Olivia Harvey
December 23, 2017 1:00 pm
MGM

It’s that time of year again where families cozy up and watch A Christmas Story on repeat. The classic 1983 film is based on a collection of short stories by Jean Shepherd, who also narrated A Christmas StoryShepherd was a humorist, writer, and comedic WOR radio star who shot to fame in the 1950s.

On air he told hilarious tales, critiqued cultural trends, and thoroughly entertained his listeners, whom he called the “night people.” TIME noted in a 2001 writeup about Shepherd:

“Despite the infectious exuberance and sharply honed sense of absurdity that always symbolized Shepherd’s narration, there is a subtle undercurrent of sadness in some of his best work, a sense of mourning for an innocent past that can never be recaptured.” We wonder how Shepherd would feel about what’s going on these days in 2017.

TIME used his closing narration in A Christmas Story as an example of Shepherd’s dark humor. Shepherd, voicing adult Ralphie, states that the air rifle was the best Christmas present he ever received — or would ever receive.

Shepherd’s first book of short stories was called In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash). In each tale, an adult Ralph Parker recalls a memory from childhood. Some fans think these stories were semi-autobiographical, although Shepherd claimed they weren’t. In God We Trust ultimately inspired the plot of A Christmas Story.

Shepherd told his tales on WOR and published them in Playboy before publishing them as a collection. After In God We Trust, Shepherd wrote three other short story collections. He also maintained several columns for other publications like Mad Magazine and Car and Driver.

Shep, as his fans called him, was also a famed lived performer as well. On Saturdays, Shepherd broadcasted his WOR show in front of a live audience at the Limelight Cafe in Greenwich Village. He also took his tales on the road and performed at colleges across the country.

Getty Images / Arthur Pomerantz / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc

We’ll never know if his stories stemmed from truth or if everything he wrote was entirely fiction. Either way, Jean Shepherd’s comedic legacy lives on thanks to A Christmas Story.

Advertisement