Free-spirited adventuress? Promiscuous party girl? Proto-feminist? Who was the real Lu Anne Henderson, immortalized as “Marylou” in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?
Nicosia (Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets and Bargirls, 2006, etc.) and Santos address many of the labels thrown at Henderson and her reputation in this composite text comprised of scholarly analysis, an extensive interview with Henderson conducted in 1978 and personal memoirs about her. Henderson, the 15-year-old beauty who married Neal Cassady, accompanied Kerouac, Cassady and others on the cross-country adventures later fictionalized in On the Road. Nicosia makes a compelling case for Henderson’s unique perspective on and understanding of Kerouac and Cassady, poster boys for the Beat generation. Henderson was there from the onset of their friendship, when she and a passionate, frenzied Cassady arrived in New York City in a stolen car, carrying suitcases of books but no cash. The two quickly fell in with a group of young students and budding writers, including Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and John Clellon Holmes. Cassady, desperately trying to become a writer and overcome his lack of education, was enthralled, inspired and sometimes jealous of these new peers. The balancing act of admiration and misunderstanding was most pronounced between Kerouac and Cassady, especially in later years. Yet their friendship ran deep and had profound effects on both of their lives, as Henderson directly observed in her role as friend and lover: “I really believe there was something of an umbilical cord between the two of them, because their lives were so entwined, and they really both ran the same gamut, and wound up at the same place.” Henderson’s extensive interview provides a unique perspective on the development of the seminal Kerouac-Cassady friendship, as well as anecdotes about and corrections to the account rendered in On the Road. The oft-maligned Henderson, characterized as an oversexed nitwit in many film and memoir accounts of the period, speaks with intelligence, insight and tenderness about her experiences and her genuine affection for both men.
A real find for Beat aficionados, adding verve to a cherished moment in American history and the novel that came to define it.