Born: Nancy Leigh Prescott
Leigh Brown was an unseen force behind Shep. She was the producer for his nightly radio show on WOR in New York. He dictated his books and manuscripts to her. They were constant companions and on March 2, 1977 were married until Leigh's death in on July 16,1998. She was an author in her own right writing "The Show Gypsies" which was published in 1975.
Note: According to the Florida Death Certificate, Leigh's first name was listed as Nancy, her middle name as Leigh, and her last name as Shepherd. Her parents are listed as Edward V. Prescott and Dorothy Mears. She was born in Newark, NJ, on May 1, 1939.
She attended Clifton High School ans Shep made mention of it at an appearance there around 1971. It was Leigh's influence and her experiences in high school that led to Shep's occassional references to Saul Kay, the director of the Clifton high school marching band.
She was married to Robert Siroka, Clifton H.S. class of 1955, from January 4, 1958 - 1964. They had a son, Matthew and a daughter, Elizabeth, born August 25, 1958, who also attended Clifton High in 1971. Elizabeth passed away 9-24-2010 survived by her son, William Cartaina.
When Shep passed away in 1999, his will included a bequest on behalf of Leigh "to the University of Pennsylvania to establish a scholarship fund for girls only at the Veterinary School in the name of Leigh Brown Shepherd." (See pic)
Shep "interviews" Leigh
There was a special on WNET channel 13 New York sometime in '68-'69. It was called "The Three Worlds of Jean Shepherd".
The show was 30 minutes long and there were three ten minute segments covering radio, live performances (Limelight Shows), and writing books. It was narrated by "John" (Gambling?) who also interviews Shep for each segment. In the last segment interview about writing, Shep tells John about how he writes late at night after the radio show and uses Leigh as a sounding board. Shep then turns to Leigh and 'interviews' her about how it is working with him. (See link to audio file.)
|[ Courtesy: Randall Shepherd - 12-24-2006 ]
One of the most emotionally rewarding results of the settlement was when the go away money was split between me, Leigh's mother Dorothy Leonard, and our legal counsel. In the beginning, right after Jean died I finally found Dorothy after a week hammering the phone at work calling all his people, what were left scattered everywhere. I had an office at work with a door that was closed all the time anyway, I was calling on the company dime, an ad agency, so I feel morally clean here. Anyway, she was at a retirement community near Lakehurst NJ, had a modest little single story two bedroom in a less well to do cul-de-sac, part of a large tract of homes with lots of housing options across the economic board. But she was at the end of her financial tether, she was ninety something and the savings put aside by she and Elwood who rented a plot and built and ran a putt-putt golf course in the NJ beach community of Chadwick Beach. Elwood had passed away long ago, and attached to an oxygen tank, his condition sapped a lot of their money. It was his tube that prompted Dorothy to ask Jean and Leigh, who always passed through going to and from Ft. Lauder dale on their seasonal peregrinations, to please keep the two then puppies
they were sporting at the time, one named Bumpus and I forget the other, keep the dogs at the hotel they stopped at, the house was too small for Jean and Leigh to stay at, so they wouldn't tangle and nip at his oxygen tube. Reasonable enough, no? No, apparently that was enough cause for Leigh to never speak to her mother again. Ever. Maybe '85, '86? Anyway, she didn't have two nickels to rub together anymore. Pissed too, that Jean hadn't had the decency to even call her when Leigh died, PISSED! Her other daughter Dee had gotten through to Jean soon after Leigh died, when he was now answering the
phone, something only Leigh used to do if at all, now he was home alone in his state of profound grief, and she got him on the phone when he said simply, "Leigh's dead", and hung up. I had four phone calls with him then too.
So Dorothy and I, pursuing a common enemy, became fast friends. My fondest memory was a pleasant couple hours explaining and planning legal strategy at an open air bar on the boardwalk in Ft. Lauderdale after a meeting with our lawyers, she with her highballs and me tossing back beer, all the young bodies on display on the promenade, roller bladers, musclemen, hot-rodders, the whole carny Fla. display, us getting pleasantly drunk as the sun set, all she wanted was her due for all that Leigh had pulled together out of Jean, just recognition would have been enough, but no...not forthcoming.
Anyway, we took away enough of a bite out of the enemy to insure she had enough dough to live comfortably enough not to have worries about the retirement community to move her into a more dire circumstance, her medical stuff was covered, and she lived on to 98, 99, she was knocking on the door of one hundred, in great shape too, she had that beguiling female presence her daughter had too, a little come hither something, nice in a woman of any age, especially welcome at hers. I aways have regretted not making it to her deathbed, she might have made 100 if I had, but she didn't really want to as she told it. I almost got there, we had a date, our annual Mother's day get together.
She passed away two or three days before, I never pass by my portrait of her without a salute, a nod, her on her little sunporch, poised sitting regally in front of a wall full of family pictures, one of which was a sepia toned portrait in an oval frame of Leigh and Jean, Jean standing with Leigh sitting at his front, him looking appropriately serious as he gazed off screen, dressed as a general in the Confederate Army, she in antebellum taffeta, one of those setups where you stick your head through a hole in the painted backdrop on some boardwalk photo shoot? Absolutely charming. We'll get that one up on the website one day.
I believe she died happy. She used to say she was lucky in love, she had three or four husbands, each one better than the last, she loved them all, there was even a clergy in her community she had an unspoken intimacy with near the end.
God bless her, they don't make many women like that any more.
|[ Courtesy: Gene Bergmann - 12-24-2006 ]
I've been learning a lot about Leigh Brown's early days in New York from a close friend of hers. Leigh wrote extensive letters to her friend in New Jersey once she moved from the Garden State to live in the swinging, artistic Greenwich Village in the late 1950s. Her letters (which I now have), combined with the notes Lois Nettleton wrote to me regarding Excelsior, You Fathead! Give a much more detailed picture of the two of them in relation to Jean Shepherd than had previously been known, in the crucial decade for Shepherd of 1956 to 1966.
Leigh worked in the offices of a midtown textile manufacturer, where she typed her letters to her friend. At night she recited poetry in coffee houses such as Cafe Wha, and drank in well-known artist hangouts such as the White Horse and the Cedar Tavern (Cedar Bar). She associated with many people in the creative arts and she herself worked on video, film, theater, and television scripts in addition to spending time on the novel Black Harvest, co-written in their teenage days in New Jersey by her and her friend. (Eventually this was published in 1975 as The Show Gypsies by Leigh Brown.)
Among the many artists, writers, and media people Leigh palled around with was Shel Silverstein, for whom she said she did the simple color for the line drawings in Uncle Shelby's A B Z Book, as published in Playboy in August, 1961. (The book version, without color, has much the same wording but the drawings, though mostly very similar, were redrawn. A couple of pages are also different.) She annoyed Shel when, after he shaved his head she said he looked like "Mr. Clean." Despite his outward manner of hard language and being a Playboy type with a constant supply of women, he was thought of by her as a quite innocent and gullible sort.
Shel had introduced her to his friend Jean Shepherd. Their gang hung around at the Paperback Gallery, one of Jean's favorite places, which he advertised on his broadcasts. Leigh listened to Jean's radio programs and became fascinated by him, greatly admiring his radio art, his insights, and his view of the world both through his program and during their developing friendship. But at least at first she wanted him just as a close friend and confidant, not wanting to become involved with him because he was married to Lois Nettleton. Her letters show considerable alternating back and forth regarding her feelings for Jean and how she viewed their relationship. In one of the last letters I have, late January 1962, she writes, in a foreshadowing of future events at WOR, "Then Jean called. He asked me if I wanted a job."