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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable