Happy Birthday Neal Cassady (1926-1968)

Neal Cassady … young & vigorous age 29…. surveying North Beach used car lot, he needed new wheels. Bay area Johnny Appleseed of pot from early 1950’s, he worked as conductor on Southern-Pacific Railroad, averted train crash as brakeman years earlier, breaking his ankle, collected insurance, bought his family a ranch-house in Los Gatos down the peninsula, gambled madly & disastrously at horse racetrack, wrote painfully in pencil on his “The First Third” autobiographical manuscript, visited me overnight in rooms on Polk and Montgomery Streets, San Francisco. Sometime March 1955. (Ginsberg Caption for similar image) photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, used car lot, San Francisco, 1955. photo probably snapped by Natalie Jackson. c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Peter Du Peru, Neal Cassady & Natalie Jackson horsing around maybe Sunday walk above Broadway Tunnel, Neal playing hookey from his wife Caroline & kids in Los Gatos to stay with Natalie at my place. Du Peru eccentric North Beach remittance man was writ by Kerouac as “Richard de Chili, the Mysterious…with his low-spoken incomprehensible remarks,” (Desolation Angels.) Natalie bewildered by amphetamine police jitters jumped off her roof to death a year later. San Francisco, March 1955. photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Korean War Vet Ken Babbs, captain of Ken Kesey’s “Trips Festival” bus, co piloting Neal Cassady on amphetamine at wheel rolling up highway to Millbrook estate near Poughkeepsie [sic] N.Y. where Dr. Tim Leary’s Castalia Foundation was then experimenting with D.M.T. on half-hour psychedelic trip useful for psychiatric sessions. Burglar Gordon Liddy, then assistant D.A. in Poughkeepsie raided the Foundation a number of times illegally lacking search warrants during that season, so Castalia folk were jittery on arrival of honking Day-glo graffiti’d “Merry Prankster” Further bus which’d been driven crosscountry S.F. to N.Y. via Texas before Fall 1964 Presidentiad, “A Vote For Goldwater is a vote for fun” logo painted above bus side windows, L.S.D. Kool-aid in pitcher in icebox. Kesey & Pranksters’d met with Jack Kerouac a day before, & set out to visit hero Leary first time, I went along, late summer 1964. (Ginsberg Caption) photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Neal Cassady‘s 3rd Annual Denver Birthday Bash took place this past Friday, but today, Wednesday, is the actual birthday. Curious thought – Neal Cassady, had he lived, would have been 86 years old today!

The First Third remains – and has remained, consistently – in print, (as does Collected Letters 1944-1967). Various Cassady biographies have appeared, starting with The Holy Goof, William Plummer’s 1981 biography (for a curious tale of what happened to one copy, see here), Tom Christopher’s extensively-researched two volumes (see more on this here and here), and David Sandison and Graham Vickers’ Neal Cassady: The Fast Life of A Beat Hero (2006) (the opening chapter of which may be read here).

Cassady secondary materials? – A list would have to include Carolyn Cassady’s wonderful memoir, Off The Road (not to mention, Heartbeat (both the book and the movie), an earlier incarnation) – a later film, Noah Buschel’s Neal Cassady, dealing “primarily with Neal’s relationship to his fictional alter-ego, Dean Moriarty“, is perhaps – in fact, it has to be said, is – considerably less successful).

Neal, the real Neal also appears in the Carolyn Cassady documentary, Love Always, Carolyn, and the Merry Pranksters documentary, Magic Trip, both of which came out last year.

Plenty of insights too into Cassady in Gerald Nicosia’s new biography (of his first wife, Lu Anne Henderson), published a few months ago.

The Beat, does indeed go on.

A further essential resource, of course, is the Cassady Estate.

(and John Allen Cassady is a living, breathing treasure and font of Neal-lore).

Watch Neal Cassady: The Denver Years  (well, the trailer anyway) via PBS. (courtesy Colorado Public Television) – here


  1. I just watched the IFC film this weekend. I'm very confused as to why Mrs. Cassady disapproves- it seems to reinforce her statements that Neal was putting on an act for Kesey and the Pranksters. Any input?

  2. I agree with first post, IFC's Neal Cassady is an interesting film and Heartbeat is Hollywood garbage.

  3. IFC's Neal Cassady, by Noah Buschel, is a much better movie than the corny 1980 Heartbeat, in my opinion.

    The Beat Community hasn't embraced the IFC movie because it is a dark take on Cassady in the 60's and Carolyn has spoken out against it because they did not run the script by her before making. But when I saw it on Sundance Channel I was pleasantly surprised. Tate Donovan is a much better fit as Neal than the lumbering Nick Nolte. And who thought John Heard could look like/play Kerouac? As for the Carolyn portrayals, I would say Sissy Spacek and Amy Ryan or even, both great actors. The IFC movie itself is quite wonderful to look at and actually has an interesting take on Neal, that he got stuck playing Dean Moriarty and it killed him. It is low-budget and has strange pacing, but I found it to be ten times more artful than the generic, silly studio thing that is Heartbeat.
    Thank You For A Great Blog Overall.
    Happy Birthday, Neal!

  4. photo probably snapped by Natalie Jackson… except that Natalie is clearly standing behind Neal in this photo.

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