EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEADS
To many of those who have even heard of Jean Shepherd, he is the voice of the grown-up Ralphie Parker whose childhood struggle to score an Official Red Ryder 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas is the subject of the holiday classic A Christmas Story. The film is based on Shepherd’s stories about growing up in Indiana.
Born July 26, 1921, Shepherd was an American raconteur, radio and TV personality, writer and actor. After several radio gigs, he settled in at WOR radio New York City in 1956 with an overnight slot on which he delighted fans by telling stories, reading poetry, and organizing listener stunts. The most famous of his stunts was the creation of a book, I, Libertine, by an 18th century author. Shepherd suggested that his listeners visit bookstores and ask for a copy of it, which led to booksellers attempting to purchase the book from their distributors. Fans of the show also planted references to the book and author so widely that demand for the book led to its being listed on The New York Times Best Seller list even though it hadn’t been written. Shepherd’s radio stories found their way into magazines and were later collected in the books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash; Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters; The Ferrari in the Bedroom; and A Fistful of Fig Newtons.
“What the hell time is it?” muttered the old man. He was always an aggressive sleeper. Sleep was one of the things he did best, and he loved it. Some look upon sleep as an unfortunate necessary interruption of life; but there are others who hold that sleep is life, or at least one of the more fulfilling aspects of it, like eating or sex. Any time my old man’s sleep was interrupted, he became truly dangerous.” – Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters
From A Christmas Story:
I had woven a tapestry of obscenity that as far as I know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.
Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word!
Now, I had heard that word at least ten times a day from my old man. He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.
And of course: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.
July 26, 1895: Say Goodnight
With husband George Burns, Gracie Allen (born on July 26, 1895) made comedy history – in vaudeville, the movies, on radio and television.
The Burns and Allen comedy act began with Allen as the straight man, feeding lines to Burns who delivered the punchlines. George explained later that he noticed Gracie’s straight lines were getting more laughs than his punchlines, so he reversed their roles. Audiences immediately fell in love with Gracie’s character, a clever combination of ditziness and total innocence.
George attributed their success to Gracie, even though he was a brilliant straight man: “All I had to do was say, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?’ and she talked for 38 years. And sometimes I didn’t even have to remember to say ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?'”
I read a book twice as fast as anybody else. First, I read the beginning, and then I read the ending, and then I start in the middle and read toward whatever end I like best.
“Gracie, those are beautiful flowers. Where did they come from?”
“Don’t you remember, George? You said that if I went to visit Clara Bagley in the hospital I should be sure to take her flowers. So, when she wasn’t looking, I did.”
Presidents are made, not born. That’s a good thing to remember. It’s silly to think that Presidents are born, because very few people are 35 years old at birth, and those who are won’t admit it.
A word of warning: The F-dash-dash-dash word appears on page 3 of Terry and the Pirate. You could cross it out if you wanted, if you owned your own copy.