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The Young Philosopher Of the Airwaves

While Jean Shepherd talks - an activity at which he's a virtuoso - he draws pictures of a well-worn chair, a stylized Coke bottle, a Village pad, a typewriter. "Artists miss the point by spending time on people's faces," mused the radio-TV humorist and raconteur the other day. "Faces haven't changed in years! A telephone reflects 20th century man much more than his face does." Shepherd clutches a German-made pen with a tip like a hypodermic needle and draws in a quavery, skeletal style. His latest art work, he reminds you, adorns the recently published "Village Voice Reader." "I like to see the inner-workings of things, to strip away the externals and get down to basics. That's the way to get humor," he said. Accordingly, his novel to be published in the fall by Doubleday ("What Time Does the Balloon Go Up?") "tries to follow life just as it is sporadic. The trouble with most novels is that they have a thread. Life doesn't," he said. The novel's characters come and go,: with no connecting links between, "bat you can fill them in." It begins with a mixed-up boy of 4 overhearing a group of gabbing adults "saying things he oughtn't to hear." Suddenly, the same boy is 16 at a junior, prom wearing a new suit with horsehair in the:shoulder pads that "all that night was sticking me." In a later chapter, he likens families to little Solar Systems.' (There's a footloose uncle who shows up every four years "like one of those far-out planets.") Shepherd, a youthful 37, has blue-gray eyes, a short, short crew cut and pleasantly regular,features. His." expressions vary swiftly from wistful to clear-eyed intensity to a broad grin. Known by his devoted egghead followers as a "social critic and commentator," he has also edited an anthology of George Ade's humor and contributed two phrases to the Dictionary of American Slang and Usage. To wit: "C r e e p i n g Meatballism" - "the creeping belief that to be in the middle of the road is somehow a positive virtue." (He used it a lot "when Ike was going strong.") "Night peop1e" - "the artists, the thinkers, the sensitive" (as compared to day people who are regimented, tangled up in red tape). He doesn't use the latter phrase so much now that he's a headliner on NBC-TV'' "Today" show. ("I love it. It has a terrifically flexible format."). Jean Shepherd was born in Chicago. His father was a cartoonist and his mother "a real mother." He began in radio as a teenage actor on network shows - he played Billy Fairfield on "Jack Armstrong," emanating from Chicago. In the war, he installed radar equipment in North Africa. As "a disoriented vet," he attended the Goodman Theater School in Chicago but "couldn't get with it." He went to Indiana University on the GI Bill, majored in psychology, and in nearby Cincinnati did free-lance TV ("a strange format - comedy sketches and one-act, one-character plays") and summer stock. (He still does a good deal of acting in and around New York.) After a grievous stint as a pioneer Volkswagen dealer - "we virtually had to give them away to get rid of them," he says - he couldn't take the Midwest any longer and came here in 1956. He took a job on WOR radio, en route to the theater and TV, and was clasped to its bosom. He's been a WOR regular since then. On the air two weeks, he got a phone call from Ed Fancher, publisher of the Village Voice. Td been doing this wild, elliptical, allegorical stuff," Shepherd recalled, "and Fancher said, What you're doing is incredible! We're starting this paper down here and we want you to meet the staff.' They were a great bunch, having a hell of a time. I wrote a series of things for them. In fact, Jules Feiffer heard about them from my show." But Shepherd's not a Villager, even though he's ad libbed free verse to Charlie Mingus' jazz in Loew's Sheridan Theater. He lives on 57th St. in a three-room apartment "jammed with amateur radio equipment." (He's also "a sports car nut.") He likes the Village, but a couple of things strike him as off-key. Take the jazz-and-poetry bit. "What started out as a legitimate art form," he said, "became a vaudeville act." And he thinks folk singers are overrated and ridiculous. "There's nothing so silly as a CCNY psych major sitting on a street corner twanging a guitar and singing about building barrel staves on the old Ohio River, being a folk.'" I dig all New York," he said with zest. "I just love being here. The Village is like one piece of a person's personality." Cities go through periods of great vitality, just like men. Thirty years ago the vital center was Paris. At other time it was Rome, Amsterdam, Genoa. Right now New' York is the most exciting place in the world." Shepherd is a lone wolf, has no children and travels alone "whenever I get together enough money." More things happen when he travels solo, he said. His most recent foray was to Nigeria. "The first day I got there, I read a newspaper item saying a native sorcerer had caused a female sheep to give birth to a human child. I realized then that the Museum of Modern Art was a long ways away."

Copyright: 1962 The New York Post

Where Shep Made Reference To This Subject
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June 03,1962
Article

Courtesy: Pete Delaney

    
148 (19620603A)