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Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America - Season 1

1971

"...A BUNCH OF THE BOYS WERE WHOOPING IT UP AT THE MALAMUTE SALOON" There's still a bunch of the boys whooping it up at the Malamute Saloon. But the chances are the shooting isn't coming from gunfighters. It's coming from TV cameramen, capturing the mood of Alaska for JEAN SHEPHERD'S AMERICA. Robert Service fans, and everyone else interested in that frozen hunk of land that makes Texas the second largest state, JEAN SHEPHERD'S AMERICA is on PBS. Shepherd's jaunt to Alaska leads off with this piece of fantastic information: "Alaska, it just isn't like Cleveland." One of the reasons that no one could confuse the two is immediately apparent. Shepherd is cracking his jokes directly in front of an enormous glacier. Now glaciers are not the sort of thing that appear on television every day. But when Jean Shepherd threatens to hurl his body against it to stop its further progress, you know you're seeing a television first. Shepherd's Alaskan venture is full of strikingly original camera shots, and, of course, the inimitible Shepherd wit. His technique is really a whole new approach to television, call it video-verite. The point is spontaneous conversations, unplanned occurrences. One such unrehearsed moment finds Shepherd questioning a leathery old gentleman from Nome. The man dwells on the romance of Alaska's bars, and you can't help loving it. JEAN SHEPHERD'S AMERICA is another sensual essay with the camera's eye view the next best thing to being there.
Fan Comments
[ Courtesy: Pete Delaney - 09-18-2016 ]
Since Alaska never changes, there is a timeless quality in what is probably the best episode of the series. This exploration of the 49th state includes the expected spectacular, awe-inspiring scenic beauty, but through the wit and humor of Jean Shepherd we have so much more in a particularly special half hour. Throughout the show we hear excepts from the poetry of Yukon legend Robert W. Service and music from both Vaughan Williams' "Antarctic Symphony" and a rowdy New Jersey Dixieland ensemble named "The Sons of the Whiskey Rebellion." There's examples of rugged iconoclasts "That's Herb Engstrom's gold dredge. He's scooping up gold out of Basin Creek, 15 miles just off the Nome River. He's been digging gold in the same creek now for almost 40 years. He's 86. There's a man. Look at that. Herb Engstrom says 'That's real eatin' dirt!'" Or: "That's Kitter Bill's tent, a real prospector. If you want to visit him, you had better bring a bottle of whiskey. He's out there tonight." There are unique visuals such as the stark beauty of a town of weather beaten cabins, the eerie sight of a huge abandoned airplane and the bustling activity of the Eskimo fishing village of Kotzebu. Shepherd interviews crusty Nome newspaper editor Albro B. Gregory about the merits of fistfights, drunks and the cold and looks in on some hunters engaged in target practice. In two hilarious segments Shepherd challenges nature and comes out second best both times. First, he bodily assaults the Mendenhall Glacier in Tongass National Forest ("I've found something bigger than me! What a drag this thing is!") only to be heard screaming for help off-screen as he disappears into the river. Later, he searches for gold nuggets along the shore of the Berinbg Sea but only finds a Ked tennis shoe, an empty can of tuna, an empty can of tobacco, an empty jar of hair tonic, an empty can of evaporated milk and empty bottles of Pepsi and 7UP. At the end of the episode, Shepherd relishes the silence of Arctic tundra ("I wish I could take 50 cubic yards of this silence back to 6th Avenue in Manhattan!"). He then decides to chuck it all to become a man of the frozen north and disappear into the tundra forever, a fate much better than having to deal with" ... wars, fistfights( the New York Mets and commercials for Right Guard. Good-bye cruel world, I've had enough of ya!" Shep then walks off over the permafrost. After a few seconds we hear him say "Hey, there's a beer can, here." as the picture fades out to the sound of both a Vaughan Williams chorus and a biting wind.
Additional Comments:
Music played during the show: "Antarctic Symphony (#8)" Ralph Vaughan Williams "Yellow Dog Blues" Sons Of The Whisky Rebellion Shep did several of his radio shows talking about his trip to Alaska and talked about the newspaper in Nome. "The Nome Nugget"(See photos)

Production Information:
Studio / Network: WGBH - Snow Pond Productions
Director: Fred Barzyk
Asst Director:
Producer: Olivia Tappan, Leigh Brown
Executive Producer:
Running Time:
Where Shep Made Reference To This Subject
Links to Further Information:
• Season 1 Press Kit
Screenshots:

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska

Jean Shepherd's America Press - Alaska