'Lost' Kerouac play resurfaces after 50 years

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles
Friday May 20, 2005
The Guardian

Beat Generation 'conveys the mood of the time extraordinarily well'

It is the sort of irony that would not have been lost on the notoriously hard-living writer. Excerpts from an unpublished play by Jack Kerouac are to be published in the July edition of a men's lifestyle magazine.
Beat Generation, written in the autumn of 1957, the same year as the publication of Kerouac's breakthrough work On the Road, was unearthed in a New Jersey warehouse six months ago. An excerpt will appear in the July issue of Best Life magazine.

The play recounts a day in the life of the hard-drinking, drug-fuelled life of Jack Duluoz, Kerouac's alter-ego.

"Kerouac wrote the play in one night when he returned to his home in Florida after the publication of On The Road," said Kerouac's biographer and family friend Gerald Nicosia. "He was getting a lot of attention, being put on TV talk shows after On the Road, and an off-Broadway theatre producer named Leo Gavin said he wanted a play from him."

Although the play was never published or performed, the third act became the basis for a film, Pull My Daisy, starring Allen Ginsberg.

Kerouac's agent, Sterling Lord, said Kerouac had sent it to several producers but it was turned down.

"It conveys the mood of the time extraordinarily well, and also the characters are authentically drawn," Mr Lord told the Press Association.

Kerouac even sent the play to Marlon Brando, Mr Lord said. Kerouac was desperate to collaborate with the actor, and wrote a letter to him in 1957 urging Brando to appear in a play adaptation of On the Road.

Brando never responded, and the two only met once, in 1960, when Kerouac enrolled in the Actor's Studio. But his foray into acting was shortlived. After 15 minutes he asked, "Don't they give you any drinks in this place?" Spotting Brando he invited him for a drink. Brando refused.

After the rejections for Beat Generation, said Mr Lord, Kerouac asked him to shelve the play. It stayed in a warehouse for almost 50 years, he added.

"It's Kerouac, so it's off-beat," said Betsy Steve from Thunders Mouth Press, which will publish the full play in October. "It reads like a jazz song, with switching rhythms. It might not be Jack's best but it definitely highlights something of his work, it's part of the canon."

Although there are no firm plans to produce the play, a staged reading is scheduled for New York in January.

Mr Nicosia said that it was not unusual for a work by Kerouac to remain unpublished. "A lot of Jack's greatest works were never published in his lifetime," he said. "The Kerouac estate has been releasing stuff from the archives over the last 10 years. We all knew there was a ton of stuff.

Despite the success of On the Road, Kerouac died with just $91 (£49.60) in his pocket.

"He had a brief moment in the sun," said Mr Nicosia, "but the right wing launched a major attack on him. They saw him as a major threat to society. They really succeeded in knocking him down."


I loved radio once

I was born and raised in Del Rio,TX and grew up with the stories of border radio and all of XER's incarnations. I was told Wolfman Jack rented a house down my street while he was employed at the station. Paul Kallinger still lived in Del Rio the entire time I was there. He  used to sit in front of us at church sometimes and when he'd stretch out his arm over the pew you couldn't help but gaze at the enormous gold nugget ring and bracelet set he always wore. At his store was a photo of him receiving those as a gift from Elvis. The man was a legend and it was awesome to hear him give the sign of peace in his still deep, "Good Neighbor Across the Border", DJ voice. He was a very tall man, huge voice and a good person.

I wanted to be a DJ really bad and would broadcast through a walkie talkie to an FM station (because in the late 70's early 80's there were no FM stations reaching Del Rio) that I would hear through a transistor radio I would put out in the yard. I had pre-recorded a station ID on my tape player with "commercials". The music came from my toy turntable. I played 45's and whatever albums I found at garage sales with my grandparents. The future looked bright and my goals in life were set, I was going to work in radio.

Radio deregulation hit and ruined it all. I made it as far as KVRX, the student radio station on the UT campus, and that was the end of the line. Radio had not been in the hands of the audiophiles for years. Greedy corporations killed the romance.