Beat It! 7 Rare Pieces of Jack Kerouac Memorabilia



2015-08-03 12:07:32

Jack Kerouac is regarded as one of the most important post-war American writers -a central figure of the Beat Generation whose classic novel On The Road continues to inspire generation after generation of soul-searching wanderers and slightly debauched road trips. Here are 7 items of memorabilia from the career of a literary icon...

Kerouac's last typewriter


(Image: Christie's)


This Hermes 3000 typewriter was the last typewriter ever used by Jack Kerouac before his death in 1969. Kerouac purchased the machine in 1966, and used it to write, amongst other things, numerous letters to his agent Sterling Lord complaining about his financial problems. "How do you like my new typewriter?" he writes in August 1966. "[It] was necessary, as the old one broke in two, but, and that's what broke my budget, and now it'll be taxes."

Another letter written on the machine, dated January 1967, asks "Where are the ROAD royalties to 6/30/66, and same royalties (6/30/66) for SUR... Great time of stress. Need money to fence-in magnificent part wooded yard."

During this period he also wrote Vanity of Duluoz, the last novel published during his lifetime, and the novella Pic, published posthumously in 1971. In 2010 the typewriter sold at Christie's for $22,500.


Origins of the Beat Generation article scroll


(Image: Christie's)


In 1948 Kerouc first used the term 'Beat Generation' to describe an underground youth movement in New York, and it came to represent a generation of writers, artists and poets. A decade later in 1958 Kerouac, decided to clarify the story with this article, originally written for symposium at Hunter College, New York, entitled 'Origins of the Beat Generation'. Just like his Beat classics On the Road and The Dharma Bums, Kerouac wrote the article on a continuous scroll of paper fed through his typewriter.

He claimed the term itself "originally meant poor, down and out, dead-beat, on the bum, sad, sleeping in subways...perhaps brought from some Midwest carnival or junk cafeteria," but now "'Beat Generation' has simply become the slogan or label for a revolution in manners in America."

He begins the article by talking about "that wild eager picture of me on the cover of On the Road where I look so beat," and claims "The Beat Generation goes back to the wild parties my father used to have at home in the Twenties and Thirties in New England," to "those crazy days before World War Two when teenagers drank beer on Friday nights at Lake ballrooms".

He later issues a warning "Woe unto the beat generation, woe even more yet unto the critics of the beat generation, for the staff of truth should be carried to the bloody bleeding end...", but concludes with an optimistic view of the future: "America must, will, is, changing now, for the better I say."

The article was later published in a much altered form in the June 1959 edition of Playboy Magazine. Kerouac's typescript scroll remains unpublished in its original form, and sold at Christie's in 2001 for £32,900.


The Haunted Life manuscript


(Image: Sotheby's)


In 1944, at the age of 22, Kerouac wrote a coming-of-age tale which he intended as the first part of a great novel. Entitled The Haunted Life, it told the story of college student Peter Martin, who returns home to Massachusetts and finds himself at odds with his alcoholic, gambling father. This first section, subtitled 'Home', was intended to be followed by two further sections: 'War' and 'Changes'.

The story was an ode to childhood friends, many of whom he had just lost during WWII, and showed seeds of talent that would finally bloom a decade later.

However, before Kerouac could send the manuscript to a publisher he lost it – either in the back of a taxi cab or somewhere on campus at Columbia College – and never saw it again. The fate of this lost work remained a mystery until 2002, when it suddenly reappeared at a Sotheby's auction (not long after Kerouac's original On The Road manuscript had sold for over $2 million).

Hand-written on a series of cards, the manuscript sold for $95,600 – and The haunted Life was subsequently published seventy years after it was written in 2014.


On the Road inscribed first edition


(Image: Christie's)


Kerouac's On The Road has been described as "arguably the most important post-war American novel" ever written. This highly rare presentation copy of the book, dating from 1957, was signed and inscribed by Kerouac to his lover Joyce Johnson: "To Joyce with love from amigo beholden Jack."

Kerouac's second wife Joan left him shortly after he complete the book's manuscript in 1951, and by the time it was published six years later he was in a relationship with Johnson (then Joyce Glassman), also a writer, after the pair had been introduced on a blind date by Allen Ginsberg. Decades later Johnson wrote an award-winning account of her relationship with Kerouac, Minor Characters, in which she described the night the first review of On the Road appeared:

"After he'd read the whole thing, he said, 'It's good, isn't it?' 'Yes,' I said, 'It's very, very good.'... It was all very thrilling--but frightening too. I'd read lots of reviews in my two years of publishing: none of them made pronouncements like this about history... We returned to the apartment to go back to sleep. Jack lay down obscure for the last time of his life. The ringing phone woke him up the next morning and he was famous."

Johnson's inscribed copy of the book sold at Christie's in 2002 for $185,500, a record price for a Kerouac first edition.


Letter to Marlon Brando


(Image: Christie's)


In 1957 Kerouc wrote a letter to screen legend Marlon Brando, suggesting he acquire the rights to On The Road and star in a screen adaptation.

"I'm praying that you'll buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it" he wrote, suggesting "I wanted you to play the part because Dean (as you know) is no dopey hotrodder but a real intelligent (in fact Jesuit) Irishman. You play Dean and I'll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life...we can go visit him in Frisco, or have him come down to L.A. still a real frantic cat..."

Kerouas also wrote of his motivations for making the film, stating "All I want out of this is to able to establish myself and my Mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go around roaming around the write what comes out of my head and free to feed my buddies when they're hungry.."

Brando apparently declined his invitation, and Kerouac's ideas for the film never saw the light of day. On The Road would have to wait a further 55 years before a movie adaptation finally came to fruition.

In 2005 Kerouac's letter was amongst the lots in an auction of Brando's estate at Christie's, where it sold for $33,600.


The Dharma Bums typescript scroll


(Image: Christie's)


Following the success of On The Road, published in 1957, Kerouac was under pressure to produce another hit. His publishers at Viking had turned down several of his other works including Maggie Cassidy, Doctor Sax and Visions of Gerard, and suggested to try to write something in a similar style to his previous book.

Kerouac responded by documenting his spiritual journeys and search for Zen Buddhism in the semi-autobiographical work 'The Dharma Bums', and described it in a letter to his agent Sterling Lord:

" working furiously on a new narrative adventure...a picaresque account of how I discovered Buddha and what happened in my experiences, often hilarious, as an American Dharma Bum...It has all kinds of hitch hiking scenes, girls, new characters I've never written about...railroads, wine, dialog, the story of the San Francisco poetry movement which began one drunken night, my meditations in the North Carolina woods, all written in a wild undisciplined way..."

Viking were happy with the finished book, which was published in 1958 to critical acclaim. Kerouac's original typescript, written in the same manner as On The Road with a continuous scroll of paper and including with countless handwritten revisions and notations, sold at Christie's in 2003 for $130,700.


On the Road typescript scroll


(Image: Christie's)


During the late 1940s Kerouac embarked on a series of road trips around America with his friend Neal Cassady, taking notes wherever they went and forming ideas that would become his breakthrough novel On The Road.

Having struggled with the book, Kerouc was inspired by a rambling letter from Cassady and decided to pour out the entire story in a single stream of consciousness. Having stocked up on a healthy supply of cigarettes, amphetamines and caffeine, he then spent three weeks in 1951 hammering out the book onto a single continuous 120-ft roll of paper, which he then annotated with hand-written notes along its entire length.

An edited version of the scroll was finally published in 1956, and Kerouac became an overnight sensation in the literary world. His friend Allen Ginsberg called the scroll "an extraordinary project, sort of a flash of inspiration on a new approach to prose. An attempt to tell completely, all at once, everything on [Kerouac's] mind in relation to the hero Dean Moriarty, spill it out all at once and follow the convolutions of the active mind for direction as to the 'structure of the confession.' And discover the rhythm of the mind at work at high speed in prose by means of a highly scientific attack on new prose method."

The scroll was described as "the most important manuscript of a late twentieth-century novel ever to be offered at auction", and sold at Christie's in 2001 for a record $2.4 million. The winning bidder was Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who has since exhibited the scroll around the world.

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