R.I.P. Lucien Carr, 1926-2005

Lucien Carr, Gordon Joseloff, and Gary Paul Gates at UPI reunion, Oct. 2003.

Beat luminari, killer, and wire service journalist Lucien Carr, one of the most interesting characters with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work, passed away Friday.

Who was Lou Carr? Read his obituary in The New York Times, The Washington Post (free registration required), the Guardian and other major newspapers. CNN’s news ticker Saturday also mentioned Carr’s death .Here are a few details about his life:

Carr is generally credited with catalyzing the Beat Generation movement of writers and artists, when he introduced his mutual friends Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs to each other.

“When the so-called Beat scene, which was really four guys, started around Columbia (University) around 1940-41, there was Allen, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Lucien. Lucien was sort of the unacknowledged catalyst who became a brilliant editor at UPI,” said Kerouac biographer Dennis McNally yesterday. “It’s very hard, even for me and I’m the biographer, to put in words the influence a person like Lucien had on Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, but they would not be who they were without Lucien.” NcNally added, “Lucien stimulated them intellectually in ways that were simply critical and that they both acknowledged.”

Carr trial clippingIn 1944, Carr began serving a 20-year sentence for a stabbing to death a man who made repeated sexual advances toward him (the man was Carr’s former scoutmaster and Carr stabbed with with a Boy Scout knife). Carr dumped the body in the Hudson River. After talking with Gingsberg, Kerouac, and his family, Carr contacted the police and plead guilty to manslaughter. Two years later, he was pardoned and released from prison after the prosecutors decided that he had been defending his honor and possibly his life in the attack.

Carr chose journalism as his profession, rather than writing poetry or fiction, much to the disapproval of his Beat friends. He rose to become assistant managing editor for national news at the old United Press International (which then had 1,800 reporters on payroll and 180 news bureaus worldwide).

Lucien Carr & Jack KerouacLiterary legend has it that, while working for UPI in 1951, Carr gave Kerouac, his roommate, the teletype paper roll (now in the Smithsonian Institution) on which the Kerouac would type the novel On the Road in a single nonstop writing binge during which he didn’t have to stop to change sheets of typing paper. [UPDATE: The teletype roll never was in the Smithsonian. The Los Angeles Times obituary of Carr states that the 119-foot-long scroll manuscript, which was chewed badly on one end by Carr’s dog, was sold at auction in 2001 by Christie’s for $2.43 million, at the time a record for a literary manuscript.]

Former UPI correspondent Tony Hillstrom tells a story about a blank bank check glued to a 8 x 10-inch postboard found among Carr’s possessions. “Years earlier, he, Kerouac and Jackson Pollack were all blasted and walking through the Village about 4 a.m. when they passed a dry cleaner. There was one of those kitsch pastoral countryside reproductions in the window. Lou stopped and asked Pollack for his critique. When Pollack said something to the effect that kind of stuff was an insult to art, Lou picked up something on the street and threw it at the window. He was still working on the window, trying to get to the fake painting, when the cops showed up. The store owner was called. Eventually, the cops agreed to drop the matter if somebody paid for the window. Only Pollack had any money. He paid.

“Lou said the next day he felt guilty and mailed a check to Pollack. Sometime later, he got the check back, ripped into pieces and integrated into a Jackson Pollack montage. ‘Do you know how much this is worth?’ I asked him. Lou shrugged. He damn well knew what it was worth,” Hillstrom said.

Carr became a legendary journalist among wire service folks. “He was unflappable, he was a terrific writer, and he had an uncanny sense of being able to catch any error before it hit the wire,” said former UPI White House Correspondent Helen Thomas. “He was a quiet man in the sense that he never bragged about his achievements or his contacts.”

Former UPI Washington Editor Jon Frandsen said Carr really had an insistence that Kerouac and Ginsberg write “sharp, short and to the point. He carried that same sort of thinking over to news. He felt news was the closest a human being could come to getting atthe truth — as a tool for people being able to change their lives. He brought that poetic sense of truth to the news business, in a way. He had a respect for the truth whether it was literal like news, or something more elusive and ehtereal.”

In October 1993, John R. MacArthur, the publisher Harper