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JEAN SHEPHERD Truth? Opinion? Fiction? Part 1

JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM

Truth and the lack of it are inevitable when studying and deliberating much regarding Shep. Of course there is uncertainty in all of life, but much uncertainty in the world of Shepherd seems to come from two causes.

One is that he did a lot of faking on purpose–his stories are told with such an air of verisimilitude that we can never know the whole truth and nothing but the truth about much of them. He also faked such things as his age, and he held back so much of his real life, such as the fact that he’d been married four times. He faked much more and, surprisingly, sometimes his memory failed him, such as saying that he’d come to New York in 1958 (especially when the I, Libertine, firing-hiring-Sweetheart-soap capers, and jazz concerts such as “Jazz Under the Stars” and Loew’s Sheridan happened in 1957 in NYC).

Another cause of fiction is that so much of what is stated about him is based on erroneous material that is repeated constantly on the assumption that what one believes (because one encountered  something said or written), is true.

When I first checked out Wikipedia years ago, I was shocked at the amount of error in it regarding Shep. I fixed much of it but one can never know how much has crept back in the moment one’s back is turned. (I don’t know who or why someone posted a second comment about my EYF!)

Recently, while researching a Shepherd subject, I thought I’d check Wikipedia again to see how the world of Shep facts and fictions is going. Without implying that I know it all and am never wrong–I hadda fix some stuff againhttp://www.wikipedia.org

⇐≈⇒

what is truth

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JEAN SHEPHERD and the Female of the Species

I try to avoid psychoanalyzing Jean Shepherd–or anyone else. (My Excelsior, You Fathead! indicates some bits about Shep’s attitudes, but mostly these are described by those who knew him, rather than through my own interpretations.) But–after perusing a new book about Shakespeare’s evolving attitude toward women as seen in his plays–I thought it of interest to attempt to objectively describe some aspects of Shepherd’s life and works as it relates to what might be interpreted as his changing attitude toward women.

Shepherd, in his talk and writing, infrequently deals with the female of the species, so the following is not suggested to be any kind of encompassing description–much less a conclusive analysis–it’s just some observations that might have some connection to Shepherd’s way of being and his creative works.

His kid stories mainly relate to young boys at play, and a few of his teenage stories do relate to dating. His army stories infrequently relate to encounters with women. One, in my Shep’s Army concerns a sexual encounter (implied). Another story, about when he was stationed in Ft. Monmouth, NJ (a very short stay, I imagine) relates to he and a buddy encountering a sad woman–I don’t remember the details and don’t like the story much. Not much else.

Some of the material and thoughts here are based on comments found in Excelsior, You Fathead! Chapter 13, “Tiny Embattled Minority.”

MOM AND SOME EARLY “LOVES”

mom in A Christmas Story

Fictional mom in A Christmas Story

022_093_Dawn_Strickland_cropped

020_Esther_Albery

 

_Dorothy_Anderson

 

 

 

Some really young females in Shep’s early life–

Dawn Strickland, Esther Jane Albery, Dorothy Anderson

[Dawn Strickland cropped from  photo courtesy Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.]

Mom is traditional, nurturing, hard-working over the kitchen sink and cooking the conventional meat loaf. Conventional both in fiction and as one might gather about her when Shepherd speaks of his “real” mother. Soon after he graduated from high school, his father left the family  forever by driving off with a young female co-worker in a convertible.

Shepherd told various stories of his experiences (mostly in fictional form) with grammar-school and high-school girls, sometimes on dates, some of whom he had a crush on. He reportedly wrote love letters to Dorothy Anderson while he was in the army in his early 20s.

Years later (1959), in Shep’s theater piece “Look, Charlie,”  it’s said that, in a very old-fashioned image of female-as-underling/slave girl, he scripted actress Lois Nettleton, his girlfriend at the time, to feed him grapes as though he were a Roman emperor and she a servant:

lois in look charlie0003

Lois, as subservient hand-maiden,

presumably as seen in the theater piece,

depicted in Shel Silverstein’s

hand-drawn program

for “Look, Charlie.”

In those early days, Jean Shepherd seemed to have a very traditional image of girls and women. His early marriages seem to show him with a similar attitude.

HAUSFRAUS

Only recently has it been confirmed that Shepherd had been married very early on. Nothing much is known of this brief and well-hidden marriage except for this:

Shepherd_[Mattoon,_1st_mc]______

Credit: Steve Glazer

Jean Shepherd’s second marriage was to Joan Warner, mother of his two children. (Joan does not want to be interviewed regarding her former husband–I’ve tried several times.) Evidence from some general comments and actions by Shep suggest that she had traditional ideas of what marriage should be. Here they are, the happy couple:

505_Shep_Family_1953

Shepherd had some general comments to say about adult women/wives. One comment related to a husband whose wife arm-twisted him into doing some work on their house– because of his digging around the house foundation, the end of the house sank. In another similar instance, the digging under the house demanded of the wife resulted in unearthing a den of rattlesnakes. He seemed to be suggesting that doing what a wife nagged one to do could result in horrible disasters.

Regarding the entire idea of a permanent commitment such as marriage, Shepherd seemed negative.  In what one might be forgiven in interpreting as a comment on clinging women, Shepherd on a broadcast commented that some people were the hulls of ships while other people were the barnacles that clung to their undersides.

In an earlier post I suggested that Shepherd wanted to be free and able to do just exactly what he wanted without being tied down to a little house with a lawn and a picket fence, and that this may well have caused him to leave the family he was married to and seek freedom and further fame in the Big Apple.

Lois Nettleton, in an early interview after Shep’s death responded to a comment by saying that he had strongly disliked family get-togethers: “Oh, hated them!”

WOMEN’S LIB AND EQUALITY

Shepherd sometimes had strong opinions about women’s lib. On July 31, 1960 on his program he said:

“I’ll tell you–most chicks today want to be treated as though they are tender flowers–and they prefer to act like King Kong. You see there’s that neat split–you want me to pick up your handkerchief while you are kicking me in the duff–with a pair of hobnailed boots. Now which do you want? Now I can do either, and can take either.”

Maybe he’d just had a bad day, but there are other Shepherd quotes in a similar vein.

Shepherd’s third wife, Lois Nettleton, was a very intelligent, very independent woman. She wrote that she felt that they were both independently successful in the entertainment field and were a good match for each other. She may have agreed to playing the subservient woman in a scripted part in “Look, Charlie,” but it doesn’t seem her general style. She believed in and assumed that she had total equality with Jean.

jean and lois c.1962

Mr. and Mrs. (Lois) Jean  Shepherd, early 1960s.

5.lois

Lois Nettleton a few years later as a Hollywood star.

Lois commented, “To me, our marriage was an ideal pairing of two famous career people who didn’t need to lean on each other, who enjoyed getting to know more about each other each day. Who made no demands, were flexible, and loved getting back together again after long absences.  Glamorous, exciting!  Very naïve of me—but actually very good for him in many ways—even after divorce, which he tried to avoid, he wanted to keep the relationship.”

leigh,shep 1977 Leigh Brown taking dictation from Jean.

1983-mm-dd_005_at_the_movies_shep_leighLeigh Brown touching up the star.

When Leigh Brown and Jean first became friends, he was married to Lois. Leigh became obsessed with Jean’s mind–and with his genius on the radio. She would do anything to have him. And eventually she managed to separate Jean from Lois. According to WOR General Manager Herb Saltzman, she began at WOR as a gofer and “She bought into the myth [that he was a genius].” She had seemingly given up all her early ambitions in order to be with Jean. But, little by little, she became Jean’s editor, agent, producer, co-creator (to some extent). By the time his career in radio was about to end, she could hold her own with his dominating personality. At the time that Jean left his radio career, they had been living together for some time, and in 1977, they married.

By the time Leigh Brown died in 1998, she had seemingly become a major force in Jean’s professional as well as in his personal life. Laurie Squire, their coworker and close friend for decades, puts it (quoted in my EYF!): “They were Jean Shepherd. She sublimated, but she had a very--I can’t emphasize enough–she had a very strong personality.  And I think he admired that….Quite a temper. She could hold her own! The power behind the throne. He was the creative genius. She knew how to operate in the real world.”

From those who knew them well, it seems as though Jean could not live without her. He died the year after she died.

I’d say that by the end, she and he were equals.

She had made them so.

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JEAN SHEPHERD early daze- in 1959. Part I

Shep’s “philosophical broadcasts” are some of my favorites (if that’s an adequate description for a somewhat varied grab bag of delights), and I know that for others, different sorts are preferred–for example, his stories (which, of course, I also like a lot). I recently encountered a transcript I’d made on 2/15/2002 at the then-named Museum of Television and Radio. The program is dated 12/20/1959 (so it’s an early, Sunday night, 9-1 AM, NY one–before he began his 45-minute nightly broadcasts). Reading it now I laugh out loud numerous times–it’s that good–for me. For me, Shepherd’s philosophical comments and attitude when he is very laid back is one of several forms in which we can really get some inkling as to his way of thinking and his personality–even when, as in the following, he is being serious, humorous, and a lot cantankerous.

shep in gocart

At the Museum, now called the Paley Center for Media, one sits in a dim room in a line of listeners’ open booths, each listener/viewer with earphones and silently serious expression, trying to catch every word.

paley listening

I had to pause the machine scores of times to write it all down on the eleven pages of 8 1/2 X 11″ yellow ruled pad. I must have missed the beginning. Reading this transcription, try especially hard to imagine his voice saying this mock-curmumudgeonly stuff.

[Remember that 1959 was near the beginning of the strange phenomenon we call “The Sixties” with its flower children and incense and holy community–its college courses in significant-if-unexpected subjects  to help you become one with the universe. Also remember that Shep’s programs back then sometimes had a more insistent stream-of-consciousness, “rambling” style that flowed along at a more leisurely and–dare I say it–gently humane–pace. So relax. Slow down your intake control. Try hard to comprehend this early version of Shep’s style, from 1956 to 1960, only four years–that led to what we are more familiar with for the next seventeen years. (Fewer of these were recorded for later contemplation–not many inexpensive recorders were available then; the style is harder to remember in its details; and many enthusiasts were too young to hear these early shows when they were originally broadcast.) Note Shep’s considerable annoyance with a control-room problem and we have here a kind of controlled pandemonium afoot]:

…each one of us. Someone who stands off to one side and tells us how we can get it all straightened out. How we are going wrong. How we faulteringly missed the step on the eternal roadway of damnation. Always. I think there is a giant monkey on the back of everyone, It is truly. It is the–it is the individual corrective agent. The giant monkey of, “Now look, you’re going wrong and I know how to fix it up. I know how to cure it.” It might be a man, it might be a woman, it might be an incense burner for all I know. But there is a monkey on the back of everyone.

And nothing seems to deter them.  They’re always there. They’re always there waiting for their moment. And it’s no wonder–it’s no wonder that a good portion of mankind continues to believe in black magic of one kind or another. That woman who looks out of the television screen, 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

[Grasped out of the googlesphere= “The Black Magic Woman”–by ‘inspizel’ ?]

out of that commercial with great flashing teeth, and she says, “I have just discovered the new wash-day miracle.”

It’s gonna straighten it all out! All of it! Happiness will flow through your family like a great river of Karo Syrup. A new miracle. And somehow it seems to be true–there is a new miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. The next miracle and the one after that [piano music starts], the one after that!

Yes, be the first in your neighborhood, friends, to burn Lucky-Me-Joe Incense three times a week. According to the directions on each box. The sweetness will last for days. Your friends will love to visit you–and remark on the delightful perfumed fragrance that fills your home. The burning of incense for luck was a secret belief known to the ancients and people of many different ancient, ancient, ancient, long-forgotten cults. It drives away your enemies and brings out those who will in the end be your true loves. Now, there is no guarantee that this will happen. We only say that it has happened in the past. So burn it, burn it.

And look at him standing out there. Look at him there–with his compassionate gaze. You know, one of the Eastern colleges is now teaching a course in compassion? “Compassion I and II.” [Shep’s voice is rising mock-dramatically.] You have to have a course–two or three preliminary courses, I and II. One of them is “Creative Friendliness I and II.” And, of course, then comes two courses in “Adjustment.”

And you’re ready! So burn that incense and burn it clean and hard. Just keep–what’s the  matter, Eddie?! 

[We interrupt this program to point out here that Shepherd seems to have begun to react to something unexpected and annoying occurring in the control room. He is talking to an engineer one supposes, yet, knowing that he is also talking to his radio audience, he blends his attempts to control the control room with his broadcast patter–Oh, if only I could plug your ears into Shep’s sweetly curmudgenly, broadcast-theme-oriented, universal-continuum as he plays his two disparate, yet simultaneous, communications! His repeated words and phrases suggest that he is really upset, yet the effect is rhythmic and, indeed, poetic.]

Just bring it up! What’s the matter? Is it running out?! Oh, there we go. So keep it going. Keep it going. Never stop, for crying out loud. It’s the time–but then again the time always shall be the time, the time, the time. Pick it up, Stan. Up over there on top again. There’s always one above and one above that, and one above that. Now look–I’ll tell you how to straighten it out, Mac! You have slipped again. Again and again and again.

Can’t you see Pandit Nehru coming home after a hard day as a statesman. There must be somebody. There must be somebody–there must be somebody who says, “You’re getting commercial, Pandit. You’re fooling again. Now get back on that–” And there always has been and there always will be. You’re doing it wrong! Oh, a…a….You have made another mistake.

End of Part I

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JEAN SHEPHERD-Trivia, “just in case”

“I’ll award the brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me…”

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

Brass Figlagee With…

The brass figlagee, with its made-up silly word, is a Shepherd invention, poking fun at the world of real awards given for real accomplishment….Within the same sphere of humanity’s array of foible-filled activities, there lies the peculiar fascination with trivia, often arcane and frequently inconsequential detail.[See EYF! starting on page 105 for more detail.]

i love trivia cup

How the Brain Stores Trivial Memories, Just in Case

The above is the title of an article about a new study “that suggests that a surge of emotion can make the old newly relevant.” New York Times, 1/22/2015 article by Benedict Carey. Shep would have loved it, especially the bizarre aspect of how the study was conducted: conducted at NYU, it consisted in part of people being connected to a “Pavlovian fear conditioning machine.” Yes. The article begins:

The surge of emotion that makes memories of embarrassment, triumph and disappointment so vivid can also reach back in time, strengthening recall of seemingly mundane things that happened just beforehand and that, in retrospect, are relevant, a new study has found….

The findings fit into the predominant theory of memory: that it is an adaptive process, continually updating itself according to what knowledge may be important in the future.

The new study suggests that human memory has, in effect, a just-in-case file, keeping seemingly trivial sights, sounds and observations in cold storage for a time in case they become useful later on.

trivia diagram cartoon

Trivia is not Trivial

“I’ll award the brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me…”

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

“Shepherd, with his pleasure in details, and his

insistence that there is often more to life

than most of us perceive, delighted in showing off

his knowledge and his ability to make

unexpected connections.”–[See my EYF! pages 106-110.]

Those doing the scientific study were lead by a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive neuoroscience. The study involved watching photographs scroll by on a computer screen and being subjected to shocks that were “uncomfortable but not painful.” The memory effect in humans is referred to as “retroactive consolidation.” I suggest that, had Shepherd become aware of such a study, he would have laughed/groaned, and would have been satisfied, rather than be a lab specimen subjected to uncomfortable–but not painful shocks–satisfied with his own un-induced “retroactive consolidation.”

“Now stop a minute here, madam, stop–these little bits of trivia–you begin to see that they do have a universality and some kind of a deep, sinister meaning.” Shepherd, March 3, 1961.

dorkshelf.com-Trivia-Fry

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JEAN SHEPHERD Foibles ahoy Part 3 of 3

Shepherd’s Og and Charlie stories we’ve known about focus on our brute-like heritage that hasn’t really changed. This would conform to the joke about the discovery of the missing link between our bestial past and civilized man.  The link, of course, is us, a part of Shepherd’s attitude that shows up consistently in other contexts.

neanderthal drawing

Us!

Thus, I was surprised upon beginning to listen to an “Og and Charlie” from the 1964-1965 Syndicated Shepherd series, because he begins by emphasizing the birth and development of music, with Og starting mankind off on this aesthetically joyous and peaceful path, suggesting a variation on the old saw—about music having charms to soothe those savage brutes.  Well, I figured that Ol’ Shep has bamboozled me here: Og’s creation of music in this story shows that he has evolved and we really are headed onward and upward.

Then Shepherd links our musical world to that other part of our heritage by playing more music—some headhunter chants as they return from a successful raid, commenting that “We’re all in it together,” emphasizing the downer with: “You, Beethoven, the headhunter.”  Yes, Shepherd has been consistent after all—we’re still a bit bestial.  With one Og and Charlie story, that Ol’ Shep has double-bamboozled me.

beethoven

Us?

To end on a corny and platitudinous note (pun?), I’ve always found music to be one of the most glorious, varied, and elegant inventions–whether I understand or enjoy the specific form or not!

download

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister,

singing their marvelous

“We’re Not Gonna Take it”

musical staff

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JEAN SHEPHERD Trivial Pursuit a la Shep

“I’LL AWARD THE BRASS FIGLAGEE

WITH BRONZE OAK LEAF PALM

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

TO THE FIRST PERSON WHO CAN TELL ME…”

From time to time, Shepherd awarded the above. (That’s my interpretation of what it looks like, nestled on a bed of excelsior, as photographed by Jim Clavin.) Some of the following I quote from my “Cracks in the Sidewalk” chapter of Excelsior, You Fathead! :

Shepherd awards it for a manifestly minor feat of knowledge and memory. Every Shepherd listener heard that request for a piece of trivia many times. Within the sphere of humanity’s array of foible-filled activities, there lies the peculiar fascination with trivia, the often arcane and frequently inconsequential detail. Shepherd, with his pleasure in details, and his insistence that there is often more to life than most of us perceive, delighted in showing off his knowledge and his ability to make unexpected connections. It has been suggested that he originated the use of the word as used today to designate minor, nonessential facts of our existence….Of course, we see that, for him, the minor often signaled the major.

Trivia represents the culture of the common man, with whom Jean Shepherd had an uneasy love/hate relationship–because the common man is the dominant stuff of American culture, the frequent subject of his humor, and because he was both the harshly critical observer and the self-aware participant enjoying the foible. Big ideas and high culture are not the concerns of the common man–it’s the little things that define his life. Besides, these little things dominate not just the common man’s thoughts, but occupy more of everybody’s time than mot of us are willing to admit. He once commented that rather than concentrating on great thoughts, even the best of us are too often deeply preoccupied with what kind of gas millage we get.

As my informant Tom Lipscomb put it to me, some of New-York-types may be absorbed in big issues, but most other Americans are obsessed with NASCAR.  To put it bluntly, regarding trivia, Shep was full of it (full of trivia). And frequently said, “Why do I remember this stuff?” As I continued in my book in full Shep-trivial-pursuit, I wrote, “…the implication was that knowing the tiny piece represented knowledgeable familiarity with its surrounding gestalt. It represented the ability to make connections from a vast mental storehouse of information (not the result of a college education, but of his intelligence and far-flung interests).”

And why. indeed, are we pursuing this now? Recently, Shep sleuth Steve Glazer encountered and produced an article from Drexel University, January 28, 1966, by a Mike Wedler (a Shep fan, naturally):

What was the name of the Green Hornet’s car? Who was his manservant? What high school did Jack Armstrong attend?

With these, and with questions of similar import, the game of Trivia was invented in 1957 by WOR radio personality Jean Shepherd….:

shep invents trivia0009

A Christmas Story enthusiasts will remember the trivia-moment at the Shepherd Hammond-homestead when the old man, working on a newspaper contest, asks, “What was the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse?” An outrageous trivia question (did the Lone Ranger even HAVE a nephew? If he did, did the nephew have a horse?) In a bizarre piece of knowledge, Mrs. Shepherd comments that its name was “Victor.” As she nonchalantly puts it, “Everybody knows that.” In a perfect Shepherd world, everybody would always know everything like that crumb of immortal American history.

By the way, the next time anyone asks who invented “Trivial Pursuit,”

knowledgeable Shepherd fans (who believe everything a

university newspaper puts in print), will be able to say

(nonchalantly),

“Jean Parker Shepherd invented the pursuit of trivia–everybody knows that!”

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Indeed, he had 4 wives!

wedding cake top

The happy couple(s)

As with virtually everything else about the life of Jean Shepherd, even the number and the details about his marriages are confused. Until now! Of course we know that Shep himself was mostly guilty of hiding and confusing the facts of his life.

The most mysterious and unknown aspect was about his first marriage–did it really exist–before he married Joan Warner, mother of his two children, Randall and Adrian? That mystery has been solved by Shep fan Steve Glazer, who recently emailed me and Jim Clavin with what seems to be definitive evidence. Shep’s first wife was Barbara Mattoon. of Hammond, IN.

Puzzle and enigma.

Let’s do the accounting backwards.

[From most recent and familiar to earliest and most mysterious.]

Fourth wife

Leigh Brown (Nancy Prescott), married March 2, 1977 until her death July 16, 1998, she was his constant companion, his assistant, editor, producer, co-creator, steadfast support for some years before and then after their wedding in March, 1977 (just as he was about to end his WOR Radio career).

[The person charged with clearing out their Sanibel home

claimed he had the marriage license for Jean and Leigh.

He has disappeared with various important items

in the life and art of Shep.]

_______________

Third wife

Lois Nettleton, married December 3, 1960 until the divorce papers sometime in 1967, “The Listener” to his “overnight” broadcasts in early 1956. She was an actress, most famous for her staring role in The Twilight Zone episode about the sun nearing the earth. She recorded many of Shep’s programs and they would discuss them when he returned after work.

Marriage_License JS,LN

[The New York Times, in its obit (by stating as fact what was obviously a

misunderstanding by whoever gave them the info),

erroneously states that Randall Shepherd “…was not aware of his father’s

second marriage to the actress Lois Nettleton….”

Randall was not aware of Lois having married Jean twice, because it is not true.]

Regarding more details about Leigh and Lois,

see my previous posts. (see my blog’s left column

and click on their names.)

_______________

Second wife

Joan Warner, married September 9, 1950-1957. Shep, Joan, and son Randall moved to New Jersey when he began radio broadcasting for WOR in 1955. Without telling Lois Nettleton about his married state, Shep began seeing her, until Lois said she found out and stopped the relationship–until he produced his divorce papers.

505_Shep_Family_1953

_______________

First wife

Barbara Mattoon, married 29 March, 1947. When Shep got out of the army in late 1944,  according to Steve Glazer, “Shep’s first professional broadcasting job as an adult was apparently also at WJOB, shortly after his discharge from the Army. Working at WJOB at the same time as Shep was a young and pretty Hammond resident named Barbara Mattoon, who helped maintain the radio station’s library.” During the war she had reportedly written to dozens of military personnel, in a way that could be described as “flirting.” At some point Shep moved to Cincinnati. (Jean and Barbara were married for about three years or less–until about 1950.)  Then Jean married Joan Warner, who had graduated from the U. of Cincinnati in 1950.

Shepherd_[Mattoon,_1st_mc]______

Regarding Barbara, for many years, only Lois Nettleton and Randall Shepherd

seemed aware of this early marriage. Steve Glazer,

whom we thank for this information about Barbara and Jean,

believes that after their divorce, for whatever reason,

they both did what they could to make their marriage disappear.

wed cake blank

They almost totally succeeded.

______________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD & ZIPPY–10.16.1999

 July 26, 1921-October 16, 1999

zippy.shep

The strip above, a tribute to Jean Shepherd done soon after he died, is from “Zippy the Pinhead” by Bill Griffith. The original published strip, of January 9, 2000, is without color. (Click this colored one to enlarge.) This reproduction is from the Zippy website, showing the hand-colored version that can be bought (www.zippythepinhead.com).  Griffith is a big fan of Shepherd’s and he gave free permission for me to reproduce its original black and white form in my Excelsior, You Fathead!  It is a perfect ending for the series of illustrations in the book. My caption for it is: “….This strip testifies to the importance of Shepherd’s work for many creative people as well as for his legions of devoted fans, many of whom stayed awake listening, long after bedtime, captivated  by Shepherd’s voice in the night.”

In the Internet site: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=18342,  interviewed by Alex Dueben, Griffith says, “My comedy influences came from people like Lenny Bruce and Jean Shepherd. Also, I like to think of Harvey Kurzman [of Mad Magazine] as a humorist as much as a cartoonist. His ‘voice,’ his cadence, are still a big influence. And then there are my favorites from fifties TV: Phil Silvers (“Sgt. Bilko), Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Jonathan Winters, and especially Ernie Kovaks. Woody Allen, too. And that one-of-a-kind hipster, Lord Buckley.”

“Zippy the Pinhead” is a surrealistic, unpredictable, wild commentary on human nature, commercialism, and society in general. It illustrates how, out of the mouths of innocents (such as Zippy), often comes a kind of wacky sense. I highly recommend it–in the newspaper strips and in compilations gathered into books.

In another interview, by Gary Panter, Griffith says, “My eccentricities and non-sequitors just seem to come naturally.”

The above comments indeed suggest a sometimes close similarity to Jean Shepherd’s form and mindset, as do the descriptions below. These two descriptions are from Griffith’s Zippy website. Both, though they seem contradictory, mostly describe Shepherd himself.

ZIPPY THE PINHEAD =Zippy. GRIFFY=Bill Griffith.

Zippy defined0001

griffy defined0002

 The well-known and often-used comment shown below,

is, unbeknownst to most people,

an original Zippy-ism!

zippy fun yet

Shepherd, though he

might have seemed to be

frequently engaged in irony and negativity,

at the same time insisted that, in our lives, we have fun.

Jean Parker Shepherd, you commented in 1975 that, “Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It’s not just a possibility. It is a certainty.” Nearly 40 years later, more immortal than most people (including your comic contemporaries), your memory in people’s minds and in the media is still alive and well. Not just the memory of what you did, but the influence you had on the lives and works of so many of us.

RIP, JPS

_______________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD and Barnacles–Part 2 of 2 Parts

barnacles

Barnacles

Shep on the radio:

But being profligate has its advantages.  You do not find yourself burdened with junk.  There are some people who like to surround their lives with junk.  What was the name of those two guys who lived in this townhouse in New York, and they had their whole house filled with all the junk and crud and just absolutely nothing-stuff that they had collected all of their lives?  They couldn’t throw away a newspaper, an old sardine can, and they had everything piled up in this house until finally, there they were living in this cave and that’s all.  They had a hole hollowed out and it was getting smaller. [Laughs]  Yeah!  Remember that famous story? 

Well, you know, that’s only an extension of the way a lot of people are.  You go down to the basement of many people’s houses and you’re gonna find tennis rackets from 1910.  “You know, maybe one day I’ll get it restrung.”  Forget it.  You know, you find old lost hobbies.  People who can’t throw away stuff that they collected once when they were nine.  When they were making wooden canoes out of balsa wood and now they got pieces of balsa wood—“Never know, I may start that again, you know.  It’s a great hobby.”

So I—.  [Laughs]  I just throw everything out.  People—everything.

I like to clear my life out about every three years.  See, I tell everybody around me.  I say, “You know, the time for the chute is comin’ soon.”

They say, “What do you mean?”

I say, “Well, I have this chute.  And every three years I just reach over and grab ahold of the big old handle there—crank—bruuup!  brrrrrgg!  Down it goes!  Everybody.  Crash!  Oh!”  

And then I start over again.  It’s a great feeling, I’ll tell you.  Like—it’s like, you know, after you haven’t shaved for about a month and you take a shave.  You feel clean and lean.  Just wonderful.  I just wonder how many people out there would like to get rid of everybody in their life. [Pause]  We’re allowing you a few seconds to contemplate that glorious thought. [Pause, laughs]  Oh my god, [Laughing] I can see, you know, all over the Eastern Seaboard people are saying to other people, “What does he mean? [said in his little old lady voice]  This man makes no sense.”  And Charles is just sitting there saying, “Oh well, heh, you know [in embarrassed voice], he sure don’t.”  [Laughs] 

Oh, well.  But nevertheless you know, man was not born to have barnacles live on him.  Right?  Friends, there’s two kinds of people in this world.  There’s the sturdy ship bottoms, and then there’s the barnacles.  Which one are you?  A ship bottom—or a barnacle?  Everybody thinks, “Oh, I’m a ship bottom.” [Ha ha ha]  Oh yeah!  Listen, the louder you holler that, the more inclined and apt you are to be a real dedicated barnacle!  I’ll tell you that.  First of all, ship bottoms aren’t listening to this show—for starters. [Laughs] 

Shepherd continues, talking about his friend, George, who had a wife:

Talk about barnacles—I’ll tell you, she had shells growing on her.”

barnacles on skin

“Barnacles” on skin.

“She had shells

growing on her.”

 She nagged him about adding an addition on the house…. This should be a warning to you.  Should be a warning.  Now that doesn’t mean it will be.  Very few people take advantage of a real warning—it can be dangerous to do little things around the house.

Shep says a guy working on his house

…was out there banging away and he cut the wrong piece of wood and the whole back of the house just slowly settled like a balloon, you know, without any gas in it. [Laughs]

 So if you’ve got a barnacle living with you I suggest that you listen carefully to this terrible story.  He says that the house was nice, all right, and George’s wife.…got the playroom-rumpus-room bug.  George gave in to her, cut through walls of his house and encountered a giant nest of rattlesnakes…. And that ends tonight’s public-service salute to Norman Mailer and Philip Roth.

          mailer       philip roth

             MAILER  (barnacle?)                ROTH (barnacle?)

I suggest that the general tone of the above represents a Shepherd who may have been cold toward most of those around him.Might the “barnacle” description refer to his attitude toward his first wife of short duration and maybe to the mother of his two children.  In one of those comments he sometimes made that seemed to apply to his real attitudes, not his radio performance persona, on his January 22, 1976 show he commented, “I don’t ‘need people.’ I’m a lone type—you know that Barbra Streisand song, ‘People Who Need People’—I hold my own counsel.” Maybe aspects of this, as Larry Josephson suggested, represent an inseparable part of  what made Shepherd a genius.

Of his other two wives, Lois Nettleton apparently gave up trying to get from him enough emotional response and openness regarding his sneaky actions during their marriage, locking him out after about five years. Shepherd once mused about “Nesters and Movers,” which may also relate to his attitude toward being tied down. (He considered himself not a nester but a mover.)  Leigh Brown, who stuck by him through all kinds of grief, and to whom he was in later years devoted and on whom he was dependent and with whom he seemed to have enjoyed a mutually strong emotional bond, never left him during their thirty-five year relationship. She died the year before he did.

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JEAN SHEPHERD and Barnacles–Part 1 of 2 Parts

barnacles

Barnacles

Are we ready now for some deeper “foibles” stuff?  Some of that gossipy and psychologically-related personal material I’d promised myself. In part I can blame Shepherd himself because of the intriguing enigma with which he surrounded himself and the reality that his chummy persona sometimes slipped into when he was on the air.  Let’s delve a bit and ferret out a foible.  My dictionary defines foible as “a minor weakness or failing of character, slight flaw or defect.”  Remembering the Shepherd comedy album titled “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles,” I think we ought to consider that the quirky sound of the word and the humorous context of it in a comedy recording suggests a whimsical connotation.  That seems about right and puts it some distance from where the word finds itself in a thesaurus, surrounded, one hopes unfairly, by “blemish, vice, taint, moral flaw, and besetting sin.”  So much for a definition; now onward to some more specific foibles, the first regarding his head-thumping skills, when he said:

…and so it is with kopfspielen.  I have spent weeks working on one phrase—believe it or not.  Even unbeknownst to some of my best friends.  You don’t tell people about the things you’re really serious about. (Syndicated broadcast)

1960-08-31_022_secret-3

Kopfspielen

“You don’t tell people

about the things

you’re really

serious about.”

“You don’t tell people about the things you’re really serious about.” How self-contained!  How enclosed within himself, how isolated!  From a number of Shepherd’s friends, family, and coworkers, one gathers evidence of his frequent lack of empathy and even cruel treatment of others. Though only rarely does this become apparent in one of his broadcasts, one’s first reaction is that Shepherd could be cold and cruel.  Although I don’t have a radio program to broadcast it, I know that I sometimes have similar sentiments—don’t you?  And I can remember a friend telling me that I was secretive—don’t we all keep a certain part of ourselves to ourselves?  If there’s a part of ourselves that remains inside and not out there, none of us tell people about some of the things we’re really serious about.  That, in part we are all disconnected.  That, as some mystics complain, few (or maybe none) of us are all in tune with the universe and our fellow humans.  Here comes the cliché, folks: we have our bad side as well as the good.  Broadcaster Larry Josephson had said:

“I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive…and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being.”

And with all that, I suggest that we many-sided humans respond to the many-sided genius of Jean Shepherd’s real self out there on the airwaves, his improvised—and thus sometimes uncensored—persona, because, maybe more often than we’d like to admit, he’s expressing part of all of us—in spades!

Maybe the following “barnacle story” coming up in Part 2 is one of the times when what he says expressed something one can interpret with some certainty as essentially true about himself.  The following transcript, with no context or other indicators of a concocted riff, sounds like a genuine self-description.  The effect is a Jean Shepherd with a cold and unfeeling attitude toward friends and loved ones.  He was “just being funny,” maybe?  No doubt he would have said he was merely telling the truth about human nature—that this attitude is far more common than we are willing to admit.

I don’t fix things.  I’m a non-fixer.  When a house goes bad I throw it away.  You know, that’s the way life is. I’m not a grubber.  Never have been.  In fact I’m profligate.  Yeah!  I’m probably the only guy you know who throws away ballpoint pens that don’t work anymore.  I know people that keep ‘em.  I know one guy that’s got ‘em stacked up like cord wood in his basement.  He figures, “You never know,” you know?

I said, “What do you mean, ‘You never know’?”

He said, “You never know.  May start working again.”

I said, “No, it won’t.  Nothin’ starts working again.”

You’re listening to the only guy who ever actually threw away their watch!  Just threw it away!  Why?  It was rotten.  I threw it away. Why do you throw anything away?  Why do you throw away potato peelings?  Or don’t you?  Heh heh.  Well, nevertheless—I’m profligate.  I’m very profligate.  Reminds me of a story.

Folks, the barnacle Shep-story is in Part 2.

Here’s the anatomy

barnacle anatomy

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