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.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
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

Data Warehouse Developer / Analyst (SQL, SSIS, stored procedures)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

RE Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Teacher of Religious Education ...

Maths Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Long term Math Post - potentiall...

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: We are currently recruiting for ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week