Ever dream of hacking the system? Artfully turning the establishment against itself and in the process, exposing its absurd nature to ridicule? Here's
a story of a man who did just that.
Admittedly, I wasn't familiar with the book I, Libertine
or the name of its creator, Jean Shepherd, until I saw an item from iO9
afternoon in my news feed
and that's a shame, because this is the stuff of legend.
Shepherd was a raconteur (a master of the all-but-lost art of story telling), a humorist, an engineer of comedic mischief, a fabricator of half-truths
and champion of the "night people" (if you've ever worked graveyard shift, you can appreciate that). The work of his perhaps most familiar is the
classic holiday film, A Christmas Story
, based on his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
and narrated by the man himself.
After serving in the US Army during WWII, Jean Shepherd began his radio career with short stints at radio stations in Cincinnati and Philadelphia
before finding himself in the overnight slot on NYC's WOR. In 1956, his first year at WOR, Shepherd was on the verge of being let go for not being
commercial enough and so he did a commercial for Sweetheart Soap. The problem was, Sweetheart Soap was not a sponsor of his show and the stunt got him
A legion of loyal fans of the show waged a campaign to have him brought back and when Sweetheart Soap stepped up and offered to sponsor his show, he
was reinstated. That same year, after visiting a bookstore, he came up with an idea for an epic hoax that would be pulled off with the assistance of
The most famous of the last involved creating a hoax about a non-existent book, I, Libertine, by the equally non-existent author "Frederick R.
Ewing", in 1956. During a discussion on how easy it was to manipulate the best seller lists, which at that time were based not only on sales but
demand, Shepherd suggested that his listeners visit bookstores and ask for a copy of I, Libertine which led to booksellers attempting to purchase the
book from their distributors. Fans of the show eventually took it further, planting references to the book and author so widely that demand for the
book led to it being listed on The New York Times Best Seller list.
That was how I, Libertine, authored by Frederick Ewing, and published by Excelsior Press of Cambridge University, burst onto the literary scene.
Night people went into stores asking for it, bookstore owners began making inquiries, and the hoax was helped along by Shepherd's contacts in the
media, who mentioned lunches with "Freddie Ewing." Naturally, some people who weren't in loop played along, talking over the merits of the fake book
and giving the story credibility. One college student even got a B+ for a paper discussing Frederick Ewing's historical fiction.
Deciding to capitalize on publicity following the revelation of the hoax, Ballantine Books contacted Shepherd who outlined a book that was then
written by Theodore Sturgeon
, author of the 1953 sci-fi classic, More
edit on 2015-2-18 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)