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This current post is the last of this series of “Manifestos.” The following story was scheduled for near the end of the Keep Your Knees Loose book manuscript. Does eveyrbody like green icing?
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A STORY IN KYKL I’VE BEEN SAVING TILL THE END OF ITS MANUSCRIPT
(The sweet green icing flowing down)
A couple of years before Shep died, a number of us Shepherd cuckoos contacted his childhood friends Flick, Dawn Strickland, and Wanda Hickey, and we all made regular pilgrimages to his home, maintaining contact with him despite our shyness and his justified grumpiness. It helped if we could get songwriters Jimmy Webb and Gene Raskin, and Chicago White Sox first baseman “Banana Nose” Zeke Bonura, to tag along. I’ll never forget those times we spent with Shep in his later years on Sanibel Island, when the temperature on those cool winter evenings had plummeted to 130 degrees above zero (centigrade), and the crappies were jumpin’ out of the swirling steam. Just as when listening to his nightly radio broadcasts, we thought those times would go on forever.
Ol’ Shep sometimes entertained guests by serving us highballs of meatloaf and red cabbage, if he could find the recipe. (I’m telling the truth! I’m not exaggerating!)
He would tell stories that inevitably began, “I was this kid on the north side of Juneau, see….” Then he’d go on to relate how, “With both hands tied behind my back [Laughs.] I’d wrestle alligators.” He referred to these anecdotes as his “Crock Tails.” If one of his old radio engineers was present at the gathering, he’d fix the guy with narrowing eyes, grab a 6SJ7GT mike and, daring him to cut him off, add, “Or I call these my Tales of Crocks of…” and let the unuttered word hang in the air like the stench of an abandoned latrine.
Inevitably he’d take us to his ham radio room [“shack”], where he’d have us listen while he tapped out some Morse code, and then, on what he called his “Victrola,” he’d carefully put on LPs, one by one, and scat along to “Boodle-Am Shake” and “The Bear Missed the Train.” He could often be persuaded to get out his jew’s harp and, with his inimitable way with a tune, but straining it a bit, he would render “Escargot” to the consistency of consommé.
It is said that he retained within a crystal case, on the rump-sprung remnant of a red chenille bathrobe, a fragment of broken table lamp in the shape of a woman’s well-turned leg. This is one of those Shep-myths it’s my duty to expunge from the record—the remaining shard is more likely part of a slender calf, or a hunk of inner thigh.
He would occasionally clear his throat—”HARUMPH!”—and could be heard to mutter, “What a gallimaufry! Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Finally, he would haul out an old wooden crate with a label, tattered and torn, that read, MADE WITH PRIDE IN HOHMAN, INDIANA. Within, he had a preserved, well-worn knee-handle, nestled on a bed of purest excelsior (you fathead!).
During those days and nights it seemed as though it was always raining. Maybe that’s why ball-bumbling Banana-Nose Bonura would drop another easy pop fly and Jimmy, nowhere near MacArthur Park, in his stripp-ed pair of pants, would go bounding out into the downpour screaming that he’d “never have that recipe again.” Yes, the recipe died with Shepherd. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d have our Shep forever and a day. But Jimmy (“MacArthur Park”), nostalgic songwriter Gene Raskin (“Those Were the Days”), and steadfast writer Gene Bergmann (“Excelsior, You Fathead!”) were wrong–he’s alive. Fortunately, Shep had baked us thousands of recorded broadcast cookies to savor, whether on our brightest, sunshiny days, or during a deluge.
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Thank you, cousin Raymond B. Anderson, for content and editorial advice on this entire project, leading to what I believe is a better book. Thank you to my friend Margaret Cooper, for her eagle eye and sharp mind not only for editorial corrections, in what might have appeared to be only gentle nudges and minor suggestions, but which were important comments resulting in a much stronger result.
Of course Jim Clavin’s www.flicklives.com continues to be the best source of Shepherd information. Members of the email shepgroup sometimes post new Shep-related news and respond to my queries, for which I’m grateful. Contacts from people who were aware of EYF! and my own detective work led to much new material, and I must also thank my able research assistant, Serendipity—hugs and kisses, doll.
Several people have provided powerful jolts of important revelations for our knowledge of Jean Shepherd. I thank Lois Nettleton, actress and third wife of Shepherd, for her enthusiasm for my first Shepherd book and her offer to invite me to visit her when she returned to the New York apartment she’d shared with Shepherd. She carefully read the book and wrote extensive notes—notes that provided much fascinating information about her and Jean’s personal and professional life, all of which contributed greatly to Keep Your Knees Loose! Thank you to director and producer John Bowab, Lois’s long-time close friend and her executor, who gave me two hours of his time in her New York apartment, and who rescued her notes from probably inaccessible university archives and generously gave them to me. Thank you, Doug McIntyre, for providing me with a copy of Lois’s year 2000 interview with him. Thank you Barbara Tiedermann Simerlein for the background information regarding Leigh Brown’s early years and for providing many letters from Leigh to her, written during Leigh’s early contacts with Jean. Thank you Tom Lipscomb for providing much important commentary regarding his friendship with Jean and Leigh. Thank you, Shepherd fan Mark Snider for providing contact with his brother, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and thank you, Dee Snider, for the great discussion and interview. Thank you also, Dee, for your cool blurb for my Shep’s Army book.
Thank you, Nadine Metta Bordogna and Charles Bordogna for alerting me to the Jerry Seinfeld comment about Shepherd on Seinfeld, Season 6 DVD set —I use the quote at every opportunity—and thank you, Jerry Seinfeld, for saying it.
Thank you Jeanne Keyes Youngson (“The Vampire Lady”) for telling me about your friendship with Shep and his early New York radio days. Thank you, Joyce Brabner for attempts to locate Jeanne’s misplaced and long-gone box of tapes from Shep’s overnight broadcasts. Many will recognize that Joyce was co-creator of some of Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” graphic novels and that her essay on I, Libertine remains available on the Internet. I discuss in my graphic novel reproduced in my early blog posts, her help on that project.
Thank you, film director Raul daSilva for providing me with a copy of the heretofore undiscovered 1973 half-hour film, No Whistles, Bells or Bedlam, narrated by Shepherd (one gets to see him a bit, too!). Thank you Robert Blaszkiewicz, for permitting me to quote from your column about the JSMIGWTAOPC Tollway (described in an earlier post). Marc Spector, an associate producer at WOR in 1975 contacted me with his observations regarding Shep’s later period at WOR Radio. Thanks to Bill Myers for helping to expand on the meager information regarding Shepherd’s Cincinnati radio days. Thank you, Murray Tinkleman for alerting me to Shepherd’s commentaries in the 1987 PBS program “Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait.” Thank you George Irwin for providing a video portion of the TV panel show “I’ve Got a Secret” showing Shep musically thumping his head.
When’s the last time you saw Shep with a jacket,
white shirt and tie–and a crew cut?
HERE IT IS!
THE JEAN SHEPHERD SHOW!
Jean Shepherd ended his WOR radio career in 1977 and he died in 1999. Yet his creations continue to be perpetuated through new and older enthusiasts who enjoy his works. Here are some of the major factors helping keep Shep’s vision alive.
Shepherd‘s own books continue to sell. In addition,
Eugene B. Bergmann‘s books, Excelsior, You Fathead! ( 2005), an overview and appreciation
of Shep’s career, and his Shep’s Army (2013), annotated transcriptions of
Shepherd army stories, continue to sell.
Caseen Gaines‘ book, A Christmas Story-–Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic
appeared in 2013 with considerable material on Shepherd.
Several books on radio and on humor appearing in the last decade or so contain
descriptions and appreciations of Shepherd’s radio work.
A number of schoolbooks for teaching literature each feature a story by Shepherd,
with study comments and hints.
Professor Quentin Schultze of Calvin College has taught courses in the art
of Jean Shepherd and had him as a guest in class.
DISTRIBUTION (audio, video, radio)
Max Schmid of WBAI broadcasts Shepherd audios and interviews as often as he can
in addition to selling CDs and DVDs of Shepherd’s works.
Jeff Beauchamp”s Jean Shepherd Project (no longer extant)
distributed CDs of hundreds of Shepherd broadcast audios.
Sellers on http://www.ebay.com continue to offer Shepherd books, audios, videos, etc.
DOCUMENTARY (in the works)
Nick Mantis is creating a major documentary on Shep’s world,
interviewing many important sources.
Jean Shepherd acolites gather from time to time to chat, eat, and
exchange enthusiastic comments about him. The most recent “Shepfest” was
at Katz’s Delicatessen on June 24, 20014.
Documentary video-maker at Katz’s.
From time to time–here, there, everywhere inaccuracies–grubbage–
about our mythic hero continue to pop up, scatter like a dandelion’s plumed seeds,
giving birth to equally erroneous progeny.
Of great importance is Jim Clavin‘s http://www.flicklives.com, which is the major source
of information on everything related to Jean Shepherd.
Two other websites (which do not remain current or active) have good material:
Jim Sadur’s “Jean Shepherd Fan Page” http://www.keyflux.com/shep
and Bob Kaye’s “The Shepherd Page” http://www.bobkaye.com/Shep.html
Various internet sites, including the brass figklagee at
http://jeanshepherdpodcast.blogspot.com, continue to feature Shepherd audios.
Fans communicate regularly through the email site: firstname.lastname@example.org
and on Facebook through the group: “I’m a fan of Jean Shepherd.”
An internet site features a “comic book” bio by Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall
of early V. Voice contributor John Wilcock, , including:
My blog, http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com
every third day posts articles and thoughts on everything related to Shepherd:
A variety of writings, interviews, and commentaries continue to appear,
created in print and internet publications (Gene Bergmann,
Donald Fagen, Keith Olbermann, etc.).
Irwin Zwilling, who controls Shepherd’s creative rights,
continues to be engaged on his behalf.
Turner Television continues to yearly broadcast A Christmas Story
to millions of viewers, especially for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve.
A few years ago, Gene Bergmann‘s one man play “Excelsior!” enjoyed
a very limited run off-off-off-Broadway.
In recent years, around the holiday season, a live theater version of
A Christmas Story, travels widely in towns and burbs.
Starting in 2013, A Christmas Story, The Musical appeared on Broadway.
Both theatrical versions of the film portray Shepherd as narrator/commentator
in on-stage performance.
TRIBUTES FAR AND WIDE
From time to time Shep receives some well-earned tribute
such as induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (posthumously),
The Paley Center for Media–Jerry Seinfeld tribute (posthumously),
and even while he was alive → 🙂 ← such as being given an honorary doctorate,
as seen below (pay no attention to his pants and sneakers).
HURRAH FOR SHEP!