This story begins with me, George Nelson
During the fall of 1955, I had just finished spending four years at the bottom rung of the professional show biz ladder. “I knew the way to San Jose,” the October I left New York City to return to my hometown of Campbell, California. I began performing with local theater groups that winter and continued doing local Little Theatre for several years. During the summer of 1958, I joined The Wagon Stagers, a melodrama company that performed under the moon and stars at a replica old western town named “Old Town” and “Old West Museum.” It was built by Frank and Bernice Dean, retired Wild West Show performers in New Almaden, California.The melodramas were performed from the stage set on the flat bed of a nineteenth century freight wagon, flanked on either side by covered freight wagons that served as dressing and make-up rooms for the cast.
Carolyn Cassady was the Wagon Stagers’ make-up artist and wardrobe mistress. I met Carolyn at dress rehearsal while I sat in her make-up chair for the 1958 production of the “King of the Gold Rush.” Our working relationship grew into a friendship that has continued for fifty years. I regard Carolyn as a big sister more than just a friend.My story is as much about my relationship with Carolyn as it is about Neal. I knew Carolyn first. My wife’s and my friendship with Carolyn and Neal was based upon our personal interaction as individual human beings and not as celebrities concocted by the creator of the Beat Generation, nor by groupie tales of Neal’s antics with the mad-cap Merry Pranksters.
The Police State
One night during the early 60s, Neal called me from the San Jose Bus Depot and was quite agitated by the San Jose cops that were giving him the roust. He asked if I could come and pick him up, or they were going to arrest him. When I arrived to the bus depot, there were three cop cars and five cops around Neal. I let the cops know that I was there to pick up Neal and the Sergeant came over to me and said, “get him out of here.” I don’t believe Neal stopped talking once and, even after getting into my pickup, continued talking nonstop about the state of America and that we were on our way to a forced dictatorship (oh how true). Then the subject changed. Neal spoke of having been at Stanford University with a great guy, Ken Kesey, and all the college coeds. Nealrambled on about how they were experimenting with LSD and what a wonderful experience it was. Neal continued discussing the acid experiments all the way to the Bancroft house, praising and quoting Timothy Leary’ s theories of mind expansion. I was always impressed with Neal’s ability to relate theory, philosophy and relativity.
Bervlann's Story Coming Home from The San Francisco Trade Fair
My wife, Berylann, passed away in the fall of 1999, but her story of driving Neal and Carolyn home from San Francisco is another memory of our cherished friend Neal.
On the closing night of the San Francisco International Trade Fair, Berylann drove Carolyn and Neal home to Monte Sereno. The late night was clear with a full moon and stars shining brightly on the Bayshore Highway. Neal was in the passenger seat with the window down. Neal was explaining the relativity of the moon and stars, when a Volkswagen Bug drove along side our car. Neal continued talking about the planets; however, he left the subject abruptly to discuss the rpm’s of the Volkswagen and how it had super construction due to German engineering. Berylann was always fascinated with Neal’s ability to carry on highly intelligent dialog on most any subject, embracing everything with enthusiasm and excitement.
I have many memories of our unique times spent together. My “Visions of Cody:”
13 Minutes to Scotts Valley
One of my favorite memories with Neal is my 13-minute ride to Scotts Valley from Monte Sereno. During a get-together at the Cassady’s, Neal was exceedingly hyper and said to Carolyn that he needed to go to the Barn and get some party goers. Carolyn told him sternly, “You don’t have a car and you can’t use mine.” Neal replied, “I’ll get one. George will give me his keys.” My answer to Neal was, “You don’t go without me.” Neal sped down Saratoga/Los Gatos Road at a 100 mph with me in the passenger seat of my car. We got on Highway 17 heading south to Scotts Valley. Neal was constantly talking to me of the great suspension and power of my 1953 Mercury while we hit speeds exceeding 100 mph up to the summit, all the time telling me exactly the numerical speed of the engine. In a flash, we were at the Barn in Scotts Valley, offthe first exit into Scotts Valley. Neal noted that we did not set a record, as it took us 13 minutes and he had told Carolyn that we would be back in 30 minutes. Within seconds, we loaded the people from the Barn into my car and headed back to Monte Sereno, arriving 11 minutes later. Neal announced, “See, we are back in just 28 minutes, of course.” I am thankful I lived to tell the story and did not end of up in jail for breaking a myriad of speed laws.
Look at The Poodle
We; Berylann, Zabett and myself, attended a big party in honor of Allen Ginsberg who was staying at the Cassady’s in the mid-60s. I went out with Randy, Jami’s husband, to see Randy’s vegetable garden. It took up the entire backyard. It was the most magnificent garden I had ever seen including all varieties of vegetables and interspersed with flowers. Under the tree in the backyard sat Allen meditating in the lotus position. Randy escorted him into the house to mingle with the guests. At this time, Neal went into the kitchen and found a bowl of potato salad. He was talking with everyone, carrying the bowl of potato salad around eating it, and telling everyone that the ice cream he was eating was so delicious. All of a sudden, he dropped some potato salad on the floor, looked down and exclaimed, “Oh, look Ma, it’s a poodle!” It was uncanny, the glob on the floor did look like a poodle.
We asked George Nelson to write something for us this month.
George and his wife, Berylann, were close friends of Neal and Carolyn during the 1950's and 1960's. Sadly, Berylann is no longer with us. She was funny and vibrant, a beautiful lady and we miss her still. Their (also beautiful) daughter, Zabett, is a great friend, too. Enjoy!
Memoir of Our Life with Carolyn and Neal
George, Berylann and Zabett: The Nelsons
Carolyn and Neal Cassady were our friends and equals, first and foremost. We had mutual respect. We enjoyed each other’s company. We did what friends do: We would get together for dinners at our place; attend parties at the Bancroft place; enjoy corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day at Dugan’s Corner; attend the Hyland Games at Foothill College; and take in the Shriner East/West Game at Stanford Stadium.Carolyn was the one who named our daughter, Zabett, and who also painted ourdaughter’s First Holy Communion picture. And how can we forget; “Communication’sInternational?” The name of the group of women, including my wife, Berylann, and Carolyn who displayed the current international fashions at the San Francisco International Trade Fair of 1966.
During the summer of 1958, Neal was a “guest of the state” at San
Quentin Prison. From time-to-time, while Neal was away, I would drop
by Carolyn’s with farm fresh vegetables, meat and eggs from my parents’
ranch. The Cassady’s home on Bancroft was always an open house even
before the Santa Clara Boys and Neal returned with his Merry Pranksters.
Members of our Wagon Stagers’ cast of 1958 were regular, unannounced
drop-in visitors. Our cast never stopped having cast parties. We were
having the cast parties until 1960. Our cast parties were legendary. We
would party in parking lots and danced in the street in Almaden in front of
the old adobe store until the owners kicked us out.It was mid-May 1960,
when Carolyn invited me over to meet Neal. She said she was inviting a
few close friends to welcome him home. I asked if I could bring my then
girlfriend, Berylann. When Berylann and I arrived, everyone including the
Hinkles, had left. That provided Berylann and me to have a great bonding
get-together with Carolyn and Neal.
Carolyn and Berylann proved to be sisters under the skin. They were both into the philosophy of Edgar Cayce and even discussed past-life beliefs.Neal and I hit it off. I got him talking about friends and acquaintances of mine who were still in San Quentin Prison, and who turned out to be east cell block neighbors of Neal. I had to explain to Neal that I had not been an inmate. Instead, during the late 1940s and early 195 Os, on several occasions, I had taken boxers who were with my Dad’s boxing club to fight in the San Quentin Boxing Programs.
Neal and I had a couple of good laughs about Father Dingburg, the prison chaplain. It turned out that Neal had been his “alter boy” for the two years he was imprisoned. Some of the names I dropped Neal knew. His descriptions of some of the inmates fit the profiles I knew of them. We also shared railroad experiences. All in all, between Berylann and me, we really bent Neal’s and Carolyn’s ears that evening. When we were leaving, they enthusiastically invited us back.
On the night of July 20, 1960, I stopped by the Cassadys’ house to let them know that Berylann and I were going to elope and marry in Lake Tahoe on Friday after work, July 22. Carolyn and the kids were in Michigan when I came by, and Neal was super happy when he answered the door. He exclaimed, “come in, come in — look what the Viper brought!” On the low table by the fireplace sat two motion picture film cans filled with green and brown buds of marijuana. Neal continued in his animated delivery,”.. .the Viper brought them on the Greyhound, of course.” Neal invited me to stay and join him in tasting his gift from the Viper. I said I had to really go and I didn’t know who the Viper was.
I could see why he was used by Jack Kerouac as a character in so many novels. Neal’s
personality was one of a kind; his physique was pure muscle tone that was naturally healthy,
an uncommon sight in those days. He attracted many personalities in his life; prison
psychologists, philosophers, poets, writers, adventurers, undercover cops, astrologers,
parole officers, champion athletes, all walks of life. Neal was like a swirling dervish, traveling
along the road to the next lifetime in a rushing tide that would take him out and beyond. I
consider myself fortunate to have traveled from time-to-time on that road with Neal, who was
continuously in verbal and physical motion.
On February 8th, Jami and I went to San Francisco to celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary and Neal’s 82nd birthday party at the Beat Museum.
For the past 3 years The Beat Museum has celebrated Neal Cassady’s birthday with various local poets doing readings and signings. Jami’s brother, John, also performs, as he did again this year. Jerry Cimino, the owner of The Beat Museum, did things a little differently this year. He held the event over two days with many poets, musicians and local artists showing their work. Among the many guests were Jerry Kamstra, author of several books including "Weed" and "The Frisco Kid". He read a very moving piece about Neal that Jami really enjoyed. Beat poet, ruth weiss, was there and Al Hinkle also regaled the crowd with memories of his friendship with Neal and stories of Denver. (View the program)
Jami and I had called a good friend, Stephany Buswell, and asked if she would bake a birthday cake for us to take to the party and serve to the guests. Stephany was one of my teachers in culinary school and is one of the only female certified master bakers in the United States. She did a fabulous job! It was a round cake with a spiraling Route 66 on the top. She also used a computer to scan pictures of Neal, Carolyn and Jack (and of course the ‘49 Hudson) around the sides. It was also delicious!! www.chefany.com.
We had dinner with Stephany, Dawn and Al Hinkle and a very good friend and mentor, Janet Anderson, at a new Italian restaurant across from the Beat Museum. We met Janet at The LaHonda Faire last summer and she tried to show the ins and outs of manning a booth...besides being a bio-chemist, she is a very talented tie-die artist and can be reached at www.bebopandco.com.