While Jean Shepherd is best remembered today for co-writing the screenplay for A Christmas Story in 1983, he also served as a radio personality, wrote for the Village Voice and Car and Driver, and recorded eight spoken word albums. In 2005, he was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
Jean Parker Shepherd was born in Chicago, IL on July 26, 1921, and would later be primarily known by his nickname, Shep. He graduated from Hammond High School in 1939, and served in the U.S. Army Signal Core during World War II. Following World War II, he received his first job in radio at WSAI in Cincinnati, OH in 1948. Next, he worked at KYW in Philadelphia, PA between 1951 and 1953, before finding his dream job at WOR in New York City in 1956. At WOR, Shepherd worked the night shift, reading stories and poetry, and enacting comic exploits. In one instance, he reported on a book titled I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing which in reality did not exist. He outlined the plot of the book on the radio and encouraged listeners to ask for it at bookstores. The hoax created interest in the non-existent book, and eventually, Theodore Sturgeon and Betty Ballantine wrote the novel based on Shepherd's plot line.
Because Shepherd's WOR program had little commercial potential, the station informed him that they planned to let him go. As a result, Shepherd read a commercial for Sweetheart Soap, a product that was a not even a sponsor of his program, and he was summarily fired. WOR quickly re-instated Shepherd, however, when listeners besieged the station with complaints, and when Sweetheart Soap agreed to sponsor his program. He would continue to broadcast at WOR until 1977. During the late '50s, Shepherd performed in the production Look, Charlie with his friends Shel Silverstein and Herb Gardner, and his future wife, Lois Nettleton (the couple would divorce after six years).
Shepherd also wrote short stories about his childhood in Indiana, some of which were published in Playboy. In 1966, a number of these stories would be collected in In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and published by Doubleday. He also wrote a regular column for the Village Voice and Car and Driver. In 1971, Shepherd embarked on yet another career as a screenwriter, including his work on his own Jean Shepherd's America for Boston Public Television. Shepherd remains well-known for the co-written script of The Christmas Story, adapted from his semi-fictional short stories including "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" and "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories." Shepherd also provided the movie's narration, and had a cameo as a man in the department store who provides directions for Ralphie (the movie's young hero) and his brother.
Shepherd was also a well-loved live performer throughout his career. Two of his original eight recordings, Will Failure Spoil Jean Shepherd? (1961) and Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles (1959), remain in print (as of January 2008), and feature a front row seat to Shepherd's homespun humor and observations. Shepherd spent his later years on Sanibel Island, FL with his wife Leigh Brown. He died in 1999 of natural causes. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi