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The real Jean Shepherd and the 'real' Jean Shepherd

A man I met at a party recently asked me if I knew there was another Jean Shepherd who used to have a radio show. For years, people have asked me about the "real" Jean Shepherd, the man with the same name. A writer, humorist, screenwriter and Olympic-quality tale-teller, he died a year ago. I've discovered there are a great number of devotees of his radio show around these parts. I once got a letter from a reader of this column asking for an autograph and telling me he used to love my radio show. Either his hearing was defective or the photo running with my column should have been ditched. The show ran late at night and listeners became addicted to Shep-herd's long, drawn-out, entertaining meanderings. His stories flitted from one topic to another, but, inevitably, he would wind up back at the beginning and tie it all up in a big, seriocomic bow. He also wrote humor pieces for major magazines and, in later years, turned a few of his essays into public television features full of funny, dead-on takes on growing up. Someone in Hollywood, during a fleeting moment of intelligent decision-making, OK'd the production of a full-length feature by Shepherd called "The Christmas Story". It has become a classic and is shown each year on TV during the holidays. The story .of one childhood Christmas season during the '30s in blue-collar Hammond, Ind., the movie is hilarious and poignant, a definite keeper. As a serious Jean Shepherd fan, I prize an autographed copy of "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories." We also share a tiny bit of history together. Fresh out of college and newly married, my husband and I moved from school in Boston to New York. He had a job in the Wall Street area. We found a one-room apartment with a Murphy bed in Queens. I was hired by WOR radio in the sales department as a secretary, and one of the first things my boss did was introduce me to the "real" Jean Shepherd. He wore Coke-bottle glasses in those days, and we exchanged a few words. I wondered jokingly if the payroll department might possibly send his check to me by mistake. I remember staying up to listen to his show, even though I knew I'd regret it in the morning. He once announced that he'd be at a certain intersection at 2 a.m., and listeners bearing Swan Soap wrappers were invited to meet him there. As I remember, a couple thousand showed up. He thought nothing of mentioning one soft drink even though another soft drink was an advertiser. I'm always amazed when I meet someone who can still quote from Shepherd's old radio shows. He may have been considered a loose cannon by the WOR sales department. but to his listeners he was a brilliant, one-of-a-kind entertainer.

Copyright: 2001 Twin-Boro News
Permission by: Jean Shepherd


June 06,2001