Sunday, February 22, 2009

THE GOOD SHEPHERD

In 1975 I was co-chairman of the Media, Film and Lecture committee of the University of Connecticut Student Union Board of Governors at the main campus in Storrs, Connecticut. One of the performers we hired that year to entertain the fellow students was a man named Jean Shepherd.

Jean Shepherd was perhaps one of America's finest story telling raconteurs who had a long over twenty year radio career at WOR radio telling humorous and satirical forty-five minute stories mixed in with playing the kazoo and "Jew's harp" to various songs and making fun of the sponsor's advertisements on his show. In addition to his radio show Jean wrote countless magazine articles for Playboy,Newsday, The Village Voice and many other publications. Jean wrote books such as "In God We Trust,All Others Pay Cash, "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories,and "A Christmas Story."

"A Christmas Story" was made into a movie of the same name. Perhaps you have seen it. "Ralphie" a nine year old living in Indiana wanted a "Red Ryder BB gun" and everyone would tell him he'd shoot his eye out. In this movie Ralphie and friends "triple dog dared" Flick to stick his tongue to a frozen flag pole.

Jean did hundreds of live shows on college campuses. This is how I came to meet "Shep". Our show was held at Von Der Madden auditorium. I was in charge of introducing Jean at the start of his performance. My friend Bill Wetmore, an English major and a personality in his own right, and I decided before the show to do a unique introduction. Bill grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey and was a huge fan of Jean Shepherd.

As the show was about to start I took the stage and it went something like this: " Good evening everyone. On behalf of the Board of Governors welcome to an evening with Jean Shepherd and thanks for coming. And now, I'd like to introduce......The man who is going to introduce Jean Shepherd.....yes, our own Bill Wetmore from Piscataway, New Jersey, exit 9 off of the New Jersey Turnpike .....take it away Bill!!

Bill then went through Jean's accomplishments and how he was a long time faithful listener of "Shep". Jean then took the stage and did a non-stop story for about an hour with many detours throughout his story but tying everything together at the end of his spellbinding soliloquy.

After the show was over we took Jean to "Huskies" which is an on campus college hang out that serves pitchers of beer, pizza, hamburgers, and other essential college "health" foods. In our group was Bill, Jean, Lee Moreson my co-chairman, Winston Wilson our student advisor and me. We ordered a couple pepperoni and mushroom pizzas and a couple pitchers of beer.

Jean was seated next to his "groupie" Bill and they were talking away. Bill was telling Jean about his" streaking" experiences. Bill may or may not have started the "streaking" experience which swept the nation at that time. For sure, Bill at the very least introduced streaking to UCONN. Bill was telling Jean that he considered streaking to be an "art form" and not to be indulged in for exhibitionist purposes.For example, for Bill's Valentine's Day streak he painted red hearts all over his body. Jean was intrigued with Bill's comments and was asking Bill at lot of questions about the "art of the streak". Winston said to me, "Rick., I bet he writes an article about this conversation".

About a month later, Winston shows me an article in a magazine called "Streaking As An Art Form" detailing our "Huskies pizza experience". Not bad Jean. He's "The Good Shepherd". Not only did he earn the thousand dollars we paid him for his appearance but also he was paid for his magazine article.