On the Road's Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac
"I'm praying that you'll buy On the Road and make a movie of it. Don't worry about structure. I know how to compress and re-arrange the plot to give it perfectly acceptable movie-type structure: making it into an all-inclusive trip instead of several voyages coast-to-coast in the book..."
That's from a 1957 letter from Florida resident Jack Kerouac to Marlon Brando (photo), which was recently sold for $33,600 at a Christie's auction. Brando was then a box office friendly and critically respected Oscar winner following star vehicles such as On the Waterfront (critical respect) and The Teahouse of the August Moon (box-office clout). In fact, in '57 Brando was starring in Joshua Logan's Sayonara, a mammoth box office hit – and his last major success until The Godfather fifteen years later.
Kerouac, sounding like a starstruck (and ambitious) fan, explains his invitation in the letter:
"I wanted you to play the part because Dean as you know is no dopey hotrodder but a real intelligent (in fact Jesuit) Irishman. You play Dean and I play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life, you couldn't possibly imagine it without seeing a good imitation. Fact, we can go visit him in Frisco ... still a real frantic cat but nowadays settled down with his final wife saying the Lord's Prayer with his kiddies at night. ... All I want out of this is to establish myself and my mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go roaming around the world writing about Japan, India, France, etc. ... I want to be free to write what comes out of my head & free to feed my buddies when they're hungry & not worry about my mother."
"What I wanta [sic] do is to re-do the theater and the cinema in America, give it a spontaneous dash, remove pre-conceptions of 'situation' and let people rave on as they do in real life. ... Everything I write I do in the spirit where I imagine myself an Angel returned to the earth seeing it with sad eyes as it is..."
Kerouac, who writes he's a fan of French movies of the '30s, then adds he wants "to make great French movies in America." He wraps things up with the following: "Come on, now, Marlon! Put up your dukes and write!"
Marlon Brando, by then 33 years old and much too old to play either of On the Road's two leads (Kerouac, then 35, would be an even less appropriate casting choice), apparently didn't have any dukes available. On the Road would only be made into a movie more than half a century later.
Directed by Walter Salles and adapted by José Rivera – the duo who brought you the road movie The Motorcycle Diaries – On the Road follows New York-based writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley); rebel Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund); and Dean's girl, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), as they go on a road trip following the death of Sal's father. Sal is based on Kerouac himself; Dean, on Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady; and Marylou on Cassady's first wife, LuAnne Henderson.
As some sort of cosmic coincidence, On the Road was at least in part salvaged as movie material by Francis Ford Coppola, listed as one of the film's executive producers. Coppola, of course, is the same man who helped to restore Brando's popularity and prestige with The Godfather in 1972.
As per one of On the Road's producers, Charle Gillibert, the film opens in France on May 23. That quite possibly means that it'll be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, which runs May 16-27. Back in 2004, The Motorcycle Diaries was one of the film's in contention for the Palme d'Or.
In addition to Stewart, Hedlund, and Riley, the On the Road cast includes Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Steve Buscemi, Danny Morgan, Elisabeth Moss, and Terrence Howard. Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain) is the film's composer.