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Creator / Jean Shepherd

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"Excelsior, you fathead!"

Jean Parker Shepherd Jr. (July 26, 1921 – October 16, 1999) was an American humorist who had a long career working in various media.

Shepherd specialized in irreverently humorous monologues about growing up in a middle class family in Hammond, Indiana during The Great Depression, along with accounts of his young adulthood, including his time in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II, which mixed sophisticated reflections with broad comedy.

The website Flick Lives is an exhaustive collection of info about Shepherd and his extensive, extremely eclectic career.

Shepherd is noted as one of the writers of the film A Christmas Story, which is based on anecdotes primarily from his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. He also provided the voice of the nostalgic narrator in that film and had a brief cameo appearance in it.

He once played a prank in which he asked listeners of his late-night radio program to go to their local bookstore and request a nonexistent book by a nonexistent author: I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing, a social satire set in 18th century England about a rakish socialite named Lance Courtenay. The prank was so successful that the book ended up on the New York Times bestseller list (which was then compiled based on feedback from bookstores) despite not actually existing, and in the process exposed a large number of literary critics as frauds after they began writing phony reviews to cash in on the novel's supposed popularity. After the truth came out, publisher Ian Ballantine approached Shepherd about actually writing the novel, with noted science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon being brought on as a co-author with Shepherd. As one might expect, the real I, Libertine then went on to become an actual bestseller thanks to the notoriety of the prank.

Not to be confused with Country Music singer Jean Shepard (who he called "The girl who sings through her nose" as opposed to his being "The guy who talks through his nose.")

Jean Shepherd's works include:

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Starting as an amateur radio operator in his teens, Shepherd spent thousands of hours on the airwaves, with stints in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and finally New York, where he hosted a nightly show for several decades on WOR-AM, which with its 50,000-watt signal was heard throughout the Eastern U.S. He was also syndicated to other markets. While he started out as a typical DJ, he gradually devoted time to storytelling, until that became the focus of the show.

Starting with regular short story contributions to Playboy, he went on to publish several books.
  • In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (1966)—The source for the vignettes that ultimately became A Christmas Story.
  • Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters (1971)
  • The Ferrari in the Bedroom (1972)
  • The Phantom of the Open Hearth (1978)
  • A Fistful of Fig Newtons (1981)

After a stint as a local TV host in the 1950s, he became a regular presence on PBS in the '70s and '80s, hosting the video essay series Shepherd's Pie and Jean Shepherd's America and presenting dramatized versions of his short stories on anthology series such as Visions and American Playhouse.
  • The Phantom of the Open Hearth (1976)
  • The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982)
  • The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1985)
  • Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss (1988)

A comparatively small part of Shepherd's career compared to his other work, but A Christmas Story, which he co-wrote and narrated, is far and away his best-known work.

Shepherd released several spoken word albums and tapes. Some of these were Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy, while others consisted of him reading his own works or his favorite poems.

  • Into the Unknown With Jazz Music (1956)
  • Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles (1959)
  • Will Failure Spoil Jean Shepherd? (1961)
  • "Live" at the Limelight (1965)
  • The Declassified Jean Shepherd (1971)
  • Jean Shepherd Reads Poems of Robert Service (1975)
  • Shepherd's Pie, Slices 1-7 (1990)note 

"Keep your knees loose, and keep your tropes well-oiled!":

  • Author Avatar: While Shepherd presented his radio monologues as personal recollections, for the print and screen versions he invented the character of Ralph Parker as a fictionalized stand-in.
  • Catchphrase: He had a bunch on his radio show, but the standouts were "Excelsior, you fathead!" (his all-purpose salutation) and "I'm this kid, see..." (generally how he started out his stories about his youth). His Signing Off Catchphrase was "Remember, kiddies: keep your knees loose and your glove well-oiled."
  • Creator Couple: Shepherd and his wife Leigh Brown, who acted as producer of his radio show and later co-wrote the screenplay of A Christmas Story with him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Exemplified the Midwestern wise guy version of this.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Got teased for having a girl's name as a kid. His friend Shel Silverstein allegedly based "A Boy Named Sue" partly on Shepherd.
  • Framing Device: In pretty much every case. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash has a frame narrative with an adult Ralph Parker visiting his old hometown. A Christmas Story and It Runs In The Family are unusual in that they have a disembodied narrator.
  • He Also Did: Featured in Walt Disney World's Carousel of Progress.
  • Joisey: He considered New Jersey an acceptable target, even though he lived there at several points in his life.
    New Jersey–the most American of all states. It has everything from the wilderness to The Mafia. All the great things and all the worst, for example Route 22.
  • Lemony Narrator: His standard approach to storytelling.
  • Life Embellished: Exactly how truthful his stories are is an eternal debate among Shep fans. Shepherd himself freely admitted that he took liberties with the truth in order to make things more entertaining, but most of the people and places he mentioned in his stories were real. But he also very blatantly messed with the actual facts of his life. One example is that Shepherd was really in his late teens in the period when A Christmas Story took place.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Hohman, Indiana became the fictional version of Hammond, his hometown.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Did voiceovers for all his films acting as this, but the main running theme in his work is that the Nostalgia Filter is very deceptive. The past was just as crazy and tacky as the present, it's just that we were too young to notice or care at the time.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: In the adaptations Randy Parker is always the same age, even though Ralph will go from being a kid to being just out of high school.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Wrote and voiced the classic "Cowboy X" cartoon.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Loved to drop arcane words like "bacchanalia" into otherwise down-to-earth prose.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Could easily toggle between a highbrow and lowbrow tone.