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Obituaries

Lucien Carr, 79; Catalyst, Muse for Beat Writers

January 30, 2005|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Lucien Carr, who brought together, befriended and served as muse for novelists Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg, the three writers who formed the core of literature's Beat Generation, has died. He was 79.

Carr died Friday of cancer at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

More a facilitator than a contributor to Beat literature, Carr countered the rebellious culture's ethics and irked his friends by forging a straight workaday career writing and editing news. He retired in 1993 as assistant managing editor for national news for United Press International after 47 years working for the wire service.

A role model for the do-anything Beats, Carr was a hard-drinking, brawling intellectual who liked to liven up dull parties at Columbia University by chewing up his beer glass, ripping pages out of a Bible or putting Kerouac into a wooden barrel and rolling him down Broadway.

Carr also proved a pragmatic muse. Camping out in Carr's New York City loft in 1951, Kerouac was experimenting with a new writing technique he called "spontaneous prose." But, as a former speed-typing champion, he felt stymied in spewing out thoughts and expressions nonstop by, well, stopping to change sheets of typing paper.

So Carr brought him a roll of teletype paper, used in his and every other newsroom of the day to print telegraph and wire service stories from around the world. Kerouac fed one end of the roll into his typewriter, and 20 days later out came his landmark 1957 novel, "On the Road."

The 119-foot-long scroll manuscript -- chewed badly on one end by Carr's dog -- was sold at auction in 2001 by Christie's for $2.43 million, at the time a record for a literary manuscript.

Carr remained close to Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg until their deaths, although he had brought a measure of controversy to them and to Columbia early in their acquaintance by killing a man who had made unwanted advances toward him Aug. 13, 1944.

The night of the fatal stabbing, perhaps in deference to Carr's special position in the Beat hierarchy, became the starting point for the 2000 docudrama "Beat," directed by Gary Walkow and starring Kiefer Sutherland as Burroughs.

Carr, born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, enrolled in Columbia University and met Ginsberg when they lived on the same dorm floor.

He soon met Kerouac through a woman student friend and Burroughs, who was also from St. Louis. Sensing kindred spirits, Carr drew them all into a close circle, creating the nucleus of the Beats.

Handsome and blond, the then-17-year-old Carr had been pursued for years by 35-year-old David Kammerer, a burly physical education teacher who was also Carr's former Scoutmaster in St. Louis. Carr had befriended Kammerer and briefly included him in the circle with his new Beat friends.

In the early morning hours of that Aug. 13, according to James Campbell's 1999 book, "This Is the Beat Generation," Kammerer, while sitting with Carr in Riverside Park near the Columbia campus, made advances toward Carr, who was not homosexual. The teenager pulled out his Boy Scout knife and stabbed Kammerer twice. Then Carr panicked. After tying the victim's hands and feet together with his own shoelaces, Carr placed stones in his pockets and rolled him down the bank into the Hudson River.

Carr went first to Burroughs, who advised him to tell his family, get a lawyer and plead self-defense against an unwanted homosexual advance. Then Carr went to see Kerouac, who advised him to drop the knife down a subway grate and took him for a drink before going to authorities. Later, at both friends' advice, Carr turned himself in, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and spent two years of a 1-to-20-year prison sentence in upstate New York.

After the incident, in which both Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as material witnesses and Kerouac was briefly jailed, Ginsberg wrote in his journal, "The libertine circle is destroyed

Kerouac and the others acquiesced to Carr's demand that he never appear as a character in any of their writings and that no books be dedicated to him. But Kerouac nevertheless did allude to the killing in his first novel, "The Town and the City," and in his last, "Vanity of Duluoz."

Despite the disaffected lifestyle of his youth, Carr was known at UPI for a no-nonsense approach to gathering information and reporting it clearly.

A former UPI editor who worked with him, Jon Frandsen, told Associated Press on Friday that Carr "really believed that journalists were about the business of finding out the truth as best as they could."

But Carr seemed to believe, based on his long association with Kerouac and the others, that novelists could be freer in their writing.

Novelist Caleb Carr, one of his three sons, told Salon magazine in 1997 that his father read the younger man's carefully researched, bestselling 1994 work, "The Alienist," and then commented over the phone: "Geez, you had to do a lot of work to write this book. You had to do a lot of research. Everybody I knew just sat down and wrote."

In addition to Caleb, Carr is survived by two other sons, Simon and Ethan; and his companion, Kathleen Silvassy.

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