Flicklives
Main Site Banner
About Shep Database Shep Music Timeline ACS Excelsior Excelsior Wanted Flag
Television
Shep on TV

Photo

The Phantom of the Open Hearth Lives - Somewhere in Indiana

Jean Shepherd's America - Season 1

1971

"...THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH LIVES - SOMEWHERE IN INDIANA." There's a lot of folks in America who don't bel1ev7 in ghosts or phantoms of any size or shape. It's a cinch they've never seen the open hearth at Inland Steel. Jean Shepherd has ( he worked there back in '41 and '42), and he claims that the Phantom of the Open Hearth is a sight you'll never forget. So, non-believers, now's your chance. Jean Shepherd is planning to reveal that fabulous phantom on JEAN SHEPHERD'S AMERICA. While the Phantom of the Open Hearth is a featured performer, Jean Shepherd has actually put together a different kind of program. It's not the usual documentary style, where the camera shows a machine and a narrator tells you, "This is a machine." Instead, Jean captures the mood of the mills in a virtual bombardment of visual images, and in the great stories he tells. He knows how it feels to get that new pair of "safety shoes" and he describes it with love. And he knows what it's like to be the man behind the safety goggles - "You see the world like you're looking through a brlllo pad." Sometimes he gets downright poetic. With great affection, Shepherd tells what it's like to punch in at dawn on the day before a day-off. Or that first swallow of coke after 3000 0 of fire and brimstone. And, did you know that steel-mill workers are great lip-readers? They have to be.
Fan Comments
[ Courtesy: Pete Delaney - 09-18-2016 ]
The first image we see of Jean Shepherd in the series finds the 49 year old humorist in familiar territory - the Inland Steel Company mill just south of Chicago where he worked in 1938 and 1939. Standing amid the fire and brimstone of the raging #3 open hearth, the host cheerfully cackles like the Devil and announces "Welcome to my pad! This is why I will always identify with Mephisto!" Then in off-screen narration for the rest of the show, Shep accompanies fascinating visuals of the huge foundry in action. "When you look back at a specific time in your life" Shepherd says, "you remember specific bits and pieces instead of solitary things." The bits that the master-story teller recalls include how this huge city-within-a-city was a surreal world of incredible visuals and wild sounds, where it was always either blazingly hot of bitter cold. Where each part of the mill was different from the other, each section smelling like an exotic oil. Where the ground of the mill never stopped shaking and where spectacular colors were viewed behind the scratched lenses of safety goggles. Where the simple sight of coils of blue steel created an unnoticed natural sculpture and locomotives endlessly pulled hot and cold cars throughout a maze of tracks. Where horns were always blaring and things were always heard breaking. On a personal level, Shep recalled how great it was to buy a new pair of safety shoes ('peasant', 'sport' or 'dress' styles.) He also remembers great moments of ecstasy such as drinking an ice cold Coke after "hours in the number five soaking pit have cooked all the juice out of you." or punching out at the clockhouse on the last day of your work week. Shep also recalls moments of terror such as the time a hopper car full of molten steel tipped over destroying a work shed in a matter of seconds or when Jean almost fell down a metal ladder to certain doom. The grand finale in the show's last 5 minutes features the astonishing "tapping of the heat" where molten steel that has been cooking for hours is poured out from the furnace, lighting up the mill with a hell like glow and a horrid sound and unavailing "The Phantom of the Open Hearth" the frightening simulated face of a giant woman formed by the huge machinery involved in "tapping the heat." Fans of Jean Shepherd's radio show loved every moment and eagerly awaited the next dozen episodes. Critics however were mixed. In Philadelphia there were two views: "One of the best things on TV this year. Fantastic photography, poetry, humor, excitement and enjoyment. There was never any doubt about the realities of mill life that Shepherd, a man in love with life and experiences easily transcended. Shepherd has the humor, the philosophy and perspective to praise virtues as well as faults of the land and it's people. A lot of people are going to identify with Jean Shepherd's America." ... Rex Policer, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. "Jean Shepherd's America got off to a dreary start with a steel mill show that's impossible for the average American to identify with. It was like watching a 30 minute stale industrial publicity film." ... Harry Harris, Philadelphia Inquirer. Shepherd responded to these reviews by simply saying "They're both right."
Additional Comments:
Music played during the show - Sonic Contours

Production Information:
Studio / Network: WGBH - Snow Pond Productions
Director: Fred Barzyk
Asst Director:
Producer: Olivia Tappan, Leigh Brown
Executive Producer:
Running Time:
Associated Documents