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Summary

Night Person
Airdate: Monday - January 8, 1962


Last Update: 07-20-2008

Show Description
VERY LITTLE evidence of it turns up on the stage of the O'Keefe Centre this week, but "New Faces of 1962" contains in its cast one of the most original talents around. In the show you see Jean Shepherd acting as master of ceremonies, performing in a few skits, and delivering one monologue. This hardly suggests the range of his abilities. Shepherd is a novelist, a disc jockey, a part-time philosopher, a cult-leader, a writer and performer of a one-man revue, and a literary hoaxer on the grand scale. The hoax is probably the most remarkable incident in his career, but it is also a typical one. It grew out of his late-night radio show in New York, a program which Shepherd uses as a forum for his own beliefs. One of these is the idea that most of society lives much of the time according to myths. One of his favorite examples is the best-seller list of books or records, which Shepherd regards as largely mythical. In 1956, with the help of his listeners, he determined to challenge the myth and defy the "Day People" (non-listeners to Shepherd) who run the world and ignore the "Night People" (listeners). He instructed his people to go to bookstores and order "I, Libertine," an historical novel by Frederick R. Ewing. He admitted that there was no such book and no such writer, but he predicted that both of them would soon be quite popular. Loyally, his listeners began besieging the stores. The bookstores, baffled, began requesting it from wholesalers, who were equally baffled. Shepherd and his Night People kept up the pressure, and soon the booksellers began saying they had ordered it. Shepherd's listeners asked for it when they travelled, and queries about the book began coming back from all over the United States. One airline pilot demanded that a bookseller in Paris get it for him. Soon listeners began reporting that, when they asked people whether they had read "I, Libertine," many people nodded wisely and said that it was quite good. One listener ordered the book in a Greenwich Village bookstore and was greeted with the bookseller's aloof comment that "It's about time the public began to appreciate Ewing." Within eight weeks Shepherd got the book mentioned on a best-seller list and banned by a religious group in Boston. A student at Rutgers who listened to Shepherd wrote a term paper, "Frederick R. Ewing. Ecletric Historian," and got a passing grade for it. Finally Shepherd actually wrote a book titled "I, Libertine" and put Ewing's name on it. Ballantine published it. By now the newspapers were on to Shepherd, and his hoax was widely publicized. But Shepherd feels that the message - that what you read or hear may be altogether fictional, even when presented as fact - was not made as effectively as it might have been. "People who wrote about it," he says, "saw the joke but missed the point." SHEPHERD'S RADIO show, which many people find as irresistible as an addictive drug, is an unlikely combination of humor, jazz, nostalgia, Bach, freely improvised fantasy, and social criticism. He has done this show, or something like it, from Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and (since 1955) New York, and has always had a fairly large and extremely faithful group of listeners. Jules Feiffer, Ben Shahn, J. D. Salinger and, the late James Thurber have been among them. The show might be titled "Radio Free Greenwich Village," for certainly freedom is Shepherd's central message. He emphasizes, again and again, the idea that people live too willingly the enclosed, restricted life. "What makes a man settle for almost nothing when he can have so much?" Shepherd asks. "A man starts out as a human being and ends up as an employee." Nothing delights Shepherd more than a letter from a listener who has just thrown up his job on Shepherd's advice. THREE YEARS AGO Shepherd wrote, staged and appeared in an off-Broadway revue, "Look, Charlie," which he describes as a chronicle of the failure of dreams. It mingled Dixieland jazz, reminiscence, quotations from Euripides, and social criticism. It had one of the great endings in theatrical history: Shepherd would simply jump down off the stage and invite the whole audience across the street to a delicatessen for cream cheese and bagels. Usually most of them would come. The show also included the "Little Orphan Annie" monologue which he does in "New Faces." This describes the situation of a child who listens in awe to the show's secret coded message, finally obtains a "Little Orphan Annie" decoder, and discovers that the message is a commercial. It is Shepherd's belief that a human being can be taken in this way only so many times before his spirit and his dreams are crushed entirely. His first novel, to be published in the spring, is titled "Pretty Bubbles in the Air." It deals, naturally enough, with the ways in which people are persuaded to give up their dreams in exchange for nothing much.
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January 08,1962
Toronto Daily Star - Ad


January 08,1962
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