|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 Jean Shepherd.
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 complained that:
“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
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 charity.