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The Real Shepherd, Try TV
Airdate: Sunday - May 12, 1985

Last Update: 03-13-2018

Show Description
Sorry to report this but there really was no Ralph Parker, the resolute young man who is at the center of so many of Jean Shepherd's evocative stories of growing up in America. Sorrier to report that Jean Shepherd denies, as vehemently as the good-natured writer can, that he was the model for Ralph Parker. "I am a fiction writer who Just happens to write in the first person," said Shepherd in a telephone interview from his Florida home. You mean there really was no Wanda Hickey and a Night of Golden Memories? Nope. There really was no lather forever at odds with his Oldsmobile or a mother attired in a rump-sprung housecoat? Nope. Rats! More illusions shattered "To think that I was really Ralph Parker is to conclude that Mark Twain was really Huckleberry Finn or J.D. Salinger was really Holden Caulfield." You mean they weren't' This is enough to make a former American Lit major and part-time romantic swear off reading altogether. Jean Shepherd's gently humored fictional reminiscences have, in past seasons, been welcome additions to public television. Whether in his 197172 series, Jean Shepherd's America, or in adaptations of his short stories, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters and The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski, Shepherd has managed to prick those sensory nerves in viewers that say, Yeah, I knew people like that. Yeah, I was like that when I was a kid" It is the mark of a very good writer. Now, Jean Shepherd returns to PBS in a new series of Jean Shepherd's America, only this time he's cast himself in a decidedly Waller Mitty-ish mold. Episodes now find him boating languidly through the eerie Okefenokee Swamp, imagining what it must be like to be a Swamp Man; or leisurely guiding his yacht through opulent bays finding out what it's like to be Filthy Rich; or what it's like to sit on a plantation veranda sipping a cooling bourbon and branch water. Ah, the good life, as seen through the eyes of Jean Shepherd. But it's not all mint juleps and $10,000 bills. There's Shepherd as a desert rat in aptly named Death Valley. He's the Devil at loose ends in hedonist New Orleans. And there's Shepherd searching for love on board a real Love Boat, the S.S. Emerald Sea. They, and others, are all parts of the 13 part series airing on WSKG, Channel 46, Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. I'm really an actor in this new series," said Shepherd. "If Paul Newman were to do it, people would say, 'Good actin!' When I do it, they say Shepherd's just talking about his life. "It's like people believe Larry Hagman is really J.R. so much that he gets to wear that damned hat everywhere he goes," he said. "Larry, who I know, is simply a good actor, not at all like J.R." For tbe record, Shepherd is no swamp rat, doesn't own a yacht (doesn't even really like boats), and isn't filthy rich. His scenic journeys are parables of life in America, or at least some parts of what Americans believe to be life. It's that Americans tend to be very literal that makes viewers believe Shepherd's fiction is really autobiography. "I will say that a good writer, any good writer, can only write about what be really knows. That's the only way to be effective," he said. A writer's function is to relate to the reader, he said, and the very best writers can make readers relate to anything from a colony of ants to a colony of gypsies. "If what I wrote was simply about my past, it would be nostalgia," he said. "It isn't at all. But ifit's good, people will say, yeah, that's the way it was.' "A good story is a good story, whether it's set in Detroit or Xanadu," he said. Shepherd believes he's one of the few writers today exercising that particular talent. The talent is, as another writer, Hemingway, once expressed it, to write so that when people read it, they will know what the weather was. Or, as Shepherd puts it, "When you write about life, it will never go out of style." So when you're watching Jean Shepherd and his travels around America, what you're really seeing - and experiencing - isn't just a travelog or yet another public television documentary. It's a writer plying his craft and making you see visions of America through his eyes.
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