Born: April 28, 1923

Died: Sept 20, 2013

Off the Road

Carolyn Cassady's Biography

....from her writings

Carolyn Cassady was born Carolyn Robinson in Lansing, Michigan on 28 April 1923 at 10:AM CST, the youngest of five siblings. Her parents were educators, her mother a former English teacher, her father a Biochemist. They held strict conventional values. She lived in East Lansing for eight years until moving to Nashville, Tennessee, where she spent 9 winters. Summers were spent at Glen Lake in Michigan. In Nashville, Carolyn attended the Ward-Belmont Preparatory School for Girls. She began formal art lessons at age 9, sold her first portrait at age 14, her second at 16 and continued to paint portraits the rest of her life.

At the age of 12 she joined the Nashville Community Playhouse. She won two prizes for set designs and became head of the make-up department at age 16. She continued her work there every season even after she earned a scholarship to Bennington College in Vermont. There she began studying art but switched to drama.

She was allowed to live and study for six months in New York in 1943 where she worked for Dazian's fabric company by day, studied at Traphagen School of Design by night and on weekends browsed in the basements of the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art for little known prints of period dress. That was a great year in New York for her major; she was required to see as many productions of all kinds, and Broadway was awash with the famous of stage and screen. Oklahoma opened as well as others; the American Ballet Theater began, and the hotels all featured the biggest swing bands of the era.

She and her roommate became air raid wardens, auxillary members of the NYPD Before they found their apartment on E.55th Street, she spent two weeks at the home of Robert Sherwood, the playwright and writer of FDR's speeches. At Bennington she took classes with Martha Graham, Erich Fromm, Peter Drucker, Francis Ferguson, Ted Roethke, and other noted teachers in their fields. She obtained her BA degree in Stanislavsky Drama in 1944.

Meeting Neal, Allen & Jack:
After college she became an Occupational Therapist for the Army and served at Torney General Hospital in Palm Springs, California. At the war's end, she returned to Nashville to continue at the Playhouse, paint and recover from her stressful war experiances. In 1946 she went to Denver to study for her MA degree in Fiine Arts and Theater Arts for one year while working as a Teaching Assistant. She began a Theater Arts department for the Denver Art Museum. Whille in Denver she met Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

She lived in a residence hotel, and Ginsberg stayed in her apartment for two weeks before finding one of his own and helped her with homework. Kerouac accompanied her to rehearsals at the University and rode the streetcars back and forth. He, Neal and Carolyn went to clubs to dance and hear music. Carolyn and Jack were attracted to each other, but Jack told her, "Too bad, Neal saw you first."On her last morning in Denver, Carolyn came upon Allen, Neal and Neal's then wife, LuAnne all in her bed together. She was so shocked, she decided that was the end of that love affair, and she left for Hollywood. Here she obtained a promise of a job in the Western Costume Company when one became available.

To wait for that opening, she went to San Francisco, where she had a married sister with whom she stayed until finding her own apartment and a job with Joseph Magnin's selling jewelery. Neal had gone to Texas with Allen and then drove Bill Burroughs to New York. Five weeks since they had parted he took a bus to San Francisco to join Carolyn. They lived happily together while Neal tried to obtain an annullment from LuAnne. This became final on the 31st of March 1948, and they were married the following day, April Fool's Day. Carolyn, however, was already pregnant. Neal worked at various jobs, ending as a conductor on the SP railroad. The Hollywood job was offered her, but she told them she now had a family so declined.

Carolyn & Neal, domestic life:
When their child, Cathleen Joanne was three months old, Neal used their savings of $900 to buy a new 1949 Hudson. He tried to convince Carolyn he was obligated to go to New York to collect Kerouac and to provide a honeymoon for Al Hinkle and his new bride, Helen. Carolyn felt this was desertion, although Neal had arranged for her care, and she told him not to return.But return he did, took care of Cathy while Carolyn got a job with a Radiologist. He had not as yet been called back to the railroad for the season. Kerouac spent a few days with them, then returned to New York. Carolyn and Neal moved to better housing at 29 Russell Street, and in 1952 Kerouac joined them for several months, beginning to write Visions of Neal, which later became On The Road, Visions of Cody and other works.

With Neal's encouragement, Carolyn and Kerouac began an affair that continued until 1960. Kerouac again lived with them after they moved to San Jose in 1953 where he also became a breakman. Gisnsberg visited later, then moved to San Francisco to inaugurate the "Beat Generation". When in New York, Kerouac and Ginsberg wrote by-monthly letters to them both until their deaths. Carolyn and Neal had two more children, Jami and John Allen, named for Kerouac and Ginsberg.When Neal received compensation for a railroad injury, they were able to buy a home in Los Gatos, soon to become Monte Sereno 60 miles south of San Francisco where she lived until 1983. Jack, Allen and other so-called Beat writers often visited. Carolyn continued to paint portraits and became costume and make-up artist for the Los Gatos Academy of Dance, the Wagon Stagers, the San Jose Opera Company, the San Jose Light Opera Company and the drama club of the University of Santa Clara. 

Neal's Arrest:
In 1958 Neal was arrested by narcotic agents to whom he had given three marijuana cigarettes. He was tried, however, as a dealer because the agents knew he could "blow their cover".They said "get that kid off the streets." and rigged the trial to accomplish that. (There was nothing whatsoever to do with his reputation as the hero of Kerouac's book as Dean Moriarity. Those cops only read the comics; no one had heard of Kerouac then.) Neal served two years in San Quentin prison while Carolyn battled with the Welfare department and kept up her painting and theater work. When Neal was released but progressively errant--he had lost his railroad job--when his parole was up in 1963, she divorced him, thinking she was freeing him from the burden of supporting a family. This was a mistake and removed the last pillar or his self-esteem. In five years he was dead from excessive drug use. Correct details of that death are in her book. 

Life After Neal:
Carolyn continued working for Radioligists after a spell on the local newspaper and extended her theater activities. Carolyn was a founding member of the Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine and was the correspondence secretary for four years in the early '70s. She met many interesting people in the occult and medical world from all over. Uri Geller, Puharich, the Findhorn people, Marcus Bach, the astronaut who started an institution much like the APM after he'd seen the earth as a blue jewel, but he wasn't as interested in alternative medicine. She also got to know Dane Rudhyar, the greatest astrologer, and she corresponded with one of the Russian scientists behind the book Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain." When the Academy closed, she then managed the office for a year for a company that imported bamboo stakes for nurseries from China. Her son-in-law, Randy, was a salesman for them, too.

She was also commissioned in 1970 by Doubleday to write her memoires of her life with Cassady and Kerouac. She could not obtain permission to print Kerouac's letters, so the book was then shelved, only to be published in 1990, first in London. When the children had all married and left home, she longed for more culture for which she'd been trained and moved to England. She had been brought up with many Enlglish customs and her ancestors were all buried there. In London she found the answer to all her artistic and historical tastes. After 16 years the flat became too small, so she sold it and moved an hour away in the country where she still lives in a mobile home she designed. She travelled extensively in Europe, Sweden and Russia, making many friends.She has written the details of her life with Neal in her book OFF THE ROAD, now revised, expanded and re-issued.

​The book Heart Beat was an excerpt from the manuscript of the whole book, not a different book, and it has been long out of print. Because the makers of the film Heart Beat used that title, it is thought of as the source, but they bought the rights to the entire book, even though they ignored the content. There is an extensive bibliography of her articles, book reviews and illustrations, but most are out of print and far too long for this page. The creator is Michael Powell, Prof. of English at the University of Oregon.