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Here is my ever-growing list of well-known people in the entertainment world who are/were listeners to Jean Shepherd. Following includes those who can be rather positively believed were listeners, either because they themselves claim they were or through other rather definite evidence. I note just one or two prominent fields for each listing. This list is not definitive–it’s just of those I can think of. I’d appreciate hearing about others–with source of the info.
Penn Jillette (Comic, magician–Penn & Teller)
Andy Kaufman (Performance artist)
Ernie Kovacs (Video innovator)
Bruce Maher (Comic, “the Rabbi” in Seinfeld)
Henry Morgan (Comic broadcaster)
Roger Price (Comic, author, editor of Grump magazine)
Jerry Seinfeld (Sitcom and standup comic)
Harry Shearer (Broadcaster, “Simpson” voices)
Bob Brown (Editor: Car and Driver)
Milton Caniff (Comic strip artist–pre 1955 “Terry and the Pirates”)
Billy Collins (Poet—U. S. Poet Laureate)
Kate Collins (Writer– humor/crime books—(“Flower Shop Mysteries”)
Ed Fancher (Publisher: Village Voice)
Herb Gardner (Cartoonist, playwright—“A Thousand Clowns”)
Jules Feiffer (Playwright, cartoonist)
Bill Griffith (Cartoonist–“Zippy the Pinhead”)
Hugh Hefner (Publisher: Playboy)
William Hjortsberg (Author–Gray Matters, Toro! Toro! Toro!)
George S. Kaufman (Playwright)
Jack Kerouac (Author–On the Road)
Paul Krassner (Writer, publisher)
S. J. Perelman (Comic writer)
Shel Silverstein (Cartoonist, writer)
R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book series)
Dan Wakefield (Author: New York in the 50s)
Tom Wolfe (Author: Bonfire of the Vanitites, etc.)
George Antheil (“Ballet Mécanique”)
John Cage (Shep describes him as early listener he talked with various time by phone)
Donald Fagen (Steely Dan)
Mitch Leigh (“Into the Unknown With Jazz Music,” “Man of La Mancha”)
Charles Mingus “The Clown”)
Dee Snider (Twisted Sister front man and songwriter)
Fred Barzyk (Video director–major Shepherd TV)
John Cassavetes (Actor, Director–Shadows)
Ron Della Chiesa (WGBH Broadcaster)
Bob Clark (Film director—Porky’s, A Christmas Story)
Bruce Conner (Avant garde film maker, sculptor)
Art D’Lugoff (Concert producer)
Barry Farber (Broadcaster)
Helen Gee (Founder of “The Limelight”)
Larry Josephson (Broadcaster)
Larry King (Broadcaster)
Arch Oboler (Playwright)
Lois Nettleton (Actress, wife)
Keith Olbermann (Media–politics & sports commentator)
• • •
There are also many who had connections to Shep and/or were described by Shep or others as having been his friends, but we can’t know which of these people were indeed friends or which of them may or may not have been listeners. For example, Bob & Ray were fellow broadcasters and friends of Shep; Shep claimed to be friends with Jack Kerouac; Lois Nettleton said that from time to time Shep went on sketching expeditions not only with Shep Silverstein, but with watercolorist Dong Kingman and Playboy illustrator LeRoy Neiman.
I also tend to think that a good portion of those connected to the Village, creative, and intellectual scene in New York City in the late 1950s and into the 1960s were likely to have been Shepherd listeners. These would include people like Laurie Anderson, Bob Dylan, and Woody Allen.
Please let me know of others, giving me whatever evidence you may have of connection to Shep.
Thinking about Shepherd’s important moments and decisions in his life.
How did he get to where he became.
Some repetition and a continuation to not really a conclusion
in enigmatic, unsatisfactory endings–that can only continue.
WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN!?
Why–was he happy with his choices–what might he otherwise have done?
This is a difficult area and one which I usually avoid, because it is to a large extent speculative, and based–inevitably–on incomplete/inaccurate information. But maybe by doing little more than listing some milestones, one might get some clues about the Jean Shepherd enigma.
Photo courtesy of
Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
I believe it of value to note and define, what to my mind are important points of Shep’s life and career. Some relate strongly to his creative world. Surely there will be some disagreements in this list. (It should be noted that, although years of publication are given, some of these activities/creations obviously were in progress at least in the previous year as he worked on the project.)
• • •
Moves to New York City, the center of the artistic/intellectual life he desired. It leads to almost all of his important creative achievements. At some early point in his life in NYC, he becomes involved with many of its artistic activities, including connections to: Greenwich Village and the Village Voice; relationship with Lois Nettleton; his reported introduction by Shel Silverstein to Leigh Brown.
• • •
This is the period I describe as “The Great Burgeoning.” It includes what I can think of as crucial and innovative parts of his professional life: Overnight, improvised radio from January to August 1956; Village Voice connections; connections to the modern jazz world including emceeing important jazz concerts, narrating Charles Mingus’ “The Clown,” and writing periodical columns on jazz; creating his I, Libertine book hoax; promoting John Cassavetes’ Shadows; editing and writing intro to his George Ade book. (From the front page of the Voice, the first image shows left to right: Shep, Lois Nettleton, Anne Bancroft.)
• • •
Convinced (according to Hefner by Shel; Lois said convinced by herself and other friends) to transcribe and edit his improvised stories and get them published (Playboy and in books).
• • •
Creation of first season of the television series
Jean Shepherd’s America.
• • •
Co-creation and narration of movie A Christmas Story.
• • •
Moving to Florida. Shep had numerous times expressed that New York City was his true home because of its vitality, artistic ambiance–why did he move? Finances? Lessening of his intellectual interests? Other?
• • •
Creation of second/final season of the television series
Jean Shepherd’s America.
• • •
Leigh Brown, helpmate, supporter, and love of his life, dies.
• • • • • • • • •
10/16/1999–into the future
Shep dies. Tributes and remembrances flow from many sources.
• • • • • • • • •
(As always, I’d appreciate any and all comments,
including additions, subtractions, corrections,
and further thoughts.)
Excelsior & seltzer bottle
More to come
July 26, 1921-October 16, 1999
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.
The well-known and often-used comment shown below,
is, unbeknownst to most people,
an original Zippy-ism!
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.