She was Marylou in Jack Kerouac’s classic On The Road, the gal who drove Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) mad. He married her when she was 15; divorced her a year later; and then did what he had to do to keep her within his orbit for the rest of his life. She was either there alongside Dean/Neal for many of the miles covered in Kerouac’s book or was often the reason he was driving like a man possessed in any given chapter: to rejoin her, either on the other side of town or the other end of the country.
On The Road’s narrator, Sal Paradise (Kerouac), loved Marylou in his own way; not with the wild passion of Dean, but in a manner that was both innocent and dark/deep at the same time. It was complicated; it was simple; it was a love story; it was utter Beat madness.
It was no secret that the character Marylou was a woman named Lu Anne Henderson in real life, but her side of the miles, the towns, the blurry-eyed sundowns/sunups/moons/stars and kicks has never been told until now. Author Gerald Nicosia happened to cross paths with Henderson back in 1978: he was researching his Kerouac bio Memory Babe ; she was in San Francisco General Hospital in a period of hard life and bad health.
At that point Henderson was already weary of journalists and Beat-wannabes: “She told me that too many people wanted to learn about her life and the lives of her friends,” writes Gerald Nicosia, “but it didn’t seem like anybody really wanted to know why she and her friends had done the things they did.” But there was something about Nicosia, the questions he asked, and the manner in which he asked them, that inspired Henderson to talk: “When I met Neal, he had six books under one arm, a pool cue in the other hand, and started necking with me at the same time.”
They actually had two interview sessions: the first with Nicosia taking notes at her bedside; the second a few days later, when Henderson invited Nicosia to a friend’s house where she was recuperating. Eight hours later he left with “cassette tape after cassette tape” of true never-heard-before Beat history. By Nicosia’s own admission, “a lot of Lu Anne was beyond me then, due to my own inexperience and the limits to my understanding imposed by a Catholic, middle-class upbringing. I only knew how grateful I was for the interview, and I sensed how great it was.” No one would record the story of “Marylou” with this kind of depth again (Henderson passed away in 2008).
Nicosia’s recordings went into archived limbo for many years until recently unearthed for purposes of research for the upcoming film version of On The Road. It wasn’t until then (30 years after the original interviews took place) that Nicosia realized just what he had in terms of a document of the Beats. And, working with Henderson’s daughter Anne Marie Santos, he has produced a great read.
One And Only offers the reader the complete (I’m talking 34,000-word complete) transcription of Nicosia’s interview with Henderson, formatted as a running dialogue broken into six portions, with an intro by Nicosia to set the stage for each. Also included is an essay by the author reflecting on “Lu Anne’s Role in Beat History/Cultural History”; an interview with Al Hinkle (“Big Ed Dunkel” in the pages of On The Road ); a lovely chapter written by daughter Santos; and a copy of a letter written by Henderson to Cassady (but never sent) in 1957.
Readers may be tempted to haul out their dog-eared copies of On The Road and compare Kerouac’s narrative to Henderson’s recollections along the way. And beyond the road years, Henderson’s memories and reflections of Cassady and Kerouac later on in their lives makes for interesting reading as well. (Her last visit with Neal Cassady was in the fall of ’67, shortly before he left for Mexico. He died there in February of 1968.)
One And Only isn’t a book of dirt-dishing or corpse-poking; this is another view of a much-studied but also much misunderstood period in American culture, told by someone who was there. In the end, the point is made that Henderson provided the “necessary estrogen” that helped birth the Beats – although neither Nicosia or Santos (or Henderson herself, for that matter) try to make the trio of Cassady, Kerouac, and Lu Anne into heroes and heroine.
But they are allowed to be humans, which is a point often missed.