Jack Kerouac’s pleading letter to Marlon Brando
(Credit: USGov / Lou Wolf)

Jack Kerouac’s pleading letter to Marlon Brando: Buy ‘On The Road’ film

“Come on now, Marlon, put up your dukes and write!” 

Though the Beat novelist, Jack Kerouac, ended his 1957 letter addressed to Marlon Brando on such a teasing, playful note, his desperation was quite apparent. Although he later became a recluse, Kerouac harboured Hollywood ambitions; he wanted to capitalise on the wonderful reaction to his novel On The Road and entreated Brando to purchase the rights to the film. The prized letter which was found in 2005, and later sold at a Christie’s auction, never received a response from Brando. 

Jack Kerouac was determined to film an adaptation of his successful work which was based on the story of two friends who travelled cross-country across the United States of America in the 1950s Beat and Counterculture generation fuelled by drugs, jazz and poetry. He was humble yet dominating in his approach, where he beseeched Brando to acquire the rights of the film. He wanted to use the opportunity as his road to Hollywood and wanted to star as Sal Paradise, modelled on the author himself. He dreamed of starring opposite Marlon Brando who was tailor-made for the role of Dean Moriarty, based on Neal Cassady, a fascinating figure of the Beat Generation. Kerouac had already visualised the shooting techniques, including the “beautiful shots” that “could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield”. 

While his tone seems quite distressed, Kerouac further explained that he aimed at creating a sustainable bank account to support his mother, whom he loved dearly, as well as to pay for his travel expenditures to write about countries like Japan, India, France etc. He craved the freedom to express what was inside his head without having to worry about financial obligations. He was quite disappointed with American cinema and theatre, and wanted to “re-do” it; he was convinced that his next novel The Subterraneans would aid him in this endeavour. 

Kerouac was ambitious. He wanted to “remove the pre-conceptions of ‘situation’ and let people rave on as they do in real life”. He wanted to transcend the limitations of a having a fixed plot or “meaning”; he aspired to make American movies which were as revolutionary and awe-inspiring as the French. His anguish at not being rich enough to live his dreams is evident. He tries to ease the tension by ending on a light and breezy note, where he says that he is “bored” and “looking around for something to do in the void”. 

The author, however, received the classic Hollywood treatment where the Academy Award winner did not even bother to respond. Kerouac did not live to see his work being adapted after 44 long years; directed by Walter Salles, On the Road, starring Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Amy Adams and Kirsten Dunst in pivotal roles, was finally released in the year 2012. 

Read Jack Kerouac’s letter below.

Jack Kerouac
(Credit: Sotheby’s)
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