Carolyn Cassady: 'Camille' in Kerouac's novel 'On The Road'


Carolyn Cassady was the lover of Jack Kerouac and the wife of his friend Neal Cassady, the "Dean Moriarty" of Kerouac's 1957 novel On The Road – which, along with Allen Ginsburg's poem Howl, is the best-known product of the Beat Generation.

The Beats – most notably Kerouac, Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Michael McClure – were a close-knit group of poets and writers in the years following the Second World War known for their experimentation with drugs, sexual freedom, fascination with Eastern religions, rejection of materialism and, above all, the explicit autobiographical writings that put them at odds with the prevailing social order of the 1950s. Cassady, from a conventional, middle-class family, landed in their full-throttle, amphetamine-crazed world and attempted, unsuccessfully, to make a conventional family man out of Kerouac's muse, Neal Cassady.

While studying theatre arts and set design at the University of Denver in 1947, she met Cassady, a working-class man with literary ambitions, and his close friends from the East, the budding writers Kerouac and Ginsberg. She began dating the 20-year-old Cassady, even though he was then married to 16-year-old LuAnne Henderson. She soon discovered that Neal's friend Kerouac was in love with Neal – and later, that Neal was in love with Ginsberg, a fact that came to light when she found Neal, LuAnne and Ginsberg in bed together.

Five weeks after she broke up with Neal, he got an annulment from LuAnne. Neal followed his future wife to San Francisco, where they married in April 1948; she was six months pregnant. The marriage ceremony was detailed in her 1990 memoir Off The Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg.

When their first child, Cathleen Joanne, was three months old, Neal used their savings of $900 to buy a new 1949 Hudson for a trip to New York City to collect Kerouac. This desertion formed the basis of the road trip that Kerouac later chronicled in On The Road, in which Carolyn was depicted as the character Camille. In last year's film adaptation of the novel, Camille was played by Kirsten Dunst.

Throughout their marriage, Cassady competed with the attentions of several women, including the divorced first wife and a third wife from a bigamous marriage – as well as Ginsberg, with whom Neal had a 20-year on-off affair. She tolerated Neal's ramblings with Kerouac and encouraged him to enter psychotherapy; she also joined him in his study of Edgar Cayce's mixture of mysticism and Christianity, in an effort to keep him at home. After On The Road was published Neal served three years in San Quentin for selling marijuana to an undercover policeman. After he was released in 1963 the Cassadys divorced.

Neal joined the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey's posse of LSD enthusiasts, where he was viewed as something of a sage elder. Three years after his drug-related death in 1968 he belatedly realised his literary ambitions with a posthumous autobiographical novel, The First Third. "It must have been the open sex that shocked everyone," Cassady said of the novel. "It's interesting that it was seen by the critics as such a threat. I don't know why. There have always been bohemians. So what was the big thing about this?"

Carolyn Robinson was born in Michigan in 1923, the youngest of five children; her father was a biochemist, her mother a teacher. When she was eight the family moved to Nashville and at 12 she joined a community theatre group, later receiving a bachelor's degree in drama from Bennington College in Vermont. During the war she served as an Army occupational therapist in California before returning to school in Denver.

In later years, Cassady, who moved to England in the early 1990s, devoted much of her time to, as she put it, "de-mythologising" her ex-husband – and perhaps Kerouac's portrayal of him.

"There are a few more myths that have evolved from Kerouac's 'fiction,' " she wrote. "For instance, Neal would never answer a door 'stark naked'. He could be naked, but his jeans were always nearby, and he held them in front of him. He was very modest personally, not an exhibitionist."

The fascination with the Beats created many chances for myth-making. Cassady was particularly critical of, and amused by, the 1980 biopic Heart Beat, which starred Nick Nolte as Neal, John Heard as Kerouac and Sissy Spacek as Cassady. "Sissy's got me all cleaned up, I'm the most wonderful heroine, I go through everything and come out unscathed," she said during filming. "I saw the dailies the other day and I cracked up. Everything was so romantic, I was crying. It could have been like that but it wasn't at all. This is going to be a six-box-of-Kleenex movie. I used up two in that shot alone. I kept thinking, 'Wouldn't it have been nice if it had really been that way?'"

Carolyn Robinson, artist and designer: born Lansing, Michigan 28 April 1923; married 1948 Neal Cassady (marriage dissolved; three children); died Bracknell 20 September 2013.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home