RUTHERFORD - An "angry" man dressed in "angry" green plaid sports coat and ivy-league slacks, stepped on the podium, stared defiantly at a very sympathetic audience and said two "angry" words:
It wasn't perceptible at first. A chuckle never is. This one spread from one end of the Fairleigh Dickinson auditorium to the other. Then all was silent as a capacity crowd awaited the "angry" voice.
But this time it spoke loudly and disappointedly, as angry voices often do, "Twenty-five cents!"
The chuckle matured into a laugh. The "angry" man continued.
"And the funny thing about it - the dance is a buck and a quarter. It just gives a man an idea of what he's worth."
The audience knew what it was in for. They had come out on a cold Friday night to hear a sensitive man speak about things that are warm and funny to them. (The plight of the poor starling, empty Ovaltine jars, the lost art of head-thumping and the unfortunate Chicago White Sox.) They had come to see a man they can listen to any week night. They had come to see Jean Shepherd for a 25-cent admission.
Shepherd's visit to FDU, entitled "An Evening with Jean Shepherd," was sponsored by the Rutherford campus student council and "The Bulletin," the student newspaper. Shepherd's appearance preceded a university dance.
Although he is best known for his nightly 11:15 program on WOR radio, Shepherd is a man of many talents. He has acted on the legitimate stage, worked in night clubs, written books, "cut" comedy albums, and written articles and drawn cartoons for the Village Voice. He is a product of a Chicago childhood, the steel mills, Indiana University, World War II, and the U.S. Army. He speaks on all these subjects with an enthusiasm, wit, and warmth that captivates an audience and dares the listener to turn him off.
Shepherd appears to be an angry man, but more than that, he is concerned. He deplores apathy, but is concerned with but two related topics, which he airs nightly. He is not particularly concerned with wars, the Bomb, politics, "or the important things like Jack Parr" (although he speaks on all with equal vigor) His topics go deeper than that.
Life and Truth
He talks about life and truth. He speaks about these two little words in a manner that would shame many a philosopher. Most important, he tells about their effect on other people - especially Jean Shepherd. When he talks it is often humorous. This is only natural.
However, Shepherd is important in the radio field - not because he talks - but because people listen. About 500 people listened Friday night. (The auditorium-gym was so jammed that additional chairs had to be secured. Finally, bleachers were used to seat another 40 persons.
What is Jean Parker Shepherd? Any fan has a multitude of questions to ask him, but that one is at the top of the list. Up until Friday evening he had defied definition. The reporter asked the one man who could give him an answer.
Jean Shepherd scratched his head thoughtfully and said regretfully, "I'm sorry, I can't help you."
Alas he still defies description. The one man who could help. . . could not.
Is he a comic? No, he never really tells a joke. Is he a wit? No, he delves further into his subject. Is he a critic? Who isn't? Is he a philosopher, humanitarian, satirist, psychologist, or humorist? That last description probably fits him best.
"Nobody takes a humorist seriously. Humorists can get away with murder. I like it that way."
He then went on to make references to J.D. Salinger, Barry Goldwater, Billy Graham, and Fidel Castro in short, he "got away with murder."
Concerning Goldwater, he said quite frankly, "He would have us return to the simple, homely virtues of our forefathers, but they were all revolutionists."
However, Shepherd, the humorist, is but one aspect of the man. While guesting on the Long John Nebel Show, (which follows his own broadcast) Jean summed it all up when
he called himself a non-stop talker.
He has made non-stop soliloquy (It's not a monologue," he insists) a profession. Few have done this successfully. Only Will Rogers and possibly Robert Benchley come to mind. However, Shepherd is comparable.
His Famous Book
At Fairleigh, Shepherd did a short soliloquy from a play. For the most part, though, it was monologue. What was probably the high point of the evening came when a bright-eyed young scholar asked about his book, "I, Libertine."
The author answered with the long rambling story-teller's quality that has made him famous. It was then revealed that he was the perpetrator of the biggest literary hoax of the 20th century!
A few years ago, Shepherd had asked his listeners to think of the weirdest book title possible, then phone him. "I, Libertine" by Frederick Roland Hewing was born. Both title and author are fictitious.
He then told his entire radio audience to periodically ask for the book in various book stores. What resulted was a mass movement that sent New York book dealers into hiding.
According to Shepherd, the fictitious title reached the New York Times best seller list, was banned by the Catholic Church, and Earl Wilson's column read, "Had lunch with Freddy Hewing - great guy."
"In fact," says Shep, "some libraries still carry file cards on the book."
Finally, the story broke in all places, the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, due to popular demand, Shepherd wrote the book.
"I, Libertine" is not the only book he has written. "The World of George Ade was published about a year ago. Shepherds two comedy albums, "Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles" and "Will Failure Spoil Jean Shepherd?" have done very nicely, he says. He has also appeared in a variety of off-Broadway plays. Because of his tight schedule, he had to curtail last year's television program, "Inside Jean Shepherd." It was similar to his night-time talk show on radio.
As for the future, Jean has begun taping a TV show for WABC which should appear next year. A new book entitled "What Time Does The Balloon Go Up" is also in the offing. Pertaining to special engagements, Shepherd said, if asked, he would consider speaking at other colleges. "Yes, I'd speak at Teaneck," he said referring to one of Fairleigh's other two campuses.
At the beginning of his talk, Shepherd declared he was not a nice person. On the radio
he often gives an angry impression.
However, at FDU, he charmed his audience with the wit and smile that befits - not an angry man - but a nice person.
He once said. We're all in the same boat - all of us. All bailing at once. All hoping to God our boat won't sink."
If the world can depend on angry men like Jean Shepherd, we won't sink. ||
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