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In Network, the film in which the television newscaster, Howard Beal, having a nervous breakdown, tells his audience to open their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” The whole piece of business is the equivalent of Shepherd’s “hurl an invective,” except that on Shepherd’s broadcasts, he did the actual hurling, not the audience. Broadcaster Doug McIntyre suggests that “Howard Beal is Jean Shepherd.” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, quoted by Time magazine in 2005, hurled an invective a la Beal when referring to his 2003 electoral campaign anthem, Twisted Sister’s invective against the status quo, “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.” As the rebellious, if not quite as fluent, governor put it, “I was sent by the people. We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any longer.”
There have been several variations on Shepherd’s “hurling an invective,” including a few in which mere communicating one’s bond with other Shep fans—without a word said—is the point. In one, Shepherd tells listeners to blink their house lights on and off, and in another:
…take a white towel or handkerchief and wave it in the air. Just get up and wave it in the air, you know! And signal down the beach to the guy—you’ll see another guy a couple of miles down waving and you’ll know that he’s with you. (July 2, 1960)
Nonverbal is the exception—Shepherd fans are familiar with his pleasure in words. Some fans remember his fondness for the word “hairy” and have heard him refer to some music or activity as having “hairy vitality.” That his close friend Shel Silverstein, who sported a dark, unruly beard and head of hair, named his first album Hairy Jazz (1959), suggests that Shepherd’s use of the word is no coincidence. One can imagine the two of them tossing the word back and forth between them in those hairy, late 1950s. One might wonder but never know who first uttered the immortal word hairy.
When it came to words in all their manifestations—from the single word to the full-blown story, Shepherd was a master. We’re familiar with how he would diverge from the main thread of a story and, with only moments remaining, bring it all back home, concluding the tale. Here’s a variation I’d have to re-listen to many programs to confirm—it’s a subtle variation. Soon after Shepherd died, a listener wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times, commenting on a major piece about him published in a March 2000, “Week in Review” section, titled “’Creeping Meatballism’ and Other Peculiar Riffs on America.” The fan comments that sometimes a Shepherd story was nestled inside another, one starting before the previous one ended. Useful resources for investigating such profound matters are the many thousands of Shepherd enthusiasts—I asked members of the Shepherd email group what they thought. Suellen, a frequent e-mailer, responded in a way I thought had it right:
“It was his way of linking apparently unrelated subjects seamlessly one into another, not only creating yet a third (or fourth or fifth) subject but bringing everything back together at the end and having it all relate and make some ridiculous kind of sense, making me wonder why I never saw it like that until Shep put it all together.”
As with most musings on the particulars of his art, that supreme egotist and Shep-Cuckoo, Shep himself, had something to say:
Thought I wasn’t going to get back to that [subject]! You guys just don’t realize you’re dealing with a pro. You don’t! My work is highly complex. It really is. Weaves in and out. Themes weave in and out. A vast basket weave of conflicting emotions and sensuous, subtle narrations, and you’ve got to know it! You don’t read James Joyce sittin’ there and working the Daily News crossword puzzle at the same time. No sir! (June 29, 1973)
At least for now, some final words on Shepherd’s words. He loved the old radio program Vic and Sade. There are many examples of the program’s mix of authentic and dog Latin used to comic effect. A rather elaborate one comes from Vic and Sade: The Best Plays of Paul Rhymer, edited by Mary Frances Rhymer, foreword by Jean Shepherd. Vic’s wife, Sade, who enjoyed poking fun at his lodge and its Latin mumbo jumbo, read from a pamphlet advertising a book of rules for wives of lodge members:
“Yp voomer in pluribus hunk.
In hoc signo veni vidi Webster stockdale horse.
Ip extra-curricular feep.”
End of Part 2 of 2
“Hurling Invectives,” in a sense, is what Shepherd did nightly (which is to say, he spoke out, even though usually in the most subtle way), but also because one of his well-heard-about (but rarely heard) bits was to instruct listeners to place their radios on their open windowsills, loudspeakers directed outward, turn up the volume as he “hurled an invective,” meaning that he would hurl a disconcerting epithet out into the night. A major one that I heard and recorded from November, 1957 I transcribed in part on pages 210-211 of EYF!
Myrtle! This is the third time you’ve come home drunk again! [etc., etc.]
In later years, he would occasionally refer to invectives, once even hurling a minor example, and once promising one but not producing it. Other early ones he did hurl have not so far been found on tape, and any others he may have done in the 1960s and 1970s remain to be discovered.
So it was with great anticipation that I heard him on a recording of a 1976 program announce what he said was to be an invective, with an extended introduction regarding radio placement and turned-up volume. What he played, however, was the complete recording of an extraordinary, operatic-sounding, warbling, off-pitch and out-of-synch woman in overblown vibrato, accompanied by orchestra and chorus rending the Petula Clark song, “Downtown.” Yes, “rending” is the word, because Mrs. Elva Miller’s 1960s hilarious singing tore into shreds whatever she rendered. She had more than her fifteen minutes on such TV venues as Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Laugh-In. Shepherd’s joke of substituting this for his words-as-invective we all anticipated is a tribute to her performance. A tribute equal to his occasional playing of the warbly Arturo Mouscatini version of “The William Tell Overture.” That he played “Downtown” as a complete performance unto itself is quite unusual for Shepherd, who rarely allowed any music-as-music-alone on his program after the 1950s.
Elva Miller and a warbling mouse-catini
Mrs. Miller and Mouscatini obviously struck Shep’s funny bone. They strike mine too, but my hope for more real invectives remains, so far, deliriously unfulfilled.
End of Part 1 of 2
Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guys
There may be a few unfortunate souls who, though they often drive buy avenues full of cheek-by-jowl selling-emporiums, have never seen an inflatable wacky waving tube guy. This deprived populace has never had its heart skip a beat uplifted by a tall, thin, vacantly smiling, wriggling wiggle-guy jouncing in ways human masters of movement can only hope to accomplish momentarily and incoherently. Wind dancers, arms a-flailing, electric fan forever blowing up their fundaments, never stopping. Never, not ever, ever.
One might think that these stretched-out humanoid clowns, contorted beyond anatomical constraints, are totally boneless—invertebrate and bodyless. In fact that’s what they are. Their mindless stare and grin inspired—brought to life–by nothing but driven wind.
One might add their type of art to a category of kinetic sculpture that includes Alexander Calder’s mobiles. But mobiles have a gentleness, a soothing, Zen movement about them—while wind dancers are incessantly manic.
Some may find them annoying—their choreography a visual affront to reality and serenity. I, however, gaze entranced, wishing I could loose-jointedly join in the fun. If these human artifices, these artsy buskers, had a contribution-hat out on the sidewalk, I’d toss them a three dollar bill. Do they ever repeat themselves? Has anyone preserved their choreography in labanotation?*
And, if their disjointed, gangly moves remind one of Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dryfus) “dancing” in Seinfeld Season 8 Episode 4, find that on YouTube for an exercise in comparison-and-contrast.
Why does no one invent a desk-top,
inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guy
(or a dancing Elaine Benes)
I can stare at whenever I feel the urge?
Sometimes my lava lamp is too slow-motion.
It could use a defibrillator.
*Labanotation is a precise notation system for describing
and preserving human motion (especially dance).
Labanotation for a sequence in
“Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”
I never would have guessed.
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
“It was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!”
The chart below should be seriously contemplated for comparison with Shepherd’s fine,
but less far-flung creative work, from 1960 onward.
One might title this period
High On a Mountaintop.
Jean Shepherd’s first years in New York, starting with the beginning of
his “overnight” broadcasting,
were an assorted fervor of glorious activities.
Below are some major examples.
♦Far-flung extemporaneous monologs, “invectives”♦
♦Within New York City’s highest levels of artistic activity connected with The Voice, Greenwich Village, the avant garde, etc. Shepherd associated with such as: Amram, Silverstein, Feiffer, Antheil, Gardner, Mingus.♦
♦Look, Charlie theater piece ♦
♦Cassavetes and the promotion of Shadows♦
♦Village Voice and The Realist♦
♦I, Libertine and The America of George Ade♦
♦Promoter and participant in the forefront of modernist jazz♦
♦As Lois Nettleton put it, “He had headlines!”♦
Jean Shepherd must have felt himself to be an
innovative master of the highest
modern urban/urbane arts
–and rightly so.
The above list is extraordinary and unprecedented. A major problem is that we have as yet no available examples of his early 1956, overnight, four-and-a-half-hour shows to give us a reasonable idea of what they were like–we can only assume, for now, that they were probably similar to and even more loose than his subsequent four-hour Sunday night broadcasts. My impression is that he played some extended–if not complete–cuts of the major jazz masters of this period. (Talking from 1 AM to 5:30 five or six nights a week most probably was a bit different from Sundays only, 9 PM to 1 AM.)
I repeat here, from an earlier post: In an interview with Doug McIntyre, January 2000, (Just a few months after Shep’s death) Lois Nettleton commented that Jean’s improvisation on radio was a higher art than acting:
“…acting is not shallow, it is an art with depth and all of that,
but it seems almost–almost, less profound,
less important than what he was doing.
I mean I think what he was doing was so–
it was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!”
Stay tuned for Part 4 of
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
My recent “Mad As Hell” post focusing on Shep’s invectives inspiring a scene in the film “Network;” scenes in “A Thousand Clowns;” and, maybe as a second generation/once removed from “Network,” Dee Snider’s Twisted Sister mega-hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” inspired Joel Baumwoll to post, in part, “‘Hurling invectives’ was one of several ‘pranks’ in which Shep cajoled his listeners to participate as co-conspirators. As far as I know, this was unique among radio or television performers. He made the listeners feel they were part of his act, and I think that created a strong bond between him and the ‘kids’ who listened to him.” [I emphasize in red some of the aspects of Shep’s clever ways to bring his listeners into participating, exploiting his followers into upsetting the domestic tranquility of the nation’s creeping meatballism.]
Joel goes on to mention several of Shep’s other pranks.
[I’d like to have a word other than “prank” but there may not be a better]:
PRANK, CAPER, LARK, LEG-PULL, PRACTICAL JOKE
Many of us, of course, are familiar with most of these maneuvers, but it took Joel to point out their relatedness. I’m going to elaborate on them, and I hope others will add to the list and elaborate on what I have to say.
HURL AN INVECTIVES
Although well-known as a major caper of Shepherd’s, very few have been noted down or even been available to hear. The most extended, as far as I’m aware, is the one I recorded on my reel-to-reel and quote in Excelsior, You Fathead! in which he builds up to it in part with the prototypical, “Put your radio on your windowsill now!” (Here–top one–is part of the quote from my book):
Myrtle! This is the third time you’ve come home drunk again. What about the kids? What about the kids, I ask ya? How long is this gonna go on? How long?
You don’t think for a moment you’re fooling anyone, do you?
How long do you thin you can get away with this? The jig is up!
You filthy pragmatist!
All right, you guys! Fall in. The doctor will be along in ten seconds. The uniform will be helmet liner, raincoats, and GI shoes, and nothing else! Let’s go!
Drop the gun, you rat! I’ve got the drop on you! Move one more time and you’re gonna get one between the eyes!
The “pragmatist” one was remembered by editor/publisher Paul Krasner. “Drop the gun” was Shep years later quoting himself on the Alan Colmes call-in program in 1998.
Hoax regarding fooling the book-buying-and-selling public by many listeners asking for a non-existent book has been discussed numerous times–here and elsewhere. The book’s afterword is a sly reference to the perpetrators–Sturgeon, Shepherd, Shepherd’s Night People listeners. Of course only those who were aware of the hoax would understand it.
In these, Shepherd asks his listeners to gather at a particular place and time and just quietly walk around aimlessly (“mill”), which, just by its non-confrontational manner, would gently disconcert the clueless. (Later fads maybe mill-inspired: “happenings” and “flash mobs.”)
Burned-out Wanamaker store when he was fired.
Marboro book store.
Early days at “The Limelight Photography Gallery and Coffee Shop.”
Washington Square to fly tiny kites.
Wave a white towel at the beach or flick your light switch off and on at night and look to see how many others (fellow listeners) are doing it.
Related to “mills,” reportedly Shepherd fantasized that many listeners should run to one side of a building to tilt it, or that they jump up and land at the same time to move Manhattan Island.
During a live-at-the-Limelight broadcast, he would sometimes ask attendees to yell in unison to the radio audience:
THIS IS W-O-R AM AND FM IN NEW YORK.
WE BUY SOAP AND WE TAKE BATHS
When being considered “not commercial” by WOR’s management Shepherd suggests that listeners go out and buy Sweetheart Soap, not a sponsor.
WOR management is outraged and fires Shep.
Sweetheart Soap offers and provides sponsorship.
There are a couple of other ways that Jean Shepherd promotes
a sense of community among his listeners:
Refers to them as ” Gang,” “Listeners,” “Fellow Sufferers”
Those who send in interesting comments/news-clippings that might seem to indicate a burgeoning trend: “cracks in the sidewalk,” or “straws in the wind,” he calls:
Although it’s well-known that Shep’s was not a “call-in show,” he did receive from time to time calls from listeners–most prominently from Lois Nettleton, then an aspiring actress–they eventually met, dated, married, and divorced. Usually one did not hear the caller’s voice, but sometimes one did, especially when Shep requested a particular response from the caller. One time he did a kind of communal celebration when he asked and got from the caller, on the air, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Shepherd.” Shepherd also sometimes took calls during commercial or news breaks–then I once got to talk to him but was so nervous, I sounded like the klutz I was at the time (I think I’ve improved a bit over these many decades.)
Shepherd encourages his listeners to listen to and read various works of literature that he likes–at least in part so that they will feel this bond of mutual enthusiasms: including haiku, Thomas Wolfe, Robert W. Service, Don Marquis (Archy & Mehitabel), George Ade, and various specific books which he discusses on the air with enthusiasm.
SUPPORTING THE ARTS
A major form of assisting “the arts” includes his discussions with three of the rare guests on his show, the projects in which they are involved: Herb Gardner, Arch Oboler, John Cassavetes.
Drawn and widely popular before his soon-to-be-produced
play and film, “A Thousand Clowns” was to destroy their friendship.
I heard Shep’s broadcast with Gardner
discussing the Nebbish phenomenon–and I bought a ceramic tray of the above image
and a soft, white statuette of a Nebbish. I still have them.
“Night of the Auk”
I heard Arch Oboler, the well-known radio scriptwriter of such shows as
and various suspense dramas with Shep discussing on his show in 1956,
Oboler’s soon-to-open dystopian sci-fi drama. I attended one of the previews.
An opening title of John Cassavetes’ Shadows.
Shepherd and Cassavetes, actor and aspiring playwright, discuss his need for money to make the
film–so Shep’s listeners send in small amounts totaling about $2,000.
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE MORE COMMENTS TO THE ABOVE IDEAS
→ 2 more appropriate additions from Joel←
SPIES: The very idea of calling us “spies” is so loaded with the us vs them feeling, which is so much a part of Shep’s attraction to adolescents who had any sense of humor. He really was an innovator in the art of getting his audience to feel they were part of his act. In fact, I can’t think of anyone today who is doing anything like this on TV or radio. The internet has created a great wave of participation. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram with followers and likes and such give users a sense of belonging. But a single performer creating the kind of true followers as Shep had has never been duplicated.
AWARD BRASS FIGLAGEE: Another technique he used was awarding a brass figlagee to anyone who could tell me the name of..the color of…the program that did…etc. This was Shep’s version of a tv quiz show, with some long forgotten esoteric person or even as the answer. He would take calls, but rarely put the caller on the air.
I remember one where he described a favorite childhood toy, a metal taxi cab painted in the yellow checkerboard colors and with two characters inside. I knew he was talking about Amos and Andy. He offered his prize to anyone who could name the cab or the program. I shouted at the radio “Sunshine Cab Company–Amos and Andy.” Almost always, the program would end without the answer ever being revealed.
Yet another technique was deliberately getting a name wrong, knowing that many of his listeners would know what he was doing and feeling in on the joke. He often called the Dickens character Ebineezer Stooge, and deliberately got the first name wrong for some famous character like Madeline Monroe, knowing it would drive some in the audience nuts wanting to correct him. All effective ways to make the “in group” feel in.
A book was just published describing the making of director Paddy Cheyefsky’s film “Network.” The film features an invective by the newscaster in the process of having a nervous breakdown:
“I want you to get up now
I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.
I want you to get up right now and go to the window,
open it, and stick your head out and yell,
‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.'”
It has long been my contention that the “Mad as hell” scene, so crucial and famous in that film, is a tribute to Shepherd’s “hurling an invective.” I remember Shep saying in a broadcast that he’d gotten a call from Paddy Cheyefsky asking if he could use that idea for an invective. My publisher says that indeed Shep and Paddy were friends. I checked the book’s index online and found no reference to Shepherd–I’ve reserved the book from the library for a further investigation. Meanwhile I sprang into action–and received from www.amazon:
Dear Eugene B. Bergmann,
Your latest review has just gone live on Amazon. We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to write about your experience with this item.
This review is from: Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies (Hardcover)
By Eugene B. Bergmann on February 26, 2014
How many people know that the “I’m as mad as hell” speech is reliably reported to have been inspired by Paddy Chayefsky’s good buddy, radio humorist Jean Shepherd?
From time to time Shepherd, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, would tell his listeners to go to their windows, open them, place their radios with loudspeakers pointed out into the night and turn up the volume.
Shepherd would then yell some startling comment that would be heard throughout the neighborhood. He called this act of comic defiance, “Hurling an Invective.”
Shepherd said that Chayefsky had called him and asked if he would mind if in “Network” he could, in a kind of tribute to Shepherd’s “invectives,” use the idea.
Read more description of Shepherd’s invectives in my “Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd.” See pages 210-211 in the chapter titled “Hurling invectives.”
Excelsior, you fatheads!
Eugene B. Bergmann
→Excerpted from Excelsior, You Fathead!←
[Shepherd speaks in low, conspiratorial tones.] Put your radio on your windowsill now! Do it now! [Pounds on desk.] Now! The loudspeaker pointed out–toward the neighborhood….And when I give you the clue, turn that radio up as loudly as it will go! We’re going to use a very special kind of invective tonight….radio on windowsill now! [Whispering.] turn it up! Lights out! For heaven’s sake, turn the lights out. Turn the radio up. Pretend you’re looking at television. Pretend you’re asleep. [The invective follows, in the most extensive audio of an invective yet to have surfaced.]
[Here are more of Shep’s invectives]
•You don’t think for a moment you’re fooling anyone, do you?
•How long do you think you can get away with this? The jig is up!
•You filthy pragmatist!
During the 1998 Alan Colmes call-in show, a caller said, “But you got me in so much trouble that night, ’cause I actually did it. And my mother came running down the hall and she stormed into my room and she started screaming at me. And I was lying on the floor laughing. I couldn’t stop laughing. You got me in a lot of trouble that night.”
Shepherd responded, “Oh, that’s good. Trouble is always good for the soul.”
The caller asked, “But what did you yell? I forgot exactly what you said.”
Shepherd: Drop the gun, you rat! I’ve got the drop on you! Move one more time and you’re gonna get one between the eyes!
Shepherd’s invectives also appear in a play/film, and, inadvertently, it seems, in a well-known song:
1) “A Thousand Clowns” I’ve always contended, based on a number of prominent actions of the protagonist in the film, that Murray, that main character, represents a fictionalized portrait of Shep. My publisher, who knew Herb Gardner, author of “A Thousand Clowns,” says that Herb confirmed that Murray represented his friend Shep.
Murray hurling an invective at houses
on an early-morning, peopless street.
In a more specific moment, in his apartment,
he hurls an invective through his open
window into the alley he shares with his neighbors.
Murray hurling invective out his window:
“This is your neighbor speaking.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that
something must be done about your
garbage cans in the alley here….
So let’s snap it up and get on the ball!”
2) “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the Twisted Sister song written by Dee Snider. When I asked Dee about this, he said he hadn’t been aware of the connection to “Network,” so it must have been a coincidental idea or unconsciously inspired–after all, not wanting to tolerate something any more is certainly a common feeling, so perfectly expressed in both the song as well as in “Network.”
“We’re not gonna take it,
no, we’re not gonna take it.
We’re not gonna take it anymore!”