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February 2002
The Myths of ‘Hollyweird’

Carolyn Cassady

Carolyn Cassady speaking at Nottingham Trent University.

When Carolyn Cassady spoke at Nottingham Trent University, she wanted to dispel many of the myths surrounding the ‘Beat Generation’.

"We knew of no such movement or generation until after ‘On the Road’ was published."

Feature by Suzanne Nash

Instead, she prefers to talk about a closely-knit group of friends.

She would be the first to admit, though, that both Kerouac and her husband were "bad role models".

Rather like the figure of James Dean, the ‘Beats’ have become legendary in the public eye as charismatic underdogs. They were daring and destructive, often resorting to petty crime, drink and drugs.

The golden age of Hollywood?

Yet Carolyn Cassady argues that "Hollyweird" and the media have constantly misrepresented her husband.

Is this simply naïve nostalgia on her part? Neal Cassady died in 1968 when he fell asleep in the rain after a drinking binge – yet his ex-wife says he couldn’t stomach vast quantities of alcohol. Perhaps her perspective sheds new light on his death?

Her biggest objection is against the "proposed [Francis Ford Copolla] film of ‘On the Road’".

Copolla owns the film rights to Kerouac’s novel. Cassady understands that he has now chosen novelist Russell Banks as the definitive scriptwriter.

Her daughter stumbled upon the second draft of the script when she visited the internet auction site, E-Bay. Carolyn says she has written "an angry letter" to Copolla about the "defamation of Neal’s character".

She has not yet received a reply.

The Cassady family think the script portrays Neal as a "flashy" narrator. They were horrified to see him "eyeing up an eight year old girl" in one scene:

"Child abuse was something Neal thought was the evil of all time".

Despite obtaining a divorce from her husband in the mid sixties, she speaks fondly of both Neal and his good friend, Jack [Kerouac]. She sums them up as "macho men with soft centres".

On the other hand she understands how ‘On the Road’ itself has contributed to the ‘beat’ mythology.

Kerouac’s writing is renowned for its contradictions, and Carolyn believes it exaggerates Neal’s biography unfairly.

If anything, Cassady’s lecture revealed another reason why ‘beat’ legends have attracted enduring fascination.

In life as in fiction, the core individuals associated with it are notoriously difficult to pin down.

Further information
Carolyn Cassady's lecture took place on Tuesday 12th February 2002 in the New Lecture Theatre at the Nottingham Trent’s Clifton site.

"Off the Road" was published in 1990 by Penguin Viking Press (and the same book was also published in 1996 by Penguin Books). It is Carolyn Cassady’s memoir of marriage to Neal Cassady and life alongside Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

The term ‘beatnik’ was first recorded in the San Francisco Chronicle as a pejorative. The journalist evoked the Soviet satellite with the same ending, ‘Sputnik’.

Neal Cassady did not actually publish any fiction himself, but became famous for starring in other ‘beat’ writers fiction.

Allan Ginsberg, is well known for the beat poem, ‘Howl’. Inspired by bebop jazz, Ginsberg wanted to introduce the musical tempo into his writing. The poem develops improvisational pieces around a common theme in a manner reminiscent of Charlie Parker.

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