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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Carolyn & Neal, 1947

    Carolyn & Neal, 1947

    Dean merely looked at Camille, pointed at his wrist, made the sign “four”. . .and went out. At three the door was locked to Roy Johnston. At four it was opened to Dean.—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

    Neal turned back abruptly and, taking a step or two toward me, raised two fingers in an urgent gesture. What could he mean by that? Alone at last. . .As I lowered my hideaway bed, I was startled by a soft knock on the door. My clock read 2:00 a.m. Who on earth? Cautiously I opened the door a few inches and was face to face with Neal, suitcase in hand. I ardently wished I had not lowered that bed.—Carolyn Cassady, Off the Road

    It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you, Carolyn. When I told my husband—that first morning I heard from you—whom I was replying to, he said, “Great! She was always my favorite character in On the Road. I thought she was the only one with any sense.”

    Well, bless yo husband—though I didn’t think Camille got a look in, really. And what a howl! Sal sees this “white thigh in black lace”! Sorry, I don’t think so!

    [laughing] Let’s talk about being the “only one in On The Road with any sense.” You are known as the woman who was “married” to both Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady simultaneously.

    And Kerouac didn’t write anything about the time we spent together when he came to Denver. In those days of the late forties and early fifties, it “wasn’t done.” You couldn’t write about fancying your best friend’s girl, and later he couldn’t write about having an affair with his best friend’s wife! Goodness, no! But—when it gets to the sixties and he writes Big Sur, he is quite comfortable telling how Evelyn had two husbands at the same time. How times change!

    The San Francisco men I’ve known who idolized Jack and Neal imitated the misogyny they saw in On the Road. And in As Ever, Allen Ginsberg tells Neal: “I call Jack up to tell him come over and meet this here girl, and he says I only fuck girls and learn from men. . .So I starts writing him poison pen postcards (anonymous) saying that’s why your so dumb.”

    It is so strange you think Kerouac was misogynist! His remarks—like the one you quoted about girls—were always taken so seriously, yet he never had any set opinions. You ask a question, get an answer. Ask the same question ten minutes later and get a totally different one.

    I can’t see misogyny in OTR, either. At any rate, the men I knew of that generation, especially those raised as Catholic, were all very respectful of women—something the feminists abhor. I loved having car doors opened for me and chairs pulled out, et cetera. When you read my book, you will find a letter to me from Ginsberg in which he tells what Jack thought of me. Hardly misogyny.

    So, so, so many misunderstandings.

    Like the ”Beat Generation.” No such thing. A phenomenon invented by the media and promoted by Ginsberg. But Kerouac kept saying, “I didn’t have anything to do with all that.” He was forced into it and had to play along, but he hated it. Neal, of course, was totally out of it. The big boys, like Burroughs, disliked this “jail kid” “conman” who hadn’t been to University and didn’t write poetry. Of course, he had read far more than any of them and had a photographic memory as well as an over-the-top IQ. And no ego (Catholic miserable worm of a sinner).

    Another opinion is that Jack was tied to [his mother] Memere’s apron strings. I see it quite differently. Actually, he was hardly ever with her, was he? I think that because he was so sensitive, so painfully self-conscious, she was the only person he could be with and just let himself go and be totally himself. She drank and swore, so they could carouse together and not worry who cared. Yes, he loved her—like the madonna, but he didn’t want to live with her for long.

    I was going to say I was amused on that website where I found you that some guy said it had never been established if Neal and Jack had a sexual relationship. It is so weird to me that everyone these days seems to think if two of the same sex are loving friends, sex has to be involved.

    Ginsberg’s sexual interest in Neal is documented in As Ever, as well as Neal’s love for Ginsberg and his ambivalence about having sex with him (“I’m a lazy punk. . .to allow my elusive cherry to escape from you. . .I love all—sex—yes all. . .In despair I cry ‘Allen, Allen, will you let me splatter my come at you?’”). I think people’s curiosity about sex between Neal and Kerouac is based on Neal’s relationship with Ginsberg.

    When I grew up every guy—and gal—had a “best buddy.” Both my brothers did. Then, of course, no one I knew had ever heard of homosexuality. Neal and Jack couldn’t have been more hetero. If Jack got too drunk he could be found in a man’s bed (like Gore Vidal—who elaborated his story after Jack’s death, but I know Jack could never have been the aggressor). Neal, however, gave or sold favors, but he didn’t like it. [Carolyn's book shows no homosexual overtones in Neal's relationship with Jack, although they do appear in Neal's relationship with Allen.]

    Jack’s and Neal’s and Allen’s writing, in large part, revolves around the search for identity. In the process of exploring their identities, though, they obscured your own behind the myths of Camille, Evelyn, and St. Carolyn by the Sea. If you could say it in a nutshell: who are you really?

    Wasn’t it common and the usual complaint that women were not as important as men—to men, anyway? I refer you to the letter Allen sent me telling what Jack said about me. Of course, that didn’t get into his books. Jack couldn’t write about me much for fear of offending Neal. He wrote several books about his other women—not exactly obscuring them.

    I was the stable “mother”/lover. All these men I knew wanted a conventional home eventually, and I furnished that meantime. Have you ever read Allen’s description of his wedding, marriage, and family?

    Yes, in your book. It’s beautiful. But of course Allen never married.

    To gratify her is simple enuf as it consists of fantasy words” —Neal wrote this to Allen about Diana Hansen, the woman he was bigamously married to while still married to you. In a separate letter to Allen after Jack married Joan, Neal analyzed his own impulses to marry with amazing lucidity. To what extent do you think lying was a guilty compulsion of Neal’s, and to what extent do you think he knew exactly what he was doing and simply felt no remorse?

    Neal could always tell people what they wanted to hear, even if he wasn’t sincere.

    You must realize Neal had never known a traditional marriage or family life. I had been raised in an extreme Victorian milieu. So many of his actions were simply a lack of conditioning or any understanding of what was expected. Of course, he’d read a lot of books about marriage, but most of those weren’t exactly perfect in a traditional sense. He was the most compassionate man I’ve ever met, so it was ignorance of my expectations and needs, I think.

    Do you think now that it’s better to stay in such a marriage or to get out sooner rather than later? Would your opinion be different if you were convinced the lying partner was an exceptional human being, in spite of their severe problems?

    My book answers why I stayed in that marriage—[metaphysics advisor] Elsie Sechrist. But now I see it was all for the good. I learned lessons I would never have learned from another. And I believed in vows. I had married for life. One needn’t take vows, but I believe if you do you must stick to them. Of course, Neal had no concept of such a thing. And yes, I had no doubt he was an exceptional human being, but a split personality.

    What did his “diagnosis” as sociopathic mean to you as his wife and mother of his children?

    That condemnation that he was sociopathic by the ignorant journalist—I knew better, and it hurt him deeply, being so committed to becoming worthy and respectable. He was certainly responsible: never out of a job, would work at anything, supported a family for ten years. Then when that got a bit boring, with his need for adventure and his need to prove he was lovable, he led his double life.

    He did not abandon his family. I forced him to, and he never gave us up. I think it is possible he had manic-depressive tendencies or was. His deep depressions seemed to occur when he was away from me, and he would write to Jack about them, but I wasn’t aware of them.

    Was Neal the great love of your life?

    Yes, Neal was the great and only love of my life—then. When I met him, I knew he was the one. Our karma, as we were to learn. And why we got into metaphysics. I told you Helen Hinkle felt the same, although she wasn’t into metaphysics either and thought it all hogwash.

    Do you still miss him?

    Yes, I miss him. I am friends with his first wife and his last mistress of eight years, and we all miss him. As do his children.

    You’ve also said you were the great love of Jack’s life. How much was friendship—your husband’s best friend—and proximity—he often lived in your house—and simply sexual attraction between healthy young adults? And how much was romance, romantic love?

    It began as a survival tactic. Alas, Neal didn’t “make love”—he just used your body to masturbate, actually. He was never into kissing or caressing or foreplay. [Neal's last mistress] Anne Maxwell agreed, but she was turned on inside, so she didn’t mind. I wasn’t.

    Tut, tut, tut. I needed affection. I never had any cuddling as a child nor much approval. (Is that an excuse?)

    I didn’t consider Jack a good bet as a husband. He had never had to be responsible and had no responsibilities when we knew him. I knew he had to be free in order to write, much as he longed for marriage and a family. So we were his surrogate family. He kept assuming I would marry him, and in that one letter he says, “Carolyn, your life with me would have been awful,” or words to that effect, assuming I wanted a life with him.

    It’s a good thing I didn’t go to Mexico and that’s why he suddenly split, knowing he wouldn’t want me to go back to Neal. [Carolyn once agreed to take a vacation from her family to meet Jack in Mexico, but didn't go, and soon heard from Jack that he'd stopped waiting for her and gone home.]

    All in Divine Order, see? Crazy karma.

    How did your love for Neal and your love for Jack fit together, in your life and in your mind and in your heart?

    I learned our hearts are big enough to love more than one, if in different ways.

    Jack and Neal, in spite of so much in common, were quite different men. Jack was more sentimental, gentle and romantic. As I said, I was sexually inhibited, but that’s the price I paid for affection and, in Jack’s case, romance. Neal, who loved everyone and never criticized or judged, always wanted to share everything he loved with those he loved.

    He could be jealous—and possessive too—at times. Once his, always his. He never gave up [his first wife] LuAnne in his heart. I could understand that when I allowed myself to love Jack, too.

    Ah, sex. Testosterone rules the world. All these married women who turn off after they have kids don’t understand a man’s needs, apparently. Most of my lovers were married.

    The writer Jane Bowles fielded a phone call in Tangier from Allen (she called him “a boy”) when he arrived there to visit Bill Burroughs. He was looking for her husband, Paul Bowles, and during the call asked Jane whether she knew “about twenty-five men” whom she didn’t know. She responded to each query with increasing levels of, “Oy weh!” until he finally asked her whether or not she believed in God. She called them the “Zen Buddhist-Bebop-Jesus Christ-Peyote group.”

    I knew of the Bowleses, but I was—and am—so opposed to drug use, I never got with them. I think I have a documentary somewhere showing him reading.

    But, you see, I keep getting classed with these people, because I knew Jack intimately for twenty-two years, Neal for twenty-one, and Ginsberg for fifty. But I had been raised so sheltered by strict Victorian parents, I was totally ignorant of any street wisdom. Of course, in time I learned that’s why Neal married me—a status symbol for his lifelong quest to become worthy and “respectable.” I didn’t figure that out for many, many years, however.

    Jack didn’t drink much when he lived with us. He’d have a half-bottle “poor boy” he drank before he slept or when alone, but Neal couldn’t drink anything but a beer or two. He was not alcoholic, as reported. Hard liquor made him deathly ill, and wine reminded him of his Dad.

    So I keep learning how other women my age—like Joyce Johnson and Helen Weaver—were living and am gobsmacked! ( I love that English expression!) All three of these guys I knew really longed for the conventional home I provided, knowing no other, and were always happy in it. (Until I banished Ginsberg—we all make mistakes.)

    I am old-fashioned in all my ways and tastes.

    You say in your book that Jack was very close to your children. What about his own daughter, Jan? She wrote three books and then died in her forties of hard living, just like her father. What do you make of him denying she was his the way he did?

    Yes, Jan Kerouac died many years ago. I have to keep battling the opinions people assume about Jack, never having known him. I know exactly why he dismissed Jan. Jack had these devout opinions on how to raise kids (I often got hints). He intended to have a family when he could support them properly through his writing. When Jan came along, he couldn’t, and there was no way he could give up his freedom and take care of her. He had to be free! It was such a very painful decision for him, but he just couldn’t face being tied down, so he pretended she wasn’t his.

    She was very friendly to me, wrote to me, visited me, wrote a poem to me, all before she became so ill. Poor dislocated girl. I knew Edie, his first wife, very well—a real weirdo.

    You don’t mention much in your book about Jack’s wives, simply that Joan was his second and Stella his third. (“Jacky! Jacky! Stop. . .”)

    Edie was a nut case. I have letters from her that are incredible—they begin with no greeting, so you wonder if it’s the first page, and they are pretty hysterical. When she was at the Boulder festival she rented a room she filled with paintings—obviously by a well-trained painter and signed even. Edie insisted they were by Jack. (She didn’t sell any.) She also had one of his letters copied in the hundreds, because it began with “my only wife.” The last night of the seminar she passed them out to everyone in the amphitheater. She went to his funeral as his “wife.” Funny lady.

    I never met Joan. Jan tried to get us together, but Joan said, “I don’t want to know that blonde who stole my husband.”

    I also never met Stella, but we corresponded while I was writing the book, and she was very friendly until she read in Ann Charters’ biography that I had said [Jack's sister] Nin killed herself. So she got furious and even sent me a copy of the death certificate. I tried to tell her I never said that, Jack did, and I’d told him I didn’t believe him. Stella said, “Ask Allen.” I did, and Allen said Jack had told him that, too. But Stella believed Ann and not me, so she refused to allow me to publish Jack’s letters. Thanks, Ann.

    That’s what put my book on the shelf for twenty years. No one suggested paraphrasing then. The Doubleday office in San Francisco closed, and I lost my great editor there. (He had originally asked me to write the book after Jack died because the journalists were so ignorant of him. Luther Nichols had had a talk show and interviewed Jack, Allen, and Neal, and so knew them.)

    Jack did so want a family and a wife, but he was so impractical and when drunk so romantic. Or that’s where Joan came in. Edie he married to get out of jail, and Stella to take care of Memere. He kept proposing to me, but I knew Jack wasn’t husband material yet. He had to be free, and he was no provider, which he knew. Neal was a good provider and loved his kids. We made him “respectable.”

    Jack really loved all the women he loved—he, like Neal, loved everyone and always so lonely and horny—well, what the hey.

    You say, “knowing Jack’s convictions toward women” when you discuss his sudden marriage to Joan. What specific convictions were you talking about?

    I thought I was writing about Jack’s convictions about bringing up children, not women—that’s confused.

    We were dumbfounded that he married Joan so impulsively, but he was always lonely and kept hoping to find a mate. And by then the drink was increasing. He was never practical, anyway, but a creature of dreams. Pisces. Neal and I had logical minds and were “from Missouri.” If it didn’t work to improve things—never mind. We needed help! Jack was more mystical and completely illogical or unrealistic, believing in visions and impulses.

    You’ve talked about how Catholicism gave Neal the sense of being a “miserable worm of a sinner” and Jack a “madonna/whore” complex (so that you thought he really enjoyed sex best with prostitutes). Do you think they’d have lived different lives if they hadn’t been raised in the Catholic Church?

    Yes, I’m afraid the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for through the ages. It isn’t Christ-ianity, it’s Church-ianity. Has no relation whatsoever to Jesus’ life or teachings, yet they still call Him their Lord. Well, don’t get me started. Everyone I know, including [her son] John’s first wife, who were raised Catholic have been so conditioned by their evil teaching, they never get over being guilty and unworthy.

    Jesus said,”Ye are Gods! Anything I can do you can,” or words to that effect, since we all have the same Spirit within. “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Well. Enough.

    But yes, I’m sure their lives would have been different without all that guilt—which they never got over. The Church gets them so young, and with all that glitter, candles, colorful costumes, they get brain-washed and indoctrinated before they can even think. So the more they enjoyed sex, et cetera, the guiltier they felt. There’s the constant dichotomy and struggle against human desires and so-called spiritual guilt. Although both Neal and Jack learned to disbelieve and turned to other religions, that guilt stuck.

    Neal was ecstatic about finding Jesus again through our metaphysical studies. And we studied Jesus’ earlier lives and his long training to become the perfect man and show us how (the Wayshower). Which the Catholics destroyed. Enough!

    You refused to mortgage your house in order to post Neal’s bail when he went to San Quentin, in spite of his intense pressure. Was it paranoia on your part? Or do you think you were correct in suspecting if you bailed him out, he’d disappear, and you and the children would become homeless?

    Yes, I think that’s clear in my book. After all, he had twice thrown away our savings. The first time it was the money being saved for the ranch—nine hundred dollars. And the second time it was the investments.

    Neal had no experience or interest in money—that is, no idea of planning for future security. I did all the taxes, insurance, mortgage (we always had a mortgage), since he hadn’t a clue. I had to learn, too, because I’d had no knowledge or experience with any finances as I grew up. So, all that money sitting in a bank haunted him. Money to him was to spend! A real novelty for him. And, of course, he always had the best of intentions and had figured it all out carefully so that he satisfied himself he would pay it all back. The road to hell. And, yes, I think he never did forgive me, really.

    You have said you found Jack’s work difficult to read because you could tell when he was being false. I certainly have that experience when reading the work of writers I know well and love. Can you pinpoint specific examples?

    Honey lamb—now that the archivists have taken away his books I had, I can’t possibly re-read them to give examples of what I accuse him of. Sorry. Seems to me it would be obvious to most people. Maybe not if one is so enamored of him and his writing.

    Philip Hensher in the Telegraph, UK mentioned recently how pleased he was when he “rudely” denigrated Allen Ginsberg’s work in a review and received a long, furious letter from Allen in return. People sometimes feel free to treat celebrities like zoo animals, poking them just to get a reaction. You were quite a young woman during your years with Neal and Jack and have lived with their legacy nearly all your life. How has their fame affected you?

    Some of the notice I’ve received from being involved with these guys has been very rewarding, and I’ve met a lot of interesting people because of it. As the years go on, however, I do get very tired of having to go over the same ground again and again.

    Was Jack’s fame what killed him—did he he really drink himself to death because he couldn’t take the pressure?

    Jack had extreme sensitivity, self-consciousness, paranoia—and complete disillusion to have not been considered a literary star, like Hemingway, just a hedonist. The cruelty of the journalists, the total misunderstanding by the young. . .He did vow to drink himself to death—he wasn’t your ordinary alcoholic.

    Neal and I learned the purpose of life together; Jack never did. “We’re all gonna die.”

    You never married again after Neal died. Why?

    Hard as it is for me to comprehend, I never, ever after Neal met any man remotely suitable, unless he was married or gay. But then, I doubt another husband would like to live with a wife who was constantly forced to talk about her first one. Still, I never thought I’d end up alone.

    If you could go back and live your life differently, would you? Or is this the life you’d have chosen for yourself?

    I believe we choose the life we need, so I must have chosen this one. I regret quite a lot, but if I didn’t learn a lesson offered, I’ll get another chance—some other way.

    Well, you asked.

    Gobsmacked! Carolyn Cassady interview, Part 2

    Carolyn Cassady is the widow of Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty, and Cody Pomeroy, and author of Off the Road: Twenty Years with Kerouac, Cassady, and Ginsberg, The Overlook Press, USA, 2008; Black Springs Press Ltd., UK, 2007. She can be reached through her website.





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  • By Victoria Mixon

    Carolyn & Neal, 1947

    Carolyn & Neal, 1947

    In July of 2009, I posted Part 1 of my interview with writer and literary figure, Carolyn Cassady. I’m very pleased now to be posting Gobsmacked! Part 2.

    Carolyn, according to popular legend Jack Kerouac taped a bunch of sheets of paper together (in some versions it’s a roll of paper) and stuck them in his typewriter and sat down and typed out On the Road. However, in your book you mention him having found the paper already taped together (in Bill Cannastra’s apartment?). You also remember him discussing how to end On the Road after that particular manuscript was done, working on scenes for On the Road in your and Neal’s attic in San Francisco, and then spending weeks editing the manuscript with his Viking Press editor Malcolm Cowley. And you’ve read the transcribed version of the ’scroll’ manuscript. How much of On the Road really was written on that single scroll, and how much did Jack work over that original material before he got the final manuscript?

    I didn’t know anything about the paper taped together, since Jack did that when he returned to New York. (There is definite identification of the kind of paper—I can’t tell you, ’cause I don’t care. I have seen that scroll three times.) The published version probably tells the true type. Do you want me to look it up? The editor sent me two copies; he was my editor, too.

    When Jack was writing it at our house, he just used ordinary typing paper—hence his decision later to paste pages together. I really knew only what Jack wrote in his letters to us, and I wasn’t that into it. There are myriad changes in the published book from what he wrote in the scroll.

    You were educated in drama and the art of costume and once went to Hollywood for a job that you eventually turned down because you had Cathy. And then there you were in Hollywood years later, when you were involved in Heart Beat, the movie version of a published excerpt from your book. Your son John has said that he fell in love with Sissy Spacek, who tried her best to salvage that movie. Can you tell us stories about that time?

    Ah, the film Heart Beat.

    When I lived in Los Gatos, there was a monthly PBS television show called TVTV. It was just an hour, but they were the most wonderful shows I’ve ever seen. So this guy came to see me, saying he was a member of that bunch. I don’t know how he learned I was such a fan. I learned later he’d only been a technician for them. Being ignorant, I was sure they’d do a good job. I learned afterward that this guy’s whole purpose was to “get into the majors,” and he used me to do it. I was ripped off over and over—the lawyer they paid—so many big contracts and all broken, since they knew I wasn’t able to sue Warner Brothers. Actually, it was Orion’s very first film.

    And I read in Newsweek a year later that TVTV had disbanded a year before, so in spite of the contract, stationery, sign over the office door, there was no such company.

    I had seen Sissy Spacek only once in a PBS series of one-hour dramas. I was so impressed with her, I looked at the credits to find her name. Sissy had read my entire 1143-page manuscript, as it was then. Her husband said she’d cry and want to call me, she loved it so much. So when she asked them to let her play the part, they asked me what I thought of her. I told them I’d love it if she would.

    Well, to skip a bit. They hired this guy, John Byrum, to write the script and later to direct, even though he never had before and Lazlo Kovacs did most of it. The script was absolutely horrible and the opposite of how we were or did. Byrum had just seen Jules and Jim and was going to do his own. (They even considered making T-shirts with “Jules and Jim go to Northbeach,” but didn’t. Big joke.) But to the producer here was Byrum, a guy with a “foot in the door” of the majors, and he could ride on him. So he did. He produced later, thanks to me, A Fish Called Wanda, and I don’t know what else. His name was Michael Shamberg.

    I met John Byrum, and he was so charming and funny—he snowed everyone he met, including Orion. He had produced a number of films with top actors, all of which were always voted the worst of the year. This he’d tell us as a funny joke. Don’t ask me to explain Hollywood.

    As I say, the script was infantile. I wrote poison pen letters all summer trying to get changes, without success. I told them Allen would hate it; they said he’d love it. He told them to erase his name and every mention of him, the script was so terrible. They wanted LuAnne’s address, but she was written as just meat, so I refused. The actress who played her even said she wouldn’t have said some of the lines written for the part.

    This was Orion’s first film, and Byrum snowed them, too. They were going to open it at Christmas with the publicity they gave Superman, and Sissy would win the Academy Award, for sure.

    Okay, so I failed to get any changes made. So I said, “Well, now that you’ve ruined my life, the least you can do is let me follow you around—I’ll tape my mouth shut—and watch a movie being made.” They agreed, and that’s how I got to know Sissy so well. We were together for six weeks, as well as Annie Liebovitz, who was also onboard. Annie even spent the afternoon and night with my family in Los Gatos while shooting me. She had already done that for an article in the Rolling Stone years before. She has tons of photos of me, but she’s never shown any. Boof. I’m not that famous. We all loved her dearly, however.

    When Sissy read the script, she, too, was horrified and did her best, as did Jack Fisk, her husband and production designer. He filmed every inch of my home, thinking it would be shot there. No. But he did his damndest to reproduce it for the film.

    In the script we only had one child. I told Byrum everyone knew we had three. He said, “Oh, but the cost!” I said, “You don’t have to show them all!” Well, Sissy was having none of it. She interviewed over 200 kids and chose two little girls who looked almost exactly like my two at those ages. And they got a baby for John.

    Annie had told me that everyone on the set (they shot some in Hollywood before I joined them) and all the crew were so excited to do this film. Ha. Not the one they had to do in the end—but it was a super crew. Lazlo the cinematographer, Jack Nietzche did the score, and we had the best of others. Alas.

    Anyway, I had a great time traveling from San Jose to Hollywood to San Francisco all those weeks, staying in the best hotels. (I sneaked [my daughter] Jami into the Japanese one in San Francisco [with a Japanese bath]—the only way to bathe.) The last two weeks in Hollywood they let the kids come for a couple of weeks and entertained them, too. I lived in an apartment in a building that young actors used just above Hollywood Boulevard and even drove to Culver City every day—avoiding the freeways. We all did Halloween on Hollywood Boulevard. Fantastic.

    Nick Nolte played Neal, and he came right to me when we met, saying he knew he wasn’t as light on his feet or as speedy as Neal, but he’d try to convey that energy otherwise. He was born on Neal’s birthday, and they had much in common—very kind and compassionate. He had already researched Neal some for his role in Who’ll Stop the Rain/Dog Soldiers which has a character based partly on Neal. He helped John Heard [who played Jack Kerouac], a New York actor who felt awkward in Los Angeles and avoided me for two weeks until Nick convinced him I wouldn’t bite. Then we got along fine. He was a lot more like Jack in real life than on the screen. Another story.

    I did have a good time. One time, though, only Sissy and I were at a location in Golden Gate Park (where the three of us had never gone together). She had just done a scene in which she and Jack are kanoodling on a bench and Neal is playing with the children. When she got in the station wagon, I said, “Sissy, I know I promised not to say anything, but that scene was really hard for me to watch. You see, Jack and I both loved Neal and never would we have behaved like that in front of him.” She said, “Oh, my God!” and burst into tears. Then we went to another location, and she had to do it all over again.

    I think Sissy had the only temper tantrums in her career on that movie, and they were doozies. On the evening they were to film the publication party of On the Road, they had two long library tables in the hallway outside the party with two rows on each of champagne glasses—filled. Sissy threw over both of them. They set them up again, and she did it again. Next morning she said she had to give up; it was hopeless.

    Okay, I think that’s the high spots. After the wrap party (Sissy and Jack only stayed a few minutes), she invited me and the kids to their mountain-top home for brunch the next day, which we did. (I have a plastic mold of her face I want to get cast but don’t know how.)

    While Sissy was making this film, she was approached to do Coal Miner’s Daughter. She hesitated, because it would mean her playing the fifth live woman in a row. Still, we know she accepted.

    The premier of Heart Beat was shown in Denver, and I stayed at the same hotel where I met Neal. After the show, the Orion guys drove me there in their limo. It was like a hearse. One of them asked me if I liked it. I said, “Do I have to answer that?” So they, too, had been snowed by Byrum. They pulled all the publicity, postponed the opening until 1980, the next year, and it opened in a few obscure towns.

    Coal Miner’s Daughter was done as mine should have been. Sissy did win the Academy Award for that. I guess Loretta had more clout than I. We had the same lawyer, although I never met her. But Sissy would call me up from Nashville, knowing I’d lived there, and ask me about my time there. Then she’d call and say, “Loretta an’ I were jus’ talkin’ bout you.” because we all believed in astrology and such like. She was such a sweetie. Invited me to their ranch in West Virginia, but I never made it.

    I met Byrum years later in New York and asked how he was doing. He said, “Well, I did three TV pilots, all of which flopped, but Paramount has just given me two million and a studio.”

    Can anyone understand H’wood? Don’t know what he’s done since. Hopeless.

    What a story, Carolyn! Good grief. No wonder you eventually left California. You gave up the house in Monte Sereno, where you had lived first with Neal and Jack and later without either of them for many years, and moved to England in the early 1980s. Why England?

    London is the greatest city in the world for K.U.L.T.C.H.U.R.—of which California is devoid now. Europe so close. In my sixties and seventies I traveled all over—Spain a lot, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden many times, Russia four times. Now, alas, the body has let me down.

    How I envy you for building your house—one of my lifelong frustrated dreams. Ah, yes. Although I know northern California a bit—I lived in and then near San Francisco from 1947 to 1983—I ran away from home when I was sixty.

    What is it about travel that draws you?

    I had read so much and had geography and European history in school, so I was always interested in Europe and England.

    Jack and Neal traveled only on this continent, becoming icons of American rather than international travel. Were they drawn to travel for the same reasons that you are?

    Neal wasn’t interested in travel—just driving.

    Did you ever accompany them on their road trips?

    The only trip I accompanied them on was the one when we went to Tennessee and dropped Jack off in Nogales. I had kids, y’know. So I didn’t get to do any until they were grown. I had lived all over the USA, though. When I was 11-12 my Dad took me, Mom, and my sisters on a tour of the US, going the southern route and returning on the northern. Boy, how different things were then, and I’ll always be grateful.

    Let’s talk about what you know about dealing with tragedy. Your life in the limelight has, in large parts, been tragic. As a young woman, you lived through WWII. The two men you loved most when you were young died in their forties.

    The worst time of my life was during the war when I was an Occupational Therapist at an Army hospital in Palm Springs. I became a victim/slave to a psychotic officer who ran the place. No one would believe me when I tried to tell them about him. I even wrote it all up as fiction, but anyone who read it didn’t believe it, either. My parents visited me, and he charmed them so much my Mom didn’t believe what I tried to tell her, and they wouldn’t save me. Later when he came home with me after the war they learned he was nuts. I could have been killed then, and they knew it, but I escaped. So Dad felt bad and let me stay home the next year to recover. Also my partner gal in OT was in love with me and tried to kill me one night.

    So to me that was real tragedy. Nothing that bad at all with Neal.

    What do you know, as a human who’s lived through the things you have, about life and tragedy that might help others?

    When Ginsberg decided to resent me the last 10 years of his life, it made me sad, because he had been so kind for so long, but I figured it was his problem, and I refused to take it on. (One of his last poems is, “Why do I still resent Carolyn?” I wish he’d thought of that earlier. But that was that.)

    Tragedy is how you look at things. I believed the metaphysics we studied, so nothing was ‘tragic’ after that. Karma. I must say I wish some psychic could tell me why I went through that and what for! We are here to learn from our mistakes, and we never get any more than we can handle. But one needs to believe that and know how to combat it.

    It took me a long time, but I’m grateful I learned from Neal that no one and nothing can hurt you if you don’t accept it. It is our response that hurts us, and we always have a choice as to that.

    That was the most valuable thing I learned then.

    Carolyn Cassady is the widow of Neal Cassady, Dean Moriarty, and Cody Pomeroy, and author of Off the Road: Twenty Years with Kerouac, Cassady, and Ginsberg, The Overlook Press, USA, 2008; Black Springs Press Ltd., UK, 2007. She can be reached through her website.





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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world's expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by PanMacmillan. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield's second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny's debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


TERISA GREEN, represented by Dystel and Goderich Literary Management, is widely considered the foremost American authority on tattooing through her tattoo books published by Simon & Schuster, which have sold over 45,000 copies. Under the name M. TERRY GREEN, she writes her techno-shaman sci-fi/fantasy series. I am working with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans' fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez' debut novel, The Shoebox, and her up-coming The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star, which agents had told him to throw away. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff's abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


In addition, I work with dozens of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this literary art and craft.

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