|Jean Shepherd (1921-1999)
Jean Shepherd was called “the first radio novelist” by
media scholar Marshall McLuhan. He is probably most
famous for narrating the 1983 movie A Christmas Story,
which was based on his book In God We Trust (All Others
Pay Cash), a collection of stories he first told on the radio
about his childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Parts of my
novel, Tamper, like Treasure Hunt (Chapter Five), Danger
Hill (Chapter Four), and The Boy Who Hid In Leaves
(Chapter Six), were inspired by events in my own
childhood, growing up in a small town in Virginia, and my
manner of telling these stories is influenced, in part, by
Jazz musician Bob Kaye says on his web site:
When Shepherd came to New York in the early 50's he had a
totally different concept of what he wanted to do on
radio. Basically, he wanted to do what other close friends
of his (Jack Kerouac, Herb Gardner, Jules Feiffer) were
doing, but in a different medium. To Shep, the airwaves
were his blank page, to fill with his satiric and usually right-
to-the-point observations about Mankind.
In addition to being a popular radio personality on WOR
Radio in New York City, Shepherd appeared at The Limelight
Café in Greenwich Village, emceed jazz concerts,
improvised spoken word for the title track on the 1957
Charles Mingus album The Clown, and wrote for a wide
variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Village
Voice, The New York Times, Mad Magazine, Playboy, Omni,
Car & Driver, and many more.
Another indirect connection to Tamper is a book Shepherd’
s book hoax. As jazz musician Bob Kaye tells it, Shepherd
“New York was a city that was entirely run by lists. Nobody
dared go to the theater without reading ten reviews first!
If Clive Barnes said the show was good, it was good. Even if
you fell asleep in the first act, you somehow felt that it
was your fault! Did it ever occur to you that lists are
compiled by mortals?”
It was around this time Jean Shepherd came up with the
term “Night People.”
"At 3:00 am the people who believe in lists are asleep.
These are the people who get all the latest hit show
tickets. Anyone still up at 3 am secretly has some doubts.
There are only two kinds of people. Us and Them. And
they don't know that we exist!
At about 2 am one night, Shep said to his listeners, "let's
all go to the local book stores tomorrow and ask for a
book, that we, the Night People, know doesn't exist." Since
it was a communal thing, he asked the listeners for
suggestions for a title. Finally, at about 4:30 am someone
came up with "I, Libertine". Shep then created an author,
Frederick R. Ewing, formerly a British Commander in World
War II, now a civil servant in Rhodesia, married to
Marjorie, a horsewoman from the North Country.
"So what's next? The first guy walks into the store and asks
for 'I, Libertine.' The owner says he never heard of it. Man
number two walks in asking for it. Now (the owner) says
'it's on order.' The next guy comes in. Now (the owner is)
on the phone to the distributor. Well, after 350 more
people ask for it, Publisher's Weekly is in shambles!
"You must remember that the listeners KNEW that this was
a nonexistent book!
After finally revealing to the public that the book does not
exist, Shepherd had lunch with Ian Ballantine of Ballantine
Books and the famous science fiction writer, Theodore
Sturgeon. They decide to take it to the next level.
Shepherd and Sturgeon quickly wrote a novel called I,
Libertine. Ballentine published it and the book actually
became a best-seller! By then, most people knew it was a
prank and many of them bought the book for just that
reason. Profits from the sale of the book were donated to