While it's all but impossible to make it through December without encountering A Christmas Story, though, relatively few know about the man who’s behind the story. His name was Jean Shepherd. An unconventional icon of the 1960s, Shepherd developed a cult following on late-night airwaves with his eclectic collection of improvised stories about childhood in the Midwest, military service during World War II, and life as an infamous radio personality. He was, in every sense of the word, a raconteur. Shepherd wrote bestselling books, two of which inspired A Christmas Story; he published columns in the Village Voice, Mad Magazine, and Playboy; and he starred in two television series. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Harry Shearer idolized him. His storytelling defined a style of radio that was later adopted by the likes of Garrison Keillor. A wave of nostalgic sitcoms, epitomized by The Wonder Years, owe a significant debt to Shepherd's work. His influence alone should have made him a pop-culture icon.Hmm, pessimism as a bad trait. I may have to watch that one.
It didn't. Now, as Shepherd's greatest success celebrates its third decade of relevance, a question remains: Why did the man's legacy fade away just as his story joined the pantheon of Christmas classics?
Understandably, there is no simple answer. Shepherd died in 1999, just as Turner Broadcasting had begun to make a tradition of its all-day marathon. That small-screen saturation is a huge reason—if not the reason—why audiences rediscovered A Christmas Story, so the most obvious explanation is a macabre one. Shepherd wasn't around, so he wasn't acknowledged as a significant part of the movie's success......Shepherd's famous wit soured into pessimism as he aged, too. During one of his last radio interviews, according to a Time column published soon after his death, he repeatedly dismissed his radio years as "just another gig." (In an essay for Slate, longtime fan Donald Fagen guessed that Shepherd "succumbed to that very real disease of self-loathing.")
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
The Man Behind A Christmas Story
Jean Shepherd isn't remembered like the holiday movie based on his stories: