Social Issues

Jack Kerouac Wrote Marlon Brando a Letter, or Maybe He Just Typed It


By 1968, Jack Kerouac realized that hating hippies was cooler than going on the road.

Collectors Weekly's always fascinating Fresh Copy blog has a typewritten gem of 20th Century culture in the U.S.A.: author Jack Kerouac "praying" that actor Marlon Brando might "buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it." 

Helen Hall, a memorabilia expert who liquidated Brando's estate for Christie's in 2005, posted the letter last year, but the find is still fascinating even if you're lukewarm about Kerouac's writing: 

I spent around 10 days at [Brando's] house. By my last trip out there, we had gone through the house with a fine-tooth comb. We had discovered all his movie memorabilia in a bunker in the garden, including his annotated "Godfather" script. I really doubted that there was anything left at the house that would top that…

And then, tucked inside a file of unexciting correspondence, was a letter that appeared to be much older than everything else. I pulled it out, trying not to get excited, but there it was, a typed letter signed at the bottom in bold blue ink, "Jack Kerouac." I nearly fainted. As I read the letter, it became clear that it must date from at least the late 1950s. 

On the scale of might-have-beens, unmade movie adaptations of beloved of-their-moment novels rank pretty low. Still, there's something moving in Kerouac's Mount Nebo vision: "I visualize the beautiful shots could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak." 

Hall is also moved by Kerouac's hopeful "You play Dean and I'll play Sal." But the real poignancy is in a parenthesis that immediately follows this sentence, shimmering with Hollywood's casual lies and willing self-deceptions:  "(Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal)."

Brando doesn't appear to have replied. Both men became fabled as icons of vigorous and beautiful youth who turned into hideous middle-aged blobs, as you can see in this must-watch episode of Firing Line, wherein William F. Buckley has a good laugh about Kerouac's obvious drunkenness right after he himself drops a critical bomb that could only have come from an inebriated mind: saying Kerouac's late novel Vanity of Duluoz was "widely regarded as his best." 

If Brando had supported this project, it's likely a film equal in greatness to One-Eyed Jacks or Teahouse of the August Moon might have resulted. It also possible that having had the movie jones taken care of, Kerouac in his pickled premature senescence would not have tried to sue Stirling Silliphant – the actual greatest writer of the 20th Century – over the knockoff TV series Route 66

Title explained

And what do you know: There actually is a star-studded movie version of On the Road on the Beats:


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  1. Brando had already played that role: see The Wild One. Why play it again with an adaptation from a terrible book?

    1. Ha, good one. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched The Wild One.

      “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?”

      “Whaddaya got?”

  2. Is that Ed Sanders of Fugs fame?

    1. looks like him

    2. Well, considering Buckley clearly identifies him as such, I would answer your question with a “yes”.

  3. On the Road — nearly as overrated as Catcher in the Rye.

    1. OTR is much better. It isn’t just a long whine by some snot-nosed rich punk.

  4. the actual greatest writer of the 20th Century

    AW MAN

    If you’re gonna be like that, at least pick Rod Serling* or Joseph Stefano**.

    *nu-hipster only-celebrities-are-real-artists choice
    **trad-hipster awesome-forgotten-dude option, without Over the Top-level irony baggage

    1. So… (picking at random) … Flannery O’Connor gets me… what? Not “hipster” at all? Oh, boo hoo. After a decade+ in Williamsbug I can say with confidence = Hipsters Don’t Read For Shit. I note that the local-Hipster-bookstore-instution of Spoonbills & Sugartown has a teeny actual ‘literature’ section, while 90% of the offerings are #$*()@ art books… with lots of pictures.

      they point this out themselves =

      That said – more power to those guys. I love their cat. Also, one of the owners wrote the (piss-taking) “Hipster Handbook”…

      …which some late-to-the-party NYT reviewer once took the thing *completely seriously*. Not the original review… just some young culture-critic who needed a few more years to stop being a fucking idiot. I think 30 more.

  5. I think I got dumber from watching the Firing Line video. But it was fun.

  6. Did Jack approach Warner Brothers first? It sounds like he was writingh to a producer.

  7. The old drunk fart was supposed to be liked for what?

    1. At least he knows that commies are no different than nazis.

  8. the actual greatest writer of the 20th Century

    I will take Kesey over Kerouac without leaving the Ks.

    1. Oops, I see that was a reference to Silliphant.

      Now I have to come up with a better writer beginning with an S.

      1. Silliphant loses lots of points for being indirectly responsible for Manos.

        Hence, just using my bookshelf, I will declare Stephenson to be better. And that is without any credit for Neil’s 21st century work.

  9. Well, I like On The Road. I don’t think Kerouac is the greatest American writer or anything, but I thought it was entertaining.

    1. It’s a fine book. Much better than many other titles they force you to read in high school English class.

  10. Now if only we could get a decent movie of Naked Lunch. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cronenberg. It would be interesting though to see a movie more in line with the tone of the book though, I feel he injected a little too much of himself in it. Although I guess that’s natural for such an abstract piece of literature.

    1. It would be interesting though to see a movie more in line with the tone of the book though

      Why not just do smack and listen to records backwards while people dress up in alien costumes and fuck each other in the ass?

      I mean, come on. You might as well beg for a film version of “The Soft Machine”. You really want to blow a few million bucks on a complete waste of time? Start a war, dude. Probably more socially beneficial.

  11. On the Road is not as overrated as Catcher in the Rye, but I might be biased since Jack Kerouac is (was?) my grandmother’s cousin.

    1. Meh. But “9 stories” was still better than anything Kerouac ever wrote. “Rye” has only become over-rated because too many boomer’s who taught High School forced kids to read it.

  12. …saying Kerouac’s late novel Vanity of Duluoz was “widely regarded as his best.”

    I would think that this statement was a stylistic comment in High Buckley-ish, translated as = “…which is to say: …all of this man’s work is such utter shit, that this most recent turd probably has the specific and laudable benefit of being so unreadable that only dedicated masochists will ever suffer the indignity of having read it.”

    Although, who knows… reviewers are fucking idiots. Perhaps at the time it *was* considered half-decent.

  13. Dude sounds a wee bit full of himself.

  14. Loved the Firing Line video. America used to be more colorful and civilized.

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