- Jean Shepherd
name = Jean Shepherd
caption = Jean Shepherd at WOR
pseudonym = Shep (nickname), Frederick R. Ewing
birthdate = birth date|1921|7|26|mf=y
deathdate = Death date and age|1999|10|16|1921|7|26
Sanibel Island, Florida
occupation = Writer, raconteur, radio host
nationality = American
period = 1948-1990s
genre = humor, satire
Jean Parker Shepherd (
July 26, 1921- October 16, 1999) was an American raconteur, radioand TVpersonality, writer and actor who was often referred to by the nickname Shep.cite web
last = Clavin
first = Jim
title = Who Is Jean Shepherd?
work = Flick Lives!
url = http://www.flicklives.com/Misc/who_is.htm
accessdate = 2007-11-09 ]
Born on the south side of
Chicago, Illinois, Shepherd was raised in Hammond, Indiana, where he graduated from Hammond High Schoolin 1939.cite web | title = Famous Hammond Personalities: Jean Shepherd | publisher = HammondIndiana.com | url = http://www.hammondindiana.com/personalities.htm | accessdate = 2006-11-26 ] As a youth he worked briefly as a mail carrier in a steel mill and earned his amateur radiolicense when he was 16. He later attended several universities.Fact|date=October 2007
Shepherd began his broadcast radio career on
WSAI-AM in Cincinnati, Ohioin 1948. From 1951 to 1953 he had a late-night broadcast on KYW-AM in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after which he returned to Cincinnati for a show on WLW. After a stint on television (see below), he returned to radio. "Shep," as he was known, settled in at WOR radio New York City, New York on an overnight slot in 1956, where he delighted his fanscite news
last = Phillips
first = McCandlish
title = 400 Hold A Wake For Radio Cult
The New York Times
August 13, 1956
url = http://www.flicklives.com/Articles/articles.asp?ID=19560813A
accessdate = 2007-11-09 ] by telling stories, reading poetry (especially the works of Robert W. Service), and organizing comedic listener stunts. The most famouscite news
last = Wilcock
first = John
title = The Book That Wasn't
The Village Voice
August 1, 1956
url = http://www.flicklives.com/Articles/articles.asp?ID=19560801Ab
accessdate = 2007-11-09 ] of the last involved creating a hoax about a non-existent book, "
I, Libertine", by the equally non-existent author "Frederick R. Ewing", in 1956. Later co-written by Shepherd, Theodore Sturgeonand Betty Ballantine, this Ballantine Book is now a collector's item. Among his close friends in the late 1950s were Shel Silversteinand Herb Gardner. With them and actress Lois Nettleton, Shepherd performed in the revue he created, "Look, Charlie". Later he was married to Nettleton for about six years.Fact|date=October 2007
When he was about to be released by WOR in 1956 for not being commercial, he did a commercial for Sweetheart Soap, not a sponsor, and was immediately fired. His listeners besieged WOR with complaints, and when Sweetheart offered to sponsor him he was reinstated. Eventually, he attracted more sponsors than he wanted—the commercials interrupted the flow of his monologues.Fact|date=October 2007 He broadcast until he left WOR in 1977. His subsequent radio work consisted of only short segments on several other stations. In later life he publicly dismissed his days as a radio raconteur as unimportant, focusing more on his writing and movie work. This distressed his legions of fans who fondly remembered nights with Shep on WOR.Fact|date=October 2007 He once made such comments during an appearance on the "Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder". This contrasts with his frequent criticisms of television during his radio programs.
In addition to his stories, his shows also contained, among other things, humorous anecdotes and general commentaries about the human condition, observations about life in New York, accounts of vacations in
Maineand travels throughout the world. Among the most striking of his programs was his account of his participation in the March on Washingtonin August 1963, during which Dr. Martin Luther Kinggave his " I Have a Dream" speech, and the program that aired on November 25, 1963—the day of President Kennedy's burial. However, his most scintillating programs remain his oftimes prophetic, bitingly humorous commentaries about ordinary life in America.
At the time of the WOR radio show, Shepherd rode a Vespa motor scooter and parked it in the lobby of the WOR building.
Throughout his radio career, he performed entirely without scripts. His friend and WOR colleague
Barry Farbermarveled at how he could talk so long with very little written down.Fact|date=October 2007 Yet during a radio interview, Shepherd once claimed that some shows took several weeks to prepare. On most Fourths of July, however, he would read one of his most enduring and popular short stories, "Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb that Struck Back," about a neighborhood drunk and his disastrous fireworks escapades. In the 1960s and 1970s, his WOR show ran from 11:15pm to midnight, later changed to 10:15pm to 11pm, so his "Ludlow Kissel" reading was coincidentally timed to many New Jerseyand New York local town fireworksdisplays, which would traditionally reach their climax at 10pm. It was possible, on one of those July 4nights, to park one's car on a hilltop and watch several different pyrotechnicdisplays, accompanied by Shepherd's masterful storytelling.
The theme song used on his long-running radio show was "The Bahn Frei Polka" by
Eduard Strauss. The particular version he used was recorded by Arthur Fiedlerand the Boston Pops.
When Eugene B. Bergmann's "Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd" was published in 2005, "
Publishers Weekly" reviewed:
This prismatic portrait affirms Shepherd's position as one of the 20th Century's great humorists. Railing against conformity, he forged a unique personal bond with his loyal listeners, who participated in his legendary literary prank by asking bookstores for the nonexistent novel "I, Libertine" (when Ian Ballantine had Shepherd and Theodore Sturgeon make the fake real, "PW" called it "the hoax that became a book"). Storyteller Shepherd's grand theme was life itself... Novelist Bergmann ("Rio Amazonas") interviewed 32 people who knew Shepherd or were influenced by him and listened to hundreds of broadcast tapes, inserting transcripts of Shepherd's own words into a "biographical framework" of exhaustive research. ["Publishers Weekly", vol. 252, no. 4 (2005), p. 233.]
Television and films
Early in his career, Shepherd had a television program in Cincinnati called "
Rear Bumper". Reportedly he was eventually recommended to replace the resigning Steve Allen on NBC's "Tonight Show". NBCexecutives sent Shepherd to New York Cityto prepare for the position, but they were contractually bound to first offer it to Jack Paar. The network was certain Paar would hold out for a role in prime time, but he accepted the late-night assignment. However, he did not assume the position permanently until Shepherd and Ernie Kovacshad co-hosted the show.
In the early 1960s he did a weekly television show on WOR in New York. Between 1971 and 1994, Shepherd became a
screenwriterof note, writing and producing numerous works for both television and cinema. He was the writer and narrator of the show "Jean Shepherd's America", produced by Boston Public Televisionstation WGBH in which he told his famous narratives, visited unusual locales, and interviewed local people of interest. He used a similar format for the New Jersey NetworkTV show "Shepherd's Pie". On many of the Public TV shows he wrote, directed and edited entire shows.Fact|date=November 2007|date=November 2007
He also wrote and narrated many works, the most famous being the feature film "
A Christmas Story", which is now considered a holiday classic. In the film, Shepherd provides the voice of the adult Ralph Parker. He also has a cameo roleplaying a man overseeing the line at the department storewaiting for Santa Claus. Much to Ralphie's chagrin, he points out to him that the end of the line is much further away.
A 1994 movie sequel, "
My Summer Story", was narrated by Shepherd but featured an almost entirely different cast from the previous film. The PBS series " American Playhouse" aired a series of television movies based on Shepherd stories, also featuring the Parker family. These included " Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss", "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters", [cite web|url=http://imdb.com/title/tt0084022/|title="The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters" at IMDB] and "The Phantom of the Open Hearth". [cite web|url=http://imdb.com/title/tt0202527/|title="The Phantom of the Open Hearth" at IMDB]
Live performances and recordings
Shepherd also performed for several years at The Limelight Cafe in New York City's
Greenwich Village, and at many colleges nationwide. His live shows were a perennial favoriteFact|date=October 2007 at Rutgersand Fairleigh Dickinson Universities. He performed at Princeton Universityannually for 30 years, until 1996. The Limelight shows were broadcast live on WOR radio.
He also performed before sold-out audiences at
Carnegie Halland Town Hall. He was also emcee for several important jazz concerts in the late 1950s. Shepherd improvisedspoken word lyricsfor the title track on jazzgreat Charles Mingus's 1957 album " The Clown". Eight record albums of live and studio performances of Shepherd were released between 1955 and 1975. Shepherd also recorded the opening narration and the voice of the Audio-Animatronics"Father" character for the updated Carousel of Progressattraction at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom.
Many of his broadcasts were accompanied by novelty songs such as "The Bear Missed the Train" (a
parodyof the Yiddish ballad" Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen") and "The Sheik of Araby", or by Shepherd himself, playing the Jew's harp, nose fluteand kazoo.
On radio as well as on his WOR-TV show, he frequently used his own head as a musical instrument, knocking the top of his skull with his knuckles while changing the size of his open mouth to produce different notes. Shep facetiously claimed that his "Head Thumping" (as he called it) spanned about an octave.Fact|date=October 2007
Shepherd held the ham radio call sign K2ORS. He was very active on ham radio until his death. He is also credited as the voice for the ARRL's tape series "Tune In the World with Ham Radio". This series of tapes helped many young people become ham radio operators.
Fact and fiction
What is still unknown is to what extent Shepherd's radio and published stories were fiction, fact, or a combination of the two.
The childhood friends included in many of his stories were people he claimed to have invented, yet high school yearbooks confirm that many of them did exist. His father was always referred to as "my old man" who worked in the Borden Milk Company offices. During an interview on the
Long John NebelShow—an all-night radio program that ran on WOR starting at midnight—Shepherd once claimed that his real father was a cartoonist along the lines of Herblock, and that he inherited his skills at line drawings. This may well not have been true, but Shepherd's ink drawings do adorn some of his published writings.
The 1930 Federal Census Record for Hammond, Indiana indicates that Jean's father did work for a dairy company. His actual occupation is illegible, but may read "cashier". The 1930 census record lists the following family members: Jean Shepherd, age 30, head; Anna Shepherd, age 30, wife; Jean Shepherd, Jr, age 8, son; and Randall Shepherd, age 6, son. According to this record, Jean Sr, Anna, Jean Jr, and Randall were all born in Illinois. Jean, Sr's parents were born in Kansas. Anna's parents were born in Germany.
Jean Shepherd had two children, Randall and Adrien, but publicly denied this. Randall Shepherd describes his father as having frequently come home late or not at all. Randall had almost no contact with him after his parents' divorce.cite web
last = Shepherd
first = Randall
title = One More Hat on a Man
work = Shep's vast file of dynamic trivia: People in Shep's Life
publisher = Jim Clavin
url = http://www.flicklives.com/people/randall.htm
accessdate = 2007-03-04 ]
Shepherd's life and multimedia career are examined in the 2005 book "Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd" by Eugene B. Bergmann (ISBN 0-55783-600-0).
narrativestyle was a to that used by Spalding Grayand Garrison Keillor. Marshall McLuhanin " Understanding Media" wrote that Shepherd "regards radio as a new medium for a new kind of novel that he writes nightly." In the "Seinfeld Season 6" DVD set, commenting on the episode titled "The Gymnast" Jerry Seinfeldsays "He really formed my entire comedic sensibility—I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd." Furthermore, the first name of Seinfeld's third child is "Shepherd."
Shepherd was an influence on Bill Griffith's "Zippy" comic strip as Griffith noted in his strip for
January 9, 2000. Griffith explained, "The inspiration---just plucking random memories from my childhood, as I'm wont to do in my Sunday strip (also a way to expand beyond Zippy)--and Shep was a big part of them". [ [http://www.flicklives.com/database/gl_data.asp?ID=x203&event=Facts Flick Lives: "Zippy"] ]
New Jersey podcaster Frank Edward Nora often mentions Shepherd's considerable influence on his own style of talk show recording and has stated he was the main inspiration for his show, Theovernightscape. On the show's 715th episode he was very excited to discuss a hand-drawn postcard that was sent to Jean Shepherd in 1956, which Nora purchased from his second wife, Lois Nettleton, through an Ebay auction.
Shepherd was an
amateur radiooperator, with call sign K2ORS. When operating as an amateur, he was known to use his middle name, Parker.Fact|date=October 2007 He was listed in the Amateur Radio Callbook and for a number of years his address was on 57th Street in New York City. His last residence in NYC was on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village where he lived for many years.
Shepherd spent his final years in relative seclusion on
Sanibel Island, Florida, with his wife Leigh Brown. She was also his producer at WOR, and played many roles in his varied career. As Shep attained a rotund figure in his later years, Leigh would refer to him as "ma pamplemousse," or, "my grapefruit." He died on Sanibel Island in 1999 of " natural causes." In 2005, Shep was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjUHA1Laedw Jean Shepherd in Clinton, New Jersey, in 1977 (The YouTube poster has the wrong date.)]
* [http://www.flicklives.com/Mass_Back/mass_back.asp Jean Shepherd rebroadcasts on Max Schmid's "Mass Backwards"]
* [http://www.shep-archives.com/netjuke Jean Shepherd Archive (Streaming/downloadable Jean Shepherd radio shows and live appearances)]
* [http://shepcast.blogspot.com/ "The Brass Figlagee"] Nightly podcast of Jean Shepherd shows.
I, Libertine" (1956)
In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" (1966)
Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories" (1971)
Ferrari in the Bedroom" (1972)
* "The Phantom of the Open Hearth" (1978)
A Fistful of Fig Newtons" (1981)
* "A Christmas Story" (2003, posthumously)
America, Inc." NET Playhouse (1970) (TV)
* "Jean Shepherd's America" (1971) (TV)
* "The Phantom of the Open Hearth" (1976) (TV)
The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters(1982) (TV)
* "The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski" (1983) (TV)
A Christmas Story" (1983)
* "The Great American Road-Racing Festival" (1985) (TV)
Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss" (1988) (TV)
My Summer Story" (aka "It Runs in the Family") (1994)
* [http://www.ilostmyeye.com Jean Shepherd Festival in
* [http://www.keyflux.com/shep/madtxt.htm "The Night People vs Creeping Meatballism"] "Mad" 32 (March-April 1957) article by Jean Shepherd, illustrated by
* [http://www.qrz.com/p/1993.pl?callsign=k2ors Jean's ham call on QRZ.COM]
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