Friday, 31 July 2009


Truman Capote once famously bitched about On The Road saying “That’s not writing – that’s typing”. But it’s Jack Kerouac’s mother’s writing that’s been in the news this week, and it turns out she definitely wasn’t writing.

I’ll cut the convoluted saga to the bone. Being a big mummy’s boy, Jack, despite being married to his third wife Stella Sampas, left everything in his will to his mother Gabrielle. Jack died in 1969. When Gabrielle died in 1973 she left everything to Stella. The Sampas family, now headed by John Sampas (Stella died in 1990) has done a roaring trade flogging Jack’s work and reaping the royalties ever since. However, this week after a monumental legal case started by Jack’s unwanted and neglected daughter Jan in 1994, a county court in Florida has ruled Gabrielle’s signature on her will is a forgery. Dun-dun-durrr.

This is too late for Jan Kerouac who died in 1996, but maybe not for Jack’s nephew, Paul Blake Jr. – currently living in a mobile home without a toilet in Arizona - who Jack wrote the day before he died with this memorable passage:

“I've turned over my entire estate, real, personal, and mixed, to Memere, and if she dies before me, it is then turned to you, and if I die thereafter, it all goes to you.... I just wanted to leave my "estate? (which is what it really is) to someone directly connected with the last remaining drop of my direct blood line, which is, me, sister Carolyn, your Mom, and not to leave a dingblasted fucking goddam thing to my wife's one hundred Greek relatives. I also plan to divorce, or have her marriage to me, annulled. Just telling you the facts of how it is”.

Someone sporting a fuck-off told-you-so grin is Gerald Nicosia, author of the most detailed Kerouac biography so far, Memory Babe. Nicosia has been raving like a man possessed against John Sampas for years about skullduggery at play and how shabbily Sampas has treated Jack’s estate; particularly the way he hawked individual items: Jack’s raincoat and other personal items were sold to Johnny Depp, and the original On The Road scroll manuscript for $2.43 million to Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts who are a football team apparently; not a Midwestern stud farm as I thought. (Personally I’m glad Irsay bought the scroll as he has generously toured it around the globe so I got to see it; something I never dreamed would happen). Those are the eye catching deals but according to Nicosia plenty other items have found their way into the hands of dealers that could only have originated from Sampas. Quite what Nicosia has to gain from all this is subject of much debate but one of his grievances is the archive should be kept together in a library as an important public archive and not broken up and scattered across the globe to wealthy collectors. (It now does live in the New York Public Library but is still executed by Sampas).

Nicosia has made few friends and plenty of enemies in his tireless and aggressive campaign but he’ll feel suitably vindicated as he watches slices of humble pie going down from those who dismissed him as an irritating asshole and Jan Kerouac as a liar out for the family silver by claiming the will was faked. John Sampas, who has kept his head down in comparison, was once quoted as saying “Gerald Nicosia's poisoned hand will never touch the Kerouac archive. His touch is the touch of death”. Interesting choice of words there John. So, whose poisoned hand was it that faked Gabrielle Kerouac’s will to steal the estate of Jack Kerouac?

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