Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's up with Kerouac lately?

Every now and then I do a web search to see if any new images of Jack Kerouac have popped up. Mostly what you get are the usual suspects, well-known images that get re-posted over and over again, but every so often new sources go public with stuff they have been sitting on for decades. This post is an opportunity to gather some of these new photo resources together...

The most exciting new series I have found consists of four portrait shots, done by Tom Palumbo, who for many years did fashion photography for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar as well as celebrity work. He later became a theatre director and was affiliated with Actor's Studio. He is now 86 or 87 and has apparently decided to have someone create a Flickr photostream for him, and to have a nice website showing much of his best work....

Some time in 1955 Palumbo did a session in New York City in a painter's studio on E. 13th Street. Kerouac looks quite aggressive and macho in the resulting shots, perhaps because he was hungry, as Palumbo notes in a caption that the painter cooked up some spaghetti for them to eat after the shoot was wrapped up... Some of the images came up on the web in connection with a Vanity Fair article by Joyce Johnson, posted last August in connection with the 50th anniversary of the US publication of On the Road. The three images below come from Palumbo's photostream:







Don't Mess with Jack Kerouac is Palumbo's caption...

Speaking of Joyce Johnson's Vanity Fair article, this piece also has some quite unusual colour photographs of Kerouac and her, apparently taken at night in New York City. One shows Kerouac leaning against a lamp-post with Joyce in the background (she is out of focus, so you need to know it's her to identify her), another has Kerouac squatting in front of the lamp-post (Joyce is not in this picture at all) with a busy luminous background of neon signs and moving cars...

Joyce was Kerouac's girlfriend at the time when On the Road first appeared and she went with Kerouac to buy the newspapers and read the first reviews of the novel in the early editions on the day of the novel's release. It would be nice to think the photo set was shot on that occasion, but I doubt that was really the case. Joyce went on to write a memoir about her life with Jack, called Minor Characters (1983), and she has also written a play based on letters exchanged between herself and Kerouac.
The photos below were taken by Jerome Yulsman for Globe Photos, Inc., and cannot be dated more precisely than late 1950s (post 1957, pre-break-up with Joyce):




Joyce describes in her article how Kerouac was ill-prepared for the fame and the attendent media frenzy that came with On the Road's success. Kerouac eventually sought refuge on the West Coast and during one of his stays with Carolyn Cassady, the wife of Neal Cassady (the hero of On the Road) and occasional lover of Kerouac, she took a serene snapshot of Kerouac in an easy chair, reading. Note the unlaced, but not discarded hiking boots. Kerouac was, as ever, ready for that 'one fast move and I'm gone'...



While actually whipping On the Road into what the publishers thought was an acceptable shape Kerouac lived a few months in Orlando, Florida. The house he lived in is now a writers' retreat where one can stay as a writer in residence for a few months. After On the Road came out a local photographer did some work for a piece in Time Magazine on the newly famous resident. One very nice shot has surfaced on the web, showing Kerouac among oranges on the back steps of the house with a cat on his lap.




Jack Kerouac on steps at Clouser St.: Orange County Regional History Center, from images by Orlando photographer Fred DeWitt.

Another rarely seen Orlando picture shows Jack with his suitcase, getting ready to leave his sister and brother-in-law's house after a 1959 visit. Note the caption in Swedish in the upper right-hand corner of the image. This may be a photo taken in connection with the collaboration Kerouac did with photographer Robert Frank on a book called simply The Americans...


As Kerouac grew more and more weary of his role as King of the Beats, his alcoholism deepened. Not surprisingly many of the sixties photos of Jack show him in bars or other public places, often clearly intoxicated.

One such picture, Bert Glinn's photo for Magnum, shows Kerouac partying among the folkies at the 7 Arts Café in Greenwich Village, 1959:



A similar picture, but of rather more cultural interest, shows Kerouac with a group of close friends at an undisclosed New York diner. The group features Allen Ginsberg, far right; Greg Corso, who is only represented via the back of his head; David Amram, who has his mouth open (Amram is a musician who frequently collaborated w. Kerouac and who was involved in the film project Pull My Daisy); and - most interestingly - New York School painter and poet, Larry Rivers, seen in profile, wearing a suit (as the only one present)...



This photo, and several others from the same day (in connection with the shooting of the film Pull My Daisy) was taken by John Cohen (who also took the famous 1959 shot of Kerouac listening to himself on the radio)...

But, let's close on a note of up-beat youth and bucolic idyl, with Walter Lehrman's amazing picture of a radiant, yet pensive Jack, anticipating his summer as a fire lookout in the Cascades, 1956:

2 comments:

Camelia said...

The Palumbo series is great, though Kerouac emerges as one who is rather clueless. All of the pictures suggest to me, either that Kerouac was reading Heidegger at the time - the question: what am I doing in this world? is written all over his face - or else he was troubled by a more urgent instinct, such as hunger. Oh, what is one do with all that philosophy, when all one really wants is some spaghetti?

The colored pictures are very stylized, due to the light effect. Stage work. The dramatic effect is full-blown here. Good job.

ghermez02 said...

Thank you so much for posting this, just awesome stuff.