Excelsior, You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd [NOOK Book]


(Applause Books). Jean Shepherd (1921-1999), master humorist, is best known for his creation A Christmas Story , the popular movie about the child who wants a BB gun for Christmas and nearly shoots his eye out. What else did Shepherd do? He is considered by many to be the Mark Twain and James Thurber of his day. For many thousands of fans, for decades, "Shep" talked on the radio late at night, keeping them up way past their bedtimes. He entertained without a script, improvising like a jazz musician, on any and every subject you can imagine. He
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Excelsior, You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd

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(Applause Books). Jean Shepherd (1921-1999), master humorist, is best known for his creation A Christmas Story , the popular movie about the child who wants a BB gun for Christmas and nearly shoots his eye out. What else did Shepherd do? He is considered by many to be the Mark Twain and James Thurber of his day. For many thousands of fans, for decades, "Shep" talked on the radio late at night, keeping them up way past their bedtimes. He entertained without a script, improvising like a jazz musician, on any and every subject you can imagine. He invented and remains the master of talk radio. Shepherd perpetrated one of the great literary hoaxes of all time, promoting a nonexistent book and author, and then brought the book into existence. He wrote 23 short stories for Playboy , four times winning their humor of the year award, and also interviewed the Beatles for the magazine. He authored several popular books of humor and satire, created several television series and acted in several plays. He is the model for the character played by Jason Robards in the play and movie A Thousand Clowns , as well as the inspiration for the Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash, "A Boy Named Sue." Readers will learn the significance of innumerable Shepherd words and phrases, such as "Excelsior, you fathead," and observe his constant confrontations with the America he loved. They will get to know and understand this multitalented genius by peeking behind the wall he built for himself a wall to hide a different and less agreeable persona. Through interviews with his friends, co-workers and creative associates, such as musician David Amram, cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer, publisher and broadcaster Paul Krassner, and author Norman Mailer, the book explains a complex and unique genius of our time. "Shepherd pretty much invented talk radio ... What I got of him was a wonder at the world one man could create. I am as awed now by his achievement as I was then." Richard Corliss, Time magazine online
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Although the prolific, multitalented Shepherd (1921-1999) was an actor, author, emcee, recording artist and screenwriter (A Christmas Story), he's remembered by many as a late-night radio raconteur , who for 21 years on New York City's WOR-AM mixed heartland humor and hip, sardonic rants with memories of his Indiana youth. 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; Marshall McLuhan called Shepherd's broadcasts "a new kind of novel that he writes nightly." Minus guests and call-ins, it was talk radio, but Shepherd was the only voice, ad-libbing monologues like jazz riffs for a huge following via WOR's 50,000-watt reach. 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. 30 b&w photos. (Feb.) Forecast: Shepherd is the subject of several Web sites, and online promotion of this book has been snowballing for the past year. A dedicated audience will clamor for it. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781476848815
  • Publisher: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 769,048
  • File size: 2 MB

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Acknowledgements 5
Introduction 9
Enigma and Brickbats 19
Foibles: The Real Jean Shepherd 23
Part I Formative Years 39
1 Tough to Be a Kid: Growing Up in the Midwest 41
2 "Hang Loose, Son. Don't Let 'Em Do It to Ya": Army Life 63
3 When I Was a Tadpole: Early Radio 71
Part II Heritage and Endowment 81
4 I Can't Tell a Joke: Roots 83
5 Cracks in the Sidewalk: Close Observations 105
Part III The Great Burgeoning 117
6 Night People and All That Jazz: Earliest New York Radio 119
7 And I Was Just Beginning to Taste It!: (A) Man of the World 161
8 And I Was Just Beginning to Taste It!: (B) Dealing With Other People 173
Part IV The Tools in Hand 193
9 Bahn Frei: Sounds 195
10 Hurling Invectives: Words 209
Part V Encounters and Contentions 219
11 Keep Your Knees Loose: Shep Philosophy 221
12 Only in America: His Country 249
13 Tiny Embattled Minority: Us vs. Them and Shepherd vs. Almost Everybody 259
14 Eye Contact, Ear Contact: Engineers and Others 285
15 The Money Button: Making Dough 303
Part VI Refinements and Conversions 315
16 My Novel: The Written Word 317
17 Who Listens to Radio Anymore?: Later New York Radio 345
18 I'm an Entertainer: Other Media 375
Part VII Summing Up to a Boodle-Am Shake 407
19 These Guys Can Play at My Funeral Any Day 409
Endnotes 441
Source Notes 453
Appendix A Annotated List of Interviewees 465
Appendix B Listening to, Watching, and Reading Jean Shepherd 469
Appendix C Shepherdisms 473
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2008

    Good work on Shep

    My own experience with and love of Jean Shepherd began with my brother's love of his radio show and books, and I was lucky enough to have listened to the very tail end of Shep's WOR career. It's funny, though, how much more I thought of him as a TV personality, I guess from watching 'Shepherd's Pie' and the crazy kazoo-rendering of 'Jersey Bounce,' and a writer, from reading all his books and some of his 'Car and Driver' articles. No matter which way you slice it, however, Shep definitely was a great influence on my philosophy, and that's why I was overjoyed to find this life history. Is it a biography? No, as Jim Clavin points out, especially due to the dearth of post-'Christmas Story' Shep history, and I think that's what prevents me from giving it five stars, as well as somewhat of a lack of authorial subjectivity [even though you can't fault Eugene Bergmann for his candid portrayal of Shep's cantankerousness]. Still and all, it was wonderful to revisit, even if only briefly and cursorily, the life of a man, an American individualist the like of whom is all but extinct these days, a New Jersey/New York icon, and, truly, one of the funniest and most ingenious entertainers I can think of. We miss you, Shep -- excelsior, indeed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    If you loved 'A Christmas Story', learn about the man who wrote it!

    This book is not a biography. It is an in depth study of the many faces of Jean Shepherd. A storyteller in the first person, it was often thought by his fans that he was telling us stories of his real childhood experiences. Shep claimed none of it was true, but we've learned that Shep was a master of disguise in this respect, cleverly weaving fact and fiction in a way so that the audience was drawn unknowingly into that same fictional world as if we were a part of it. Gene Bergmann presents us with a perspective of Shepherd that only a true fan could. Having listened to Shepherd during his 'feckless youth' Gene has now gone back to re-listen to hundreds of the surviving recordings of Jean Shepherd's WOR radio shows, and interviewed dozens of people who were in some way associated with Shep over the years. From his years of research he has compiled a book which begins with the 'Formative Years' when Shep was just getting into the business and takes us through Shepherd's career stopping along the way to look behind the scenes at the Shepherd we never saw or heard. Gene clarifies some of the mysteries that surrounded Shep, things that many of his fans had often wondered about, and he brings to light many new things we didn't know. Using excerpts of Shep's own words, and the interviews he did with others, Gene weaves these together with his own thoughts to present the Shep fan with a deeper understanding of the man we all listened to in our beds at night telling tales of childhood, the Army, or travels around the world. Jean Shepherd was notorious for always talking, not just on the radio, but also away from the mike whether it was by the water cooler, a restaurant, or a party. Yet with all the talking he did there was much we never knew about him. Gene uncovers many of those enigmas that kept us shrouded in mystery over the years. If you are a Shep fan this is a must read. If you're not, you missed a lot and need to catch up.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    Review of E.B. Bergmann's Excelsior, You Fathead!

    Jean Shepherd(1921-1999) was a humorist who has left us artistic productions in the radio, TV, motion picture, and print media. Author E.B. Bergmann postulates that Shepherd's life and art are inseparable. He reports that Jean Shepherd observed, questioned, and then commented on life in a positive way. Shepherd often experienced great joy and excitement in what he saw. There is a better than even chance that anyone reading this review has seen the movie, A Christmas Story (1983). This is the one about the kid that nearly shoots out his eye with the BB rifle he receives as a Christmas gift. Do you remember? Well, Jean Shepherd wrote that movie. You probably enjoyed it. Most people do. It's humorous, isn't it? Remember the scene in which the father wins a lamp shaped like a woman's leg as a contest prize? It becomes his most prized possession. He thinks it's great, but we suspect that his wife believes it to be in very bad taste. The father's excitement over that lamp is an example of a foible, which is a quirk or eccentricity. Shepherd was a master at identifying foibles, especially those characteristic of Americans. He used them extensively in his art. Humor and reality are inseparable in Shepherd's view of art and life, and what is hoped for or planned is never as relevant as what actually is! Shepherd started his career making observations on the radio. His early shows were composed of seemingly endless 'streams of consciousness' spoken over a background of jazz music. Bergmann heard some of those radio programs, and made tape recordings of them. For the book, he typed out word for word transcriptions of shows from his own collection, and from representative programs collected by others. These radio transcriptions, taken from shows over a twenty year period, form the matrix of the book. They are the 'glue' which holds Shepherd's life story together, since these recorded observations represent the core of his life view. Bergmann intertwines the radio narratives with other source material. These include interviews with people who knew Jean Shepherd, Shepherd's own writings, and interviews with the artist himself. It's obvious that Bergmann loves his subject. At one point he talks to Shepherd as if he is still very much alive: 'But, Jean Shepherd, you made your art so inextricably a mix with your persona - your life - that no hammer, pliers, saw or sword could undo such a Gordian knot.' To this I say EXCELSIOR! Read this book. You will not be disappointed!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    It was worth the wait!

    Back in the late 60's and early '70s, Shep was the AM Buddha who showed my wiseguy friends and me the path to enlightenment. We tried to observe, think, and tell stories like he did--something our teachers and parents weren't thrilled to see in 12-year-old kids, but it was too late. Shepherd's lessons have stayed with me for many years and I still rank them among the greatest gifts I've ever received. Almost a year after learning that a book on Shep's life was forthcoming, I finally have my copy. 'Excelsior, You Fathead' is a like discovering an old attic steamer trunk crammed with family treasures. Each page brings back overpowering memories and peels away another layer of complexity from the guy I always thought of as 'Ralphie'. The writing is beautiful and I enjoyed the clever approach Bergmann took in weaving the three Shepherd personas into a single biography. Read 'Excelsior' once to learn everything you never knew about the voice of the Night People: his family, his relationships, his pet peeves. Then read it again to fully appreciate the man's wit and genius.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2005

    Bergman captures what Jean Shepherd was all about!

    Jean Shepherd was one of the reasons why I pursued a career in radio. 'Shep' was a true talent, one who could do anything and do it very well. He was a far more than just a radio personality. Well versed describes Shepherd as he was a humorist and a writer of both literary print and film. He created 'theatre of the mind' and not only was he vastly overlooked but to this very day he is still ahead of our time. Shepherd fan and author Eugene Bergman has created a labor of love with this must have read for anyone who admired the works of Jean Parker Shepherd. It is not a biography in anyway rather the opposite as many of Shepherd's friends, co-workers and fans (like myself) provide a glimpse of the man and how he truly was a master of many crafts. He was so much more than just the guy who penned the now Christmas classic 'A Christmas Story.' He was pure genius, a rare talent and he is sorely missed. Kudo's to Gene for capturing the talent and spirit of Jean Parker Shepherd. Excelsior! Brian Pearson Deacon Grooves Media Chicago

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