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JEAN SHEPHERD–Shep and Lois & ARTSY (175) Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies

A short recapitulation regarding Lois Nettleton and Shepherd.

When Shepherd was on overnight in early 1956, she became “The Listener” who would call in and was sometimes heard on his broadcasts. Eventually they met and dated.

Lois had a part in Shep’s theater piece “Look, Charlie.” She was a listener during the I, LIBERTINE and Sweetheart Soap affairs.

Lois began saving clippings, articles, drawings regarding Shep. Mostly these covered the period they were together–until the mid-1960s.

Lois stopped their relationship when she found that Jean was married. They began again when he knocked on her door with his divorce papers in hand. They married in December, 1960.

She said that she would listen to his programs and they would discuss them when he got home.

After they split up, she appeared some time later in an episode of the sit-com, “Golden Girls,” in which she played a lesbian–who was named “Jean.”

Soon after Shep died in 1999, she was interviewed for a proposed book about him by Doug McIntyre. That book never materialized. Doug sent me an audio of that interview.

I sent her an inscribed copy of my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! and she responded with a phone call and a long hand-written letter expressing her appreciation for having written the book about him, whom she considered a genius on a higher level than acting.

Lois also, while reading my book, wrote many short notes commenting on the book’s content.

Soon after she died, much of her Shepherd collection was sold on ebay.

I visited the apartment she and Jean had lived in, invited by her friend and executor, Hollywood producer/director, John Bowab. On the walls were an ink drawing of his, and three paintings in varied modernist, abstract style.

In my observation, only in two well-obscured circumstances did Shep expose in broadcasts, his personal relationships with women: when he occasionally referred to Leigh Brown (whom, the unwitting listener might usually have thought was a man); when, around 1965, several times he referred to what seems to me to have been references to Lois breaking up with him, by his singing on-air the old song, “You’re gonna miss me, honey, when I’m gone….”




From the late 1970s into the early 1990s, I looked forward to getting my weekly dose of Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies—Guarantee, All Dialogue is Reported Verbatim, a comic strip that appeared in the Village Voice. What was strange and wonderful is that the reportage/humor represented exactly what Mack had overheard in his New York wanderings and listening to people. His weekly work was a microcosm of real life as we live it in all the minor details that unexpectedly have larger significance. Observations becoming comic, revealed truths. Improvising monologist Jean Shepherd, whose observations and recognition of human truths resulted in his fictional kid stories and army stories, and his true-to- life travel narratives, called this seldom-noticed reality “cracks in the sidewalk,” and “straws in the wind.”

I hadn’t thought of Mack’s work recently until I saw a “letter” to the New York Times:

I awoke one recent night at 2:22 and found myself inconveniently and gloriously thinking. This inspired me to acquire my own book of his comic observations and revealed truths. His drawing style is usually simple and straightforward, emphasizing the simple and seemingly artless art of his strict observation.

Stan Mack’s creative observation reminded me of the work of Henry James and his description of how his mind worked when presented with a bit of reality—his infinitely subtle perspective, leading, in his case, to his expansive form of novel-writing that I find so fully expressed in his The Ambassadors. In his preface to his The Spoils of Poynton, he wrote:

….a lady beside me made in the course of talk one of those allusions that I have always found myself recognizing on the spot as “germs.” The germ, wherever gathered, has ever been for me the germ of a “story,” and most of the stories straining to shape under my hand have sprung from a single small seed, a seed as minute and wind-blown as that casual hint for The Spoils of Pointon dropped unwittingly by my neighbor, a mere floating particle in the stream of talk.

This, for me, is indeed how Jean Shepherd and many other authors make use of seemingly irrelevant “straws in the wind” and elaborate them into creative stories. Stan Mack has taken that kernel of truth and, in some creative and astounding fashion, laid it bare totally in its primitive self—the recognition and statement of it being the direct creative response to it.

Stan Mack gave me permission to reproduce some of his Funnies.

I encountered an interview of Mack on the internet and copied some of his comments:

My Real Life Funnies comic strip started as collections of snippets of real life dialogue, which I usually gathered by hearing self-involved boomers at work and play. Gradually I began to organize the many voices into stories with beginnings, middles, and endings….

There were a number of ways I got my words and stories. Wonderful lines did drop into my lap when going for milk. Still, my weekly deadline was always rushing towards me, so I regularly left home to troll for lines in bars, parks and museums, at gatherings of psychics, UFO abductee, and pigeon fanciers, by following political protests, by hanging out with a dominatrix…intrepid boy reporter/voyeur.


Another comment on his work by Stan Mack:

As time went on, I found I liked cutting an individual from the herd and having a conversation where I didn’t have to write in tiny, crabbed shorthand on the corner of a napkin while pretending I wasn’t.