pool full of toddlers, would go back to another patch of lawn that needed mowing.”
“She was incredibly loyal to Jean, spent all kinds of time talking to me about his talents and abilities—and what to do with them,” Tom told me. “And her thinking was top notch.”
Way back in 1972 Leigh told Tom that “If we can ever get A Christmas Story made as a movie using the Red Ryder BB gun tale, he will have it made.” It would be the ultimate perennial Christmas movie like It’s a Wonderful Life. She never forgot. Eleven years later A Christmas Story proved that Leigh Brown, co-writer of that film with Jean and director Bob Clark, just as in so many other circumstances, was right on the money.
Script credits for A Christmas Story.
[Computer monitor surround to be removed.]
* * * * *
We see Leigh Brown, now flesh and blood, emotion and intellect, essential in providing what Jean Shepherd needed to bolster his creative genius and succeed in his career. She was dogged, dauntless, and driven, she was single-minded, tough, and unyielding, she had street smarts and skill. She was wise, perceptive, inventive, creative, vulnerable, thoughtful, funny, and truly a match for Shepherd. Early in their relationship she had wondered if she had anything of value to give him. We come to recognize the substantial value to their careers and their dreams—and to their increasingly professional as well as emotional dependence upon each other.
Beyond her value to Shepherd’s life and work, as a stand-alone artist Leigh published her novel The Show Gypsies, highly regarded in the show-horse world and now only available in the rare book market. Typical of the reviews: “Absolutely the best novel ever written about life on the American ‘A’ horse show circuit in the 1970s. Every detail is 100% accurate.”
The Show Gypsies, considered
to be a major story and an accurate
portrayal of the world of show-horses.
Despite what at times must have seemed unbearable stress in her sometimes turbulent but loving life with Jean, Leigh joins her real life’s persistence to the book’s main characters. In a conversation late in the story, Diane and Davy refer to a line in a Merle Haggard song: “Every fool has a rainbow,” continuing that the singer will give up a bed of roses for thorns and will chase rainbows “every time the dream is born.” Her book dedication:“For Jean Shepherd…this fool’s rainbow.” Leigh Brown: the persistent and gifted optimist. Ladies and gentlemen, put it all together—she was quite a woman.
* * * * * *
Eugene B. Bergmann is the author of Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd. He edited and introduced three dozen of Shepherd’s radio stories for the 2013 book Shep’s Army—Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles. He regularly posts his commentaries about Shepherd on his blog, http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com
Jean Shepherd’s personal life is not of prime interest to me. Yet his relationships with four women in his early days in New York City have some connection to the nature of his work, and much of this has been unknown to the vast majority of Shep enthusiasts. Some unexpected and interesting facts have come my way in my quest to learn as much as I can about his creative life.
As I began to seek new information about the important early years in the New York area, I began to realize that the interconnections in Shep’s life, regarding some important women, were becoming too involved for me to keep clear in my mind without a chart.
Many are aware of Joan Warner, to whom Shepherd was married before they came to the New York metropolitan area in 1955. According to those who knew Jean and Joan before they came to New York, they had a son, Randall. At about the time they separated, their daughter Adrian was born. Although the Cincinnati newspaper clipping below has been circulating for some time now, many may not be aware of it. Note how Shep’s radio persona was being described in the paper even before his New York days. Joan refuses to be interviewed about Jean.
JEANNE KEYES YOUNGSON
Soon after my Excelsior, You Fathead! was published in March of 2005, I received an email from Jeanne Keyes Youngson (of whom I was not aware), saying she had encountered my book and that she had been a “romantic interest” of Jean’s before he began dating Lois Nettleton. Jeanne told me she had participated in the I, Libertine hoax and the Wannamaker protest in 1956. At some time I will describe my meeting with her. I refer to her (not in any negative sense of the term) as “The Vampire Lady.” The recent photo of her below is from her website.
Young actress Lois had listened to Shepherd during his overnight phase in 1956. I made contact with her after my Excelsior, You Fathead! was published. I’ve had much to tell about her and her relationship with Jean. She was a very important part of his early creative life in New York. See some of my previous posts.
Lois as Miss Chicago of 1948, and another early photo of her.
As attractive as she appears in these images, after she began work in Hollywood, she transformed into a strikingly attractive woman.
Leigh Brown, it’s said, was introduced to Jean by their mutual friend, Shel Silverstein. Eventually she began working at WOR, became an important part of Jean’s career, and became his fourth wife. There is much more that I’ve had to say about Leigh–see some of my previous posts.
Leigh Brown (Nancy Prescott) in high school
There is more information to come about Jeanne, Lois, and Leigh regarding Jean’s creative life. Stay tuned for more posts down the road. Meanwhile here is my two-part chart (click to enlarge the parts):