Kerouac's trailer park nephew seeks share of writer's millions

Andrew Buncombe
Wednesday 19 February 2003 01:00
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Like many people down on their luck Paul Blake dreams of better times, of making proper money, of inheriting untold wealth. But unlike most who live in trailer-park poverty, Mr Blake's wish could come true. The 54-year-old is the nephew of the Beat writer Jack Kerouac and has started a legal action that could gain him millions of dollars from his uncle's estate.

Kerouac, who died in 1969, wrote the seminal 1957 novel On the Road and romanticised the life of the American hobo. "He was a great guy," Mr Blake said. "We played basketball together and went for walks in the woods and had trees we sat under. He used to go out there and write. He told me that when you grow up, don't be tied down to one thing, just enjoy life as it comes."

Mr Blake is more than just Kerouac's closest living blood relative, he also inspired characters in several of the writer's works, most obviously appearing as "Lil Luke" in the 1958 novel The Dharma Bums.

No one disputes Mr Blake's relationship with Kerouac, but the issue of whether the former alcoholic who became homeless after splitting-up with a girlfriend and descending into a life of drink, should receive a portion of his uncle's wealth is a matter of intense disagreement.

Mr Blake, who spends most of his nights sleeping in a broken-down pick-up truck in a friend's junkyard in Sacramento, California, began his legal struggle after the death in 1996 of Jan Kerouac, his cousin and the writer's only child.

Ms Kerouac had claimed in a previous lawsuit that a signature on the 1973 will of her father's mother, Gabrielle Kerouac, had been false. When the writer died in October 1969, aged 47, wrecked by drink, his wealth had been left to her, though under state law in Florida, where he lived, his widow, Stella, was eligible for a third.

As a result of the will, when Kerouac's mother died, all his wealth went to his widow. When she died in 1990 she passed it on to a sister and two brothers, one of whom, John Sampas, now heads the Kerouac estate. He has recently been selling off many of the writer's artefacts, including the sale in 2001 for $2.4m (£1.5m)of the original manuscript of On the Road.

Mr Blake has secured the services of a Florida lawyer, Bill Wagner, who has filed a claim for a portion of the estate and who has hired a handwriting expert to challenge the authenticity of the signature on the 1973 will. He says his case is also strengthened by a note from Kerouac to Mr Blake, published in a volume of the writer's letters, explaining that he wanted to leave his estate to "someone with the last remaining drop of my direct blood line". Mr Wagner admitted the case has problems. "Proving what the mother really intended is very difficult," he said.

The Kerouac estate disputes Mr Blake's claim. Mr Sampas told The Sacramento Bee: "The whole thing is what I call bogus."

Mr Blake works doing odd jobs and living off handouts from friends. He said he earns no more than $100 a month and he believes Kerouac would sympathise with his situation. In Lonesome Traveler, his uncle wrote: "Oh the poor bum of the skid row! There he sleeps in the doorway, back to the wall, head down with his right hand palm-up as if to receive from the night ... pathetic ... made tragic by unavoidable circumstance."

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