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Islander was credited with originating talk radio, wrote classic Christmas film

By Staff | Dec 24, 2014

Jean Shepherd lived out his creative life in this Sanibel home. CRAIG GARRETT

Not many locals are aware that the author of a classic Christmas film lived out his days as an islander.

Jean Parker Shepherd was a 1950s radio personality, writer and actor best remembered (by most) for “A Christmas Story,” a film he co-wrote and narrated and is listed as one of America’s favorite holiday stories.

In an overview of a book outlining his creative life, Mr. Shepherd was considered the Mark Twain and James Thurber of his time. He was profiled after his death in Lee County in “Excelsior, You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd,” a biography by Eugene B. Bergmann that describes his creative life, first in radio, and later in films and stories he wrote for Playboy and Mad magazine. He also interviewed the Beatles for Playboy. His writing and broadcast credits spanned some 50 years. He died in 1999.

In radio, Mr. Shepherd was best known in the 1950s for long monologues without a script, improvising, something along the lines of a Garrison Keillor. He was a fixture on New York City radio for two decades, mixing humor and mocking rants with his memories of Indiana childhood. Many consider Shepherd the master of talk radio, radio spoofs and other inventiveness. The comedian Jerry Seinfeld credits Shepherd with aiming his career into a more observational direction. Seinfeld, in fact, named one of his children Shepherd. He was inducted posthumously into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Mr. Shepherd was also rumored to be the inspiration for his friend Shel Silverstein’s song “A Boy Named Sue.”

But he’s most remembered for co-writing “A Christmas Story,” which he had said was autobiographical. The story documents a boy’s zeal to have a BB gun for Christmas. Mr. Shepherd appeared in a cameo in the 1983 film.

Because Shepherd was a known night owl, neighbors still in the Sanibel neighborhood where he resided have shadowy recollections of his activities, his involvement. One woman recalled that a limousine each year stopped at the Shepherd home to retrieve its famous occupant, whoosh him off to who knew where, the neighbor said. The woman believed that Disney Pictures was footing the bill.

Mr. Shepherd on his death certificate issued by Florida ended his days at a Lee Memorial health facility. It lists his place of birth as Chicago, his residence as Sanibel at his death at 3:20 a.m. on Oct. 16, 1999. The certificate listed his occupation as writer/entertainer.