Neighborhoods Writers and Artists

Greenwich Village, through the eyes of Jean Shepherd

Jean Shepherd was born 100 years ago today in Chicago, so I’m bumping up this older post in tribute to this wonderful New Yorker. 

Jean Shepherd, probably best known today as the voice of A Christmas Story‘, was a regular presence on New York radio in the 1950s and 60s thanks to his memorable program for the AM station WOR.

Although you might associate his voice with nostalgic tales from suburban Indiana, he was very much a Village raconteur for much of his professional career. Some of his radio programs were broadcast live from the Limelight Coffee House at 91 7th Avenue, and he spent his last years in New York in a West Village apartment at West 10th Street.

In this 1960 short film ‘Village Sunday‘, Shepherd describes life in the Village and around Washington Square Park. Its pretty much a light advertisement for the entirely neighborhood, a pretty lovely thing to behold considering the conflicts the area would face with encroaching development later that decade.

He then wanders over to the Festival of San Gennaro which seems to have changed very little. You can compare it yourself when this year’s festival begins in a couple weeks!

13 replies on “Greenwich Village, through the eyes of Jean Shepherd”

Jean Shepherd continues to be enjoyed for his many writings and the audios of his hundreds of radio shows. In 2005 Shepherd was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, and in 2012 the Paley Center for Media, featuring Jerry Seinfeld, gave a tribute to Shepherd’s importance and wide-spread influence.
My book, “Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd,” an appreciation and description of Shepherd’s work, appeared in 2005.

I live in a townhouse overlooking Washington Square Park and have born witness to the changes in the Village throughout the last few decades, including the recent renovation of the park, which I wrote about here:
As you can see, there were many dissenting voices when the plans were announced. There will always be those in the neighborhood who want to preserve as much of the Village’s charm as possible…

The movie was made by Stewart Wilensky, who passed away in 1984. Here’s his obituary from The New York Times:

Stewart Wilensky Dies at 57
Published: July 23, 1984

Maker of Documentary Films Stewart Edward Wilensky, a documentary and commercial film maker, died of cancer last Friday in his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 57 years old.

Mr. Wilensky’s documentaries included ”Greenwich Village Sunday,” ”Around My Way” and ”There Must Be a Catch,” which won first prize in the 11th annual American Film Festival.

Mr. Wilensky lived in Mexico City from 1969 to 1980 producing and directing television commercials for advertsiing agencies. As a Fulbright Film Scholar, he visited Austria and Denmark, where he made ”The Old Ones” for Danish television. He also taught editing and production at the School of Visual Arts, in New York.

Mr. Wilensky is survived by his wife, Carol; two sons, Adam and Peter; his mother, Dora Wilensky; a sister, Carol Smaldino, and a brother, Ben Wilensky.

Do you guys know anything about a documentary short about the Village called something like “Big City Village.” I saw it in the summer of 1965. I recall it having the Village Stompers “Washington Square” on the soundtrack.

I like to think that Shep would have gotten a good chuckle at the ridiculous volume of crappy merchandise (slob art) his short stories have generated by way of ‘A Christmas Story’. Fortunately, there are many WOR broadcasts still floating around on the internet which focus on his life in Greenwich Village.

Jean was from Hammond, Indiana filled with Steel Mills, Chemical Plants, Railroads and Trains, Highways and Boulevards lined with Semis, Trucks and Cars and a downtown that was like a slice of New York filled with department stores, car lots and greasy spoon diners. Quite the opposite of a “surburbia”

It was recorder, I think, by the guy in charge of the music overall, Charles Mills. I hear he just got out a couple years ago.

The poet Ted Joans, scene towards the end of the film, was one of handful of black poets associated with the Beats and carried the banner for Surrealism having made contact with Andre Breton in Paris

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