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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Greatest Story Teller OF Our Time - a cranky re-run

The Greatest Story Teller OF Our Time
 This re-run is from December 2012

Once upon a time, before TV, radio, and the printing press; history, news, and stories were all word of mouth.  Story tellers were in every family, clan, and town.  I imagine they were skillful and entertaining. 

In this day of multiple media outlets, story telling is a lost art.  When I was a kid, in the New York tri-state area, we had on the radio, WOR, perhaps the last pure story teller of our time.

As I recall this storyteller was on every night from 11-12.  I am probably wrong; he may have just been on weekends.  I do recall being up late at night, in my bed supposedly asleep, listening intently on a transistor radio to Jean Shephard. 

I don’t believe Jean was on any other radio station.  I think he was just local.  He told stories of his childhood in a blue collar Indiana town.  He told stories in a voice that wrapped around you and with details that allowed you to feel the cold and smell the smells of that town.  If you were a regular listener you soon learned all his characters, his friends Flick and Schwartz, the local bullies Scot Farcus and Grover Dill, his pain in the ass little brother, his crazy Dad (the old man,) his nurturing but always worried Mom, and his neighbors, the Bumpus family.

I don’t know if he read his stories or had a prepared outline and notes, but they all sounded as if they just poured out of his memory.  I thought I was the only one listening to Jean Shephard.  No one gathered around the water cooler or in school to recount the previous night’s story as they did with the popular TV shows of the time.  On the radio it seemed as if “Shep” was talking only to me.

I imagine he wrote for magazines which I did not read, but I think basically Jean Shephard was a just a local radio guy.  He did write a book of short stories which I recall him hawking, but I did not buy.  It was mostly stories I had already heard on the radio.  He made a movie from his stories, but few people including myself saw it.

I later found out that my friend “Frog” was a regular listener, and my best friend “Asshead” was also a regular listener.  It turns out half of the tri-state area were closet “Shep” fans. 

Jean Shephard died in 1999.  I know little of his life other than from his storytelling.  His death did not make the front page.  Few people ever heard of him.  I read somewhere that Shep died thinking he had made no contribution and his life was a waste. 

With his passing went the lost art of storytelling.  I might have forgotten him and most of the world may have never heard of him if not for a movie contract law.

For years, every year on Christmas Eve, all the networks and all the cable channels ran Jimmy Stewart’s classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”   This movie was considered in “Public Domain” due to a clerical error that prevented the copyright from being renewed properly in 1974.  In 1993 the owners of the movie successfully won a law suit which gave it exclusive rights to “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  NBC now owns the rights to this classic and they show the movie only once a year before Christmas. 

The other TV stations could no longer broadcast “It’s a Wonderful Life” and they needed something to fill the Christmas Eve airtime.  They chose that old Jean Shephard movie which I never saw.  When it first came on my ears perked up to his distinctive and unique narration.

“Hey that’s Shep!”

Most of this movie is stories which I heard on the radio “asleep” in bed those many years ago.  They are as entertaining as they were on WOR, and they now entertain me every single Christmas Eve.  I am pretty sure you also know and watch this “new” Christmas Eve tradition.

This little known local storyteller will probably be heard forever every Christmas Eve on multiple TV channels which broadcast in a loop this now classic movie:

“A Christmas Story.”

Haven’t seen it? Think…how about,

“You’re going to put an eye out kid!”

Check him out on you tube...Google Jean Shephard Radio SHow


  1. I enjoyed this post last year and again today. You're right about there being fewer storytellers today than in times past. I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost, and a painter/writer second. Merry Christmas and thanks for all the entertaining posts this year.

  2. paul harvey was my radio storyteller.

  3. I've never heard him but Garrison Keillor is my go to story teller today. I will check that link. Thanks.

  4. Oh, dear. I knew Jean Shepherd wrote A Christmas Story. But in spite of the narration, and the Ralphie character, and the whole deal...I always thought Jean Shepherd was a woman!

  5. Jean Shepherd was one of my mentors, though he never knew it. Reading your post made me Google him and read much, much more than I had known about him. You can also access many of Shepherd's ad-lib radio performances.

  6. Have a terrific holiday season!!

  7. I wish his movie was shown in my market. I'll go check....maybe he is. I'd love to hear him. Thanks for the heads-up.


  8. I heard Jean Sheperd somewhere, long after I grew to adult size (almost wrote after I became an adult).

    I am pretty sure I read some of (at least one) his short stories in an adult magazine (think Hefner), too.

    He just might be the 20th Century's answer to O. Henry.

  9. "...Shep died thinking he had made no contribution and his life was a waste." That is so sad, if only a few of his fans had written or phoned in to the radio station about his stories, he would have known he was valued.
    I agree story telling is a lost art, books may be a reasonable substitute, and if you can get grandparents talking you may hear some great tales.
    Love that lamp!

  10. Excelsior! For "A Christmas Story" alone he'll be fondly remembered for many years, but his entire body of work is wonderful.

  11. I remember Jean Sheperd! Remember "I, Libertine?"

    To this day I'd just as soon listen to people tell stories on the radio as anything else.

  12. It's Jean "Shepherd," folks! Shep personally received much adulation and many awards during his lifetime. However, he did die ostensibly disavowing what many consider his best work, his radio storytelling. Recordings of his performances are freely available on the Internet. Many are cataloged on the website "Flick Lives," where you will also find extensive biographical material. Excelsior, you fatheads!

    A Jean Shepherd Historian

  13. I love it! :D I totally forgot to mention the Daisy Red Rider, *the* reason for shooting your eye out!