Home » Radio, pre NY

Category Archives: Radio, pre NY


JEAN SHEPHERD–Early Shep Forensics


Some familiar with my thinking about Jean Shepherd’s early radio work will remember some of my comments regarding his “overnight” New York broadcasts (January to mid-August, 1956). Lois Nettleton, Shep’s early “The Listener,” when she read those dates in my EYF! book,  couldn’t believe it only lasted that short a time! I put it all here together, with my familiar comments.

(Some of this info gotten from


Cincinnati and Philadelphia 1/30/1947-1/30/1954

Earliest reported broadcasts (no comments about earlier-than-this-Shep on the radio).

All that is available that I know of is a short snippit from the beginning of a Cincinnati show and his last two half-hours from Philadelphia. These two suggest that, as some have reported, his casual, improvised, and stream-of-consciousness style began and continued for some time during this period. That no recordings of the period have yet surfaced might well be because affordable recording equipment was not yet available to the general public.

young shep

New York WOR “overnights” 1/7/1956-8/13/1956

This is the period of listeners most appropriately referred to as “Night People,” and included late-night listeners such as jazz musicians, artists, Lois Nettleton, etc. A few people have reported listening during this period, but have no extensive memories. This period includes the I, Libertine hoax, the Sweetheart Soap commercial, and his reporting that he had been fired. A few people reportedly retain recordings from this important period, but none have come forward with any. Early tape machines readily available (but expensive) were then for sale and probably mostly bought by musicians wishing to record others and themselves. (My mother bought one to record her violin playing, so I began using it to record Shep as early as Sunday nights, September, 1956.)

(A well-known jazz musician/critic has not yet come forward with his recordings.) As I’ve done before, I implore people to come forth so that such early recordings are preserved–before those recordings are tossed in dumpsters by the Shep-enthusiasts’ heirs.

New York WOR Sundays 9:05-1:00 A.M. 9/9/1956-9/11/1960

From the few extant recordings of this period, Shep’s style might be assumed to be similar to his previous overnight style, though my guess is that the overnights (because of the late hours) may well have been even more laid-back, and he seemed to have played, during the Sunday nights, less extensive musical interludes.


“Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music”

I include this 1955 recording with its cuts of Shep intermixed with jazz music, because it represents early-Shep in a form probably similar to some of his earliest radio work.* It includes some of his references such as the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin.

  • *The musician/composer listed, Mitch Leigh, I believe, is the same one who went on to create the musical “Man of La Mancha.” (Attempts to contact him to discuss what he remembered about working with Shep on this early creation, failed. Now he’s dead.)



JEAN SHEPHERD–in the public domain

C. public domain

A major question in the world of Jean Shepherd’s radio broadcasts (in NYC 1955-4/1/1977 plus a couple of years before that in Cincinnati and Philadelphia) is whether they have a copyright–whether they are in the public domain.  If they are in the public domain, anyone can sell the audios without fear, and anyone can transcribe the audios (as I do) and publish them without fear of legal problems. Although people have been distributing Shep’s audios since before he died, the tricky and subtle issue had never been resolved beyond some peoples’ doubts as far as I know.

Library of Congress

“What Is Not Protected by Copyright? Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others: • works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)”

[I believe that what’s important here is “improvisational

speeches or performances”]

Here’s what the Stanford University Library website declares


Welcome to the Public Domain

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. An important wrinkle to understand about public domain material is that, while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright. If, for example, someone has collected public domain images in a book or on a website, the collection as a whole may be protectible even though individual images are not. You are free to copy and use individual images but copying and distributing the complete collection may infringe what is known as the “collective works” copyright. Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process, for example, a poetry scholar compiling a book — The Greatest Poems of e.e. cummings.

This would apply to those who sell audios of Shep’s radio programs (as does Max Schmid:, my extensive transcript excerpts in my EYF!,  and my own recent manuscripts consisting of my edited transcripts and commentaries on Shep’s Army stories, my transcripts of his travel narratives, and much more. Max good photo


Without these uses of Shepherd’s broadcasts, I’d fear that his main claim to creative immortality would be gone with the wind into the ether. (Shep is acknowledged four times at the beginning of A Christmas Story but almost nobody reads opening film titles.)

♦  ♦  

The above was preface.

Below is a condensed narrative regarding my current adventures.

For years I’ve been searching for the answer as to whether Shepherd’s improvised broadcasts are (and can be proven to be) in the public domain. All evidence–the U. S. Copyright website, the lack of legal action against their use, massive commercial sales of thousands of his radio audios (and many other old time radio audios)–all indicate that they are being sold without legal hassle and are thus probably in the public domain.

Publishers of my Shep’s Army wanted a definitive answer to prevent possible legal problems. Through the help of Nick Mantis (Creator of the documentary-in-progress on Shep’s life) I requested an answer from a copyright lawyer. I got a good but not 100% definitive response–so my publisher took part of my royalty rate to secure safety from possible lawsuit.

On the colophon page of Shep’s Army, it states:

“Published by arrangement with the Estate of Jean Shepherd, Irwin Zwilling, Executor.”

public domain artwork

A couple of years ago I completed another manuscript of Shep’s stories but my publisher has not responded to my questioning: ya gonna publish or not publish? To avoid the inevitable hassles of the entire  process from query letters to editorial and accounting conflicts, I’d nearly decided not to attempt more efforts to get my Jean Shepherd Kid Stories published.kid stories cover 1

Photo of kids courtesy of

Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

I ‘d decided to simply publish them on this blog as I’ve done with Shep’s travel narratives.

(Exchanging publication-stress for pure blog-bliss.)

Allison, my wife, suggested that I give print publication one more try (I’d indicated to her that a book one can hold in one’s hand is what both Shep and I would have preferred.) As I have no agent (I tried and couldn’t get one years ago for my EYF!–ain’t that a drag? But then, remember how Leigh had to act as agent herself and hunt for a publisher for Jean’s The Ferrari in the Bedroom.).

I knew I’d have to deal with the public domain question again before I could get a contract for the kid stories, I emailed Irwin Zwilling, Shep’s friend/accountant, who was willed all his creative rights. Mr. Zwilling responded that he’d tried to resolve this issue for years and responded:

“Yes, it is our understanding that his radio shows are

public domain.”


Thus, the audios are available. And my editing of them and using them in my two so-far-unpublished books of transcripts–kid stories and travel narratives–are protected for me according to the Stanford U. description: “Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process,…” (My editing for smoothness, continuity, and organization–retaining the feel of Shepherd talking–and especially in the kid stories, to form a “novel-like” whole.)

I await the next stage of the process.


JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (2)


A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

In childhood and youth, Jean Shepherd encountered some little realities (no desks in kindergarten, not getting his name right!–oh my!) He discovered the joy of words and art. In his time in college he had two major epiphanies–snails and cars can give one important life-lessons. Among his early adult experiences in the army, he said that his training in Camp Crowder (aka “Camp Swampy” as it’s named in Beetle Bailey) made him a crowder postcard

Tadpole Dreams and Aspirations

Soon after the war, he began his radio career in such lesser locations as stations in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. He referred to these early times as his tadpole days. He honed his skills by talking “too much.” With the early history of radio’s dominance across America and his skill with improvised words, he had dreams, he had aspirations.


To me it’s the most romantic of all the media. Fantastically romantic medium. I’ll tell you some night.

At night I’m working in a radio station, see. I’m doing all these things. I’m doing these things–and slowly, by tiny, tiny inchings, my fame grew. I’m doing the English cut-ins  on a Lithuanian man-on-the-street broadcast. After that I was given my own program. A program that was heard every morning at 5:30 AM. A program of Elmer Rhode Heever hymns–recorded–in which I did the commercials in between.  I was beginning to inch my way up and up and up. Inch by inch. Moment by moment it looked like any day now–the next assignment I was Cousin Jean on a hillbilly teenage program when I had to talk like this [Imitates accent.] I was beginning to really feel it. I mean, you know, I was “tearing a side.”

I was just beginning to see that there was a world out there. I mean that there was something beyond Western Avenue, I was beginning to understand that–that out past Howard Street there was something. And it was beginning to erode me. This city [New York] is the worst seducer in the world. It erodes. It cuts and digs and grinds….Well, I got this special delivery letter. It said, “Dear Mr. Shepherd, I own a string of radio stations in Alaska. We would like you to come up and run our Juneau radio station. We will provide you with a cabin.” A cabin! 

And every one of these guys who were doing things like the Elmer Rhode Heeber Gospel Hour, and guys who were doing the English cut-ins on The Croatian Hour. All of them looked at me. “What are you doing this ridiculous thing for?”

“Well, look at this–Alaska! Alaska!”

“Are you out of your mind?”

I said, “No, look around. Listen. Here we’re in this little dark radio station with the liana vines growing up the side, and the old Wayne King records that we play over and over and over again.”

Three of them looked at me with one eye, and all three of them said, “If you go anywhere, man, the only place to go–New York!–I mean, the Big Apple–that’s the big time! You can stand right next to Andre Baruch, right up there with Frank Gallup, with Kenny Delmar!”

And all the while the Bing Crosby record was going, “You and me, and blue Hawaii, da de a do do do do.”

I looked at the three guys and I said, “You’re right!”

Yes, Jean Shepherd knew that they were right. Beyond his tadpole experience in his early radio days, with what sources of nourishment and knowledge was Shepherd equipped to create a name–and a persona–for himself in New York? The Midwest storytelling tradition and style. Extended stories that create a narrative environment for insights he wanted to convey to amuse and instruct through context and humor. Mark Twain, George Ade, W. C. Fields, Jack Benny, Paul Rhymer’s Vic and Sade. No more “You and me, and blue Hawaii, da de a do do do do.” He was on the cusp of burgeoning. Evidence refutes the story that he would go to the Big Apple to take over as host of the Tonight Show. He would go to New York to be on the radio. He would burgeon.


Portent: That  Andre Baruch, Frank Gallup, and Kenny Delmar are not currently names widely celebrated, or even widely known, does not tend to bode well for radio-based aspirations.

I believe that Shep’s faults and failure (despite his genius) to achieve universal renown to the height he believed to be his due, rise to the general classic level of tragedy. Read my first post on the subject and my upcoming posts (every other post on a subject, as is my custom) and give me some feedback, please, especially as I proceed with later posts in this series.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of



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

excelsior sign

What’s Shep all about, anyway?

Who knows?


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.


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. 



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

Chapter 13  ↑Radio Hall of Fame, EYF!

Chapter 14   Seinfeld nails it↑.


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:


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

pekar bobblehead1


(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


JEAN SHEPHERD–Play “Misty” For Me. Part 3

play misty DVD cover






In the last part of his broadcast, with all the commercials out of the way, Shepherd gives more details about the young woman who killed six.

I’ve got something to tell you tonight about “Please Play ‘Misty’ For Me,” and it’s a pretty scary story. It’s–it’s actually scarier than the events that occurred with Clint Eastwood in the film. That was very straightforward. A girl got hung on this whole loneliness thing and she wound up wanting to kill. But I can tell you a story, that to this day, is inexplicable, and I’ll guarantee you somebody along the line connected with that film…either heard of this case or knew about the incidents that were around it. I’ll just let it stand for that. 

Laurie Squire, who worked at WOR with Shep in the 1970s reports:   “I actually remember an off-air casual conversation where Jean said, in essence, “And you know that Play Misty For Me was based on me.’ (Followed by a chortle.)”

Does the chortle represent that “I’m just putting you on”? Or does it represent that, “See, here’s another example of my life and work being referred to in the media.”?

I feel that the scary stories are for real for a couple of reasons:

  • I’ve never heard Shep so awkward/repetitious/unsure–as though this is affecting him more than a fictitious story ever does.
  • Someone telling a “horror” story does not begin by calling it “scary” and “inexplicable,” because that undercuts the story-teller’s attempt to make the fiction seem believable.
  • I’ve never heard Shep tell such a true-sounding “story” about his real self before. He speaks more like telling an anecdote than telling one of his kid or army “stories.”

I feel that I can tell they’re fictitious because:

  • They seem overwrought/overly horrific.
  • Why have we heard nothing about these occurrences before in the professional life of Shep?

He talks about fans and groupies and assures us he doesn’t mean their kind of enthusiasm. He says:

“The media groupy is a solitary person.  A solitary in a solitary room, and often, in the case of the neurotic, the only communication they’ve got–with the outside world–is this radio set….Radio presents a curious set of conditions to the neurotic. First of all he often believes he’s the only one who is getting this. Now a normal person wouldn’t think that way. But the neurotic we’re talking about, remember, he’s crossed the line of reality.” [He comments that in this case it’s a female.]

“…she believes that this thing that’s coming out is for her, and it’s only for her. That all the others are intruders. Incidentally, for your benefit, there have been two attempts on my life….the incident occurred right here [laughs] on Broadway at 1440 on a Saturday morning. And it was a wild fantastic moment. Every bit as frightening as the moment when the girl attempted to stab Clint Eastwood….


Well, before we go any further, I’m going to tell you a really hair-raising story–you better turn your lights on–that makes the Clint Eastwood story look like greasy kid stuff….This happened to me personally. This is not fiction, I’m not inventing it. This really happened.

Alright, I will tell you the story of what happened to me. [pause] and a–it was–it was–it, it forever changed my thinking, I suppose you might say–rationality, reality, all the other things we take for granted in our lives. Ah–it was a very odd experience. And I will tell you exactly what happened without embellishing it.

Radio is part of lonely peoples’ lives–three in the morning they’re out there in those dark hives, in the–in those unimaginable cells, with the radio going and this voice is talking to them and they begin to have all kinds of fantasies.

Well, I began to get, just out of the blue, one day–this was in Cincinnati, as a matter of fact….I began to get letters–of course you get thousands of letters in the media,…but there’s a certain kind of pattern that begins to develop. Immediately your senses–if you’re in this business enough, your senses begin to raise the little hackles in the back of your neck….there was something curious about these letters. Was a certain tone about them. Ah–they were written in green ink, a rather exotic handwriting–it was kind of backwards slanting and quite flowery and ornate. And the letters always came with some kind of face powder–had been sprinkled into the letter, so that when you opened it, this face powder drifted down….an odd combination of English and a few French phrases thrown in….This woman, or this girl, assumed that I was French [Because, he thinks, of his name, Jean] so I knew the language.

The letters began to get more and more verbose….They were verbose about things which had no relationship to anything I was doing. For example, she would say, “Well, of course you know that today I went to the bank….” the letters were getting longer and longer and after about three or four months, every day they began to arrive….Suddenly I was getting seven, eight, nine, ten letters in one mail, all in this green ink. and getting more and more–I can only say–feverish–is the best word–feverish.

Well now, it just so happened that I was doing at that time–just about–I started to do a show in a nightclub. I was doing a nightclub show–in Cincinnati. and the show actually, was broadcast at the same time.


From July 1949 to Spring of 1951 Shep did an

evening show from WSAI in Cincinnati.

This, according to current knowledge appears

to be the last time he had an evening show

in Cincinnati before going to Philadelphia.

Is this restaurant setting the “nightclub”?


Well, out of the blue I got a package–just came to the station. and it was like many packages some people send things to you. But this package was unbelievable–it was heavy, big, it was a big, thick package. About the size of a Sears Roebuck catalog it was. Opened it up and it was the biggest, longest, most unbelievable letter. It was a letter of about a thousand pages in length, written in green ink. A continuous letter. Imagine–can you imagine getting a thousand-page letter? Finely written in tiny handwriting?

I was getting worried about this. Really worried, because it seemed to have overtones that–that really started to scare me. Well, one night–a–we were setting up, and there were people arriving in the nightclub….So that night I see down in the crowd–I instantly knew-there was a strange-looking, very thin, hawk-faced girl, with unbelievably burning eyes, wearing what looked like a big leopard-skin beret. Strange-looking hat. And just looking. With no-blinking eyes. Just intense–intense, looking at me. And she’s down in this crowd.

And I turn to my friend–“Look out! I think we’ve got something going tonight.”

And he says, “Yeah, I think we have.”

When, right in the middle of the show–as I’m performing on stage–she got up off of her seat and walked forward and laid on the stage right in front of everybody–she laid a package–that was thinly wrapped with tissue paper in a box. [Shep’s 2-minute closing theme music starts] And–a–I paid no attention to it.

Bob very carefully opened it–off-stage–and in the box was a doll. Painted black. Wearing a red-lined cape. Well, wait a minute. Think about this. This is a male doll painted jet-black wearing a cape that had been put on it. Red-lined. Just–that’s all there was to it. At that point I began to see–that there was more going on here, friend–than I had bargained for.

And that was the beginning of one of the most bizarre, fantastic events–well, can you imagine coming out two years later–coming out of a television/radio station in Philadelphia–at two o’clock in the morning in a driving rain, with my MG parked out front. And standing in the doorway across the street–is the girl. Wearing the same leopard-skin beret, just watching me. Everywhere I went. What it finally resulted in–would make–I have to say–it would make the Clint Eastwood movie look like an episode of the Bobbsey Twins. It wound up with six people dead.

And it was a saga that went–over seven years. This woman constantly pursuing–a girl, really. She was only in her early twenties roughly. And she changed until she finally became a wild shrike with burning eyes, with only one desire–and that was to kill.

And guess who.


That is right.

Yes, and, perfectly timed, Bahn Frei ends with those last word of his story:  That is right,” and with the music’s conclusion there is Shepherd’s familiar “Ahhhh.”


Don’t we get any more odds and endings than this?


staring eyes


leopard skin 2


knife 2


“And you know that ‘Play ‘Misty’ For Me’

was based on me.”

(followed by a chortle)


play misty DVD cover


JEAN SHEPHERD–Play “Misty” For Me. Part 1

Let’s talk about cuckoos. Most well-known people encounter them. Shepherd seems to attract more than his share. I broached the subject in my EYF!, starting on page 184:

“Fan” after all, is a derivative of “fanatic.” The peculiar showed up, as they tend to do in a performer’s life–Shepherd seemed to attract a large share of especially strange people. The older brother/mentor feeling and the direct communication that Shepherd  inspired attracted some listeners who had excess enthusiasm. Possibly odd loners who had trouble connecting to real people in their lives found Shepherd’s special intimate style attractive and they “glommed” onto him.

Of course most listeners to Shep weren’t/aren’t cuckoos. Remember that, in fact, the most famous “listener” called in during Jean’s overnight broadcasts in early 1956 and eventually married him–actress Lois Nettleton, who, based on my knowledge of her, was an extremely rational and sensitive person–with a genius IQ. A few years later, when she discovered aspects of his “secret life,” I understand that she simply changed the locks on their apartment door and he was finished. Bobby Fischer, strange and neurotic chess-champ, was another kind of brilliant acolyte of the Shepherd persona, and they became friends–Fischer’s recent biographer confirms these facts as Shep related them. Oddball genius Andy Kaufman was a fan. Shepherd’s earliest comments about cuckoos that I’ve heard is in a 1965 broadcast in which he comments in part:

I would like to tell you–all you nuts out there. A special message to the nuts who are with us tonight. If you have suppressed calling, you know–I understand that it’s not easy being a nut and I understand that suppressing you nuttiness is one of the most difficult parts of being a nut….There ain’t gonna be no more nut calls tomorrow night. okay?”

Several other cuckoo-contacts I’m aware of, as described in my book, are from the early-to-mid-1970s. Again from EYF! a report from Barry Farber is that a thirteen-year-old girl was so infatuated with Jean-on-the-air that when he responded innocently to her fan letter, she fantasized that he visited her at night. Look ’em up. Here’s a bit more:

Shepherd on the air in 1972 asked, “Have you ever wondered why I have a funny look in the eye, when this stuff keeps coming in over the transom?”  As general manager of the station, Herb Saltzman remembers, “They showed up, and we ended up having, I believe, to put a security guard into [WOR’s offices].”

From a broadcast in the Fall of 1970, closely related to what he discussed in his broadcast about ‘Play “Misty’ For Me”:

Once in a while you’ll have the misfortune to actually run into one of these people in person at a show, see, and they’ll be a lot of people coming up–you know, they want to talk to you about things–autographs or whatever it might be, see.

I’m not talking about just Shepherd. I’m talking about all kinds of people. By the way, it might surprise you to know there are other listeners to my show other than you, friend. Which always surprises people. But you’ll go to some place in person, and somebody will come up and say, “Hello!”

And you say, “Oh, hello.”

“Well–ah–hello!” they’ll say. “I’m Clarisse!”

And you say, “Oh, yes, well, hello, heh, heh, glad to meet you. My name is Jean Shepherd. Is there–“

Girl says, “What do you mean? I’m Clarisse!”

You’ll say, “Yes, well–well, is there anything I can do for you, Clarisse? Do you want–“

“But I’m, [bewildered tone] I’m Clarisse!”

And you’ll say, “Do I know you?”

“Of course. I’m Clarisse!”

By that time, of course, the guards, wherever they are, are beginning to edge forward, see, because they can recognize the cuckoo eye. The cuckoo eye is usually a kind of watery eye, where one eye spins faster than the other in its socket.

The foregoing is but a calm introduction to the most incredible and scary Shepherd broadcast I’ve ever heard–that’s dated January 28, 1975–thought to be a rebroadcast of the audio originally broadcast in 1971, at about the time “Misty” came out–a program that must make one rethink what Shepherd had to say about truth/fiction in the past. On that, in part, I said in my last post about “foibles”:

That what Jean Shepherd said and wrote could not be relied on as real-world-literal-truth is well substantiated.  This could be caused by any combination of the following: conscious creation of an artistic fiction as he said above in reference to In God We Trust; conscious deception in order to give a false image of himself; faulty memory.

What other possibilities are there? In that scary broadcast we are faced with a serious issue– as he describes having seen Clint Eastwood’s movie “Play ‘Misty’ For Me” and he discusses how it relates to his true life. Shep, is what we’re hearing real truth?

play misty DVD cover

Stay tuned for the shocking continuation.


[I seek any/all info regarding cuckoo-threats against Shep.]


JEAN SHEPHERD–early NYC & G. S. Kaufman


George S. Kaufman the playwright, director and producer

died yesterday of a heart attack at his home,

1035 Park Avenue. He was 71 years old.


Authoritative info is scarce as to what Shepherd did in his early days in New York City. He arrived some time in 1955.

Why and when did he come here? What was it like for him then? Circumstantial evidence based on one of his broadcasts suggests that it was an undeniable force that drew Shep as well as innumerable others to the the Big Apple, as it was considered the height of the artistic and creative world at that time in addition to tops in radio broadcasting. In one broadcast in which he says he was offered a radio job in Juneau, Alaska, three co-workers convince him that the place to go for radio is NYC.

In another broadcast he says, “I came to New York as a television performer and I worked in television for a long time before I got to town.” True, he did some TV work earlier. But he was a radio man. A special kind of radio man. Newspaper radio schedules show that he began New York broadcasting at WOR in 1955 in a variety of time slots, mostly daytime. (Not until  January 1956 did he begin his overnight shows.)

Immediately upon notice of Kaufman’s death, in the broadcast of June 2, 1961 titled “George Kaufman,” Shepherd talks about how lonely and depressed he was when he first arrived, presumably in early 1955. Author and playwright George S. Kaufman had phoned him at WOR — an important moment for Shepherd. Shepherd discusses this experience–not in his “story” mode–as a part of his life, and I believe that he accurately describes it.

An internet site reports that Kaufman was born in Pittsburgh in 1889. That he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his collaborations in the theater, that he was best known for his sharp wit, his eye for social satire, and his ear for comic speech. That he worked with and befriended famous actors such as the Marx Brothers and authors such as John Steinbeck. No wonder that Shepherd was impressed and proud.


george s kaufman


            JEAN P. SHEPHERD

Shep describes what happened. [Be advised that, to keep the post relatively concise and to concentrate on Shep’s appreciation of Kaufman, I’ve cut a number of minor side issues and little “He said”/”I said” bits from the original transcript] :

I arrived in this town a completely unidentifiable object. Most of us need identity to tell what’s good or bad….I was here about two weeks, maybe three weeks. I felt very depressed. I was in New York City and New York City is a very closed city, particularly in the field of theatrical entertainment. And especially in the field of humor.

If you’re not doing it on the stage of the Blue Angel you’re not funny.  That’s all there is to it. If you’r not doing it on an LP with a crowd of idiots cheering you–you’re not funny.

I came on here and I was very lonely, and the people here at the station–they had no idea what I was doing. So this kind of entertainment was difficult. It was a new kind of thing. The engineers were looking at me blankly, because it didn’t fit into one of their categories. The program directors here were confused, and it was like I was speaking Sanskrit in a world where people spoke Pidgin English. I arrived a lonely figure here, believe me. I had come from an area where people did understand. I had been there long enough–they had listened carefully, you see. People in New York hardly ever do. New York is a much faster area. People have to understand something in thirty seconds–or whatever it is is nuts–“it’s no good–it’s a nut, why doesn’t he play the record?”

You can imagine the struggle I had. It’s not that my stuff is long–not at all. But what it really is, is that it takes a great deal of listening to understand the whole aura, the point that I’m making. It is a sprawling thing. And I agree, I understand this. Well, through a series of odd little circumstances, I did get on the air and it was on a Saturday afternoon.

I can’t tell you how depressed I was. I was extremely depressed because immediately after I would go off the air, hundreds of New Yorkers would call up. And New Yorkers, by the way are among the most intolerant people I’ve ever encountered, and they would be very indignant–“What is this–what is this nutty stuff on the air, what is all this going on here? What is this trivia stuff here? Get it off! Get the record on. Gimme the news, I want the news there.” And of course, this went on hour after hour. Well, the people here stuck with it.

Then one day.This was only about three weeks after I had been there. I was depressed. I was earning minus two-dollars a week. I came out of the studio and there was a phone call. And of course all of these irritating phone calls I had not been bothering with.

I picked up the phone because the guy said, “You better talk to this one,”

And there was a voice on the other end. Sort of a nasal voice. He said, “You know you’re one of the funniest men I’ve ever heard in thirty-five years of show business. Don’t go away.”

I said, “Who are you?”

“Well, doesn’t really matter.”

I said, “Well, thirty-five years in show business, who are you?”

“My name is Kaufman. And I called up to talk about your program and I want to meet you and I want to talk to you about something.”

Well, to make a long story short, it was George Kaufman. And Kaufman was a man of unusual courage. He was also a man who had, as far as I know, and in my contacts with him–which were necessarily brief–were–he had qualities which went beyond the problems most of us are constantly running into. Such things as rank, such things as the little idiotic, trivial things like–this is something that you don’t do. 

Well, I was very depressed, and this was a tremendous shot in the arm, truly. And Kaufman said he had been listening for the last two weeks. He’d almost caught the first show!

He said, “Come on over.”

Well, I visited–I went to his apartment on Park Avenue, the one where he died, and I got upstairs where he lived. It was not sumptuous. it was a nice place, of course, very small, very compact, very unpretentious.

I walked in and he greeted me at the doorway. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.

He said, “I’m sure pleased to meet you. You know what, I’ll tell you something.” He said, “Come on in, come on in.” He was a very frail man and at that point his hair was almost completely white.

He said, “Would you like a drink?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah, fine.” I didn’t know what to say. This is George Kaufman, see, and I’m the bumpkin from Middle West. 

He poured me some Scotch and we sat there. He said, “You know, I want to tell you something about your work.” And he talked about my work for about an hour-and-a-half.

He said, “You know what you’re doing is a kind of theater. It’s a different kind of theater.” And he said, “I’m sure that nobody’s going to know that. I think you’d better get into real theater. The theater that everyone understands, because they’ll understand it then.” He said, “I want to work with you.” He wanted to collaborate. I’m just telling you the straight story. He wanted to work on a piece that I had done on the air. He said, “We ought to make a play out of that.”  

We had several meetings and unfortunately, just at that point he got into very bad health. He was really badly off. He would call me every couple of weeks and his voice got weaker and weaker, and he said, “I wish we could work, but I can’t. But I’ll get back.”

I met him several times after that, but there’s one thing you’ve got to remember. He was a listener. He really was one of us. Every night and every Saturday–he rarely went out–he would listen.

And one time he called me over. “You know who just got into town?”

I said “Who?”

He said, “Well, it’s a funny thing .” And he proceeded to tell me about  one of the Marx brother’s wives. He said, “You know, she arrived into town here last night and she was a New Yorker, and the first thing she said was, ‘Is Shepherd still on the air?’ And she and I sat and we talked about things you’d done and she said she wants to meet you.”

So I went over there and shot the breeze with one of the Marx’s brothers wives and we talked for three or four hours and we discussed F. P. A. and all the other great people who had worked here in New York in humor in days before.

And the last time I saw Kaufman–and this was only about eight months ago. He was standing in the doorway and he said, “You know, I’m working on something . When I finish it, you and I are going to work together. We’re going to get working on this project.”

I picked up the Times and saw his picture–and I was very sad to find that he had died. A wonderful man. Somehow, a really important one. Not because of what his work was–because his work was good–but because of his attitude and his viewpoint. 


From the New York Times obit:

Mr. Kaufman was an eccentric character. He was always hatless, his brushy pompadour untidy. He talked to himself and grimaced as he walked along the street. Detesting vegetables, he was said to subsist on meat, bread and chocolate peppermints.


Oh, what a piece of theater it would have been!


JEAN SHEPHERD–Charts–my first book about him

Here’s what I’m going to do intermittently for some opening

posts of the new year.

It’s a series charts I created a number of years ago

and also my thoughts about Shep’s work in 

refutation of a couple of essays by others.

It’s sort of an interrelated gallimaufry. 

Starting now:

Regarding my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD,  on occasion I encounter a comment that indicates that the person is not sure how I organized it. Some might think it’s disorganized.

Others find the methods and organization I used in the book to be appropriate to the subject–I’d like to think they’re right, especially the reviewer who commented that the book seems inspired by Shepherd’s style itself (it was not consciously). The book does have a specific organization from beginning to end, and to clue the reader in, the last paragraph of each chapter indicates how the next chapter is a logical continuation of the theme. I also explain in the book that there is a very loose chronology of the PARTS (The formative years from childhood through early radio years; followed by what I call “The Great Burgeoning” in New York; followed at the end by the finale–a back-and-forth summing up of life and art). Interspersed between some of the chronology are THEMATIC CHAPTERS that describe and reflect on Shep’s various creative endeavors as these seem to emerge from the rough chronology.

While working this out, I made a chart to help show myself (and then interested others) how all this goes together.  The chart was done in a rather large format for ease of viewing–one that could not be scanned or imported into this blog in one piece, so here it is in two pieces. The originals of all my charts were only meant to be printed out on paper–not miniaturized into a blog and viewed on a screen. Remember that one can click on images in the post to significantly enlarge them for ease of reading (I hope!).

I’ve put together a number of charts over the years to help me get a better sense of Shepherd’s life and work. I’ll be posting them one at a time over the next month or so.

                 EYF chart of chapters 1

 chart EYF! redo rt half

Either through my ignorance or the inbuilt limitations of this blog program, I can’t control some visual aspects. So one has to see in one’s mind, the single, continuous artwork broken here into the two-part chart above. Obviously the relative scale of the two is slightly different as it was imported here, and can’t be reconciled. It’s impossible for me to position images just where I want them–the program just resists my attempts at subtle adjustments. In fact, as I draft the post, the two halves show side by side, not one over the other. The title with Shep’s name, obviously should continue on the same level.

The various charts I’ve made, first for my eyes alone and my pleasure, then available to help explain some material to others, were all done about a decade ago in the Adobe Illustrator program and printed out on a large-format Epson 11″ x 17″ -capable-printer. As I no longer have the printer, I rely on old print-outs to scan and awkwardly import them here.

Creating the charts and somehow managing to post them–

all other parts of my enjoyment of working on Shep projects.



I just opened this post as though I were an average viewer and found that although the first half of the chart, when clicked opens larger (It has a blue outline when cursor is over it), the second part does not–I don’t know why this might be–damn computers!  To enlarge, copy this part and paste into a word processing document–one can then enlarge that. Very annoying having to attempt to outwit an electronic servant!  –eb