Carolyn Robinson Cassady
Beat Generation Muse and Memoirist
Mrs. Neal Cassady IIRaised in Nashville, Tennessee, Carolyn Cassady received a scholarship to attend Bennington College, an exclusive women's school in Vermont. After receiving a degree in theater arts Carolyn went to the University of Denver for a master's degree. It was in Denver, in March 1947, that Carloyn and Neal Cassady intersected.
When Carolyn met Neal he had just returned from his first New York visit where he had met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. During that visit the young Allen Ginsberg fell in love with Neal.
The following June, Ginsberg travelled to Denver shortly after Carolyn's affair with Neal commenced. By the way, Neal was still married to LuAnne Henderson, but that was a minor roadblock to the relationships he was nurturing separately with Carolyn and Allen.
Carolyn had lived a relatively sheltered life so it is not that surprising to learn how bewildered she was on a morning in August 1947 when she discovered LuAnne, Neal and Allen all naked in bed together. Thinking her six month romance with Neal was over, Carolyn departed Denver to start her life as a costume designer in Los Angeles.
When no work materialized in Los Angeles, Carolyn moved north to San Francisco where her sister lived. But five weeks after her departure from Denver, Neal Cassady re-entered her life and the romance was on again. Neal's marriage to LuAnne would be annulled and on April 1, 1948 Carolyn and Neal were married.
On September 6, 1948 Carolyn gave birth to a daughter, Cathleen Joanne. Expecting life to settle down it came as a disappointing shock when, in December, Neal purchased a new two-tone Hudson and declared he was going to be taking a short trip to New York to pick up his friend Jack Kerouac.
Neal left Carolyn and his daughter, drove to Denver to pick up ex-wife LuAnne, and then picked up Kerouac who was staying at his sister's house in North Carolina. The rest of the story, from Neal and Jack's perspective, at least, has been immortalized in Kerouac's On The Road.
From Carolyn's perspective the marriage was over. With help from her sister she moved with her infant daughter to a small apartment near Mission Dolores in San Francisco. While Neal and Jack and LuAnne were getting their kicks driving naked and wild across America, Carolyn
...gave Cathy her bottle, the room lit through the single window only by the reflection from the night sky of the surrounding city lights. Through my tears, the shiny papers and Christmas trimmings on the still-unopened gifts made gay, glittering prisms of color before my eyes. If only we could pass out of life right now, Cathy and I. If only time would stop, tomorrow never come. (Carolyn Cassady, Off The Road)
But by the end of January 1949, having dropped Jack and LuAnne off on a San Francisco street corner, mad dashing Neal was back.
By the spring , Carolyn was pregnant again.
In July, Jack Kerouac arrived in San Francisco at the Cassady house on 29 Russell Street. Kerouac's arrival set in motion another period when Neal would abandon Carolyn. In a drive-away Plymouth Jack and Neal departed San Francisco on a road trip that would take them to New York by the end of the summer. Neal had left Carolyn a note:
Carolyn: Am leaving today. Won't ever bother you again. I won't come back in a month to make you start it all over again-- shudder, shudder! Here is a few dollars that I can give you. You won't receive any more until Sept. The things of mine still at the house-- do what you want with. I am going to Denver, Detroit and New York City and won't ever come back to Frisco. I incidentally, I am not going to see LuAnne-- don't know where she is. (Carolyn Cassady, Off the Road)
On January 26, 1950, Carolyn gave birth to her second daughter, Jamie.
Neal was in New York parking cars for a living and falling in love with Diana Hansen, a model he had met at a party.
On July 14 Neal arrived back in San Francisco on Carolyn's doorstep. Four days earlier he had married Diana Hansen who was already pregnant.
Diana gave birth to a son on November 7, 1950.
By January, 1951 Carolyn was pregnant again, albeit accidentally. And in September, Carolyn gave birth to her third child, a son, John Allen named after Kerouac and Ginsberg.
Neal was home for John's birth. Carolyn was thankful, Neal was helpful, things were settling down and then in January 1952, Jack Kerouac shows up for another visit.
Carolyn relates in her memoir Off The Road how one night when Neal was at work she seduced Jack. They became lovers, apparently with Neal's tacit approval and acceptance. The strange triangulation never really ended but several months later when the Cassady's were en route to see Carolyn's relatives in Tennessee, they dropped Jack off in Nogales so he could visit William Burroughs in Mexico City.
In August of 1952 the Cassady's moved from San Francisco to San Jose. "The change in our location looked promising to all of us" Carolyn wrote.
In early September Jack was back. Neal and Carolyn picked Jack up at the train station, and when Neal departed for his train work, Carolyn and Jack made love in the back of a Model-A Ford. Their affair bloomed again.
In December, Neal and Jack drove to Mexico. Neal dropped Jack off, picked up some marijuana and returned home to Carolyn and train work with the Southern Pacific. On April 10, 1953 Neal was hurt while working. More than a year would pass but Neal and Carolyn would eventually receive $16,000 in compensation for the accident. In August 1954 the Cassady's moved to a new home in Los Gatos.
The new house made Carolyn feel calm and content. She decorated the walls with portraits she had painted of her children. The family bought their first television set. The girls were enrolled in ballet school. "My life and sense of usefulness blossomed" she would write. Neal and Carolyn were enrolled in Edgar Cayce study groups and at home the family seemed closer than ever before.
By the Spring of 1955, Neal was restless, and spending more and more time in San Francisco where he had met and fallen in love with Natalie Jackson.
By May, Neal had essentially moved out of the Los Gatos house and was living with Natalie. He would come home once every two weeks with the paycheck. Kerouac came back into town and Carolyn briefly resumed her affair with him.
In November, Natalie Jackson slit her throat and fell off a roof to her death. Asleep in her bed, Neal awoke to the sounds of sirens and crept out of the apartment, avoiding the the police, and naturally, went back to Carolyn.
For Carolyn, life with Neal Cassady continued to be a monumental struggle. Neal became a cultural anti-hero after the release of Kerouac's On The Road in 1957. But a year later, Neal was sitting in San Quentin serving a sentence for drug dealing. He was released from prison in June 1960.
There was a brief "family" reunion with Jack when Neal and Carolyn and the kids drove in a new jeep to Big Sur to surprise Kerouac who was staying in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Bixby Canyon cabin. The summer of 1960 was the last time Carolyn would see Kerouac although he would continue to write and speak with him by phone.
Neal could never completely reform and so he continued his infidelities. Neal and Carolyn decided they would formally end the marriage.
Eventually Carolyn met someone she planned to marry. However one day he just disappeared. Nevertheless a return to Neal was not in the stars. Neal wound up driving Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters around the country. Carolyn continued to raise teenagers.
Carolyn would continue to stay in touch with Neal during his last frenetic years. His visits to Los Gatos, however, would become less frequent. Neal became ravaged by the years of savage speeding. Three weeks later, in January 1968, Carolyn had her last phone conversation with Neal. He was calling from Los Angeles. As Carolyn relates the conversation, Neal asked to come home once again.
There was no hope left in me for a life with him; but wasn't there anything I could do to soothe his torment? No. nothing.
'No, Neal, dearest. Please go to Mexico and get well. Then come home. You know we'll be waiting.' (Off The Road)
On Sunday morning February 4, 1968, Carolyn got a call informing her that Neal had died along railroad tracks in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Neal was 43. Carolyn was 46, and once again without Neal.
Since 1984 Carolyn Cassady has lived in London, England. Her children and their children live in California. She continues to paint and write.
Carolyn CassadyPitching Record YEAR TEAM ERA W L IP ER BB K 1995 Beats 3.99 9 13 182 81 66 80 1996 Beats 3.49 14 13 201 78 78 144 2 Seasons 3.74 23 26 383 159 144 224
Carolyn Cassady at Literary Kicks
Levi Asher's Review of the movie Heart Beat This movie purports to look at the Jack-Carolyn-Neal triangle.
Jack was a tender and considerate lover, though somewhat inhibited, and I suspected he wished I was more aggressive, but that I could never be. So our temperments and our guilty feelings about Neal made actual love-making infrequent but more passionate. Although I could be wholly romantically in love with [Jack], my heart still ached for Neal to be enough...I hoped sincerely that some lasting good would come of this, but for now there was nothing to do but relax and enjoy it...
I provided for whichever of them was in residence according to his individual preferences. If they were both home during the day, Neal usually slept and Jack wrote or Jack would go out and leave the husband and wife alone. On occassion, Jack and I would make love in his attic if the children were asleep...
While I performed my chores, [the men] would read each other excerpts from their writings-in-progress or bring out Spengler, Proust, Celine or Shakespeare to read aloud...I was happy listening to them and filling their cups. Yet, I never felt left out any more. They'd address remarks to me and include me with smiles and pats, or request my view.--Carolyn Cassady, Off The Road
1997 Dharma Beats Roster
1997 Carolyn Cassady Cosmic Player Plate
Published: December 24, 1996
© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association