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Who are the ‘Colorful Characters of St. Louis?’ Author Jim Merkel fills us in

Jim Merkel is the author of "Colorful Characters of St. Louis."
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Jim Merkel is the author of "Colorful Characters of St. Louis."

St. Louis has a colorful past filled with interesting characters, so it makes sense that local author Jim Merkel would turn his next literary sights on the people that made St. Louis what it is today.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Merkel discussed his book, “Colorful Characters of St. Louis” with host Don Marsh.

Merkel is the author of three other books about St. Louis and said he came up with the 80 people included in this tome along with his publisher. He found inspiration, and plenty of references, in the St. Louis Room in the Central Library downtown.

The 280-page book is divided into several sections featuring different kinds of characters in St. Louis, such as “Media Mavens,” “Entertainers,” “Sports Guys,” “Rebels With a Cause,” “Politicos,” and “Mavericks and Renegades.”

“These people were dedicated to the idea that life shouldn’t be boring,” Merkel said. “I’ve gotten to know most of the living ones and I feel like I know the others personally. They do things odd, but they get things done.”

Merkel was looking for people in St. Louis who had obsessions, saying that obsessions don’t have to be negative. He also looked to balance names people would know — like Josephine Baker and Yogi Berra — with those people who fly under the radar, such as Raynard Nebbitt, who waves at cars, trucks and passerby on an I-44 overpass in Webster Groves. Nebbitt’s story is Merkel’s favorite featured in “Colorful Characters.”

Others featured in the book include Percy Green, the famous fair hiring activist who scaled the Gateway Arch during its construction in the name of social justice; Bill Maulden, the two time Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who worked for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Phyllis Diller, the famous stand-up comedienne who made her home in St. Louis; and even Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, the proprietor of The Royale, on S. Kingshighway.

Related: Monumental protest: Activist Percy Green's battle for fair hiring at the Arch

While Merkel did not rule out the possibility of a second book about the colorful characters of St. Louis, he said that he’s currently concentrating on another book about the unique homes of St. Louis.

Related Event

What: “Colorful Characters of St. Louis” book signing

When: Saturday, January 14, 2017 in the morning

Where: Tower Grove Farmer’s Market Winter Market at City Garden Montessori School, 1618 Tower Grove Ave.

More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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