Tuesday, March 3, 2015

While Shepherd watched his flock by night

To really get in the mood to read about the subject of today's bloviation, please click on this link and hear his theme song, "Bahn Frei."  We're talking about a man named Jean Shepherd, who used the song by Eduard Strauss (as recorded by the Boston Pops) as his intro music for over 20 years as his show came on WOR Radio in New York.  For 45 minutes late every night, he wove tales from his real life and from his imagination, enchanting millions of people with transistor radios tucked up under their pillows, with the little earpiece in use so my parents  no one would be any the wiser.

In case you'd like to hear what we heard, you can check out these recordings on the Internet Archive.

And if the name Jean Shepherd sounds familiar for more than its similarity to female Grand Ole Opry favorite Jean Shepard, it may be because the movie "A Christmas Story" was adopted from his tales in the book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash." It's all in there...the fight with Scut Farkus, the BB gun, the Bumpasses' dogs eating the turkey.

A fascinating man, he was, and talented as well.  Of course, even with all that talent, every performer needs promotional gimmicks and publicity stunts to get his/her name before the public.  Shep's was a doozy:

In 1956, he challenged his audience to create a demand for a book called "I, Libertine," by a made-up author - "Frederick R. Ewing." Jean figured that he could manipulate the best-seller lists by having his fans try to buy a certain book.  And they did, and, being a literary-type of audience in the media capital of the world, they planted references to the book in magazines and newspapers, creating further demand, as booksellers frantically attempted to purchase the book from their distributors for sale in stores. Then, with the book on the New York Times Best Seller List, Shepherd and two others actually wrote the doggone book, got a cover painted by Kelly Freas, and Ballantine Books put it out.

You'll notice the Wall Street Journal got Shep's name wrong, but the publicity went a long way toward making him a household name in New York. I just checked on Amazon...six hardback copies of the book are for sale, the lowest price being $125. We should have bought it in 1956!  But I didn't have 35 cents then.

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