Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fight Brewing Over ‘On the Road’ Inspiration

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A woman who claims her father rescued from oblivion a long letter Neal Cassady wrote to Jack Kerouac - which became the basis for Kerouac's Beat classic "On the Road" - sued the Kerouac and Cassady estates to quiet title to the letter.

Jean Spinosa sued the estates and heirs of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, along with Calabasas-based Profiles in History and Michael McQuate, on Jan. 23 in Superior Court.

"On the Road," published in 1957, became an anthem of the Beat Generation, and the Hippies who followed them. Kerouac's friend Neal Cassady was the model for the character Dean Moriarty in the book.

All details and quotations about Cassady's letter to Kerouac in this article are taken from Spinosa's lawsuit.

Cassady wrote a 40,000-word, 18-page letter to Kerouac in December 1950, about a weekend Cassady spent in Denver. The letter contained a 19th page in which "Cassady separately details the loss of his virginity and other early sexual encounters."

Eleven years after "On the Road" was published, Kerouac said the letter had inspired him to write the book. Seven pages of the letter were published in the magazine Notes From Underground in 1964.

Spinosa says that Kerouac gave the letter to Allen Ginsberg "to shop it around for publishing purposes." Ginsberg gave it to a sales rep for Ace Books, which rejected it.

So Ginsberg gave the letter to Richard Emerson, who owned Golden Goose Press publishing. "Emerson put the documents in a 'to read' pile and never looked at them again."

Meanwhile, Spinosa's father, Jack Spinosa, was running two record companies, Gold Coast Records and Hi-Class Records, at 40 Gold St. in San Francisco. Emerson closed Golden Goose Press, put its records in boxes and stored them at 40 Gold St.

"Emerson was going to throw the Golden Goose Press boxes in the trash," Jean Spinosa says, but her father, a poetry lover, "expressed his concern to Emerson," who gave the boxes to Spinosa. Spinosa took them to his home in Oakland and kept them until he died in November 2011.

Jean Spinosa says she found the letter and the 19th page while going through her father's boxes in May 2012. She says defendant McQuate was with her when she found them, and that she contracted with McQuate to inventory and sell on consignment "very specific items that belonged to her father, not including the letter for 19th page."

McQuate claims that Spinosa agreed to pay him half of the money she got from selling the letter and the 19th page, according to the lawsuit - but Spinosa denies ever agreeing to that. She says there is no written record of such an agreement, nor did she ever agree to it orally.

Spinosa says she contracted with Profiles in History to auction the letter, the 19th page, and other documents from the Golden Goose boxes, and delivered the letter and the 19th page to Profiles in History, which still has them.

The auction was set for December 2014, but the heirs of Kerouac and Cassady protested, so Profiles in History called off the auction, and kept the letters.

Spinosa says Profiles in History was obligated to insure the letters. She seeks quiet title to the letters; a declaration of title to copyright - which she does not claim; damages for breach of contract and breach of faith, from Profiles in History; and declaratory relief to determine the rights of all the parties involved.

She is represented by Michael Klein, with Greenman, Lacy, Klein, O'Harra & Heffron, of Oceanside.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.