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Lucien Carr, a Founder and a Muse of the Beat Generation, Dies at 79

<nyt_byline type=” ” version=”1.0″> By WILBORN HAMPTON  Published: January 30, 2005


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Three of the Beats: Lucien Carr, flanked by the writer William S. Burroughs, left, and the poet Allen Ginsberg in New York City in 1953.

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Lucien Carr, one of the founders – and one of the last survivors – of the Beat Generation of poets and writers, although one who never wrote poetry or novels, died on Friday. He was 79.

Mr. Carr died at George Washington University Hospital after collapsing at his home in Washington, said his son, the writer Caleb Carr. He had suffered from bone cancer in recent years.

A literary lion who never roared, Mr. Carr served as an inspirational muse to a bunch of college chums at Columbia University in the 1940’s: the poet Allen Ginsberg and the novelists William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, writers who a decade later changed the course of American letters in coffeehouses in San Francisco and New York.

It was Mr. Carr, for example, who introduced Ginsberg to the works of Rimbaud, a major influence on Ginsberg’s work, and then introduced Burroughs to Kerouac and Ginsberg. He introduced them all to Neal Cassady, a railway worker with literary ambitions who became part of the Columbia undergraduates’ coterie of “angel-headed hipsters.” Together they formed the nucleus of what became the Beats.

Any practical assistance Mr. Carr gave to the Beat movement came as an encouraging editor, the profession he pursued for nearly half a century at United Press and United Press International. It was Mr. Carr, for example, who gave Kerouac the roll of teletype paper, pilfered from U.P., on which the author wrote “On the Road,” and it was Mr. Carr who was among the first to read the novel and offer advice, which may or may not have been taken. As Ginsberg once said, “Lou was the glue.”

Chroniclers of the era and biographers of its writers have always had as much trouble placing Mr. Carr in the group snapshot of the Beats as they have had in defining the movement. Both defied description. The one episode all seize upon came while Mr. Carr was still at Columbia. In repulsing the homosexual advances of a hanger-on of the Beat crowd, Mr. Carr stabbed his pursuer with a Boy Scout knife and killed him. Mr. Carr served a brief time in prison for manslaughter, but was later pardoned.

Born in New York but raised in St. Louis, Mr. Carr had boyish good looks that were only enhanced by a slouchy physique and sardonic grin hidden under a riverboat gambler mustache. A motorcycle enthusiast, who took up boating on his retirement, Mr. Carr was a great jazz aficionado and an avid reader for whom the greatest joys in life were in simple things like a long riff on a tenor sax or a well-turned dependent clause.

Shortly after leaving Columbia, Mr. Carr, to the consternation of his fellow Beats, took a job with United Press in New York and spent the rest of his career, until his retirement in 1993, with the wire service, mostly as the news editor supervising the agency’s report for morning newspapers. He remained in contact with the Beats, although Kerouac and Cassady died young. Ginsberg remained a close friend until his death in 1997 and often visited Mr. Carr at U.P.I.’s newsroom to lobby for coverage of whatever political cause he was pursuing at the moment.

If he had been more of a midwife to the Beats, Mr. Carr was an extremely vocal mentor to two generations of journalists who came up through the ranks at U.P.I. He was a great champion of brevity. “Why don’t you just start with the second paragraph?” was his frequent advice to young reporters overly fond of their own prose.

He guided U.P.I.’s coverage of the major stories of the second half of the 20th century from the cold war and the Kennedy assassination to Vietnam and the moon landing.

He was married twice, first to the former Francesca von Hartz, with whom he had three sons: Simon, of New York City; Caleb, of Cherry Plain, N.Y.; and Ethan, of Amherst, Mass. His second wife was the former Sheila Johnson. He is survived by all of them as well as by Kathleen Silvassy, his companion for the last several years of his life.

tumblr_lriq42JCfq1qcf3h4o1_500Real Name:

Lucien Carr


Carr was central to the Beat movement. He was the embodiment of Beat – intelligent yet wild, well read but crazy. He introduced Kerouac and Ginsberg. “Lou was the glue,” Ginsberg quipped. He killed David Kammerer and sought refuge with Burroughs and Kerouac.


Big Sur – Julian

Book of Dreams – Julian Love

On The Road – Damion

The Subterraneans – Sam Vedder The Town and the City – Kenneth Wood

Vanity of Duluoz – Claude de Maubris


The Last Beat

A murder in Riverside Park changed the lives of a group of Columbia undergrads. Did it change literature as well?

by David J. Krajicek ’85JRN
Published Winter 2012-13 Comments (0)

© The New York Times, August 18, 1944

They would become legends — their names etched on the syllabuses of literature classes everywhere, their books reprinted and shoved in the back pockets of teenagers ripe with wanderlust, their words devoured, memorized, heeded, imitated.

But before the night of August 14, 1944, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg ’48CC, and William S. Burroughs weren’t the three principals of a literary movement — at least, not one that existed outside their own heads. They were simply roommates, friends, and confidants, who shared books and booze and sometimes beds. And, as history would largely soon forget, there was a fourth.

Lucien Carr was a recent transfer from the University of Chicago who seemed to attract admirers wherever he went. Uncommonly handsome, charismatic, and well-read, he was the force that initially united the group: he bonded with Ginsberg in a Columbia dorm over a shared love of Brahms, befriended Kerouac through his girlfriend at a nighttime painting class, and renewed ties with Burroughs, an old acquaintance from his hometown. Independent friendships formed between members of the quartet, but Carr was always at the center.

While his friends wrote books and became revered cultural and literary figures, ringleaders of the Beat movement, though, Carr lived most of the next sixty years in relative obscurity, quietly building a career and raising a family, and avoiding even the reflected glow from the spotlight on the others. Since his death in 2005, interest in the Beats has grown even more, at last illuminating the lost member.

This past March, Da Capo Press released Jack Kerouac’s previously unpublished first novel, The Sea Is My Brother, written when he was a twenty-year-old merchant mariner the summer before he met Carr. In April, the New York writer Aaron Latham debuted his play Birth of Beats: Murder and the Beat Generation. In September, Joyce Johnson released The Voice Is All, an intimate biography of Kerouac, with whom she had a long romance. A film adaptation of On the Road — the first, despite years of failed attempts — premiered at Cannes in May, with wide release in December. And in 2013, Carr will take center stage as the subject of Kill Your Darlings, a recent entry to the Sundance Film Festival, which was filmed largely on campus last spring and which stars Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg.

Carr was the last of the four to die, and with all of them gone, it seems like the world is finally ready to ask two questions: Had Lucien Carr not killed a man, would he have been the greatest of what we now call the Beat Generation? And, perhaps more important, had he not killed a man, would there even have been a Beat Generation at all?
It was just after midnight when Kerouac got up from his table at the West End, where he’d been drinking with Carr, and went out into the sweltering, sleepless night. With his athletic gait, he quick-stepped across Broadway, through the 116th Street gates, up the Low Library steps, and toward Amsterdam Avenue, on his way to his girlfriend’s apartment, when he saw a familiar figure walking toward him in the dark: a tall, bearded, auburn-haired man named David Kammerer, who asked after Lucien. Kerouac directed Kammerer to the West End.

“And I watch him rush off to his death,” Kerouac later wrote in his autobiographical novel Vanity of Duluoz.
Where Death Shaped the Beats

John Cohen/Getty Images

The Beat writers, from left, Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg in 1959. More Photos »


Published: April 5, 2012

THE scene of the crime, Riverside Park at the foot of West 115th Street, is in full spring bloom, carpeted in the butter-colored flowers of lesser celandine. It was here 68 years ago, on a slope descending to the moonlit Hudson River, that Lucien Carr, 19, the Beat Generation’s charismatic, callow swami, buried a knife in the heart of David Kammerer, 33, his besotted, dauntless hometown stalker.

A map of the Columbia University area with key locations involved in David Kammerer’s death. More Photos »

Writings of a Generation (April 6, 2012)

A map of the Columbia University area with key locations involved in David Kammerer’s death.                            More Photos »

Allen Ginsberg/Corbis
Three of the Beats: Lucien Carr, flanked by the writer William S. Burroughs, left, and the poet Allen Ginsberg in New York City in 1953.


Carr is often characterized as muse to the Beats, but he was more than that. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were acolytes, captivated by Carr’s profane rants about bourgeois culture and the path to transcendence through pure creative expression — his “New Vision,” after “A Vision” by Yeats.

Carr’s “honor slaying” of Kammerer, as The Daily News called it, served as an emotional fulcrum for the group a decade before Kerouac, Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs published their seminal works; the violent death in their midst lent credibility to the tortured-soul narrative they yearned for.

Columbia University was critical to that narrative, and its Beaux-Arts campus is featured in a film now in production, “Kill Your Darlings,” starring Daniel Radcliffe as Ginsberg. The university stood as a kind of crucible for the Beats, who were emerging “like a wild seed in a city garden,” wrote the Beat historian Bill Morgan. Many of their haunts in Morningside Heights remain (all within a few blocks of the 116th Street subway station on Broadway), including the venerable dorms where they lived — Hartley and what is now Wallach. Any pilgrim’s archeological Beat tour, inspired by the movie or not, must begin with the university itself, a useful antagonist in the iconoclasts’ quest for artistic self-actualization.

“They all loved to feel they were sleeping in the camp of the enemy somehow,” said Ben Marcus, a novelist and associate professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. “As much as universities should be cauldrons of creativity and breeding grounds for new creative activity, the Beats needed to feel that they were being stifled by forces at the university.”

They seemed to enjoy the idea, he added, “that these forces were straitjacketing them, whether it was true or not.”

“Kill Your Darlings,” from Killer Films, an independent production company, tells a version of the story that can also be found in “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” a roman à clef written in 1945 by Kerouac and Burroughs but unpublished until 2008. (The title was derived from an apocryphal story concerning a radio newscast about a zoo fire.) In addition to Mr. Radcliffe, shedding his Harry Potter guise to play Ginsberg, the film stars Michael C. Hall, the agreeable serial killer Dexter on Showtime, as Kammerer; Jack Huston, from HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” as Kerouac; and a relative unknown, Dane DeHaan, as Carr.

Kammerer’s pederastic interest in Carr began when Kammerer was Carr’s Boy Scout leader in St. Louis, where both came from privileged backgrounds, according to Mr. Morgan’s “I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg.”

Carr was a boy Aphrodite. In “Hippos” Kerouac called the Carr character “the kind of boy literary fags write sonnets to, which start out, ‘O raven-haired Grecian lad….’ ”

Kammerer, a whiskered redhead, taught physical education and English at Washington University. In about 1940, when Carr was 15, his mother, Marion, discovered a cache of “desperate” letters from the older man, according to James Campbell’s “This Is the Beat Generation.” She sent him to boarding school in Chicago, but Kammerer trailed him there — and then to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.; Bowdoin College in Maine; and, finally, Columbia.

The Beats began to form during Carr’s first semester there. He and Ginsberg, a freshman from New Jersey, lived in an overflow dorm at the nearby Union Theological Seminary. At Christmastime in 1943, according to Mr. Campbell’s book, Ginsberg heard Brahms wafting from Carr’s room and knocked to find out who was listening to the music he loved. Ginsberg was smitten. In his journal, he called Carr his first love and “sweet vision.”

That winter Carr introduced Ginsberg to Kammerer and Burroughs, who had been schoolmates in St. Louis and were neighbors in Greenwich Village.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 11, 2012

An article on Friday about the 1944 killing of David Kammerer by the Beat Generation figure Lucien Carr misspelled the given name of Carr’s mother, who discovered “desperate” letters from Kammerer to her son, according to “This Is the Beat Generation” by James Campbell. She was Marion Gratz Carr, not Marian. And a correction in this space on Saturday misspelled the surname of one of the two authors of a screenplay, “Kill Your Darlings” that is based on the killing. He is John Krokidas, not Krokidis. (Austin Bunn is his co-writer.)

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 7, 2012

An article on Friday about the 1944 killing of David Kammerer by the Beat Generation figure Lucien Carr misidentified the source of a screenplay based on the killing. The screenplay, “Kill Your Darlings,” now in production, was written by John Krokidas and Austin Bunn. They did not adapt it from “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” a roman à clef written in 1945 by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs that tells a similar version of the killing.

A version of this article appears in print on April 6, 2012, on page C25 of the New York edition with the headline: Where Death Shaped the Beats.

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