Jack Kerouac was an American novelist and poet and is considered to be a prominent figure in the Beat Movement, which predated the hippie counterculture. After the release of his acclaimed novel, On the Road in 1957, Kerouac became a celebrity of sorts. However, he was met with criticism for his views on politics, society, religion, lifestyle, and more. Unfortunately, Kerouac died at the young age of 47 due to excessive drinking, although he left behind a legacy of works and a philosophy on life that many people still look up to today. Take a look into Kerouac’s life, who he was as a man, and what inspired his life’s work.
His First Language Was French
Kerouac was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1922, although his parents were French Canadian. He also had deep connections to the French region of Brittany and the English region of Cornwall. Because of this, Kerouac only spoke French in his early years.
He didn’t start learning English until he was six years old, and wasn’t comfortable speaking the language until he was a teenager. Although he abandoned French in his later years, near the end of his life, he expressed remorse that he no longer spoke the language.
He Was In The Military
Kerouac joined the United States Merchant Marines in 1942 and in 1943, joined the United States Navy. However, he only ended up serving eight days of active duty before being put on the sick list. According to his medical report, he asked for aspirin for his headaches and they diagnosed him with dementia praecox.
Medical examiners went on to note that his adjustment to military life was hard with him stating, “I just can’t stand it; I like to be by myself.” Just days later, he was discharged on psychiatric grounds.
He Was A Talented Athlete
While attending Lowell High School, Kerouac proved himself as a gifted running back in football, which earned him a scholarship from Boston College, Notre Dame, and Columbia University. He chose Columbia after attending Horace Mann School for a year and met the grade requirements to enroll in Columbia.
Unfortunately, he broke his leg during his Freshman year, and his volatile relationship with his coach his sophomore year saw him benched for the majority of the season. While at school, he also wrote sports articles for the student newspaper and was a member of the Phi Gama Delta fraternity. Eventually, he dropped out of school.
A Letter Helped Inspire His Writing Style In On The Road
One of Kerouac’s most notable works, On the Road, came about from a series of road trips that he took between 1947 and 1950 with another Beat icon, Neal Cassady. While Kerouac began writing early versions of the novel in 1948, he was unfulfilled by the finished product.
Then, in 1950, Kerouac received a letter from Cassady that read as though he was just writing his rambling thoughts down on paper. Kerouac was inspired by this and wrote On the Road in a similar fashion.
He Coined The Term “Beat Generation”
The Beat Generation is described as a movement of young bohemians in the 1950s who rejected social norms and expressed themselves through writing, experimentation with mind-altering substances, music, and eastern religion. Unsurprisingly, the term Beat Generation was coined by Kerouac himself, who says the term “beat” comes from two different meanings.
The first is that it’s a slang term for being “tired,” something many in the community felt at the time. The second is that “beat” is derived from the word “beatific,” which means blessed. It may be ironic but was perfect in Kerouac’s eyes.
He Struggled As A Writer For Some Time
Many famous artists, whether they’re an author, director, or painter, tend to owe their career to a specific one of their works that made them famous. This was no different for Kerouac with On the Road. As an early author, he spent the majority of the 1950s sending novels to publishing houses only for them to be denied.
However, after the success of On the Road, everything changed. Even his old works that had previously been rejected were published, such as Doctor Sax, The Subterraneans, and Tristessa.
He Had Writings Published Posthumously
Not long after meeting fellow preeminent members of the Beat movement such as Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, and William S. Burroughs at Columbia University in the mid-1940s, Kerouac began to devote himself to writing.
Many of his works are fictionalized tales that are based on his own life, which made them extremely enticing for his audience. In 1945, he completed his novel Orpheus Emerged. However, it wasn’t discovered until after his death. It was finally published in 2002, 33 years after his death.
His First Draft Of On The Road Was Written In An Interesting Method
Although some call it nothing more than beatnik lore, it’s an incredible rumor that is actually true! Jack Kerouac’s first draft of On the Road was written on a continuous roll of papers that he had taped together which formed a 120-foot manuscript.
Of course, in order for it to be published, he had some serious editing to do and it had to be turned into a book before it could be released. Imagine people walking around reading a giant scroll of the novel!
CBS Stole His Idea
From 1960 to 1964, CBS aired a television series called Route 66, which followed two young men driving around the country in a Corvette. Living a nomadic lifestyle, the two would work odd jobs to finance their lives while experiencing different parts of the country.
The entire show was essentially the premise of On the Road, with the two actors even being brunette and blonde, much like Kerouac and Cassady. Although Kerouac was serious about taking legal action, he was talked out of it.
Kerouac Wanted His Work Adapted Into Film
After the success of On the Road, Hollywood was all over the idea of adapting the novel. While most people might think otherwise, Kerouac was on board with the idea. He even went so far as to ask Marlon Brando if he wanted to play Dean Moriarty in the film while Kerouac played Sal Paradise, the character based on himself.
Although Brando never got back to Kerouac, Warner Bros. showed interest in buying the book. Kerouac’s agent turned down the offer thinking that Paramount would have a better offer. When Paramount never made their interest known, Kerouac was not happy.
He Worked On Films
After making a name for himself both as an author and a poet, Kerouac turned his attention to film. He wrote and narrated the short film Pull My Daisy, which was directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, and starred Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and other prominent figures in the scene.
Making the film incredibly artistic, the majority of it is improvised, and the story itself is spontaneous. In 1996, Pull My Daisy was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
He Helped Allen Ginsberg Name His Famous Poem
In 2010, the film Howl was released, which documented the early life of Allen Ginsberg. The film was named after a poem of the same name written by Ginsberg in 1956.
Interestingly, Kerouac also helped Ginsberg come up with the name of “Howl” for his poem and appears in the movie in a supporting played by Todd Rotondi. Unfortunately, Kerouac would never live to see himself represented on the silver screen.
He Was Also A Poet
Although Kerouac may best be known for his narrative-style writing, he was also an accomplished poet. Over the course of his life, he had three released under his name, which included Mexico City Blues, Book of Sketches, and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity.
However, after Kerouac’s death, nine more books of his poetry were published between 1970 and 2012. Given the amount of writing Kerouac managed to produce, it’s clear that he was a skilled writer in a variety of different forms.
Finding The Mysterious Terry
As many who have read the book might know, in On the Road, Kerouac changes his name to Sal Paradise, as well as the other names of people in his life. One of these people also includes a Hispanic girl named Terry, with whom Paradise has an intimate relationship with.
In real life, however, the girl’s name is Beatrice Koreza. She was unaware that she was involved in Kerouac’s story until she was tracked down by writer Tim Z. Hernandez in 2010. Although she passed away in 2013 at 92, it’s possible she got to see Alice Braga portray the character, Terry, in the On the Road film.
He Had Interesting Religious Beliefs
Throughout his life, Kerouac dabbled in Buddhism, although he remained a devout Catholic. While he attempted to portray his Buddhist beliefs in his novel Dharma Bums, he stopped shortly after the book was released.
This is because the book was trashed by critics, mostly by Buddhist teachers such as Alan Watts and Ruth Fuller Sasaki, who didn’t think Kerouac was explaining the religion correctly. Embarrassed by his shortcomings, he began to distance himself from religion for the rest of his life.
He Had One Daughter
While writing On the Road in 1951, Kerouac was living with his second wife, Joan Haverty, at 454 West 20th Street in Manhattan. However, in the spring of 1951, while pregnant, Haverty divorced and left Kerouac. In February 1952, Haverty gave birth to Kerouac’s only child, Jan Kerouac.
However, Kerouac refused to accept that Jan was his daughter until he eventually took a blood test over nine years later. During that time Kerouac continued traveling and writing around the country.
He Was A Polarizing Individual
As Kerouac began to establish himself as a celebrity and successful writer, it became clear that he was a highly controversial and polarizing person. He received a lot of criticism on both ends of the political spectrum. One of the main things that people gave him grief over was his substance abuse.
However, others didn’t support Kerouac and his anti-communist views or his being a devout Catholic. There was rarely a time that somebody didn’t have something negative to say about him.
A Movie Was Finally Made
The film adaptation of Kerouac’s On The Road was finally completed in 2012. Incredibly, the movie was produced by Francis Ford Coppola, with Walter Salles directing it. The film also starred Sam Riley as Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty.
Other actors also participating included Viggo Mortenson, Amy Adams, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Dunst, and more. Unfortunately, the film had mixed reviews and didn’t make its money back at the box office. Maybe it’s a good thing that Kerouac wasn’t around to see the film fail.
Alcohol Led To His Demise
Jack Kerouac died on October 21, 1969, at the age of 47. The day prior, he had begun vomiting up blood while working on a book and checked himself into the hospital.
It turned out that has was abdominal hemorrhaging from years of alcohol abuse, which made it so that his liver damage was able to clot his blood. After several attempts at blood transfusions and even surgery, the internal hemorrhage due to cirrhosis was named the cause of his death.
He Was Arrested As A Material Witness
David Kammerer was a member of Beats along with Kerouac, Lucien Carr, Allen Ginsberg, among others. On a night in August 1944, Carr was approached by Kammerer. Their encounter resulted in Carr stabbing Kammerer to death before dumping his body in the Hudson River. When Kerouac had learned what Carr did, he helped him hide the murder weapon and took Carr to the movies and Museum of Modern Art.
Carr eventually turned himself in and was arrested, along with Kerouac. Kerouac’s parents refused to pay his bail, so the parents of Edie Parker did, on the condition that he marry their daughter. Their marriage was annulled in 1948.