“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.
On the Road was never made into a movie during Jack Kerouac's lifetime. However, the lesser-known The Subterraneans, which Kerouac mentions in his letter to Marlon Brando, was turned into an MGM movie in 1960. Needless to say, the final film had little in common with Kerouac's semi-autobiographical novella about an interethnic romance.
In the Subterraneans movie, Kerouac's character, Leo Percepied, is played by George Peppard. The “colored” girl, Mardou Fox, minus the color but with the addition of a French accent, is played by Leslie Caron. Others in the film's cast were Janice Rule, Roddy McDowall, Anne Seymour, and Jim Hutton (as the fictional Allan Ginsberg). Former screenwriter Ranald MacDougall (Mildred Pierce, Possessed, The Hasty Heart) directed from a screenplay by Robert Thom.
“While none of the portrayals is distinguished,” wrote A.H. Weiler in the New York Times, “Leslie Caron's delineation of the emotionally crippled Mardou, whose war-torn family background has made her incapable of giving love, is occasionally poignant and touching. George Peppard, as her novelist-lover, lends a proper air of the confusion engendered by sudden love amid alien surroundings and people.”
Further down, Weiler adds, “Speaking for the 'night people' of The Subterraneans, Miss Caron ecstatically states, 'the night is magic.' But this film version shows very little magic or throws much light on these 'Subterraneans.'”
Now, after posting the aforementioned article about Jack Kerouac seeing himself as Sal in a movie version of On the Road and On the Waterfront's Marlon Brando as Dean, I wondered: Who would Kerouac have envisioned for the role of Marylou, Dean's girl?
Kristen Stewart is Marylou in Walter Salles' upcoming movie – Garrett Hedlund plays Dean, Sam Riley is Sal – but what about a 1957 Marylou?
Sandra Dee? Terry Moore? Natalie Wood? Since both Kerouac and Brando were by then in their mid-30s, chances are they'd have to get an actress in her 30s as well – or at least someone in her late 20s. How about Dorothy Malone (photo), then 32, who the year before had performed a wild dance number for her Oscar-winning role as Robert Stack's sister madly in love/lust with Rock Hudson in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind? The underused Malone would have been a good choice.
Dorothy Malone: Mambo dance in Written on the Wind
First of all: remember that this is 1956. Things couldn't be too overtly sexual. Now, don't laugh (or scream). But am I wrong in thinking that – long before Kristen Stewart was born – Oscar winner Dorothy Malone would have been a great Marylou had Jack Kerouac gotten his wish to have himself and Marlon Brando play Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in a late '50s version of On the Road? (Please scroll down.)
True, Malone doesn't look 16 while shaking her tush (and everything else) to the wild mambo beat in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind, but Brando and Kerouac couldn't pass for 20-something-year-olds, either. Both looked like men in their mid-30s – or older.
Now, Rock Hudson could never have played On the Road's Dean – if his rock-heavy dancing in Written on the Wind is any indication of his letting-loose abilities. Garrett Hedlund struts his stuff much more effectively, as can be attested in the On the Road trailer. (Watch On the Road trailer.)
In addition to Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund, the Walter Salles-directed On the Road features the following: Control's Sam Riley, Man of Steel's Amy Adams, Melancholia's Kirsten Dunst, A Dangerous Method's Viggo Mortensen, Effie's Tom Sturridge, Ideal's Danny Morgan, Elysium's Alice Braga, and Get Him to the Geek's Elisabeth Moss. Additionally, Hustle & Flow's Terrence Howard and Boardwalk Empire's Steve Buscemi have cameos in the film.
The Motorcycle Diaries' José Rivera penned the screenplay adaptation. Brokeback Mountain's Gustavo Santaolalla composed the score.
Dorothy Malone, I should add, turned 87 last January 30. She lives in Texas. Lauren Bacall, who is also in the clip, turns 88 next Sept. 16.