’Twas about a week before Christmas

Always re-watching the Christmas classics this time of year? It's not too late to snag the perfect gift for that holiday film buff in your life (or, who are we kidding, for you)! Check out the perfect book for one of the most festive movies out there! Enjoy an excerpt from A Christmas Story by Caseen Gaines.

Chapter 1: The Ten-Year Itch

Somewhere in Coral Gables, Florida, a young Miami-based filmmaker named Bob Clark was doing his sixth lap around an unfamiliar neighborhood. An hour earlier, he was getting into his car, on his way to pick up a date. He was dressed nicely, as a young gentleman should be, and made every effort to be punctual. However, on the way to his date, he became sidetracked.



He fell in love.

As any young man will attest, it is easy to find oneself overcome with romantic feelings for a number of things. Send the sexiest woman in the world in to talk to a man during the Super Bowl and she may find herself waiting until the nearest commercial break to be noticed. Try to interfere with Mr. Fix-It’s D.I.Y. project and you may be able to steal a few minutes of conversation, as long as you agree to hold the screws in the interim. If there’s a Star Wars marathon on and you’re not wearing a Princess Leia wig, you can forget about it, especially if you’re dating a member of the ComicCon crowd. Young men are simpleminded creatures. Clark’s newfound infatuation was a man’s voice on his car radio. That voice belonged to Jean Shepherd. And like your typical young man in love, Clark found it hard to end his first tryst.

He prolonged the inevitable conclusion by taking the scenic route to his date’s house, while Shep, as fans of his radio show affectionately called him, continued to tell his tale. Jean Parker Shepherd was born on July 26, 1921, on Chicago’s South Side. His family moved soon after to 2907 Cleveland Street in the Hessville section of Hammond, Indiana. Before graduating Hammond High School in 1939, Shepherd, like Bob Clark, also fell in love with radio.

He received his Amateur Radio license at age sixteen — although some accounts state that he might have caught the radio bug even earlier than that — which ended up being the first step toward a long career as a great communicator. His radio skills were first put to use between 1942 and 1944 when, during WWII, Shepherd served as a part of the United States Army Signal Corps. Four years later, he landed his first job as a radio personality on WSAI out of Cincinnati.

Between 1951 and 1953 he worked at radio station KYW in Philadelphia, but soon found himself back in Cincinnati at a different station, WLW. It has been reported, largely by Shepherd himself, that he was offered the hosting job on NBC’s Tonight Show by then host Steve Allen, who was preparing to relinquish his duties as master of ceremonies. While in Cincinnati, Shepherd hosted the late-night show, Rear Bumper. The story goes that Allen saw Shepherd’s show, was impressed, and wanted him to be his successor.

The problem was, NBC executives were contractually bound to offer Jack Paar the gig first. If he declined, as the suits thought he would because they assumed he wanted a show during prime time and was uninterested in a late-night slot, Shepherd would be crowned the new heir to the Tonight Show throne. The execs were so certain, in fact, that they flew Shep out to New York to prepare for the job, only to find out soon after that Paar had accepted. The young radio guy’s primary contribution to the Tonight Show from that point on would be as a member of the viewing audience. According to those familiar with Shep’s biography, there is little evidence to support that there’s much truth to that story. Much like one of the tales told by Estelle Getty’s Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls, Shepherd’s story would have placed him just a half-step away from achieving a level of fame in his early thirties that most people can only dream about. However, even if the story is false, something brought Shepherd out to New York City in 1955, and that something could be given credit for the next exciting chapter in his life at WOR.

When one searches the internet for information about Shepherd, what comes up most frequently is that he is “an American raconteur.” This phrase wouldn’t necessarily be unusual, except that the term “raconteur,” which is hardly ever used, is almost uniformly regarded as the official term for his job description. Dictionary.com defines a raconteur as “a person who is skilled in relating stories and anecdotes interestingly.” What, then, made Jean Shepherd so recognized as such an interesting storyteller? “What comedians like to do is take something they want to make fun of, that they want the audience to have fun with, and what they will do is talk about what’s wrong with it and why it’s stupid,” comedian Jerry Seinfeld said in a 2012 appearance honoring Shepherd’s career. “[Shepherd] did the exact opposite in so many cases. It’s a very difficult trajectory in comedy to say, ‘Isn’t this wonderful?’ . . . He saw this exciting, cataclysmic drama in the ordinary.” In fact, Shepherd saw his popularity surge while at WOR largely because of his “ordinary” sensibilities.

His radio show broadcasted regularly on weeknights between 1 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., and he didn’t use a script or notes. He spoke on the radio like an elder around a campfire telling stories to his kin. His stories explored the simple aspects of life, often with many diversions, extraneous adjectives and adverbs, and convoluted plot twists that added more flair to the story. Shepherd occasionally told semi-autobiographical stories about his “Old Man,” Jean Parker Shepherd Sr., his mother, Ann, and Randy, his kid brother. He often assumed the role of a character named Ralphie, whose life experiences closely mirrored his own. Stories about his childhood were communicated through the fictional Parker family, also of Hammond. In 1964, his stories started to appear in Playboy (for those who read the magazine for the articles). In 1966, Shep released an anthology of Ralphie’s stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which became a runaway hit and, to this day, has never been out of print.

As Bob Clark listened to the radio broadcast that day, he couldn’t help but be reminded of his own upbringing. He was born on August 3, 1939, in New Orleans, but his family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, soon after. Shep’s stories reflected Midwestern values and a certain simple charm that had long since been lost by the 1960s, but as Clark realized while he was listening, and as thousands of other listeners nationwide already had discovered, the values typically described as “Midwestern” are hardly specific to that region of the United States. Sure, Clark had probably never experienced a snow storm in Alabama, and certainly not at the University of Miami, where he attended school for Creative Dramatic Writing after reneging on his acceptance of a football scholarship at Hillsdale College in Michigan, but there isn’t a child in the country who didn’t wish against the odds for something they wanted for Christmas, even though their parents told them it was not likely to materialize under the tree on December 25...


To read more, check out A Christmas Story online!

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