was called “the first radio novelist” by media scholar Marshall McLuhan
. He is probably most famous for narrating the 1983 movie A Christmas Story
, which was based on his book In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash)
, a collection of stories he first told on the radio about his childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Parts of my novel, Tamper
, like Danger Hill (Chapter Four)
, Treasure Hunt Chapter Five)
, and The Boy Who Hid In Leaves (Chapter Six)
, were inspired by events in my own childhood, growing up in a small town in Virginia, and my manner of telling these stories is influenced, in part, by Jean Shepherd. Not to mention the Nabokov-like introduction of fictional books. Here’s the story of a fake book that became real. Jazz musician Bob Kaye
tells the story on his web site
When Shepherd came to New York in the early 50’s he had a totally different concept of what he wanted to do on radio. Basically, he wanted to do what other close friends of his (Jack Kerouac, Herb Gardner, Jules Feiffer) were doing, but in a different medium. To Shep, the airwaves were his blank page, to fill with his satiric and usually right-to-the-point observations about Mankind.
In addition to being a popular radio personality on WOR Radio in New York City, Shepherd appeared at The Limelight Café in Greenwich Village
, emceed jazz concerts, improvised spoken word for the title track on the 1957 Charles Mingus
album The Clown, and wrote for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Village Voice, The New York Times, Mad Magazine, Playboy, Omni, Car & Driver, and many more.
Another indirect connection to Tamper is Shepherd’s book hoax. As jazz musician Bob Kaye tells it
, Shepherd complained that:
“New York was a city that was entirely run by lists. Nobody dared go to the theater without reading ten reviews first! If Clive Barnes said the show was good, it was good. Even if you fell asleep in the first act,
you somehow felt that it was your fault! Did it ever occur to you that lists are compiled by mortals?”
It was around this time Shepherd formed his concept of “Night People and Day People.” Kaye quotes him as saying:
“At 3:00 am the people who believe in lists are asleep. These are the people who get all the latest hit show tickets. Anyone still up at 3 am secretly has some doubts. There are only two kinds of people. Us and Them. And they don’t know that we exist!”
At about 2 am one night, Shep said to his listeners, “let’s all go to the local book stores tomorrow and ask for a book, that we, the Night People, know doesn’t exist.” Since it was a communal thing, he asked the listeners for suggestions for a title.
Finally, at about 4:30 am someone came up with “I, Libertine”. Shep then created an author, Frederick R. Ewing, formerly a British Commander in World War II, now a civil servant in Rhodesia, married to Marjorie, a horsewoman from the North Country.
So what’s next? The first guy walks into the store and asks for ‘I, Libertine.’ The owner says he never heard of it. Man number two walks in asking for it. Now (the owner) says ‘it’s on order.’ The next guy
comes in. Now (the owner is) on the phone to the distributor. Well, after 350 more people ask for it, Publisher’s Weekly is in shambles!
You must remember that the listeners KNEW that this was a nonexistent book!
After finally revealing to the public that the book did not exist, Shepherd had lunch with Ian Ballantine
of Ballantine Books and the famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon
. They decide to take it to the next level. Shepherd and Sturgeon quickly wrote a novel called I, Libertine
. Ballentine published it and the book and it actually became a best-seller! By then, most people knew it was a prank and many of them probably bought the book for just that reason. Profits from the sale of the book were donated to charity.