Jack Kerouac’s muse Neal Cassady inspired iconic Beat Generation novel ‘On the Road’; son looks back
Neal & Jack
Over ambient chatter of a rowdy East Village watering hole his father would have reveled in, the son of Beat Generation icon Neal Cassady is sharing a quirky family secret.
“My father named me after his friend Jack Kerouac and his friend Allen Ginsberg,” he says, rubbing his Hemingway-like white beard and speaking enthusiastically about his old man between puffs of a cigarette and sips of a strong cocktail.
“But on my birth certificate, it says John Allen Cassady,” the 59-year-old California musician notes. “I asked my mom, and she said, ‘I asked your father soon after you arrived the same question. And he goes, “Well, if you say it fast, it sounds like Jack Assady, and nobody’s gonna call my son a jackass all his life.'”
More than 54 years after Kerouac immortalized his cross-country odysseys with Neal Cassady in the novel “On the Road,” Tinseltown is embracing the bohemian ambassadors of post-World War II euphoria with a bear hug.
James Franco’s portrayal of Ginsberg in the 2010 movie “Howl” tipped off a spate of big-screen projects exploring the literary clique that rejected the stuffy conformity of the ’50s and laid the groundwork for the rebellious ’60s.
Although “On the Road” was a literary sensation that inspired a legion of free spirits to stir up “a dust cloud over the American Night,” an adaptation of Kerouac’s masterpiece is hitting cineplexes for the first time.
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, who has owned the film rights for 30 years, the $25 million movie, set for a December release, will star Garrett Hedlund of “Tron: Legacy” fame as Neal Cassady’s doppelganger Dean Moriarty. British actor Sam Riley won the role of Kerouac’s alias, Sal Paradise.
Skippering a cast, which includes Hollywood A-listers Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen, is Brazilian Walter Salles — director of the Che Guevara biopic, “Motorcycle Diaries.”
“Love Always, Carolyn,” a documentary about the love triangle Neal Cassady pushed his wife into having with Kerouac, was a big hit at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. But the subject of the film ripped it as “a betrayal of trust.”
“Ah well, story of my life,” 88-year-old Carolyn Cassady told the Daily News in an email.
The celluloid version of Kerouac’s 1962 autobiographical novel “Big Sur” is on schedule for a 2012 premiere. The flick will feature French actor Jean-Marc Barr as Kerouac and “Glory Road” star Josh Lucas as Cassady. Another documentary covering Neal Cassady’s “Magic Trip” with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters comes out Aug. 5.
The cinematic onslaught is poised to introduce a new generation to Kerouac’s gang of Rikers Island inmates and “poetic con men” from “On the Road.”
Front and center of this new mad swirl is Kerouac’s famous muse, Neal Cassady.
In “On the Road,” Kerouac portrays his wild and crazy “long-lost brother” as a “holy con man” in a real Western business suit. But John Cassady insists that his dad was just as much a family man.
“I’ve got stories no one else would ever know because I actually grew up with the guy,” says John Cassady, who was 16 when his father died in 1968 after a night of heavy drinking and drugging in Mexico.
“To this day, I get old farts going, ‘Oh no, he was with us in Berkeley that weekend.’ ‘No, he was with us in L.A. that weekend,'” Cassady says. “I hate to disappoint you guys, but he was with me at home running foot races on the back lawn or teaching me chess or something.
“In other words, he was everywhere at once,” he says. “I’m convinced he had four or five clones, because everybody’s got a story.”
Actor John Ventimiglia of Brooklyn — who played chef Artie Bucco on “The Sopranos” — agrees, saying: “Neal was a cross between an outlaw, a movie star and a cowboy.
“He’s one of those epic figures that are there to inspire other people in a way,” says Ventimiglia, who in 2007 narrated an audio book of the original 120-foot-long scroll Kerouac used to type “On the Road” in an apartment on W. 20th St. in Chelsea.
Mesmerized by Kerouac’s cool-intellectual style since the fifth grade, Ventimiglia says he hopes the “On the Road” movie doesn’t sacrifice the words for on-screen action.
“He’s such a beautiful writer. He could find beauty in anybody,” says Ventimiglia, who has channeled Kerouac in readings in New York and throughout Europe.
David Amram, 80, who in 1959 appeared in and composed the music for the original Beat movie, “Pull My Daisy,” still hosts a mix of jazz and Beat prose the first Monday of every month at Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village, frequently featuring Kerouac readings by Ventimiglia.
He predicts the spike in popularity of his iconic peers will spawn new throngs of free spirits and prompt another press run of “On the Road.”
“And if they read it, they won’t be disappointed,” Amram says.
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