Blast from the past

A play by Jack Kerouac about a hard-living man much like himself is to be published after 50 years in a warehouse.


Dan Glaister
May 20, 2005 8:42PM (UTC)

It is the sort of irony that would not have been lost on the notoriously hard-living writer. Excerpts from an unpublished play by Jack Kerouac are to be published in the July edition of a men's lifestyle magazine. "Beat Generation," written in the autumn of 1957, the same year as the publication of Kerouac's breakthrough work "On the Road," was unearthed in a New Jersey warehouse six months ago. An excerpt will appear in the July issue of Best Life magazine.

The play recounts a day in the life of the hard-drinking, drug-fueled life of Jack Duluoz, Kerouac's alter ego. "Kerouac wrote the play in one night when he returned to his home in Florida after the publication of 'On the Road,'" said Kerouac's biographer and family friend, Gerald Nicosia. "He was getting a lot of attention, being put on TV talk shows after 'On the Road,' and an off-Broadway theater producer named Leo Gavin said he wanted a play from him."

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Although the play was never published or performed, the third act became the basis for a film, "Pull My Daisy," starring Allen Ginsberg.

Kerouac's agent, Sterling Lord, said Kerouac had sent it to several producers but they turned it down. "It conveys the mood of the time extraordinarily well, and also the characters are authentically drawn," Lord told the Press Association.

Kerouac even sent the play to Marlon Brando, Lord said. Kerouac was desperate to collaborate with the actor, and wrote a letter to him in 1957 urging Brando to appear in a play adaptation of "On the Road." Brando never responded, and the two met only once, in 1960, when Kerouac enrolled in the Actors Studio. But his foray into acting was short-lived. After 15 minutes he asked, "Don't they give you any drinks in this place?" Spotting Brando, he invited him for a drink. Brando refused.

After the rejections for "Beat Generation," said Lord, Kerouac asked him to shelve the play. It stayed in a warehouse for almost 50 years, he added.

"It's Kerouac, so it's offbeat," said Betsy Steve from Thunders Mouth Press, which will publish the full play in October. "It reads like a jazz song, with switching rhythms. It might not be Jack's best, but it definitely highlights something of his work; it's part of the canon."

Although there are no firm plans to produce the play, a staged reading is scheduled for New York in January.

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Nicosia said that it was not unusual for a work by Kerouac to remain unpublished. "A lot of Jack's greatest works were never published in his lifetime," he said. "The Kerouac estate has been releasing stuff from the archives over the last 10 years. We all knew there was a ton of stuff.

Despite the success of "On the Road," Kerouac died with just $91 in his pocket. "He had a brief moment in the sun," said Nicosia, "but the right wing launched a major attack on him. They saw him as a major threat to society. They really succeeded in knocking him down."


Dan Glaister

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