Jean Shepherd
Memorial Message Board

Volume 1

Remembrances, comments and thoughts about Jean Shepherd, his life and his work.
All submitted by his friends and fans.


Edited by Jim Sadur
Updated 10/17/99


Jean Shepherd will always be a part of who I am.  His humor, irreverence and keen appreciation of the absurd taught me how to appreciate life without taking it all too seriously.

I'm this kid, see...  Every night I listened to this nutty guy who told stories about growing up.  He made fun of pompous grownups.  He played weird songs.  He described an Army that John Wayne and Van Johnson movies never showed.  Through it all, I knew that my worries about family, school, girls and the future were not unique.   Here was a bona fide grownup who lived through the same problems and found humor in it all!

I have been honored to have contributed, in a small way, to thanking Shep for all his gifts to us.  Over the last few years I have enjoyed building the Jean Shepherd Website.  My favorite part is getting email from so many fellow Shep fans who appreciate him.  Especially gratifying are the messages from people who only knew Shep from "A Christmas Story" and are now exploring the full spectrum of his genius.

Several people have asked me to continue Shep on the internet.  As if I would ever stop!  As long as I have fingers to type, the site will prosper.  Jean may have moved on but his legacy remains.  As a great man once said:

Flick Lives!

Jim Sadur


Thanks to everyone who sent these outsanding tributes to Shep!

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I'm certain that today, the angels are learning to play a different kind
of harp....

Bruce Clark
SixOfOne@netreach.net

 


Jim,

Anyone who listened to Shep regularly during the late 60s and early 70s knows
that he had a way of making you think that he was talking directly to you. 
Because of this quality we fans felt like we knew him personally, so that his
death feels more like the loss of a friend than a famous person.  Even though
he had been out of the public eye for a long time now, I truly feel saddened
that he has left us.  The book is closed on his contributions to us and we
are left with the books, the movies and the tapes.  Lots and lots of tapes. 
We are also left with our personal memories of listening to Shep and reading
his works.  Shep's way of looking at the world was unique but contagious so
that he changed those of us who knew him through his works.  In that respect
he is still among us.

Flick Lives.

Francis X. Reck


I first met Jean when he was master of ceremonies at a sports car Rallye in Washington Square, NYC in 1959; I had heard him for years on  WOR and loved his show. In about 1962, we brought Jean to WGBH-TV in Boston to do what I believe was his first TV show, shot at dusk, out on a dock on the Charles River, telling stories to a camera - no visuals, nothing but Jean. TV was - shall we say - simpler in those days. About the time the tape was rolling (and in those days it was 2" videotape, a pain to edit, and stops and starts were discouraged lest some surly engineer have to make splices), seeing all the lights, a Boston Police boat came to see what was going on. Shep kept right on talking, in the creeping darkness, on the dock, and the entire confrontation with the cops was woven right into his story. This was  a great storyteller.


I was on the production team for his PBS specials and  in the background for his "Jean Shepherd's America" series; I spent a lot of time with Jean and Leigh. In about 1984 Jean shot some fillers for PBS, short film-oriented stories which were used after, I believe, Masterpiece Theatre shows; these were shot in my house in Concord, MA where Jean rearranged  my "nostalgia collection" in the background so that it would encompass several  eras. He was meticulous in the arrangements.


Later, Jean suffered a mild health episode while driving from Florida to Maine. I went to Virginia and drove  him, in his VW , with his wife Leigh, Daphne the dog, the large  birdcage (and squawking bird), their luggage and his ham  radio equipment, to Maine; I lasted until Boston where a  friend thankfully took over. Jean didn't stop talking, though  he  had checked himself out of a hospital against the doctor's advice.  He  hated doctors.


Working with Jean was a challenge, maddening, exhilarating, never boring. I give  enormous credit  to Fred Barzyk who had  the vision to bring  Jean to  TV in the first place, and nursed and cajoled him through  most of his TV life. Without Fred, who directed the PBS specials and  the Jean Shepherd's  America series, I'm not  sure Jean would have made  the transition to TV. I think Fred gave Jean a "comfort zone" which the  networks could not afford. When we were getting props for various shows, Jean would always say that we weren't "doing a nostalgia piece here", so absolute, specific historical periods in sets and props was not the rule. But what Jean captures with his stories is a gentler and more human part of America than, I fear, my children - and their children - will ever see.


What I regard as an outrage - and this is my personal opinion - is that a successful television series was blatantly created out of Jean's style and wit - some would say 'stolen': The Wonder Years. And in true Hollywood style and ethic, no credit was ever given the Master himself. I cannot help but  believe that some of  his bitterness  in the last  years came from this.


Jean Shepherd was one of the great American Masterpieces of my lifetime.


Dan Beach
mail@studio8h.com


 

I am only one of many NPR producers, hosts and reporters who are
saddened by the news. Many of us are in this business because we grew up
listening to him on WOR.

I was privileged to have snared him to do a dozen or so commentaries for
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in the 80s. He arrived at NPR in DC in a limo. But
we went to lunch, along with the driver, at the famous and cheap
Scholl's Cafeteria. An old man approached our table duuring the meal,
and shook Jean's hand -- having heard his voice across the room. "I wish
I had a dollar for everytime some 89 year old man tells me he heard me
on the radio wen he was a kid," Shep said afterwards.


His WOR late night show is woven inextricably into the fabric of my
childhood.  Like the death of John Lennon, his passing is sad to me in a way
almost larger than the death of a personal friend.  Oh how I wish he could
tell us stories about his adventures in the afterlife.


Emilie

 


Flick Lives no longer -- sadly
I use to listen to the show in bed under the covers and remember him
telling stories of his teenage adventures in Ham Radio. There were other
stories about Flick, Guggenheimer, Schwartz and  yes, the "Jews" Harp.  I
remember him visiting the colleges in the area, FDU in Teaneck, NJ, and it
was one of the best times I had just sitting and listening to his stories.
He will be missed.+

'73
 Robert Hill, WX3ROB


Hi, I am sitting here in St. Paul just reeling from the news of Shep's
passing. I am 45, grew up in New Jersey and had Shep on WOR glued to my ear
via transisitor radio forever every night-made my formative years. When I
was very young, we lived in Greenwich Village and he lived a few blocks away
from us and my dad would point him it out if we spotted him when we were out
and about-with great pride. Dad was a film developer for some big
photographers and a great fan also. I remember seeing Shep in the flesh at a
local high school in East Brunswick, NJ-I did not know it , but my future
husband-who I did not know at the time, asked Shep what he did for a
living-I thought it was hysterical-and years later found out that it was my
now ex-husband had asked that question.Shep was definitely one of the
strongest influences in my life and my dad would even let me read the
stories in Playboy-pretty daring for then! Well, Dad is long gone-1969-and
now Shep. Two of my favorite funny men. Now Ray Bradbury has to stay around
for a while-my other hero. Thanks for having such a good website-FLICK
LIVES!

Jackie

Dear Shep fans everywhere,

I am spending this Sunday listening to old WOR
tapes and having a little wake of my own in honor of our hero. My favorite
memories of Shep are the ones my transistor radio provided under my pillow
when I was a kid. I remember the story of when he was in the service and mad
the rounds at Asbury park with his buddies and ate his way up and down the
boardwalk, picked up some chicks and went on the Ferris Wheel and got very
sick-which he told in great graphic detail. I was laughing so hard, I had to
stifle my face in my pillow-but it didn't work. My dad came in and wanted to
know what was up-we listened to the rest of the story and we were in
tears....So raise your kazoos in honor of our stupendous hero-HURRAY FOR
SHEP! LONG LIVE SHEP IN OUR MEMORIES!

Jackie in St. Paul-formerly of N.J./N.Y.-jackquack@worldnet.att.net


I worked with Jean from 1964 - 1974. He always referred to me as Skip on
his radio show over WOR. Many a show I engineered from the Village at
the Limelight Cafe. He will be greatly missed. A legend in his own time!


Bob Skidmore
So. Pasadena, Florida


Shep fans,
    I sure feel sad on the news of Shep's passing. Sad for his loved
ones,sad for his devoted audience.I don't feel that way for Shep, because I
know he his weaving tales about Ralph, Flick, the and the old man for Peter
at the gate,before he enters his new home. Thanks, Shep, you got me through
many a lonely and sad day with your words and your wit. Thanks for showing
me that a sense of humor is the key to life! God bless you Shep. Rest in
everlasting Peace. Heaven's gain is our loss.

Jay Murphy


I first heard Shep on WOR in the late sixties.  I got
a chance to see him at a college press conf. for the
show 'Jean Shepherds America' and I think I still have
the cassette tapes (audio) I recorded during his
presentation. 

As I radio ham operator (I'm WA2MZE) we heard him on 2
meter FM. I never did 'work' Shep or get a QSL card
from him, but he did sign a copies of 'Wanda Hickeys'
night of golden memories' and 'The Ferrari in the
bedroom' for me with his call sign (K2ORS) when I
mentioned that I was also a ham.

Of course, the stories he told on WOR that had a ham
radio slant were the ones that I will remember the
most, but I will also treasure the tape off WOR of
'Ludlo Kessel and the Dago bomb that struck back'.

73's to a silent key.  You are missed.


Did you ever notice, at the very end of Shep's closing theme, how there was
always a sort of a grating sound after the last note? I always guessed that
it was the sound of Jean, still chuckling as he mentally savored one of the
evening's highlights. As I lay under the covers in the dark, I'd always wait
for that slightly rheumy noise, clicking off my radio only after I'd heard
it. No matter what the subject of the show had been, that last guttural
gurgle told me that Shep knew we were still out there, many of us like me in
my bed with eyes closed and a big grin on my face, sharing his delight in
the wonder and craziness of the past and present world, far beyond the
confines of his small studio, or my small bedroom on Long Island. As I
reached over to turn off my radio, I'd always whisper, "G'night, Shep". It
made going to sleep a little easier.

Chick Bisberg


I had the opportunity to meet Shep in 1973 when he made an appearance at
Fordham University during which he remarkably held the audience
spellbound through 30 seconds of silence as he described the "sound" of
snow falling on a winter morning. After his one man evening, I waited
around like a dopey fan just to get a chance to talk to him. Unlike so
many morons in this business who I met as a kid who treated their fans
with what can only be called disdain, Jean Shepherd stayed and talked
with every last person who wanted to talk to him, but he took it even
further. He took the last remaining four of us in his car to a nearby
Steak and Brew during which he regaled us with TRUE stories about his
life including his stint as a minor league hockey player and as a
country music TV host in Cincinnati. It was an evening I have never
forgotten and will never forget.

I was crestfallen to hear that Shep, in the end, hated radio and the
radio business, seeing them only as vehicles for his works of fiction,
but by the time I knew this, I was already IN radio. But I am so glad
that I had the chance to enjoy his work every night under the covers for

so many years and to meet him....


Tom Leykis
Westwood One
Los Angeles


Having just lost my dad a little over a week ago,
Shep's passing brings to mind the fact that your life
is shaped not just by those closest to you, but also
by those that will never know what an impact they had
on your life.I think Shep helped me grow up, showed me
the humor in everyday life, and reminded me how
important storytelling is to the next generations. My
family told a lot of great stories about my dad last
week, some in true Shep fashion. I'm going to miss
both of these great guys, who for better or worse,
have had a profound impact on my life.

Daniel Chornomaz


Just wanted to remember Shep on your site - I was lucky enough to hear him
live at the ARRL Hudson Division Convention at the Hilton Inn in Tarrytown
in 1966 or 67.  He had an amazing following with certain males of highschool
age in those years... and I am sure, many others.

I heard his radio interview with Alan Colmes last year, and was somewhat
disappointed with his expressions of disgust with the WOR years and
fascinated with his descriptions of his "future projects".

I've missed him for years, and will always remember those nights in bed with
the transistor AM radio under the pillow (the favored medthod of so many of
us, it appears!).

Don


I grew up in upstate New York in the early '70's, and often at night I would stay up past my bedtime to listen to Shep's show.  With the lights out and the door closed, I felt like he was talking just to me; that I was the only person listening in the whole wide world.  His stories about growing up helped me realize that I wasn't the only kid in who didn't quite fit in, who often came out on the backside of dealings with bullies, parents, and schoolteachers.
 
Because I could relate to where he had been, I learned to believe that I could go on to be what he had become.  When he talked about hanging out with Playboy bunnies on snowmobiles or toughing out a blizzard in Little America, I knew that I could do those things someday.  When he spoke of driving his Morgan or Rolls, I knew that I could grow up to own cars like that.
 
Years later, I met a man who claimed to be one of Shep's "spies."  I don't know if it was true or not, but it seemed to give him an air of coolness and mystery, not to mention good taste.
 
It was to hard to believe this morning that Shep had died.  What shocked me most wasn't his passing; it was the fact that he had grown old.  How could that happen?  Does that mean I must also grow old someday?
 
Shep will always live on in my mind as a voice coming out of a small transistor radio turned down low, broken now and then by static and interference.  No age, no face, just a soft voice reassuring me that if the world was sometimes a tough place, it was also a good place.  A place worth growing up and growing old in, if only for the interesting people you meet.
 
Jon Kjaerulff
Seabeck, WA


I live in New Jersey and happened to be in Indiana over the weekend.  My
travelling companion and I are old (50s) fraternity brothers from Rutgers,
and driving from Chicago to South Bend, we passed south of Hammond, which led
to talking about Shep.  On the flight home this morning I learned of his
death.


He was an American Treasure in every sense of the word, and a worthy
successor to George Ade.  I can take some solace from the fact that I sent
Jean a letter last year on his birthday letting him know how much enjoyment
his work had brought into my life and those of my friends.  I saw him twice
in concert as a youth, and will always remember his wit and storytelling
skills.  I knew I wouldn't get a reply, given his health and the volume of
mail he must have received, but I really didn't want one; I just wanted to
say "Thanks, Shep", before he became a "silent key".

Thanks, Shep, forever, and rest in peace.

73 OM

He will be missed.


Gosh, Jean Shepherd was such a part of my youth, every week night after my homework, ten o'clock on WOR. The great stories that just glued me to the old Philco in the kitchen. Flies in the coke bottle, the truck that spilled the banana oil, tales of the Midwest, that Jean made into a magical land. Flick and Schwarz. I feel like I got older today knowing that that voice is silent. Mr. Shepherd, we'll never forget you. Thanks for all the good laughs and great times.
 
Bill Olson
Westhampton, NY


I was watching CBS Sunday Morning earlier today, when host Charles Osgood
(another fan, it seems) mentioned in passing that Jean Shepherd died
yesterday.

I can't tell you how saddened I am at the news of his passing. Many are the
boyhood hours I spent in Shep's company, huddled under the covers long after
bedtime, my transistor radio tuned to WOR. Air stale and batteries fading,
his soothing voice poured out from the tinny speaker, telling tales that
were by turns familiar, exotic, ordinary, exciting, funny, subversive, and
ultimately comforting.

Shep, wherever you are: Excelsior! Your work lives on.

Steve Zimmermann
Longmont, Colorado


     If I have a sense of humor and wonder about the world, it's because of
Shepherd. He taught me the value and pleasure of language. I learned all of
this from him before I had any sense at all of literature, poetry, or art.
He gave me a look into the world of adults, with all of its pleasures and
tortures. A quiet soul who made me laugh in so many different ways. His
main lesson to me was the glory of the everyday, the pleasure that lies
around every corner, and in every human heart. Lying in bed with the radio
on, or riding home from a Ranger game with his voice coming from the car
radio, I learned that observation and clear expression could be one of the
great rewards of living. I wanted to be as able as he in observing
everything around me, and in expressing those observations. He showed me
that we all have so much impact by just continuing to exist--that life is
pretty silly, noble, and peaceful, if we just let it be so. But best of
all, he showed me that language is a living, vital thing that can be used
as precisely yet as spontaneously as we dare, and that most sensible topic
is the common--which is full of nuance, humor, and grace.


     He was the greatest.


     If there is a God, and he wants me to notice him, he will have
Shepherd's voice...
     I hear it all the time, especially tonight....there is nothing like it
here anymore.


     Thanks, Shepherd. Rest in Peace


     As he would say it himself,    EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!!!

L. Minick     Portland, Oregon


I'm going to miss him.  I loved him best on WOR radio, I listened every
night in my bed, while I was growing up in the Bronx, during the late
60's and early 70's.  He made the radio a magic box.  He was warm,
gentle, cynical, ironic, earthy, and always entertaining.  He was one
of my heroes.  I read his books, his articles in Car and Driver, I
watched him on TV, Jean Shepherd's America, and when he covered bike
racing.  The Cristmas movie was a great piece of work.  I used to go
watch him in person in Clinton, NJ, in the summertime, he used to play
there each year.  His definitive renditions of "the Sheik of Araby" and
"the Bear Missed the Train" will always be with me.  And I miss his
holiday radio shows, Ludlow Kissel on the 4th, the Red Ryder bb gun at
Christmas.  It's been more than 25 years since I've heard this stuff,
and it's as fresh as yesterday.


He gave us many great hours of insight and fun, I'm sad he's gone.


Andy Tannenbaum
Brookline, MA


i don't know who this goes  out to, but i was really touched  when i read the
obit regarding mr jean shepherd. such a special place he held in my own lfe
story...the nights listening to him back in new york.. how funny, hilarious
actually.  the way his speaking, phrasing and his voice established a certain
style, mindset in my then forming teen age mind.  the secret delicious-ness
of listening to him when i was supposed to be in bed, the sense of belonging
to some unseen group of folk that "got it".  i'm grateful that i got to
experience that time.....it is something that doesn't exist anymore.  thanks
mr shepherd you were one of a kind.  we enjoyed ya and love what you've left
behind.

anne


When I get to Heaven, I will look for Jean Shepherd. He should be easy
to find, as  he will  undoubtly be surrounded by a large group of
content listeners.


Harry Shearer mentioned Shep this morning on KCRW, for which we are grateful. I wonder if there was/will be a decent Obit. on NPR this week. It would be a shame if they missed it. Long after my pubescent years, filling night after night with the live WOR broadcasts (easy to tune in in Philadelphia after dark), I was happy to see a whole new audience in Boston hearing Shepherd tapes on WGBH, and that was about 1970 or 1971. It was shocking to listen to Shep with FM clarity! I had been listening since I guess '56 or '57 or so. He also had a great one-on-one live interview show in Philly (WCAU-which was then the CBS affiliate. Now, inexplicably to me, it seems to be an NBC affiliate. Doesn't the world have any reliable structure at all?). His show was called The Dissenters. The only guests I remember were Paul Krassner and Jules Feiffer, both of whom I presumed were his personal buddies.

I still have my old LP of Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles. I was amused to learn from one of the press stories that his original title for A Christmas Story was Satan's Revenge! Does that have less commercial appeal or what?

Almost any East Coast boy of our generation could lay claim to a certain level of hipness by knowing something of Shepherd's world. I guess there's a guy on WBAI who embodied Shepherd fandom in recent years, though I don't know how frequently he broadcast Shepherd tapes.

"Jean Shepherd's America" video tapes also showed up on that website. That was the first videographic series to take advantage of the newly portable color videotape rigs? We just didn't have access to that kind of video image of the outside world in that period. Video images of the outdoors looked more immediate than film, even though less artistic.

(Even the BBC dramas we saw on videotape always went to 16mm film as soon as they needed exteriors. I always thought it looked funny, but I guess they were helping the film union guys that way. Of course tape-film-tape looks like the absolutely right device on Larry Sanders.) I never saw Jean Shepherd's America in color to this day, as they were aired (on WGBH) when I was too fresh out of college and too young in my working life to ever be anywhere near a color TV, except in the bars, where they never would have turned on PBS. I think it's an important note historically, whether people enjoy Shepherd's humor or not.

When your heroes get old and die, it's another right of passage. I'm too old to worship heroes with the same emotion as a precocious kid, but we never let go of the things we learn from these people who influence our thinking. I guess in a media world, that's where our true teachers come from.

"Art is a moral passion married to entertainment. Moral passion without
entertainment is propaganda, and entertainment without moral passion is
television."
        - Rita Mae Brown

EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEADS!

 


As a teenager listening to Jean Shepherd's Sunday night WOR broadcasts
from the fifties through 1961, many of my lifelong attitudes were shaped
and sharpened by his fascinating tales and commentary.  Now, 40 years
later, I can still hear him singing, "Neidicks, smeidicks pipkins all
agree" and touting the Volvo P-1800 (pronounced Pay 1800 by the Jean,
the car afficiando).  I think I still have his record album buried in my
garage! I'm going to have to find it.  He changed my life.

Arthur W. Smith, native of  Roselle Park, N.J., now of Stuart, FL.


Jim,

I heard the bad news just about an hour ago, and have been in a funk ever since. I'm very grateful to you for providing Shep's fans with a virtual wailing wall - it's a great service.

Shep was one of the greatest satirists of the 20th Century - Hell, of any century.  His wit and sharp powers of observation inspired me to become a writer and a humorist myself.

I'll miss you, Shep, and owe a lot to your wisdom and no-holds barred truth-telling. I know where I can find you Upstairs - sipping at a stein of dark German beer in the corner of some secret hideout, spinning a yarn that even Moses hasn't heard yet.

Peace,

Steve Baldwin


I remember the day in 1962 that Ernie Kovacs died.  I watched the Kovacs TV show that week, which they broadcast with the intro that he was gone.  It really affected me.  I feel almost the same about Jean Shepherd.
 
Kovacs was in his prime, or at least prime time, when he died.  Shepherd had disappeared from public view.  But it's the knowledge that there will be no more stories about Hohman, no more of his insights on the human condition, that hurts.  It's not that I missed him.  I had lost track of him.  It's that I know I won't hear him alive again.
 
I still wonder, almost 30 years later, what the answer to his question was (he forgot to tell us before the show went off that night): "What major league baseball team sent a scout down to see Fidel Castro pitch, and who reported back, 'His fastball is not quite up to professional standards'?" 


My first job as a professional radio announcer was the 7-Midnight shift at
WAAF-FM in Worcester Mass. I would race home after work to get a cup of Irish
coffee, change into a red flannel nightshirt and turn on the public radio
station with my roommate Rob and listen to Jean Shepherd weave his words of
magic. That was 1973 and I can still remember the feelings of joy and delight
as we listened to tales of Flick and Schwartz and the Old Man. There has
never been  anyone like Jean Shepherd and I, for one, will miss that
instantly recognizable voice. Thanks friend.

Gabby Parsons


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Copyright 1999, James E. Sadur.
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