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AM radio uses amplitude modulation,…Transmissions are affected by static and interference because lightning and other sources of radio emissions on the same frequency add their amplitudes to the original transmitted amplitude.
….Currently, the maximum broadcast power for a civilian AM radio station in the United States and Canada is 50 kW….These 50 kW stations are generally called “clear channel“ stations because within North America each of these stations has exclusive use of its broadcast frequency throughout part or all of the broadcast day.
FM broadcast radio sends music and voice with less noise than AM radio. It is often mistakenly thought that FM is higher fidelity than AM, but that is not true…. Because the audio signal modulates the frequency and not the amplitude, an FM signal is not subject to static and interference in the same way as AM signals.
The foregoing originates from wikipedia.org. Take that as you will.
Most descriptions of Jean Shepherd’s radio work describes his major New York City station as “WOR AM.” This jangles the daylights out of me every time I come across it. Because from his earliest NY broadcasts he was on WOR AM & FM. In fact, from September 1956 and into 1965, I mainly (if not entirely) listened to him on WOR FM. My parents had bought an early AM/FM radio so that my mother could listen to the once-a-week social studies class in which I was one of four or five students, broadcasting from the WNYE FM studios atop Brooklyn Technical High School I attended.
BTHS showing radio broadcast antenna.
This Zenith is like my old maroon AM/FM radio with the big gold dial.
Most people who now comment on their live-listening-days, listened on little AM transistor radios (as kids, the radios hidden under their pillows). Another reason so many leave out FM, I’d guess, is that once people encounter the inaccurate exclusion of FM in a reference, they repeat it without realizing that it isn’t quite correct. This way of thinking (accepting as true while failing to check original sources) causes many errors in descriptions of many aspects of Shepherd’s work.
Shepherd was not happy when the Federal Communications Commission decreed that the world would be a better place if stations with both AM and FM outputs broadcast different programming on each rather than the same programs:
Oh—this is WOR AM and FM in New York. This is the last time we’ll be on FM, right? Ohhh, it’s a poor, sad note. This is the last night we’ll be on FM. [said with irony.] Of course radio’s moving forward. Now I understand we have some magnificent programming for you—on FM. I’m sure of that—[Laughs.]
[Sings.] I’m forever blowing bubbles. [Laughs.] Ah well. Ah well. Progress is a slow descent into quicksand.–transcriptions snatched from my EYF!
It’s my understanding that the quicksand of later-day WOR included programs featuring Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and rock-and-roll. Yes, Ol’ Shep would have been delighted (“#@^%*#”).
Listen to the station identifications on Shep’s broadcasts
prior to mid-1966 for the old, familiar announcement.
On some of the Limelight broadcasts Shep
has the live audience yell:
“This is WOR AM and FM, New York!”
On the stairway in the old Hayden Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked for 34 years, there was a sign that said, TO SOLAR SYSTEM AND RESTROOM. I wonder who has that sign now, because the old planetarium, an official New York City landmark, is no more. For decades I looked through the window by my desk, across the museum’s public parking lot, to the green-domed planetarium, until the day it was scheduled to be demolished and they put up a shroud around it.
Many wondered why the old landmark building had to be destroyed instead of redesigned inside. Many mourned the old building while invisible crews behind the white sheets killed it and carted it away.(I scavenged two bricks, which I still have.) One of us mourners, who happened to be writing poems in those days, wrote an elegy and designed it into a book.
Just the first and last 2-page spreads in the book.
How many millions would be spent and how many millions to maintain the new technology to be installed in the new, modern, glass cube? Indeed, that the newcomer was stunning, was somewhat undercut in some employees’ minds when someone circulated a magazine ad that showed an unheralded office building somewhere, that had been previously architected in that same sphere-in-glass-cube-format. Well, still, the newcomer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was and is spectacular.
Somehow, I dwell on the past, maybe because, before that old Planetarium’s demise, I got to design into it our museum’s installation of a temporary exhibit of original Star Trek costumes and other memorabilia loaned to the Smithsonian. That original had been installed in traditional rectangular cases set blandly one after another with no sense of ambiance. I had other ideas in mind, as shown by the entrance and by the central exhibit case full of costumes in a setting evocative of the Enterprise’s bridge.
We had very little time to build and install. I ordered the Star Trek type font and designed a blank form so my memos would grab priority-attention of the Construction Department. I also used it for a personal memento with our kids. (Junior Officers’ uniforms designed and made by Allison M. Bergmann.)
Stirring my memories of the Planetarium-past,
while designing and installing this exhibit eons ago and light years away,
yet garnering what must be the envy of trekkies across the universe,
I got to mock-fire a painted, wooden phaser set to stun,
hold in my hand Mr. Spock’s wax ear,
sit in Captain Kirk’s chair,
and touch a tribble.
In the late 1950s Jack Paar’s late-night TV program was the first big Tonight Show to gain wide popular viewership. (Remember that this was the show, earlier staring Steve Allen, that Shepherd was reportedly brought to NYC to take over—but the evidence shows that this was not so). Alexander King, as a guest, became very popular on Paar’s show. This resulted in high sales of several of his books.
King told autobiographical stories with entertaining wit and charm. The first paragraph of an Amazon Customer Review of a King book by Jon Richfield—-describes him well–at least as he appeared on TV: “King was a mercurial spoiled brat with enormous talent, great compassion, great selfishness, idiosyncratic tolerance and intolerance, impressive culture, totally variegated experience, a marvelous capacity for talking about it, and enormous charm. He raises serious doubts about some of what he says, but says it all with such natural conviction….”*
The New York Times obit of 11/17/1966 described his Paar appearances as providing “…witty, pungent, irreverent and continual outflow of comments on life, art, woman, sex, psychiatry, celebrities, narcotics addiction, and just about any other topic that happened to annoy him at the moment.”
FIRST BIG KING BOOK
King’s charm, wit, and quirky energy captivated the audience. Shepherd’s style, being more of a slowly articulated description that relies on a build-up of humorous situation, did not grasp and hold a studio (or a home-viewing) audience sufficiently, I believe, which is why Shepherd-telling-a-story on television by simply talking, as he did on his radio shows, did not work. Fellow-performers on TV such as Ernie Kovacs and Victor Borge seemed to recognize this and undercut Shep—on live TV.
*King once claimed that he’d published his translations of Ovid’s love poems (43 BC-17 AD), even though he knew no Latin. He said that he gathered various translations of the poems and reworded them for the better. He said that he received acclaim for the best-ever translations of Ovid. Amusing story and very possibly true–but I’m not convinced. In fact, it may also be that, just as with Shep, little that King told was more than a smidgeon true to fact.
The Love Books of Ovid:
A Completely Unexpurgated
and Newly Translated Edition.
Internet search shows several booksellers
offering this 1930, privately published book.
All booksellers (and the book’s spine) show
King only as illustrator.
(21) FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS
The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored. One might say, “masterpieces.” They compare with some of the great painted masterpieces of violent centuries past. Many of these depict the ravages of wartime. They’ve made me stop and wonder at my own intellectual/emotional conflict. I’ve saved scores of these images and concocted a couple into an elegant, cedar, cigar-box-artifact meant to preserve and remind. (It needs to be noted that some of the lovely photos I’ve saved from the Times are simply beautiful and not disagreeable in content.)
Man and grandmother: homeless refugees.
Women: grieve over the yellow head, cheerful red and white-striped cover
with body beneath.
There are still elegant photos in the Times, and I look forward to those to come.
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 again. http://www.wikipedia.org
For his upcoming birthday
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jean Shepherd was the recipient of many honors,
including honorary doctorates from universities,
from Playboy magazine for best humor story of the year—several times.
Shep was given the honor of an extraordinary presence
in a New York Times crossword puzzle
(March 15, 1972):
Yet, he was not satisfied.
He deserved more.
So here, for the first time,
I present other well-deserved awards to
Jean Parker Shepherd.
PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES
For creating a body of work
that honors the every-day millions
of us ordinary American folk
who yearn for a tad of recognition.
NOBEL PRIZE IN RADIO PERFORMANCE
For superb use of the unique radio medium
better than anybody else
before or since.
HIGHEST CELEBRITY HONOR
(For being the celebrity extraordinaire–
authentic Jean Shepherd bobbleheads
–sometimes referred to as head-knockers–
to be given to the first 60,000 White Sox fans
who yell “Excelsior!”).
OK, BIG FELLA?
Satisfied at last?
Here, take one of these also:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Shepherd, on his radio program, promoted Greenwich Village, The Village Voice, and other aspects of the then-prominent culture identified with it, such as jazz and the Beats. He narrated a TV video about it and narrated the commercial film “Village Sunday.” (His love, Lois Nettleton, plays the part of a young woman strolling along, observing the scene.) He obviously appreciated the Village culture, and in the 1970s, live there for years.
I recently encountered a 600-page book, The Village–A History of Greenwich Village, 400 years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues (John Strausbaugh, 2013).I’ve read the sections on the 1950s and 1960s, encountering a few good pages with an overall description of Shepherd, especially regarding the I, Libertine affair. My Excelsior, You Fathead! is mentioned in passing and is listed in the bibliography. The chapter with the Shep material, titled “Village Voices,” focuses on, among other items, Shep, Mailer, and the Voice. Epigraphs for that chapter:
You have no idea what a terrible lure this place is to people who live outside of this place. –Jean Shepherd
Greenwich Village is one of the bitter provinces–it abounds in snobs and critics. –Norman Mailer
[I do believe that the Shep quote refers not specifically to the Village but to all of New York City.]
The Shepherd-section, hitting most of the high points in a few pages, containing little if anything not generally known about him, ends with:
Despite his adoring listeners, Shepherd increasingly chafed at limitations of regional radio. After leaving WOR in 1977 he concentrated on film and television with some success, the bittersweet (mostly bitter) 1983 holiday film A Christmas Story, which he wrote and narrated, is considered a seasonal classic. But he never quite achieved the status he thought he deserved as a modern day Mark Twain or Will Rogers and withdrew to Sanibel Island off the Florida gulf coast where, a self-professed sorehead, he lived in relative seclusion until dying of natural causes in 1999. No doubt he’d find some rueful satisfaction in knowing that today copies of I, Libertine are collectors’ items going for as much as $350 for the hardcover and over $200 for the paperback.
[If one has the persistence to wait, one can get a paperback these days for about $50]
I enjoyed and found well-done, the author’s extensive material on the Beats, Shepherd, the folk scene, Mailer, the Voice, the emergence of Bob Dylan, and other surrounding material. There are no major errors regarding Shepherd, and the author seems to have used good and knowledgeable sources. Few if any other descriptions of Shepherd that I’ve encountered seem so on-the-mark. One might assume that the rest of the book is also good.
Village Voice front page,
with Shepherd, Nettleton, and Ann Bancroft.
× × × × × × × × × × × × × × ×
Jean Shepherd was an icon in his time. Now he’s not. What happened?”
× × × × × × × × × × × × × × ×
Photo by Dan Beach
What!– ME largely forgotten?!
The author of The Atlantic article, shown above, is wrong–as I trust we all know. Jean Shepherd is not largely forgotten. Let us begin by admitting that even at his most popular, it was, relative to big celebrity fame, a “cult” enthusiasm. So there were never many millions who knew his name and appreciated what he did. Many aspects of his life and work that are a part of American culture remain, by the majority of Americans, unnamed–unrecognized. For example, we can imagine that the vast majority of those who love A Christmas Story have no idea of the name of the creator and narrator. But, besides all the popularity of A Christmas Story, the movie, there’s the straight play based on it shown in innumerable tiny town throughout the land, and the musical based on the movie.
There’s Jerry Seinfeld (“He formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd,” See Seinfeld’s Paley Center tribute to Shepherd in January 2012) Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate) Donald Fagen, Dee Snider, Don Imus, Harry Shearer and most of those in the arts and media today who consider him their master and still discuss him. New essays and comments about Shep continually appear on the Internet.
Among us regular folks, over a thousand audios of his 45-minute radio shows are easily and cheaply available by the hundreds per CD–captured and preserved by dedicated enthusiasts over the decades. There are three websites (check out www.flicklives.com), two email groups, a blog with extensive illustrated essays about him. There are two major books about him–my 500-page appreciation and overview of his career, and the 2013 book of my transcriptions of almost 3 dozen of his army stories told on the radio, for which I’ve been interviewed numerous times–twice by NPR, once by CBS TV, etc. Shep’s own books continue to sell, as can be noted by checking the colophon page of the top 2 trade paperbacks, where one sees that the re-printings have gone into well over two-dozen each. (From time to time I check this out at my local B & N, where I inevitably find one or more of Shep’s books for sale. IGWT has now reached 46 re-printings). A documentary about his work is being worked on these days by Nick Mantis. I could go on for hours–and frequently do.
See the list of dozens of 1960s then-renowned comic figures in the book Seriously Funny and ask how much celebrity and fan-enthusiasm they have today. Some of the very greats from the golden age of radio–Fred Allen, Jack Benny–how much interest in them, listening to them, reading them, watching them– is there today compared to Shepherd? In terms of current enthusiasm, aren’t all of them more “largely forgotten” than Shepherd is?
How many comics/humorists have so many
enthusiasts dedicated to them decades
after they left the spotlight?
Excelsior, you fathead!
Recently encountered, and very common comment on the internet:
“Storyteller Jean Shepherd (born July 26, 1921) was a fixture on American radio from the 1950s to the 1970s. He is best remembered as the voice of the narrator in A Christmas Story, a classic holiday film based on his semi-autobiographical tale.”
A word that I’ve encountered innumerable times in regard to Jean Shepherd’s work.
Some familiar with my belief know that I consider this balderdash!
Some definitions of the word found on the internet:
1. pertaining to or being a fictionalized account of an author’s own life. Pertaining to or being a work of fiction strongly influenced byevents in an author’s life.
2. Dealing partly with the writer’s own life but also containing fictional elements.
3. Of, relating to, or being a work that falls between fiction and autobiography: a semiautobiographical novel.
4. Of or relating to a work that combines autobiography and fiction
Semi- or half-fiction is a blend, a percentage, estimable by the writer and sometimes by “characters,” of what actually has taken place and what could have taken place. It begins to replace what in fact did take place….
“Creative nonfiction” is intensely cumbersome as the name of a literary genre, and yet it must be the best name for it so far…. “creative nonfiction” to mean the factual basis or sequence of life events — not meaning “plot” in fiction — matters less than the artistry or creative arrangements at play in the work.
EXACTLY IN WHAT PARTS OF A Christmas Story–or any other Shep story–does the autobiographical part reside? Only in the general location of the story and having parents and a kid brother.
HOW MANY ENCOUNTERS HAVE WE ALL HAD COLLECTIVELY–in which we have reliably been told or discovered that any of the plot details of a Shep kid or army story (beyond a character’s name, or a location) have actually occurred?
I’ve never encountered any.
Example: Flickinger family denies Flick got tongue stuck to a pole.
[And yes, I know that the base story references “The Cleveland Street Kid.”]
* * *
Here’s what we can verify as non-fiction in his stories:
•SOME ACTUAL NAMES OF PEOPLE THAT HE KNEW AS A KID.
•NAMES OF HIS BROTHER AND SOME FRIENDS.
•PLACES HE IS KNOWN TO HAVE BEEN AS KID AND IN THE ARMY.
Shepherd told his stories on the radio as though they actually happened to him, but he explained (to my satisfaction) that it was all fiction–on Alan Colmes 1998 show he said, “I want my stuff to sound real. And so when I tell a story, I tell it in the first person, so it sounds like–by the way, that’s the best way to tell a good story, in the first person–that it sounds like it actually happened to me. It didn’t….I’m a fiction writer. I’m not sitting there doing a biography or an autobiography.”
The quotes from Shep’s books are his author statements at the front of each book.
IN GOD WE TRUST: “The characters, places, and events described herein re entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.”
WANDA HICKEY: [No statement found]
THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM: “Large parts of the following are fiction, other parts based on fact. Still others are pure mythology. Some characters are real, others are figments of a harassed imagination. To the real, I apologize. To the others, the back of my hand.”
A FISTFUL OF FIG NEWTONS: “This book is a work of the imagination. However, some essays are observations and conclusion. The characters depicted in the short stories are fictional. They do not represent any actual individuals, living or dead.”
HENRY MORGAN, RADIO COMIC [Quoted in The Realist, 1960]: “He has talked about that youth of his in such detail that I suspect it lasted about forty years.”
JEAN SHEPHERD: [On Alan Colmes interview, 1998] “I’m a fiction writer.”
HUGH M. HEFNER, PLAYBOY PUBLISHER: [interview, 2002] “The fact is that Jean’s stories were invented—and not personal experiences.”
Although on his own show he maintained the illusion that the stories were real, in the author’s declaration in his books, he insisted that all those stories (transcribed and augmented from his radio stories) were fiction. As I put it in EYF! “He went to extremes…in order to refute the idea that, rather than being a creative artist, he was merely remembering. He was a victim of his own success in creating the illusion of truth.”
I googled “semi-autobiographical” and came up with lots of stuff, but only the image that appears below seemed appropriate. The only reference I found to it: thenewdaughter.com would not open. I don’t know what the creator meant to suggest in the picture, but for me, I’ll use it to suggest that Shep found himself unable to escape from his box of self-created fiction masquerading as non-fiction:
A “real” guy in his self-created (fictional) box.
I say that, to describe Shep’s stories (kid and army) we do not use
“autobiographical” or “semi-autobiographical,” but
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.]
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.]
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.
[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.)
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.
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.
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.
They almost totally succeeded.
Did Jean Shepherd ever write a novel?
“I did something today that you don’t do very often in your life. I delivered to my publisher–I delivered to him the completed, edited, done manuscript of a novel that I have been working on for over three years.” –Jean Shepherd 2/4/1966.
What is a “novel” and what is not, and what is the issue here? Jean Shepherd claimed that his book of kid stories, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash is a novel and I say it is not. My American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fourth edition defines “novel” thusly, “A fictionally prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thought of the characters.”
Jean Shepherd claimed that since childhood, he had been fascinated by writing and reading, had been excited early on by going to the library and, as a youngster, had been obsessed with novels such as Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.
Several times Shepherd expresses how important words—and especially written words— are for him. In a 1974 program he evokes his joy of reading. In what seems a rather thought-out set piece, with a dramatic musical background, he reads a bit of a book he’d originally read at about the age of ten or eleven. Someone had recommended it to him, but the librarian commented that although they didn’t usually lend it to such young kids, she’d make an exception in his case. Describing the effect of the book on him he says, “And from that minute on I realized there was nothing ever in this world that’s more—that’s even as remotely powerful as words. Words are what it’s about. It’s the thing that makes us different from the giraffes and the turtles.” Then, in a description that distinctly echoes the experience of so many of his young fans listening to him late at night, he remembers:
…taking this book home and reading it under the covers at home because you had this rule you had to go to bed at a certain time….So I was hiding under the covers with Look Homeward, Angel. And I didn’t know what it was about. I just know I couldn’t stop reading it. It changed my life forever, really. (January 15, 1974)
(First edition book jacket)
In my Excelsior, You Fathead! page 323, I say regarding In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, “It is not a novel, any more than those literary classics The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron are novels.” Novels have more prestige (and are constructed with a different sort of cohesiveness) than a group of short stories. Shepherd wanted the ego-boost of writing a novel. Shepherd told wonderful stories on the radio, wrote them into very good stories for print, and (with Bob Clark and Leigh Brown) put together several of the them into a wonderful movie that is more of a movie-novel than the book is a novel-novel. Yet, it can be a matter of how people choose to use a term. For In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, Shepherd and his publisher put it this way:
IN GOD WE TRUST: ALL OTHERS PAY CASH
(Bottom of the first edition dust jacket)
The full-page newspaper ad for the book refers twice to “Jean Shepherd’s novel.”
This is especially important for Shepherd for at least two reasons. For one, his extemporaneous work on radio (a medium that got almost no respect from the public, critics, or the literati), seemed destined to be eternally underrated and forgotten. Second, stories told, and even short stories written and published, do not have the literary clout of a published novel.
Almost all who refer to the book blindly follow suit and inaccurately call it a “novel.” I believe that this is so because Shepherd insisted upon it wherever he could, and everyone else just follows along, assuming they have it right. In my foreword to the book A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic (publication October, 2013), I describe all the four opening credits listing his name, including: “Based Upon the Novel In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.”
Caseen Gaines, the Behind the Scenes author himself has consistently gotten it right, describing In God We Trust as, “…an anthology of Ralphie’s stories,” and “…a composite of his published short stories,…in his anthology…” and refers to Shepherd’s next book, Wanda Hickey, as …”a second short story anthology… .”
The question of what is a novel and what is a group of short stories especially interests me these days because of how I describe my collection, transcription, editing, and commentary of the book Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles (August 2013). It is a collection of short stories, yet I play with the idea of “novel” because I believe Shepherd’s army stories are something more–they are in a book that gathers the stories and arranges them into a form that was just waiting to be discovered, so that they might constitute what could almost be termed “a novel.” Maybe Shepherd even had such a way of thinking of his army stories himself, in a way that Marshall McLuhan wrote in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man: “Jean Shepherd of WOR regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly.” I don’t call Shep’s Army a novel. Yet, because of the comprehensive scope of the stories regarding time in the army from induction to discharge, in my introduction to the book I comment that “Shepherd tells his army stories, indeed all his stories, in no special order–randomly it seems–each self-contained. Once one begins to cull them and organize them, however, they suggest a coming-of-age-in-the-army narrative that can reasonably be deemed Jean Shepherd’s Army Life Novel.” There is the introduction to the strange military world; followed by what might be called his”school days” learning about Signal Corps duties in Missouri; then there is the radar training experience in Florida; there are then, the experiences commonly encountered by most soldiers; and the whole “story” is rounded out with his final days in the military and his beginning to return to civilian life. Not a novel, but maybe it could be reasonably thought of as such.
More to come regarding “stories”
and how we think of them compared to “comments” and “anecdotes.”
“I’m thinking of having an exam for the show. Would you guys like to take an exam? We’ll have the exam for Shepherdiana.” (Jean Shepherd May 14, 1963)
People who talk and write about Jean Shepherd, including professionals in the media who should know better, innocently repeat false information about him. There seem to be two main causes: basing comments on a limited knowledge of his work; once stated, misinformation is perpetuated by people who simply repeat it without checking primary sources to verify its truth. I have discussed some of these myths before, but I thought it useful to gather them together, so here are some of them:
MYTH: Jean Shepherd was on the air 45 minutes a night.
PERPETRATOR(S): Mostly people unfamiliar with his whole career.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: In New York, beginning in 1956, he was on from 1 A.M. to 5:30 week-nightly; then on Sunday 9:15 to 1 AM; on Saturday morning, then Saturday afternoon for more than an hour; on Saturday night live at The Limelight Café for well over an hour; and, for many years, in the format most people remember him, on weeknights for 45 minutes in a variety of timeslots.
MYTH: Jean Shepherd broadcast on AM radio.
PERPETRATOR(S): Mostly people unfamiliar with his whole career.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH From early 1955 he broadcast simultaneously on AM and FM—until July 28, 1966 when federal regulations required separate programming on AM and FM, causing his program to be dropped from FM.
MYTH: He talked about his real life.
PERPETRATOR(S): Shepherd himself in the very deceptively personal way he told his “stories.” Also, his listeners were to some extent self-deluded if they did not pay attention to the disclaimers in his books.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: Shepherd made most of it up, using some real-life aspects, changed and elaborated-on as he felt necessary to create his art. This he freely admitted—and insisted upon—in later interviews.
MYTH: Shepherd wrote a “novel.”
PERPETRATOR(S): Shepherd called In God We Trust a “novel” on the air various times. Ads for it, and copy on the dust jacket refer to it as a novel.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: His books are compilations of short stories (and later, also articles), and the short linking chapters between the short stories do not overcome this fact—the stories are self-contained, with no continuity, sense of progress, or other criteria for even loosely calling the books “novels”.
MYTH: He disparaged nostalgia.
PERPETRATORS: Shepherd himself and many others.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: Although he rightly insisted that most of his stories and comments on the past were anti-nostalgic, sometimes a bit of nostalgia does slip in. As with so much else, he simultaneously loved and hated it.
MYTH: He had no call-in phone calls and no guests.
PERPETRATORS: Mostly people unfamiliar with his whole career
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: He had only four guests that are known of, all from 1960 or before: John Cassavetes, film actor and independent film-maker; Arch Obler, radio script writer of sci-fi and horror stories; S. J. Perelman, humor writer; Herb Gardner, cartoonist and later stage and film writer (A Thousand Clowns and others). As for callers, occasionally he asked for some listener to call in to respond to a subject he was discussing, and on rare occasions one can hear a few words of the caller. Most prominently, in the 1950s, actress Lois Nettleton would call (known only as “the listener”), leading to their meeting and eventually marrying.
MYTH: He was never a “disk jockey.”
PERPETRATORS: Mostly people unfamiliar with his whole career, but also Shepherd himself, who was understandably hostile toward any reference to him as a “disk jockey,” because it implied that this was the focus of his art—thus negating the fact that he primarily used pre-recorded sounds (including music) only as adjuncts to what he was saying.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: Although during most of his New York radio career he rightly fought against being referred to as a “disk jockey,” in his early days (including in New York) he did play much more music, and on one early program, caught on tape, he says at the beginning of a broadcast, “We have records.”
MYTH: M. McLuhan wrote that Shep created a “new kind of novel.”
PERPETRATORS: All those who repeat the original person who misread Marshall McLuhan’s book, Understanding Media.
CLOSER TO THE TRUTH: McLuhan did not state that as a fact, but made reference to Shepherd having regarded it thusly. The wording in McLuhan’s book is: “Jean Shepherd of WOR in New York regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly.”
Jean Shepherd was an enigma. What exactly do I mean by that and what are the enigmas he embodied? A dictionary will tell you that an enigma is a puzzle, or is something ambiguous or inexplicable. To my thinking the word also suggests something that might also be beyond everyday logic because it might seem dichotomous and even self-contradictory. Jean Shepherd was an enigma.
Some might feel that the titles and the contents of both of my books suggest a negative moral judgment, but that’s not the intent. That some ways in which Shepherd was an enigma, and indeed seemed to embody negative attributes, is unavoidable, but part of the fascination with him and his art was his complexity, his nature of holding the good, the bad, and the self-contradictory within himself—a trait he shared with many, if not most, of those whose high level of creative ability we esteem. My purpose has been to find, describe, analyze, and celebrate his art, and, in describing his enigmas as I see them, to tie them to that art.
He seemed to be telling fact but it was mostly fiction.
He seemed to be telling the truth, which he may have been doing about his thoughts and feelings, but as for his biography, he frequently made it up.
He seemed to have an extraordinary memory, but it was of two kinds. He confused many simple facts about his own life, yet he remembered to an extraordinary degree ”what it was like to be….”
He seemed to be revealing a lot about himself, but he was very private and secretive—even toward those to whom he was closest.
He seemed to be everybody’s pal, but he wouldn’t let most people get near him.
He seemed to be a mentor for young people (and indeed, he was), yet he avoided his own two children and usually denied their existence.
He seemed so self-sufficient, yet at times he showed a strong need for encouragement from those around him.
He seemed joyous about life to those who feel, and despondent about life to those who think. For those who feel and think at the same time, he sometimes seemed to be both simultaneously.
He seemed to be telling entertaining stories, yet—as for his art—more often than we realized, he was speaking in parables. As for his life, he may or may not have realized that it epitomized “Jean Shepherd’s American Life of the Artist.” A Gordian Knot, a parable itself from which he couldn’t disentangle his high level of success from his feelings of failure to succeed at his highest potential. Somewhere in that mix we have his art and his enigma.