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[Shepherd says he was one of the earliest writers for the Village Voice and for a time had his name on their masthead. (See my EYF! page 129 for some detail about how he began his association with the VV.) His writing mostly consisted of his column titled “Night People.” He comments that he wrote for The Realist, a Village-type of publication. His name is connected with three issues of The Realist, two of which appear to be Leigh Brown’s partial transcriptions of his radio broadcasts.]
[He relates that he did the Village section of an NBC TV program about New York at night. During his narration for this video he says, “I can’t imagine myself seriously living anyplace else.” ]
The Village is essentially a night area. By night, I mean during the daytime the Village is just another kind of a city. I love the Village. It’s a good place to live and I suspect, a hellish place to visit–quite the opposite of what most people think of New York. But I dig living down there for a number of reasons. Most of them only a resident could understand.
It’s one of the most historical parts of the city. For example, right off Sheridan Square is where Thomas Paine, the great revolutionary, wrote “The Crisis.” [He mentions Mark Twain, Henry James, and other literary people.]
And people who made the Village a bohemian hangout in the 20s were people like Edna Vincent Millay. A lot of people think that they’d love to live in the Village. They get the Village bug–it’s the kind of thing to do. [Here Shepherd begins to offhandedly criticize what would represent a fair portion of his young listeners. Cut ’em a bit of slack, Shep.]
When I was in my 20s-40- I’d go to the Village sometimes one night a week, not as a bohemian, but to see some avant garde and foreign films and have coffee at Reggio’s.
End of Part 3 of 3
Recently I came upon a major New York Times article in their special “Science Times” section. Titled “Dickinson’s Inspirations Grow Anew,” it describes how her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, now the Emily Dickinson Museum, is unearthing and replanting the gardens that inspired some of her poetry:
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church—
I keep it staying at Home—
With a Bobolink for a Chorister—
And an Orchard for a Dome
How delightful to be able to have and to hold some flower that inspired her—or have in a glass bell jar, a stuffed Bobolink.
Regarding non-literary items, to have and to hold:
Archimedes’ Eureka-moment bath towel
One of the bloodstained knives that stabbed Caesar
A relic of the True Cross
Newton’s apple (freeze-dried)
But better, some high marks from the world of literature and the visual artsys:
A Whitman first edition with, in it as a bookmark, a plucked-by-Walt leaf of grass
One of Picasso’s paint-clogged brushes
Faulkner’s empty booze bottle
A Norman Mailer boxing glove
One of David Foster Wallace’s balls (tennis)
From one of my literary heroes, the book Hemingway slammed into author Max Eastman’s face in their publisher’s office because Eastman had written an essay, “Bull in the Afternoon,” saying that Ernie’s literary hair-on-his-chest was phony.
My previous blog about “The Village” focused on what the book, The Village, had to say about Shep’s Greenwich Village. I just re-encountered the audio of Shepherd’s program (reportedly broadcast sometime in 1972) about his connections with the Village. He talks about his various associations with it, but, as related to him as it mostly is, he treats it in a rather objective list as explanation for his affection toward it. Although I wished for a more heartfelt paean, what he has to say is worth repeating in order to get a fair surface picture of Shep-and-the Village. Because portions of the program he devotes to some basic background info, I edit out and rearrange some of this to make it more concentrated regarding issues that fatheads would find of special interest. As always, I don’t change anything and I don’t leave out important stuff. For Shep, follow the bold text.
Washington Square Arch,
near which Shep held a “mill-in,”
one Saturday afternoon, listeners having made,
at his suggestion (and attempted
to fly there) 3″-5″ box kites .
According to one of the letters I’ve just received—the letter here says, “Shepherd, the trouble with you is it’s obvious that you live in Greenwich Village. Of course that totally warps your view and makes you somehow suspect.” Well, this is one of the most prevalent ides of the outside world RE the Village.
You know I rarely talk about that part of the world. Even though I live in the Village. You probably know that, don’t ya, Herb, that my home is the Village, and I’ve lived in the Village for a long time. And various parts of the Village. I used to live in what is now called the East Village over on 7th Street. And now I live in what is called the West Village. And I also lived in the Village when they just called it the village-Village.
But the curious thing about the Village, I think–which to me is very interesting–it’s one of the few places in America, really, where you can live–you live in an area–it’s almost a state of mind.
End of Part 1 of 3
Here is my ever-growing list of well-known people in the entertainment world who are/were listeners to Jean Shepherd. Following includes those who can be rather positively believed were listeners, either because they themselves claim they were or through other rather definite evidence. I note just one or two prominent fields for each listing. This list is not definitive–it’s just of those I can think of. I’d appreciate hearing about others–with source of the info.
Penn Jillette (Comic, magician–Penn & Teller)
Andy Kaufman (Performance artist)
Ernie Kovacs (Video innovator)
Bruce Maher (Comic, “the Rabbi” in Seinfeld)
Henry Morgan (Comic broadcaster)
Roger Price (Comic, author, editor of Grump magazine)
Jerry Seinfeld (Sitcom and standup comic)
Harry Shearer (Broadcaster, “Simpson” voices)
Bob Brown (Editor: Car and Driver)
Milton Caniff (Comic strip artist–pre 1955 “Terry and the Pirates”)
Billy Collins (Poet—U. S. Poet Laureate)
Kate Collins (Writer– humor/crime books—(“Flower Shop Mysteries”)
Ed Fancher (Publisher: Village Voice)
Herb Gardner (Cartoonist, playwright—“A Thousand Clowns”)
Jules Feiffer (Playwright, cartoonist)
Bill Griffith (Cartoonist–“Zippy the Pinhead”)
Hugh Hefner (Publisher: Playboy)
William Hjortsberg (Author–Gray Matters, Toro! Toro! Toro!)
George S. Kaufman (Playwright)
Jack Kerouac (Author–On the Road)
Paul Krassner (Writer, publisher)
S. J. Perelman (Comic writer)
Shel Silverstein (Cartoonist, writer)
R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book series)
Dan Wakefield (Author: New York in the 50s)
Tom Wolfe (Author: Bonfire of the Vanitites, etc.)
George Antheil (“Ballet Mécanique”)
John Cage (Shep describes him as early listener he talked with various time by phone)
Donald Fagen (Steely Dan)
Mitch Leigh (“Into the Unknown With Jazz Music,” “Man of La Mancha”)
Charles Mingus “The Clown”)
Dee Snider (Twisted Sister front man and songwriter)
Fred Barzyk (Video director–major Shepherd TV)
John Cassavetes (Actor, Director–Shadows)
Ron Della Chiesa (WGBH Broadcaster)
Bob Clark (Film director—Porky’s, A Christmas Story)
Bruce Conner (Avant garde film maker, sculptor)
Art D’Lugoff (Concert producer)
Barry Farber (Broadcaster)
Helen Gee (Founder of “The Limelight”)
Larry Josephson (Broadcaster)
Larry King (Broadcaster)
Arch Oboler (Playwright)
Lois Nettleton (Actress, wife)
Keith Olbermann (Media–politics & sports commentator)
• • •
There are also many who had connections to Shep and/or were described by Shep or others as having been his friends, but we can’t know which of these people were indeed friends or which of them may or may not have been listeners. For example, Bob & Ray were fellow broadcasters and friends of Shep; Shep claimed to be friends with Jack Kerouac; Lois Nettleton said that from time to time Shep went on sketching expeditions not only with Shep Silverstein, but with watercolorist Dong Kingman and Playboy illustrator LeRoy Neiman.
I also tend to think that a good portion of those connected to the Village, creative, and intellectual scene in New York City in the late 1950s and into the 1960s were likely to have been Shepherd listeners. These would include people like Laurie Anderson, Bob Dylan, and Woody Allen.
Please let me know of others, giving me whatever evidence you may have of connection to Shep.
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
Shepherd, on his radio program, promoted Greenwich Village, The Village Voice, and other aspects of the then-prominent culture identified with it, such as jazz and the Beats. He narrated a TV video about it and narrated the commercial film “Village Sunday.” (His love, Lois Nettleton, plays the part of a young woman strolling along, observing the scene.) He obviously appreciated the Village culture, and in the 1970s, live there for years.
I recently encountered a 600-page book, The Village–A History of Greenwich Village, 400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues (John Strausbaugh, 2013).I’ve read the sections on the 1950s and 1960s, encountering a few good pages with an overall description of Shepherd, especially regarding the I, Libertine affair. My Excelsior, You Fathead! is mentioned in passing and is listed in the bibliography. The chapter with the Shep material, titled “Village Voices,” focuses on, among other items, Shep, Mailer, and the Voice. Epigraphs for that chapter:
You have no idea what a terrible lure this place is to people who live outside of this place. –Jean Shepherd
Greenwich Village is one of the bitter provinces–it abounds in snobs and critics. –Norman Mailer
[I do believe that the Shep quote refers not specifically to the Village but to all of New York City.]
The Shepherd-section, hitting most of the high points in a few pages, containing little if anything not generally known about him, ends with:
Despite his adoring listeners, Shepherd increasingly chafed at limitations of regional radio. After leaving WOR in 1977 he concentrated on film and television with some success, the bittersweet (mostly bitter) 1983 holiday film A Christmas Story, which he wrote and narrated, is considered a seasonal classic. But he never quite achieved the status he thought he deserved as a modern day Mark Twain or Will Rogers and withdrew to Sanibel Island off the Florida gulf coast where, a self-professed sorehead, he lived in relative seclusion until dying of natural causes in 1999. No doubt he’d find some rueful satisfaction in knowing that today copies of I, Libertine are collectors’ items going for as much as $350 for the hardcover and over $200 for the paperback.
[If one has the persistence to wait, one can get a paperback these days for about $50]
I enjoyed and found well-done, the author’s extensive material on the Beats, Shepherd, the folk scene, Mailer, the Voice, the emergence of Bob Dylan, and other surrounding material. There are no major errors regarding Shepherd, and the author seems to have used good and knowledgeable sources. Few if any other descriptions of Shepherd that I’ve encountered seem so on-the-mark. One might assume that the rest of the book is also good.
Village Voice front page,
with Shepherd, Nettleton, and Ann Bancroft.