Jean Shepherd suffers from a chronic case of mistaken identity - a result of his great success as an author, campus lecturer, radio and TV humorist.
The problem, as such, Is that Shepherd is so adept a story-teller that when he talks about "his" first blind date, or "his" army buddies, everyone believes him.
Even Shepherd bas been surprised by fans claiming to be someone he has created in one of his stories. While in Wanamakers for an autograph signing session, Shepherd says, the store manager come up to tell him there was a big surprise coming - Schwartz was there! And sure enough, back in the line of autograph seekers was a man claiming to be Schwartz, a character in one of Shepherd's books.
SAYS SHEPHERD, "That's like someone going up to Bill Cosby claiming to be Fat AIbert.''
In Hartford recently to promote Jean Shepherd's America, a 13 part television series, airing Tuesdays at 7 p.m. on Connecticut Public Television, Channel 53, Norwich, Shepherd talked about the misconceptions his fans have about him.
Many of them, he feels, seem to think he is just some guy who walks in off the street to gab about the experiences he has had and the people he's known.
At WOR Radio In New York, where he has done a nightly 45--minute radio "soliloquy" for the past 17 years, the humorist gets letters from people trying to top his stories. "If you think you bad a bad experience," they say, wait till you hear what happened to me . . ."
One fan confided that he'd figured out where Shepherd really worked - at Bloomingdale's! Another warned him that some guy had written articles In Playboy using not only his material but his name.
HE WAS NAMED, by the way, after his father who was named for Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Shepherd is a man of many talents. He has apparently inexhaustible enthusiasms and a notable ability to tell amusing stories - whether in plays, films, short stories, or to TV and radio audiences. He has written two books. The first, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" is going to be made into a movie by Canadian producer Robert Clark, in association with Warner Brothers. His second is "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories, and Other Disasters."
Shepherd's articles have appeared in practically every major magazine in the country. His short stories have won four Playboy humor-satire awards, making him the only writer in history to win this award more than once. A play he is writing, tentatively titled "That Great Inverted Bowl of Darkness" is planned as part of a forthcoming PBS series called Visions.
Jean Shepherd's America, the television series he created several years ago, has been brought bock by PBS for airing again this year. Says Shepherd, the programs are still as timely today as they were then, evidence that they are art, not journalism.
Each show is different. In one, for instance, Shepherd returns to the steel mills where he worked after high school. In another, he sets out to explore American food - Virginia pecan pie, Rocky Mountain rainbow trout, New England baked beans, and deep southern candied sweet-potatoes. While the camera provides lingering close-ups, Shepherd is in the background, smacking his lips, cracking jokes and telling stories about mouth-watering food with genuine relish.
Blended with his humor is a personal philosophy which Indicates that Shepherd is probably much more relative than his easy gift for gab might indicate. In Hartford, for Instance, he provided the following observations:
ABOUT HARTFORD- "To a ham radio operator (which he is), Hartford Is like Rome to a Catholic." (Hartford is the headquarters for the ARRL, the American Radio Relay League.)
ABOUT HUMOR - The difference between a humorist and a comic, he says, is that a comic tells Jokes about Nixon, a humorist tells jokes about all of us who voted for Nixon. ||
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