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JEAN SHEPHERD–a short chronology, 1960-1999

Among the unpublished chapters in my book manuscripts, I encountered a chronology that, in its concentrated form, might be worth contemplating as a very short description of Jean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.

1960-1977

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.

1961-07-25_038_destry_photo

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.

SHEP asylum

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.

sheps maine house

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel. Australia Part 7

austraalia flag

 

The next afternoon I get invited to an Australian home.  I’m sitting in the backyard of this beautiful California-type home.  All glass and all tile and there’s a magnificent emerald-green swimming pool.  They’re serving steaks at least four inches thick, they’ve got seven bottles of wine, and the girls are wearing bikinis and the men are bronzed and they have not worked for six weeks.  They go in for twenty minutes or so and fool with a paper clip in the office.  Everything’s a game.  Here these guys are, bronzed, eating the steaks and sitting out in the sun, and out in the driveway is a Maserati convertible.  I can’t believe it—this is Australia!  Somehow you have the idea that Australia is rugged.  And I am beginning to feel that I am a primitive.

An Australian man is sitting opposite me and he says, “You know, there’s one trouble with you Americans.  You just got too easy a life.”  And he believes it!

I think, this is a peculiar scene.  We’re sitting there and eating the dinner.  You really realize that it’s another world and another way to live.  And you keep getting the impression that you understand it.

We finish eating and now the time has come for casual, after-dinner conversation.  We’re sitting there.  These beautiful women there are talking—the wives and the girlfriends, and I’m all by myself talking to these chicks.  And all of a sudden I get the eerie impression that the party has left.  And there’s only me left there—with the women.  All the men have gone!  Absolutely, every last man has disappeared and it’s just me and nineteen chicks.

I say, “Gee, where are all the men?”

And this woman next to me suddenly—it was a transition like I’ve never seen in a woman—she says, “All the damn fools have gone into the next room to talk!  This is an Australian custom!  They don’t talk to the women, you know!  You can tell you’re a foreigner.  You’re here talking to the women!  Australian men never talk to the women, you know.”

And all the women at once went on just like that—Boooom!  And you can see that every last Australian woman wants to kill every Australian man—in the dark, with a dull stiletto!

And I want to know what’s going on in the next room—what the heck are they doing out there?  So, here I am with all these women, and they’re all saying, “Gee, you just don’t know how it feels—we love Americans here!”  (These are the women, see.)  “You certainly treat women like human beings.”

And I’m thinking of the Village and I’m thinking of Playboy.  Treat women like human beings!  So I say, “Yes, that’s true.”

I’m an American.  All these women are gathered around me and they’re coming closer and closer and closer.  I’m beginning to sweat.  And the kookaburra birds are going cucucucucucucucu! and the koala bears are squirting up there in a tree.  And I say, “Excuse me a minute, girls.”  And I go into the next room and here are the men—and the men are telling dirty stories.

austraalia flag

This guidebook said one fascinating thing.  They said there are three stages through which you go with an Australian.  The first stage is you’re impressed by his unbelievable friendliness, and that is the truth.  An Australian is like a true noble savage in the Rousseau -ian sense.  He just says, “Hiya, pardner,” like Indiana cubed.  “Hiya, buddy, hiya, pardner.”  Oh boy, everybody talks that way.

This book is put out by Life Magazine.  It’s a beautifully written piece and very true.  They say the second stage is if you have made one false move, when you have made the slightest slur on Australian womanhood, the flag, the sky, the weather, you just look too long at a guy in a bar, or maybe you just walk funny.  This second stage you better get over very quickly.  Because the Australian hits very hard, very directly, and completely.

And the third stage is when they don’t even notice you.  Then you’re one of the people.  Then you can hit guys.  And that’s the way Australia is.  It’s like the last of the frontier.

You don’t really understand role reversal—where women are obviously becoming more masculine in America, and the men are going in the other direction.  You don’t really recognize this until you get to Australia.  The Australian men—you never saw anything like them.  These guys all look like they’re roughly nine feet tall.  There’s a kind of genuine being-ness about them.  And let me tell you!  Men—have you ever dreamed about the ultimate woman?  Each man has in his little mind’s eye that thing called “the girl.”  I’m not talking about your dream girl, but the ultimate woman.  Well, they still exist in Australia.  Women are really women.  Men are really men.  There’s a sense, in the middle of the afternoon, when you walk down the street, a kind of dialog that goes on.  You go into a coffee shop.  There’s a bunch of men sitting there.  And they’re really drinking coffee.  They’re not reading poetry, standing up there playing guitars, talking about their soul.  They’re sitting down there dropping down coffee.  And there are women sitting there drinking coffee and being women.  It’s a very exciting feeling.

austraalia flag

I don’t know what it is about America.  We’re the great dreamers of the world.  Are we the idealists or are we bubbleheads?  Or are we just plain dreamers?   I don’t know.  When you get out into a place like Australia and you walk around in the boondocks—they are only about an hour-and-a-half from Indonesia—they have a totally different view of the entire situation.

And it’s not a pessimistic view.  It’s kind of a realistic view that says, “Well, that’s the way it is.”  It’s a curious view.  You want to shake them—“What do you mean, ‘that’s the way it is’?  Why don’t we sit down and talk it over.” They just look at you and take another pull on their gin bottle.

I talked to one Australian who was a jet fighter pilot in the Australian Air Reserve.  I said, “Bruce, gee, it’s just a shame that the world is in such a mess, that it seems like every twenty years it develops a giant boil and it just comes to a head and it pops.  That’s all.  Just a terrible thing.  If we could only decide to become rational, blah, blah, blah.”

And he smiled.  For a while he didn’t say anything.  Then he said, “You know, you sure talk like an American.”

You begin to have a strange, perverse affection—for the nuttiness of your own country.  You really do.  We have a tendency to put our country down.  We like to think our country is the nuttiest of all countries.  This is a great illusion on the part of almost all the commentators I know.  Most of the guys I know who do commentary about the world—and I know many of them—have never really been anywhere.  You really begin to understand that Man is a really fascinating, paradoxical, nutty creature when you travel around the world and see Man—not just Americans or Indians or Englishmen—but just mankind.

I must point out that of all the countries I have traveled to in the last two or three years, the most paradoxical of all—it would be a fantastic feeding-ground for humorists if they really could get up the guts to do it in that country—is Australia.  Australia is a wildly divergent country.  In the sense that the people are very different from what they say they are!  On the one hand they have very strict laws about obscenity.  The strictest anywhere that I have ever seen in my life.  They look through your luggage, when you come into this country, with a fine tooth comb.  And if you’ve got a copy of Playboy, forget it!  The guy in front of me had a copy of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which was a best-seller in America.  They confiscated it.

On the other hand, do you know that they have more of what you could call deviant clubs, openly operating right in the middle of their show business district, than any other major city in the world?  What do they stand for?  Which thing is the real thing there?

On the one hand, all the people that I talked to were talking about censorship and about Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  A couple of years ago that was a big issue in America.  Do you know what is being sold under the counter now in Australia?  Not Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but the transcript of the trial about it!  This book of the court proceedings is illegal to have in Australia.  The court proceedings!

lady chaterly trial

So, while I was in Sydney, they were talking on the radio and I could hear different people calling up, and panel discussions about that issue.  What was so curious about it was, hearing them talk, they were all against censorship—but they were all for keeping Lady Chatterley’s Lover off the stands!  They really were for censorship but then they really weren’t.  So you couldn’t tell what they were for actually. austraalia flag

People ask me, “Didn’t you find anything good about Australia?

Oh, yeah, of course!  I think Australia is one of the most wildly interesting countries I’ve ever seen in my life!  Fantastically interesting country.  But one of the things that makes it so interesting are these dichotomies, these splits between what they say they believe in and what actually happens there.

I went down through their version of Times Square, which is where three or four streets come together and it’s called King’s Cross in Sydney.  There are a lot of Chinese restaurants and shows and so on there.  I was struck by one thing—there were more outright—what you would call—“obscene” shows running.  Wild stuff—there it is!  And nobody says a word about it.

On the other hand, Playboy, which is just a comparatively innocent magazine—the little foldout is about as offensive as the yearly calendar from Ed’s Garage in some small town in Vermont.  And here’s the fascinating part of it.  I’m with some very distinguished guys—a judge, a publisher, a general manager of a TV station and they said, “How about let’s go out and having a little of Sydney’s nightlife?”

I said, “Gee, that would be interesting,” so twenty minutes later I am in the club with these guys and their wives.  We’re all going to enjoy nightlife.  What do you think we went to?  A transvestite review.  That is the biggest thing in Sydney!  There are about ten of them running full blast!  The entire spectrum of it—you talk about blue!  They’re incredible.  Everybody is just sitting there talking, and later we get in the car, and we have seen this insane show, but nobody’s talking about it.  We drive a bit and they get on the subject of censorship, and the man in front was very much in favor of them keeping that kind of terrible stuff, that would undermine the young, out of Australia.  That kind of thing like Mary McCarthy’s The Group.  And here’s the kicker—in this club there were at least thirty or forty kids, that I would assume were no more than thirteen or fourteen, watching this show.  So I couldn’t figure out which—

I made a little mention of this on the way.  I said, “You know, that was a pretty peculiar show we just saw.”

The response:  “Oh, wasn’t it charming!”
austraalia flag

I have to explain myself, first of all.  I do not pretend to be an expert on any of the countries I visit.  I do not go there for that reason.  I heard a man this morning being interviewed and he’s talking about people who go to a country and come back and they write a book and they become an expert on that country.  They’ve been there three days.  And I agree with him.  This is a real evil in our world.  But I am merely trying to tell you what it feels like, what kind of impressions are crowded  in on you, what kind of sensations you have, if you are an American suddenly dropped into the middle of a foreign country.

I like to go to a country with that feeling.  Just drop me down there and let me walk around.  And I make sure that I get around, as you can probably tell.  I really get around in a country.  I travel, I do as much as I can, I walk and try to experience a country.  I do not try to analyze the country.  Because even the country itself can’t be analyzed by those who are in it.  Even by those who have lived there all their lives.

   T O U R I S T   → ±   T R A V E L E R

austraalia flag

[Note: Shepherd traveled to Australia in the Spring of 1965;

Playboy was only sold in Australia from 1979 to 2000 (?)]

aust playboy 2.79

Stay tuned–just one more Australia  post.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Degrees of Separation

Thinking about Shep, Lois Nettleton, Sinatra, and The Beatles.

Ringo, it’s reported, asked Frank Sinatra, through an intermediary, if he would record a song in honor of his wife for her 22nd birthday, Aug. 4, 1968. Sinatra recorded and sent to her (Maureen Starky) his reworded rendition of “That’s Why the Lady [Maureen] is a Champ.” It’s said the original disk is rare, but the audio is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyyF8_cq7SMringo & maureen

Degrees of separation?

Shepherd∋The Beatles because he traveled to the British Isles and traveled with them/wrote the Playboy interview appearing Feb, 1965, despite having disparaged them numerous times.

ZERO DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Shepherd∋Sinatra because Shep was zero degrees from The Beatles, and Ringo got Sinatra to write “That’s Why the Lady is a Champ,” which makes Shep and Sinatra one degree.

ONE DEGREE OF SEPARATION

Shepherd∋Sinatra because Shep and Lois Nettleton were romantically linked, and in part married, from 1956 to about 1967–and Sinatra was romantically linked to Lois Nettleton in 1971-2.

ONE DEGREE OF SEPARATION

Shepherd∋Sinatra∋eb because I once met Shep, and spoke and corresponded with Lois, I’m some mixed-up combo of degrees of separation to Shep and ‘Ol Blue Eyes, too.

? DEGREES OF SEPARATION ?

Nick Mantis∋Barack Obama∋eb because I know Nick, and Nick suggested to Obama in 2006 that he run for the Presidency [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko-6WiU6MK8].

nick and obama

 

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ONE DEGREE OF SEPARATION!

This is all quite amusing to the main person involved (me, sorta). But, though there are some legitimate connections in “degrees of separation,” a lot of it is happenstance. What seem to me of somewhat more significance are the circumstances in which people diverge in ways unexpected. Shepherd and myself, for instance– for all my enthusiasm and obsession with Shep and his work and way of thinking. For example, Shepherd was a great enthusiast of classical music, opera, and modernist jazz–and he intensely disliked rock and roll.* I, on the other hand, like (but only rarely listen to) classical music and opera. Modernist music (Gillespie, Parker, Coltrane, etc.), although I recognize it must be extraordinary, find it totally incomprehensible–in ten seconds its apparently (to me) insistent meandering drives me nuts. Jean did turn me on to the sweet, elegant jazz of Django Reinhardt:

django

Jean [Django’s non-Romany first name] Reinhardt

Among other musical enthusiasms, I’m attuned (pun) to The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Dylan, Springsteen, a handful of the more popular pieces by Eminem, as well as late Sinatra.

eminem cleanin out

MASTERPIECE!

Where have I gone wrong–or at least missed out?

I would love to understand/appreciate Parker/Gillespie/Coltrane, but I never will–just listening carefully doesn’t cut it.

Shepherd should have been able to understand/appreciate some of the finer rock and roll–and even Eminem,–but as far as we know he never could. He never, to my knowledge, played rock on his broadcasts.

david-sipress-in-a-million-years-i-never-thought-i-d-hear-sinatra-sing-mr-tambourine-new-yorker-cartoon

[More ironic in the caption than “Tambourine Man”

would have been “Like a Rolling Stone”

or “Positively 4th Street.”]

Shepherd, why didn’t you like what I like

and why don’t I like what you did?

As some inexplicably say, “That’s what makes horse racing!

* Shep’s good friend during his last years says that he and Jean talked extensively about rock and roll. Did Shep actually listen to it and think about it–maybe even positively? Strange!

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JEAN SHEPHERD-Whiz-Bang Biography of Jean Parker Shepherd, Esq.

excelsior sign

What’s Shep all about, anyway?

Who knows?

Shep-HowardJ.'s

All about?!?

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  →↑→↓,!?!?

camp crowder postcard

Chapter 5    Cinci, Philly, married (Barbara Mattoon), divorced, married Joan Warner.

1955-mm-dd_022_Into_Unknown_Front

Chapter 6    NYC, Jazz, WOR, burgeoned, night folk, divorced.

i libertine jpeg i hope

Chapter 7    Libertine,  ↓ fired/rehired=Sweetheart, married Lois Nettleton↑.

jean and lois c.1962

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.

leigh,shep 1977

Chapter 12  Lady Finger Lake Road on Snow Pond Lake: Sanibel Island. 

sanibel_house_006_02

sanibel3

    ↓Leigh died 1998. JPS died: RIP 1999↓.

Chapter 13  ↑Radio Hall of Fame, EYF!

Chapter 14   Seinfeld nails it↑.

Paley_Center_Jerry

Chapter 15  Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Oscar, Obie, etc., etc., etc., (Not altogether true.)

1981-_hammond_award 2nd annual

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 desk at Cleveland library

Pekar stepping out of a “comic book page”

on a real library desk.

Oh, sure, Shep got a Community Center:

3.150003_community_center_sign

But, is Shep immortalized in a booblehead? Pekar is!

pekar bobblehead1

NO!!!

(not yet)

[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?]

you fathead sign

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Playboy & Punch, and Keillor

A recently discovered parody of Playboy from an issue of Punch in 1971 contains only the beginnings of a story, “How Pliny Fluck Nearly Got What He Wanted and Almost Lost a Finger,” tagged as “humus, americana, and naustalgia by Genes Sheepherder. “  That a humor magazine published in England chose to include Shepherd’s work suggests that he must have had at least some degree of renown there.  The opening paragraph:

“Crash! CRUNCH! KAVOOM! BAM!” sang the scissors in Pliny Fluck’s freckled fingers.  It was Saturday afternoon in Bedspring Falls and all the boys were hanging around Pliny Fluck’s Barber Tonsorium, Pool Hall and Weltschmerzerie, swapping dirty stories and baseball cards.  Except Marv Kluntsch and Jeb Phrigg who were saving time by swapping dirty baseball stories.

punch parody

There are not many parodies of Shep (is there more than one?)–and not too many attempts to analyze his writing or his style except for Professor Quentin Schultz, who has taught courses in Shep. (A student cheat-essay for sale noted below may be another “parody.”) Some might think that Garrison Keillor must have been influenced and others would say that Keillor goes his own way. Probably most Shepherd fans would disparage Keillor as inferior. There was a moment, however, when Shep himself admired the early Garrison Keillor. See below.

¡

A Website containing thousands of high-school-level essays for sale to student cheats gives, as an example, an essay illustrating comparison-and-contrast titled “Gene Shepard’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash vs. The Christmas Story.”  Eagle-eyed and even bleary-eyed Shep fans will note that his first and last names are both misspelled, and the movie is incorrectly titled.

¡

HAPPY TO BE HERE

— A Garrison Keillor ANECDOTE

keeler photo

Thoughts on another literary matter.  According to people I’ve interviewed, Jean Shepherd hated Garrison Keillor “with a passion,” and Keillor was “the person he was more embittered toward than anybody.”  Obviously Shepherd envied the accolades Keillor got for his radio storytelling.  But before all that happened, Shepherd wrote one of the blurbs for Keillor’s first book of stories, Happy to Be Here, published in 1981:

“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.

Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”

happy to be here

Later on Shepherd seemed to feel that he had much cause to be embittered.  He did not achieve the acknowledgments for his work that some of his peers he considered his inferiors got.  His first and greatest love, radio, during the years of his most important broadcasting, did not have the capacity to allow him to achieve nationwide acclaim.  (Not just school kids, damnit, but a wider listenership among literate adults.)  Some of his later television and movie work did not even get produced, some did not turn out as well as he had expected, and he did not achieve the break-through popularity he wanted except for the later television re-broadcasting of his A Christmas Story.  Most of the millions who love the movie are probably not even aware of who created and narrated it.  Who reads those opening titles, anyway? Even if four of them refer to Shepherd’s important role in the film.

a film from the works

Irony is never far away in the world of Shep.

¡

(Once, just a couple of years ago, Garrison Keillor,

on a radio program devoted to important dates,

mentioned Shep in what must be recognized as a positive way.

I think it was his birthday.)

_______________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–His books’ contents

A basic description of Shep’s basic books.

Only those which he entirely wrote as stories and articles. So this does not include The Phantom of the Open Hearth, which is the script of the video drama based on several of his previously published stories.

_____________________

IGWT cover

IN GOD WE TRUST: ALL OTHERS PAY CASH

Doubleday, 1966

The book’s title doesn’t reference a story title, but refers to a sign in Flick’s Tap when Ralph is leaving, described on the last page of the book:

I glanced back over the mob of lumberjacketed, safety-shoed beer drinkers. Above the bar, under a Christmas wreath I noticed for the first time, a sign:

IN GOD WE TRUST

ALL OTHERS PAY CASH

On a WOR program, Shep announced that he had written a novel and had delivered it, complete, to his publisher. The dust jacket of the book says, “a novel by.” The full-page ad by Doubleday, appearing in the New York Times Book Review refers to it as a novel. The author’s disclaimer states:

The characters, places, and events described herein are entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.

Other than the specific wording, that kind of disclaimer is rather standard, but here Shepherd does his best to insist that the entire book is fiction, despite what listeners and nearly everyone subsequently has called autobiographical or semi-autobiographical. The book’s dedication states:

To my Mother, and my Kid Brother

And the Rest of the Bunch…

Many of the stories originally appeared in Playboy. The contents consists of Ralph Parker (Shep) returning to his home town as a reporter. He visits Flick in the tavern his father had run, and which he now owns and in which he tends bar. They discuss old times in short chapters that alternate as lead-ins to short stories about their past when they were kids.  All the short stories concern their young childhood when they were about ten or twelve, up to and including dating age. Reports indicate that the book sold exceedingly well.

_____________________

Wanda Hickey cover

WANDA HICKEY’S NIGHT OF GOLDEN MEMORIES: AND OTHER DISASTERS

Doubleday, 1971

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s stories of that name. The stories originally appeared in Playboy. The stories are of Ralphie as a kid, but also includes “The Return of the Smiling Wimpy Doll,” the story of Shep as an adult grown up, living in Manhattan and receiving a box with a note:

Merry Christmas. I was cleaning out the basement the other day and I came across all kinds of junk you had when you were little. I figured rather than throw it out, I’d sent it on to you. A lot of it is still good and you might want to play with it, especially the Kangaroo Spring-Shus that Aunt Min gave you for Christmas.

Love,

Mom

After looking through the mementos of his childhood, he considers hauling the box-full out to the garbage landing of his apartment:

But I chickened out. Staggering under the load, I dragged my childhood to the hall closet.

We note that his childhood is, symbolically, a staggering load, and that he can’t just trash it. He saves it all (nostalgically), on his closet’s top shelf. A wonderful and ironic way of dealing with his past. Yes, the Jean Shepherd persona succumbs to nostalgia!

_____________________

Ferrari cover

THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM

Dodd, Mead 1972

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s articles of that name. Most of these articles (not fictional stories) are curmudgeonly commentary on a variety of subjects that Shepherd found annoying. Many of the comic articles are reprints of his nearly-monthly columns in the magazine Car and Driver. (Note that some of the Car and Driver articles of his have nothing to do with cars or drivers, but they published them anyway. Shep’s then-editor at C. and D. told me that he often had trouble getting Jean’s article in a timely manner for the magazines deadlines. Sometimes Jean, during their phone call regarding the submission on time, simply spoke the article–apparently off the cuff–during their conversation, and that is what was published.)

Why did Leigh Brown have to go peddling the Ferrari  manuscript as Jean’s agent, rather than Doubleday being delighted to publish it? Recently I asked Tom Lipscolm, who was then editor and publisher at Dodd, Mead. Our correspondence went like this:

EBB: A question that has been occupying my thoughts for a long time.  As Jean’s first two books of stories, IN GOD WE TRUST, and WANDA HICKEY, both sold well with Doubleday, why did he and Leigh seek publication of THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM with another publisher?

Did Doubleday feel that, as the manuscript wasn’t exclusively of kid stories, that it wouldn’t sell well enough? For some reason had they had enough of Shepherd? Did the manuscript come too closely on the heels of the previous one? What might explain that they went elsewhere?

TL: My recollection is that the editor at Doubleday whose name I forget, simply wasn’t able to get a collection of auto magazine stories through the editorial board. Jean and Lee liked him, but felt he was narrow gauge given the larger list of subjects they wanted to cover. They were snobs. I am not sure anyone there on their ed board READ them. I thought they were charming and a look at American culture that foreshadowed what would become his PBS series.. JEAN SHEPHERD’S AMERICA.

In short… I simply lucked out.

ferrari title page

Title page with portion of a Shep ink drawing

The Shepherd line drawings scattered through the book are mostly of New York City buildings and other inanimate objects. Although the book was published in 1972 (same year as Wanda Hickey), my impression is that Shepherd was most involved doing his drawings in the late 50s and early 60s, when he would go out on sketching expeditions with Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman, or others. Indeed, of the dates seen in a few of the drawings, they are late 50s up to 1960. I can imagine that, to give this miscellany of text  material some additional interest, Jean and Leigh sifted through sheaves of old drawings.

_____________________

Fig Newtons

A FISTFUL OF FIG NEWTONS

Doubleday 1981

The book’s title is a reference to one of the book’s stories of that name. There are a couple of actual fictional stories scattered among the articles. The items are mostly reprints from magazines such as Playboy and Car and Driver, etc. However, the much-loved army story, “The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler” (aka “Troop Train Ernie”) seems not to have been previously printed–STRANGE! Shep told the story several times on his broadcasts.

“The Whole Fun Catalog of 1929” article, an appreciation by Shep of the quirky catalog of curiosities and gags, was recycled several times after originally being written as the introduction to the reprinting of the Johnson Smith and Co. Catalog original.

[Note: although I have these four books, I took the easy way out and copied/pasted

the images here from http://www.flicklives.com.]

_________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Baseball: all star it’s not, but unforgettable

baseball

My publisher once asked me if there were enough good Shepherd stories about baseball to make a book. I’m rather sure that (only considering the audios we now know of) there are not enough of any kind of actual stories to make up a book. There are Shep’s occasional comments; there are short bits such as the three variations on his “old man” heckling a Yankee, who then hits a home run, almost hitting him; there’s the one of him playing ball for the United Brethren team, there are a couple of Shepherd monologs in which he complements the New York Mets playing ability and winning the World Series. etc. But even if all those and other descriptive pieces were included, there is not enough for a full-length book.

Anyone looking for Shepherd baseball stories would surely clamor for the one titled “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League.” That’s the one in which Shep and his fellow soldiers construct a baseball diamond in the tropics, play a game in the “raw,'” the nude, because of the heat, and are seen by the General’s daughter. He told that one on the air and then published a version of it in the May 1971 issue of Playboy. I would have included it and the “Troop Train Ernie” story (published as “The Marathon Run of Lonesome Ernie, the Arkansas Traveler” in Shep’s book A Fistful of Fig Newtons), and possibly other of the few army stories from Playboy in my Shep’s Army, but I was told that some day the Shepherd Estate might publish a book of his previously published-but-not-collected-in-book-form stories. Don’t ask me what or when–I have no further details. (But it does bring up the question of why Shep could never get his army stories published by his publisher, the gigantic publishing conglomerate, Doubleday–which must have made lots of dough on his first two books. No known logical answer there, folks.)

As I don’t have permission to publish “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game” story, I thought it might be interesting to quote a bit from a broadcast version of it with a bit from the printed version to see what Shep did, in part, to alter the spoken word for Playboy, where he had more freedom of expression and maybe even where he might have thought that Playboy readers would expect a more immediately harsh and militaristic start and some unexpurgated army lingo.

As the radio version came first, I begin with it at the beginning. One will note that on the radio–especially at The Limelight–

Dave Michelsohn photo(Shep during a Limelight broadcast)

 with its audience–where this version originated, Shepherd  is more conversational and can give more extemporaneous background thoughts about army life. On the radio in those days, of course one could not even imply a “bad” word of any sort. He sets up the scene of hollow and enervating life in the tropics nicely, as he does a little riff on one of his favorite themes about the military–the incredible boredom of it all (especially on the home front).

Excerpt of the baseball-in-the-nude story

June 18, 1966 at the Limelight

I’m in the army, see. You want to hear an army story? You know, I’ll tell you why the army is such a great place to tell stories about. Because this is the circumstances in the raw. And that ain’t all you see in the raw. See a lot of things in the raw, and that’s what this story’s about, see.

I’m in this company, and we’re way down in the boondocks. We’ve been in these boondocks for a hundred years. And the only excitement that we ever felt was once in a while you could hear an alligator off in the swamps, calling for his mate. You ever hear an alligator calling for his mate? It’s really thrilling.

You’re lying there in your sack, see, it’s two in the morning. You hear the mosquitoes. And you hear the sound of your radar set. We had a radar set. That is what our company did, see, it was a radar company. And twenty-four hours a day this radar set was going aaaaaaaaaaaaa, and the big beaming arm would sweep over us. You’d hear it going past you in the night. Over your head it would go. And you’d hear the mosquitoes. And you hear the sound of this motor going. and our world was just one long sea of boredom.

Have you ever been so bored you could taste it? Well, I’ll tell you how boredom tastes. Have you ever put a nickel in your mouth? Yea, put a nickel in your mouth and hold it there for about three minutes. That is the peculiarly active, metallic taste of boredom. Tastes just like that. And after a while you can sit there, you know–feel it.

And the whole company is just sitting there. And once in a while somebody gets promoted to Pfc. And that’s a big day, see. We can all go down and watch him sew on his stripes….

You can feel it, see, the way Shepherd begins the story by setting the mood of boredom–which will soon be interrupted by the thrill of doing constructive work that will conclude in a positive, enjoyable result–the making of a baseball diamond  to play on in the jungle.

_________________________

In contrast, for the printed page in Playboy, Shepherd chooses to begin with the harsh (printed) sound of the sergeant’s gruff orders. After all, when all ya got is a story wit words, ya gotta grab dose Playboy viewers by da ears–if not by the cojones.

the unforgettable ballgameOpening spread of the Playboy story

“GET THE LEAD OUT OF YER ASS, YOU GUYS! FALL IN!”

“That makes eight hunnert ‘n’ninety-six,” Gasser whispered under his breath.

“Eight-hundred ninety-six what?” I whispered out of the side of my mouth.

“I been countin’. Ever since Basic.”

“AT EASE!”

Company K instantly fell silent. Only the steady drone of our Signal Corps search radar broke the desolate stillness. But that didn’t count since it had hummed day and night, 24 hours on end, until it had become part of the stillness….

I prefer the spoken version over the written one–with printed words he describes, but on the air he evokes: “aaaaaaaaaaaaa, and the big beaming arm would sweep over us. You’d hear it going past you in the night. Over your head it would go.”

The printed story then adds a few off-color utterances: “Kee-rist, what diddlyshit.” and then describes how the army, to lift morale, decrees that: “A program of morale-building activities is hereby ordered. Athletic-type equipment will be furnished through quartermaster channels….” They will clear part of the jungle and construct a baseball diamond on which to play. With the ball field built there is joy in Mudville (Company K) as they begin a game. Of course, as we know, disaster strikes–in the form of the General’s daughter, who innocently comes to watch and encounters naked male bodies sweatin’ in the midday sun.

Back at the Company area they get the bad news–the field will be immediately returned to the elemental wilderness from which it came. And Sergeant Kowalski added his nickel’s worth of hell:

“Aw right, you bastards. You blew it. I have often stated that if you played ball with me, I would play ball with you. We will now begin my ball game. Immediately following chow, we will have a company GI party. We will clean every inch of this area. For three hours, I will see nothing but elbows and asses.”

Company K was back in business. Baseball season was over. the long hot winter had begun.

So endith the Playboy printed story.

_________________________

The Limelight story ends rather differently. Of course the troops have to unmake the ball field, but on the air, Shepherd continues. He comments that in later years, he found it difficult  to tell this story to anyone. No one would believe it anyway. One day he is in the Veteran’s Administration office signing up for the allowance given to honorably discharged military personnel, and there is the first lieutenant he remembered from that day when the daughter of the general had seen the team naked:

“Did ya ever make captain?”

He looked at me for a long look. He says, “You’re a third basement.”

I said, “That’s right.”

I said, “did you ever make captain?”

A long, pregnant pause. “No.”

I settled back.

He said, “Did you ever make buck sergeant?”

“No.”

[They continued the little dialog.] Until the first lieutenant said: “I wonder if it ever caused that chick any sleep.”

She’s probably been dreaming about that for years! And I sat back and I said, “I’ve been thinking about that once in a while myself.”

He said, “Yep, I’ll bet that was the greatest ballgame she ever saw.”

I said, “Yep.”

And then there was another long pause and he said, “I’ll bet nobody believes it if you ever tell them the story.”

I said, “Yep, I tried to tell it to a chick the other night.”

He says, “Well, I tried to tell it to my mother.” He says, “I just couldn’t, you know?”

I said, “Yep.”

I never saw him again. And let me tell you the funny thing. The last time I told this story, five minutes after I went off the air, the phone rang  and there’s this voice at the other end and it’s a female voice and she says, “Hello?”

And I says, “Hello.”

She says, “Were you the third baseman?”

¡ !

Of course this could not work in print, but only live before a Limelight audience or even before any live radio audience. The surprised pleasure in the Limelight’s audience laughing enhances the ending–as it’s only really effective with that live audience response, I like that.

The suggestion Shepherd makes by incorporating his supposed phone conversation after the basic story has ended, is that this is not fiction but a real story that a real chick has been a real part of and has called him about it. Do you believe that? I think that was a clever and amusing way to end this fiction–better than the downer that ends the Playboy version.

I do believe that each version accomplishes it artistic goal appropriately for its medium.

Hurrah for live radio performance!

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Playboy/The Beatles–In 3 Fits (3)

FIT 3

Shepherd’s dislike of rock and roll—and specifically of the early Beatles, probably because their great popularity–made them symbolic of it all and makes this encounter of more than usual interest.  (We who combine our enthusiasm for Shepherd with our own Beatlemania are thus especially interested in what he had to say about them.)  We Shep kooks are a persistent crew, but sometimes it takes us too damn long to make connections.  What’s the missing piece here?  Why hasn’t it occurred to any of us to ask a simple question about the time the four-plus-one were together: what about group photos of that Fab Five?

There must have been photos taken of Shepherd with the Beatles during that week!  The Playboy material and the existing radio shows are just not enough to satisfy my hunger, my lust for more, so when I’d heard that there’s four unpublished syndicated Shepherd shows in which he discusses his time with them, I encouraged the CD producer to market the set.  I began doing sketches of what a CD box would look like with a photo—has anybody seen a shot of Shepherd with the Beatles?  I can just picture it.  That hotel room cluttered with half-empty plates and nearly-empty liquor bottles they’d had to order from the hotel food service because the wild-eyed teenage chicks screaming outside were too fearsome to brave.  There’s Shep with his small traveling tape recorder.  He holds the mic.  The Fab ones sprawled out around him.  The historic moment of perceptive queries, quick-witted retorts.  All eyes on him because, naturally, at this supreme instant, he is doing the talking.

But other than a possible use on the CD box, so what if there were photos of Shepherd with the Beatles?  Is that relevant to the nature of Shepherd’s art, which I claim to be my prime focus?  Of course not.  Yet, steadfast, resolute, unswerving, dogged monomaniac that I am, trusty computer at the ready, I spring into action.  Through the internet I buy two coffee-table books of Beatles photos, sight unseen (titled, Siamese twin-like, The Beatles Unseen and The Unseen Beatles).  No luck.  Two recent books about The Beatles tours of the British Isles borrowed from the library—not even there!

Not through yet.  Tenacious, relentless.  More internet research uncovers a Playboy auction of June 2002 that included a “group of thirteen black and white photographs and proof sheets of the Beatles by Dennis Cameron.  Shot for the Beatles Playboy interview in February 1965.” Note: Interview in 10/64; published 2/65. Is there a shining grail buried within those proof sheets?  Gotta be at least one shot of Shepherd in there!

I email my contact at Playboy and he replies: “There are legal problems connected with the photos that prevent use.”  Damn!  But why the mystery—it suggests that at least one shot with Shepherd exists but that some SOBs have them locked in a vault.   Outraged, misanthropic but dogged, I continue in hot pursuit of Beatle/Shepherd images.

There’s gotta be gold in them there photos that may still pan out!  So I leave no trickling stream unexplored, no pebble unturned.  Indefatigable.  A glimmer that may be gold—an internet used-book store compendium lists the Playboy auction catalog so, once more sight unseen, off goes my hard cash.  Breathless.  Hanging by my thumbs. Dingdong mailman alert.  Grasping the package—my heart goes pitter-pat—all ten clawing thumbs in a free-for-all foofaraw rip off the packaging.  Over 200 pages of Playboy memorabilia such as a Playboy Club Key, a plaque-mounted Bunny tail (“Caught Live At The Playboy Club”),kicks image

Little Annie Fanny and other cartoon originals, sketches, paintings, photos of varied celebrities, and other seductive collectibles—you name it.  Sketches, paintings, photos of firm young body parts attached to seductive young women.  And a double-page spread of black-and-white photos of various performers shot for Playboy interviews.  Of the Beatles photos taken for the Shepherd interview the catalog illustrates one shot of each Beatle.  Fools’ gold.  Foiled again!

beatles.playboy.cat

Failure and uncertainties.  Yet a glimmer remains.  Maybe someday we’ll get to see all thirteen of the  “group of thirteen black and white photographs and proof sheets” and there will be at least one shot of Shep with those other four guys.  This grail exists—it’s just a matter of finding it!  (That phrase would look good emblazoned on an Excelsior! banner, wouldn’t it?)  Who knows when or even if?  One can only hope and ponder on fickle fate.

________________

And just now on the Internet I find one of those proof sheets–

that,  at a subsequent auction just a few months ago, did not sell!

I capture the image, print it, scan it,

peruse it with a magnifying glass.

NO DAMN SHEP!

I don’t know if I’m getting closer to the grail

or just being toyed with by the f***ing finger of fate.

beatles for playboy

___________________

One silver lining among the uncertainties—

my financial consultant advises me that,

as an author with research expenses,

my  Beatles and Playboy purchases

are deductible on my income taxes.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Playboy/The Beatles–In 3 Fits (2)

FIT 2

Jean Shepherd loved to travel and he loved to be immersed in whatever environment he found himself.  By the fall of 1964, with his first three stories published within six months by Playboy, its editors had provided the means for him not only to travel, but to observe what was then a new cultural phenomenon: swinging England and The Beatles.  Shepherd must have been in his glory.  Just as a good travel writer can put the feel of a place on paper, Shepherd could detect differences and significant aspects of each new place he visited, and he knew how to express to his listeners his pleasures in what he observed.

Made during his October 1964 trip to the British Isles, in the first of four shows recorded for syndication, taped in his hotel room in Edinburgh, Scotland, he sets the scene in his own, special way.  He practices his Scottish accent and he plays a bit of Scottish music on the kazoo.  Listen—ah, what a melodious sound!

He delights in describing the look of Scotland. He looks out from his Edinburgh hotel room:  “The color is a kind of dark, tarnished, burnished bronze.  That’s about the only way I can describe it.  It’s a magnificent dark green, reddish brown color.  Beautiful, beautiful color.  The kind of color that painters are always trying to get but never quite making.”  He says, “It’s a green city, a city of trees, a city of statues and high, thin, ancient, medieval black-looking spires reaching up into the sky, way up there, and all topped with tiny crosses.”

Before he ends the program, he teases us: “Now if you wonder what I’m doing here in Scotland, I’m only authorized to say I’m here on a ‘secret mission.’”  Shepherd followers, however, know that in 1964 he was contracted by Playboy to travel with and interview The Beatles, who were already very popular in Britain and were about to make their great surge in the United States after an earlier foray.  Neither does it surprise us to know that, at least before he gets to know them, he dislikes them as entertainers, and disparages rock and roll, “pop music,” as he calls it.  In fact, in a postcard to his wife Lois Nettleton, probably from early in the trip, he writes, “The Beatles are a first class pain in the ass.  I’m really sorry I have to do a story on them.  They are the epitome of aggressive cocky slobs who lead other slobs—.” shep card beatles

Yes, he says that, but from what he would write about his association with The Beatles for Playboy a couple of months later (February 1965 issue), and from what he would say in this set of syndicated programs, we also know that he modified his view of those “cocky slobs.”

beatles.edinburgh

October 19, 1964,

The Beatles performing in Edinburgh

the night that Shepherd arrived in town

to begin traveling with them.

In the final programs, taped in London, he focuses on several attributes of then-current English culture. This is the period of striking fashions of all sorts emanating from Great Britain.  England is just the place to see the outrageous trends clashing with tradition, and these trends are becoming the most visible of its exports to the United States—rock and roll is on the rise—the “British invasion” is about to begin!  Shepherd is a strange combination of liberal and conservative, so, despite not being a prude, he is aghast at the pornographic magazines openly for sale at newsstands, and he finds the increased mixing of gender attire and hairstyles confusing and unpleasant—the “role reversal” phenomenon.

Carnaby Street“England swings like a pendulum do.”

__________________________

[From: http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-london/swinging-60s-capital-of-cool%5D

For a few years in the 1960s, London was the world capital of cool. When Time magazine dedicated its 15 April 1966 issue to London: the Swinging City, it cemented the association between London and all things hip and fashionable that had been growing in the popular imagination throughout the decade….

This heady combination of affluence and youth led to a flourishing of music, fashion, design and anything else that would banish the post-War gloom. Fashion boutiques sprang up willy-nilly. Men flocked to Carnaby St, near Soho, for the latest ‘Mod’ fashions. While women were lured to the King’s Rd, where Mary Quant’s radical mini skirts flew off the rails of her iconic store, Bazaar….

Music was also a huge part of London’s swing. While Liverpool had the Beatles, the London sound was a mix of bands who went on to worldwide success, including The Who, The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Rolling Stones. Their music was the mainstay of pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline and Radio Swinging England. Creative types of all kinds gravitated to the capital, from artists and writers to magazine publishers, photographers, advertisers, film-makers and product designers.

__________________________

All this ferment gives Jean Shepherd the opportunity to describe and decry pop culture in general and rock and roll in particular.  Pointing to the British entertainment business of one-night-stands up and down the countryside, he comments that the slobs “come out of the hills like locusts.  You never would believe me!  Eating their candy and meat pies and chewing away at popcorn as fast as they can, swilling beer and yelling and hollering….” He comments that Americans think that lands like Great Britain “are pure and pristine and are magic culture centers,” and he corrects our idea by describing how pop culture with all its slob-like characteristics had taken over that country.  Then he reveals his secret: he’s traveling with and living with The Beatles—the ultimate example of rampant pop culture!  It’s Beatles fans who come out of the hills like locusts!

Shepherd uses The Beatles as a prime example of the degeneration of taste in Great Britain and, in a major descriptive and interpretive riff, he goes to considerable lengths to speak of the rare and wonderful reportorial opportunity he’s been given.  As he puts it, “I wasn’t really traveling as an observer—they began to accept me as part of the gang.”  The way he describes scenes of scrambling away from adoring fans along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo—running through streets and climbing down fire escapes—you can picture him  as a fifth Beatle in their film,  A Hard Day’s Night.

beatles fire escapeThe Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”

He contrasts them with many American entertainers, whom he sees as having immature, naïve attitudes toward life: “The Beatles are four successful truck drivers.  And they have seen the world and they know what it’s about and for that reason it’s much easier to get on terms of rapport with them as an adult.”  This experience obviously changes him and you can observe it happening as he speaks to us in this program.  With The Beatles he shares crowded car rides and hotel rooms full of cigarette smoke and booze, so maybe the close personal experience, their lack of pretense, their easy wit, and their frequent clowning around explains why he eventually seems to like them as people, despite disliking their music.  During a live Limelight café broadcast right after his return from the trip, he admits that he was dazzled by the splendor of their immense celebrity.  Now that is some reaction and some admission for Shepherd, considering his general attitude toward popular culture!  By the time he’s written the Playboy interview, he’s describing them as four regular guys who manage to take their fame in stride, and he portrays them sympathetically.  Not often does Jean Shepherd alter his far-flung antipathies.

As he does so often regarding subjects of interest, Jean Shepherd takes this experience of touring and living with The Beatles to comment on larger issues, to reflect on his own attitudes, and, within those issues and attitudes, to give a critique of our lives.  In these four programs, we’re permitted to experience with him during this journey through the British Isles, not only his perceptions regarding our world in the mid-twentieth century, but his emotional and critical reactions to a far-reaching cultural phenomenon of our age.

NEWER NEWS

Recently discovered is an April 1970 broadcast titled “Beatles Break Up.”  Regarding his trip in 1964 to do the Beatles interview, Shepherd makes an important, claim—remember that truth is in the unverifiable mind of the storyteller:

 The Beatles specifically requested that I be sent over to do it because the Beatles had heard my show when they were in New York [early in 1964].  They’d heard my show.   They knew about my work, and they dug it, which was very interesting to me.  I was kind of surprised.  I’m just telling you the truth of the story here.

(Stay tuned for Fit 3)

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Playboy/The Beatles–In 3 Fits (1)

FIT 1

One might think it surprising to find Jean Shepherd’s childhood stories and Army stories in Playboy, but such an apparent dichotomy has its rationale.  Publisher Hugh Hefner commented to me that Playboy is steeped in nostalgia and he considered Shepherd to be a “part of Americana.”  Playboy tagged Shepherd’s first kid stories in the magazine as “nostalgia,” and “memoir.”

PLAYBOY Hairy Gertz1964-06-First Shep story in Playboy, June, 1964

(Yes, black-and-white illustration.)

Shepherd and Hefner had known each other for some time before Playboy published its first story by Shepherd in the June 1964 issue.  In fact, three years before that, a three-page typed and hand-signed letter from Hef to Shep dated June 8, 1961, complains that Jean on his program had issued a “verbal blast at Playboy,” in which he’d said that the magazine was “nonresponsible.”  Indicating a relationship that preceded that 1961 letter, Hefner writes, “I always believed that you rather identified with Playboy, and its editorial view of the world, as well as its editors.”

hefner to shep letter

[I’d have loved to buy this letter from ebay, but its price exceeded my means.]

This letter seems a noteworthy foreshadowing of the extensive series of essays Hefner would soon write and publish under the title “The Playboy Philosophy.”

playboy philosophy page 1PLAYBOY PHILOSOPHY”

opening page

Surely in part as a defense against widespread criticism, but also couched in the most forthright, positive attitude toward life as he saw it.   Hefner admits in the letter to Shepherd that the magazine’s editorial matter and attitude toward women is indeed “relatively light and frothy stuff,” but he contends that this “exists only in the cartoons and jokes,” and that the magazine has published some of the best serious articles and short fiction by some of the country’s best writers, and that Shepherd is certainly aware of this.

Hefner also comments that “there is a real crying need for an antidote to the female-dominated, castrated society in which we live.”  (Even though Hef wrote this in a private letter, the politically incorrect statement makes one cringe to read it.)  He says that many publications try to divest women of all womanly charm and make them almost indistinguishable from men.  He points out that Playboy believes in a society in which the roles of men and women aren’t the same, but complement each other.  In the early-to-mid 1960s, Shepherd on his show would sometimes complain of what he saw as a trend in our society toward what he referred to as “role reversal,” especially of what he saw as women trying to act like men.

Hefner writes to Jean of some of the philosophy of the magazine, including “the inherent importance of the individual,…”  and “…the wonderful opportunities that exist in this country if a person is willing to work to achieve something.…”  He says, in a way similar to what Shepherd has said on his program, that “…the world is a wonderful place; enjoy it, live it to the hilt, work hard and play hard, and you will make this a better world for yourself and for those around you.”  Hefner concludes that Playboy “is a thought-provoking, excellently edited, intelligent, liberal, highly readable and entertaining publication.  I expect superficial reactions like this from those who do not understand, but I didn’t expect it from you.”  Indeed, maybe the philosophy of Shepherd and the philosophy of Playboy were similar in more ways than Shepherd suggested in his occasional anti-Playboy comments over the years.

Considering this strongly worded letter, one wishes that we had counter-responses from ol’ Shep that would distinguish what he felt were similarities and differences between himself and Hefner.  Yes, Shepherd had some strong, politically incorrect attitudes toward women, but never in public did he surround his more seriously considered content with the kind of “relatively light and frothy stuff” one finds in Playboy’s lascivious displays of flesh and humor.  In addition, Shepherd would likely have insisted that rather than a Playboy lifestyle focused on stylish and extravagant material possessions, emphasis on his program had always been concerned with issues regarding human foibles and interactions as well as with more intellectual and literary matters.  What we do know, however, is that despite the hard feelings, Hefner admired Shepherd’s work and they remained on good enough terms for him to publish in the next two decades, twenty-three of Shepherd’s short stories, a humor piece, and the Playboy interview with The Beatles.  Also of note regarding the differences in outlook and style, is that the aggregate effect of Shepherd’s radio work in the late 1950s and early 1960s gained for him an increasingly large audience of younger males who could listen to him at conveniently earlier hours than previously; and Playboy, fostered by whatever intellectual content and other diverse enticements, garnered an even much larger audience of men of more widely diverse ages.

1964-06 playboy_cover

Cover of issue with first

Shep story in Playboy, June, 1964

Stay tuned for Fit 2

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