When the dust from the on-set rumour-mill settles, some fascinating new facts emerge about the movie “On the Road”. Namely, the author of the bestselling novel on which the movie was based, Jack Kerouac, was already a published author when he wrote the book. But it wasn’t called “On the Road” at the time – it was actually “The Sea of Words”, which was later changed for the American edition of the book.
While Kerouac was making a name for himself in San Francisco in the 1940s, he often stayed in nearby Mill Valley, California. There, in a big ramshackle house surrounded by trees, he would meet a circle of literary friends who would inspire the “On the Road” characters – including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who later went on to publish the City Lights bookshop; Peter Orlovsky, who was the manager of the bookstore; and Michael McClure, a fellow poet and owner of a local ice cream parlour. McClure was especially keen to collaborate with Kerouac on a project, and it was he who came up with the idea of writing a book about their travels together around America.
After the success of “On the Road”, it could be easy to forget that it was actually based on a true story. However, thanks to the wonders of modern communication, it’s now possible to discover the untold details of Kerouac’s life that made him the ideal candidate to write the book.
Kerouac’s Early Life And Career
Jack Kerouac was born in the US state of Massachusetts in January 1922. His dad, Leo, was a struggling artist who had to give up his artistic dreams in order to provide for his family. He became a bookkeeper and worked long hours to ensure that his children had everything they needed.
Kerouac’s mother, Esther, was a schoolteacher who saw artistic potential in her son and encouraged him to develop his talent. She supported him financially, even paying for him to go to a private college so he could focus on his studies. Thanks to her financial support, all five of Kerouac’s siblings were able to go to university. His older sister, Ann, became an engineer, his older brother, Richard, a scientist, and his younger sister, Elizabeth, a nurse. It’s also rumoured that one of their uncles was an architect who designed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – although this has not been verified.
After graduating from college in early 1943, Kerouac briefly worked as a bookkeeper in New York City. But he was soon called up for duty in the US Army and ended up serving in World War II. He was stationed in Germany and saw a lot of action – it was here that he began to develop the habit of writing. He wrote letters from Germany to his friends and family, and it was these letters that would inspire much of the content in his first novel, “The Naked Angel”. As Germany was being decimated by Allied bombing, the dangers of living in a heavily populated area became apparent – so much so that Kerouac sought a transfer to another part of the war. He managed to get a job as an editor at a literary magazine in Algiers, where he worked for the rest of the war. It was after the war that he began his literary career. He published his first novel, “The Naked Angel”, in 1949. It wasn’t until the following year that he wrote “On the Road”, which was subsequently published in an array of English-speaking countries, including the UK, where it was first released in 1957. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Kerouac would write another novel, “Doctor Sax”. But “On the Road”, along with his subsequent novel, “Vanity Fair”, remains his best-known and most beloved work. It has been described as “a call to arms for the Beat Generation”, “the most important American novel of the 20th century” and “one of the most influential and beloved books of the 20th century”.
“On the Road” Influences And References
“The Naked Angel” and “On the Road” are both set in New York City, and it’s easy to see the city’s influence all over the place. In fact, at least three characters in “On the Road” are based on people Jack actually knew: Ferlinghetti, Orlovsky and McClure. But it’s not just the setting of these novels that’s being referenced – the characters also appear to have been fashioned after real-life counterparts. Take, for example, the character of Neal Cassady, based on the writer’s own experience of driving with the author across America in a car named “Shangri-La”. According to legend, the name came from the final resting place of the poets Omar Khayyám and R. K. M. P. Travis, which was once referred to as “Shangri-La”. It is now known as the “Kerouac Estate” and is located in Massachusetts.
Kerouac’s hero, Dean Moriarty, is based on the writer’s own brother, Richard. Dean is named after Robert Capa, the photographer who was killed in action during World War II. Robert Capa is known for having taken one of the most well-known photographs of World War II, which shows a sailor throwing a hand grenade and running away as another follows behind – the camera catches the image just as the grenade hits the ground.
The character of Carlo Petrini, based on Jack’s friend and fellow writer Alfred Perlitti, was also inspired by real-life events. In fact, parts of Perlitti’s memoirs appear in “On the Road” – including a scene where he and Kerouac go to a barber for a shave, only to find the barber has just finished cutting hair and isn’t available to give them a shave that day. But the barber did give them a haircut anyway, and the two writers began a friendship – which eventually led to them collaborating on a project.
The Making Of “On the Road”
Like most great literary works, “On the Road” was the product of lots of trial and error. The book was written in a very informal, almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. It was a way of life for Jack, born just a few years after the Great Depression – how could he possibly have turned it into something resembling a coherent, linear story? He didn’t begin writing the novel until he was 40 years old, having been inspired to do so by a trip to Italy. The experience of reading the finished product, however, was very different to the way he imagined it would be when he sat down to write it – he often found the writing process to be a struggle, going through countless rewrites. For the majority of the novel, Kerouac typed on a manual typewriter with no backspace – a novelty at the time, as most typewriters had a bit already. He worked on “On the Road” for a total of six years and finally published it, in 1957. It wasn’t until four years later, in 1961, that he would publish another novel, “Lolita”, which, along with “On the Road”, made up his “Trilogy”. After spending a good deal of time in a psychiatric hospital in the mid-1960s, Kerouac would go on to live a reclusive life with his family in an apartment in New York City. He would die of liver cancer in January 1969 at the age of 41.
Why Do The Remains Of “On the Road” Travel With The Author?
In a 2016 interview with BookRaver, Kerouac’s widow, Joyce, responded to a question about the origins of “The Kerouac Estate”: “We didn’t name it after Jack, but it is something we couldn’t ignore. He would always be turning up, and we thought it would be nice to have a place where he could turn up and be with friends.”