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TV: Jean Shepherd Rolls Along I-95
Airdate: Tuesday - March 16, 1982


Last Update: 07-31-2012

Show Description
Jean Shepherd's street corner reminiscences about growing up "in that great inverted bowl of darkness, the Midwest," worked wonderfully well for public television a few years ago in "The Phantom of the Open Hearth," presented as part of the "Visions" series. They do so again tonight a 9 o'clock on WNET-TV, in "The Great American Fourth of July... And Other Disasters," this weeks "American Playhouse" offering. Mr. Shepherd, a writer and actor who first came to prominence with his show on radio, is not so much a satirist as a loving chronicler who relishes touches of exaggeration. His memories of youth in the fictional town of Hohman, Ind. - "If Chicago was Carl Sandburg's City of the Broad Shoulders, then Hohman has to be that cities rear end" - are extraordinary celebrations of the ordinary. He evokes people out of the past only to embrace them with a warm chuckle. His passions can be calculatingly odd, one of them being Interstate 95. There he is on that highway, exclaiming from the seat of his Rolls Royce, "Oh God, I love I-95!" He is on his way, as a character named Ralph, to an establishment in South Carolina called South of the Border, which seems to specialize in fireworks. Explaining that "the old man would've loved this - he was a true fireworks freak." Mr. Shepherd sets the scene for a return to a July day in the not-so-distant past when Ralph (Matt Dillon) was a teenager playing the sousaphone in the high school band. Just about everybody in Ralph's special universe is a loveable character. Dad (James Broderick) is running around buying fireworks for the celebrations the next day. Mom (Barbara Bolton) has contributed all the household's wash rags to a chain-letter scheme that she found irresistible. Ralph helpfully informs us that the old man thought she was crazy anyway. Kid brother Randy (Jay Ine) has managed to make an art form of the whine. And young Ralph has his failings, most notably his grumping about a blind date who, to his slack jawed astonishment turns out to be the dazzling Miss Junior Corn Blossom. Elsewhere around the town, floating somewhere between John's Lunch, the local greasy spoon, and the Bluebird Tavern, the neighborhood watering hole, are a host of familiar types. Wilbur Duckworth (Mike Moore) is the school band's drum major, a "three time state twirling champion with the soul of a true Nazi." Schwartz (Jeff Yonis), Ralph's good friend is "the possessor of a mind like a meatball." Ludlow Kissel (Babe Sargent) is the neighborhood drunk, "a true honest-to-John loser who worked about two days a month." Mrs. Kissel (Harriet Wilson) spends most of her time primly attributing her husband's weaknesses to a "nervous stomach." The festivities on the fourth of July naturally include a parade and a town picnic, with the women bringing generous samples of their favorite family recipes. Mom's, filched from Good Housekeeping Magazine is for sweet and sour Bavarian glockenspiel potato salad. Incidents abound of course. Among other things, as Ralph puts it, "No one realized that Ludlow Kissel was about to enter legend." Mr. Shepherd keeps his characters and stories spinning deftly, unfailingly giving them just the proper injections of linguistic elevation. And he is supported splendidly by the performers. Mr Broderick makes the most of an opportunity to get away from the propriety of his role in his former series, "Family" to create a father clearly partial to rascality. Miss Bolton is delightfully solemn as not-so-crazy Mom. And Mr. Dillon as young Ralph, positively radiates a boyish goofiness. Fred Barzyk was the executive producer. Olivia Tappan produced and Dick Bartlett directed.
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