Saturday, May 4, 2019

Local legends of the literary world

Troubled Colorado writers and a history of strangeness 

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”
Ernest Hemingway 


In 1964, Hunter S. Thompson traveled to Ernest Hemingway's home in Ketchum, Idaho, to write an article for The National Observer about "this outback little Idaho village that struck such a responsive chord in America's most famous writer." While he was there, Thompson stole a pair of antlers from the front door of the "comfortable-looking chalet," where Hemingway had shot himself three years earlier, wrote Matt Miller in Esquire magazine a few years ago.
"For decades, the elk antlers hung inside Thompson's Owl Farm ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado. Thompson and his wife allegedly planned to take a road trip back to Ketchum and quietly return them. Like Hemingway, Thompson shot himself in his home. Now, after 52 years, the antlers have made it back to the Hemingway family, as Hunter's widow, Anita Thompson, drove them back to Idaho this month where she returned them to the home—now owned by charity the Nature Conservancy," Miller wrote, in August of 2016.
Colorado writers (and most writers, in general) have a history of strangeness. Years ago, during my first year of college at Fort Lewis in Durango, I was re-introduced to the odd behavior of local legends of the literary world in a Contemporary Lit class taught be an odd bird named Paul Pavich, that sported a wild a hairstyle of tight curls in a full evenly rounded shape, and wore bibbed overalls and white tee-shirt, almost everyday.
Pavich later started the Western Literature and Durango Literature conferences. These conferences ran through the 1980s and 1990s, bringing internationally recognized authors of all genres to Durango such as Kurt Vonnegut, Maya Angelou, Larry McMurtry and Allen Ginsberg.
At the time, organizer of the conferences, retired FLC English professor Paul Pavich, says the Southwest was rapidly growing as a hotbed of producing writers. The region gradually crept its way into a variety of writer's works, many of them paying homage to a vast landscape that is diverse in its scenery, culture and politics, Pavich said.
"People were interested in the Southwest take on all kinds of things."
In Pavich's Lit class in 1980, I think we were required to read "Dharma Bums," by Jack Kerouac, and "Sometimes a Great Notion," by Ken Kesey, who was born in Colorado.
We also became quite familiar with Neal Cassady, whose mother died when he was 10, and he was raised by his alcoholic father in Denver. Cassady spent much of his youth either living on the streets of skid row with his father or in reform school.
As a youth, Cassady was repeatedly involved in petty crime. He was arrested for car theft when he was 14, for shoplifting and car theft when he was 15, and for car theft and fencing stolen property when he was 16.
In 1941, the 15-year-old Cassady met Justin W. Brierly, a prominent Denver educator. Brierly was well known as a mentor of promising young men and was impressed by Cassady's intelligence. Over the next few years, Brierly took an active role in Cassady's life. Brierly helped admit Cassady to East High School where he taught. Cassady continued his criminal activities, however, and was repeatedly arrested from 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. In June 1944, Cassady was arrested for possession of stolen goods and served eleven months of a one-year prison sentence.
In 1946, he and his first wife, LuAnne Henderson traveled to New York City to visit their friend, Hal Chase, another protégé of Brierly's at Columbia University. While there,  Cassady met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. While in New York, Cassady persuaded Kerouac to teach him to write fiction. Cassady's second wife, Carolyn, has stated that, "Neal, having been raised in the slums of Denver amongst the world's lost men, determined to make more of himself, to become somebody, to be worthy and respected. His genius mind absorbed every book he could find, whether literature, philosophy or science. 
Neal Cassady was prominently featured as himself in the first draft version of Jack Kerouac's novel "On the Road," and served as the model for the character Dean Moriarty in the 1957 version of that book. In many of Kerouac's later books, Cassady is represented by the character Cody Pomeray. Cassady also appeared in Allen Ginsberg's poems, and in several other works of literature by other writers. 
"The Beats," as they became to be known,  moved around a lot after meeting in New York City and substantially launching the movement in San Francisco, but Cassady made his home in Denver, which was a mountainous desert compared with the booming post-war coastal cities, says Marlo Safi, in The National Review, April, 2019.


"What drew the Beats to Denver was Beatnik prototype Neal Cassady. Cassady, aka The Holy Goof; aka Western Kinsman of the Sun, spent his childhood on the notorious Larimer Street Skid Row and was as out of step with the mass conformity of postwar America as one could possibly hope to be. His influence on literary giants such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg was undeniably profound.
While Cassady cast a long shadow, he wasn't Denver's only connection to the Beat Generation. Local architect Ed White is actually the person who connected the Beats with Cassady while attending New York University. While White wasn't technically part of the Beat Generation, he bears plenty of responsibility for their development. (White also contributed mightily to Denver by way of the many buildings he designed, including the dome at the Denver Botanic Gardens.)
Although the Denver that the Beats experienced is long gone, their footprints are still out there for researchers and casual fans to explore. To help facilitate that research, the Denver Public Library's Western History and Genealogy Department has plenty of material on the Beat Generation, Neal Cassady, their time in Denver, and the legacy they left behind.
The legacy of western writers running roughshod in Colorado was  established long before that, of course, by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Dalton Trumbo.
 For example, during his 1883 tour of the United States the world-renowned author Oscar Wilde, reportedly noted a sign hanging in Leadville saloon.
“Don’t shoot the piano player; he is doing the best he can,” it read.
The phrase became a colorful western variation meaning roughly the same as “Don’t kill the messenger.”
Mark Twain (Sam Clemons) liked the reference so much he adopted it in some of his lectures, but neither Wilde nor Twain claimed it was their’s originally.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and his brother Orion stopped for an hour in Julesburg, or Overland City, a Colorado town on the South Platte River. They were 470 miles into their stagecoach ride west from St. Joseph, Missouri. In Roughing It, Twain called Julesburg “the strangest, quaintest, funniest frontier town that our untraveled eyes had ever stared at and been astonished with.” Originally established in 1859 as a trading post named for Jules Beni, a French trader, Julesburg was known by the time of Twain’s visit for Jack Slade, desperado (reportedly killer of twenty-six people) and division agent at Julesburg for the overland stage company; one of Slade’s victims was Beni.
And there was James Dalton Trumbo, born in Montrose, Colorado, and educated in Grand Junction,  who became an American screenwriter and novelist who scripted many award-winning films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He, with the other members of the Hollywood Ten and hundreds of other industry professionals, was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. His talents as one of the top screenwriters allowed him to continue working clandestinely, producing work under other authors' names or pseudonyms. His uncredited work won two Academy Awards: for Roman Holiday (1953), which was given to a front writer, and for The Brave One (1956) which was awarded to a pseudonym of Trumbo's. When he was given public screen credit for both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960, this marked the beginning of the end of the Hollywood Blacklist for Trumbo and other screenwriters. He finally was given full credit by the Writers' Guild for all his achievements, the work of which encompassed six decades of screenwriting.

Photo 1: Neal Cassady, left, with Jack Kerouac in 1952. Photograph by his wife Carolyn.

Photo 2: Hunter S. Thompson on his wedding day with his new bride Anita - April 24, 2003. They were married at the Pitkin County Courthouse. Thompson, 67, died a self inflicted gunshot wound at his rural home, Owl Farm, (also known as the "Kitchen") in Woody Creek, near Aspen, Colorado. (Louisa Davidson/Special to the Rocky Mountain News.)
Photo 3: During a break in the filming of the 1959 historic beat film, "Pull My Daisy," featuring an original music score by David Amram, who also appeared in the film, the composer (top right, hand to mouth) shares ideas with some of his collaborators, including (left to right), poet Gregory Corso (back to camera), artist Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram and Allen Ginsberg. "Pull My Daisy" features Jack Kerouac's narration and a title song by David Amram, with lyrics by Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. Photo by John Cohen.
Photo 4: Kenneth Elton Kesey considered himself a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the hippies of the 1960s. Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado, and grew up in Springfield, Oregon.

Photo 5: Dalton Trumbo at House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, 1947.
 
Photo 6: Oscar Wilde, photographed in 1882 by Napoleon Sarony.
Photo 7: In addition to being a famous author and humorist, American writer Mark Twain was also responsible for inventions like the adjustable bra strap.





















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