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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Kerouac’

“I’m a take your grandpa’s style, I’m a take your grandpa’s style.”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis/Thrift Shop

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I look this photo on Tuesday and it appears the club is doing some renovating

I don’t know if writer Jack Kerouac ever visited the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club when he lived at 5169 10th Ave. N. in St. Petersburg. But in the last year of his life he lived less than five miles away. (Two of the places Kerouac visited while living in St. Petersburg in ’68-’69 are still open for business; Haslam’s Bookstore and the Flamingo Bar.)

But if Kerouac were alive today he’d be 95, I think the co-founder of beat generation would smile as Hipsters take over St. Petersburg, where they bike, have a drink or two, and occasionally play shuffleboard.

I began reading about the resurgence of the quintessential elderly game of shuffleboard shortly after the economy sputtered in 2008 and young people were looking for cheap entertainment. It was a perfect fit for hipsters who like riding single speed bikes, buying actual records, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, and sometimes wearing long beards or handlebar moustaches popular 100 years ago.

And it was just a matter of time before St. Petersburg inspired a new trend. A few years ago after a trip to the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, New Yorkers Jonathan Schnapp and Ashley Albert raised the money to open The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Court in Brooklyn.

“Snow fell at a punishing slant across the darkened warehouses along Union Street in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It couldn’t be further from the sunny retirement communities of Florida, but inside one former factory, the spirit of St. Petersburg lived on…Brooklyn and shuffleboard may not seem like an obvious fit, but they do share similarities. Shuffleboard is a sport with a low athletic buy-in and offers plenty of time to drink between turns.
Joshua David Steins/New York Times in 2014

Back to the future…

P.S. For years the Friends of Jack kerouac House have been trying to buy the house that Kerouac lived in while in St. Petersburg. I saw where the house was sold in January, but I don’t know if the friends group purchased it or not.

Scott W. Smith

 

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DSC_1801Tampa

Over the weekend I was finally able to see a movie at the Tampa Theatre (in downtown Tampa, Florida) which is one of the most beautiful settings to watch a movie in the United States—maybe in the world. I say finally because the theater was built in 1926, and while I’m not quite that old—it had been on my to-do list for well over a decade. I arrived early because I wanted to look around and was not disappointed.

Keep in mind that it was built in the era long before the internet, television, and even before the Great Depression. So this is a grand and ornate building complete with peacock statues, gargoyles, and twinkling stars. And I had the great thrill of hearing their Wurlitzer organ not only being played live before the movie started, but the organ and the organist unexpectedly coming up out of the grand on a moving platform. Before the movie even started I had my money’s worth of entertainment.

Keep in mind that back when the theater first opened that movies were the main form of entertainment, so every week as the Tampa Theatre website points out, “more than 90 million Americans were going to the movies every week.” If you’d ever like to be transported back in time to connect to early cinematic history the Tampa Theatre is the ideal place to go. In fact if you live in the greater Tampa Bay area—or will be visiting the area in the coming months—you have the opportunity to see The Wizard of Oz (June 7), Key Largo (June 14), Back to the Future (July 5) and/or a contemporary art house film in grand style.

Here’s what the outside of the Tampa Theatre looks like.

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P.S. My father moved to Tampa in the 1970s and ran Smith Advertising in the area until he died in 1995. So over the weekend I was able to retrace some of the places where I have many fond memories. If you’d like my Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—version of how to do Tampa Bay in a day or two here’s my list:
Eat at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, drive along Bayshore Boulevard and explore the Hyde Park Village area full of craftsman homes and a small shopping area.

Saint Petersburg which used to be the shuffleboard capital of Florida is turning into the Austin of Florida—hipster heaven. And why not, writer Jack Kerouac (On the Road) not only lived there for a spell, but died there in 1969. You can go sailing in the morning, visit the Dali Museum in the afternoon, get a tattoo, and catch the sunset in St. Pete Beach while eating at Hurricane Seafood Restaurant on Pass-A-Grille.

And, lastly I should mention, if the Tampa Bay Lighting win tonight they will be in the Stanley Cup Final. So you could always fit that into your schedule if you can get tickets.

Scott W. Smith

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“A thorough knowledge of Eliot is compulsory for anyone interested in contemporary literature. Whether he is liked or disliked is of no importance, but he must be read.”
Northrop Frye

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land

St. Louis born writer T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is best known for his poem The Waste Land, but he also won a Best Play Tony Award in 1950 for the Broadway production of The Cocktail Party. (He would have been 62 years old at the time.)  He won two more Tony’s for his poems that were used in the musical Cats. Less remembered these days is he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. He also wrote the screenplay (based on his play) for the 1951 movie Murder in the Cathedral.

The legendary literary editor Robert Giroux (who worked with Flannery O’Connor, Bernard Malamud, Jack Kerouac and many others) said of Eliot’s death that, “the world became a lesser place.”

I’m always interested in the writing habit of writers and think it can be a helpful guide for others. Knowing that Stephen King’s goal when writing a novel is 2,000 words a day allows you a glimpse of how he can write a first draft in three months. It’s a nuts and bolts way of demystifying the writing process.

“A great deal of my new play, The Elder Statesman, was produced in pencil and paper, very roughly. Then I typed it myself first before my wife got to work on it. In typing myself I make alterations, very considerable ones. But whether I write or type, composition of any length, a play for example, means for me regular hours, say ten to one. I found that three hours a day is about all I can do of actual composing. I could do polishing perhaps later. I sometimes found at that I wanted do go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory.”
T.S. Eliot

And just in case you’re thinking, “Well, Eliot didn’t have a day job.” Before he made a living as a writer he worked as a banker by day and wrote poems, essays, and reviews at night. (He did this for eight years while at the same time taking care of his wife who suffered from migraines and depression.) He was 34-years-old when The Waste Land brought him fame and some financial rewards, but it would still be a few years before he quit his banker position.

Scott W. Smith


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“Writing a good movie brings a writer about as much fame as steering a bicycle.”
Ben Hecht

“The job of turning good writers into movie hacks is the producer’s chief task.”
Ben Hecht

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was born in 1894 just as moving pictures were being invented. Before he died in 1964 he worked on 70+ films and wrote many plays and books. He was the first screenwriter to ever win an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. He’s considered  one of the greatest screenwriters in the history of motion pictures.

Hecht was born in New York City and spent time on the lower east side before moving to Racine, Wisconsin. where his mother worked in downtown Racine. For those keeping score, Racine is not far from Kenosha, WI where Orson Welles was born.

After graduating from high school in Racine and briefly attending college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (for all of three days), Hecht went to Chicago where he eventually began working for newspapers (Chicago Journal and The Chicago Daily News). His first novel (Erik Dorn) was published in 1921. His Chicago-basedplay The Front Page was written in 1928 and was made into films several times. His time in Chicago covering murders and gangster would serve him well in Hollywood as those stories translated well to the big screen.

Jumping into the world of movies just as they were using sound, his script for Underworld was released in 1929 and earned him an Oscar award. He sometimes wrote a script in a matter of days and said that he never took longer than eight weeks. Scarface (1932) was written in nine days. He is quoted as saying of his screenwriting career that he was paid, “tremendous sums of money for work that required no more effort than a game of pinochle.”

He was called The Shakespeare of Hollywood but had this to say of his own career: “Out of the seventy movies I’ve written some ten of them were not entirely waste product. These were Underworld, The Scoundrel, Wuthering Heights, Viva Villa, Scarface, Specter of the Rose, Actors and Sin, Roman Holiday, Spellbound, Nothing Sacred.
Ben Hecht

Some of the other movies he worked on (credited and uncredited) include:

Gunga Din
Notorious (Oscar Nominated)
Gone with the Wind
The Shop Around the Corner
His Girl Friday
Stagecoach
Angels Over Broadway (Oscar Nominated)
Viva Villa (Oscar nominated)

He won his second Academy Award for The Scoundrel (shared with Charles MacArthur). Because he sometimes used a pseudonym (partly because he was blacklisted in Europe) we’ll probably never know exactly how many novels, plays and movies Hecht actually wrote. But it’s safe to say that he cranked out his share of pages. Combine the tough-talking gangster persona Hecht carried with the rapid exchange found in His Girl Friday (based on Hecht/MacArthur play The Front Page) and it’s hard to think that Hecht didn’t pave the way for writers Joe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino.  (Eszterhas in his book Hollywood Animal called Hecht “the most successful screenwriter in Hollywood history.”

Later in life Hecht had his own TV talk show in New York City (you can find a weak interview he did with Jack Kerouac on You Tube) and was critical of the culture that American movies had helped produce:

“The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century….Of their many sins, I offer as the worst their effect on the intellectual side of the nation. It is chiefly from that viewpoint I write of them — as an eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming a cultured people.”
Ben Hecht

What would he say of TV and the Internet today?

Scott W. Smith

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As a dreamer of dreams and a travelin’ man,
I have chalked up many a mile.
Read dozens of books about heroes and crooks,
And I’ve learned much from both of their styles.

Jimmy Buffett
Son of a Son of a Sailor

Though Jack Kerouac had been dead 25 years the year I graduated from college I still took him on the road with me. My goal after graduating from film school in L.A. was just to meander across the country and take it in all by myself. It was 1984 and while I was not necessarily going into the final frontier, there was an unknown factor in a day before the world was flooded with cable TV, VHS/DVD players, cell phones, and the Internet.

I had a truck, a tent & sleeping bag, a camera, ample Jimmy Buffett cassettes and a few books including Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways, Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the Bible and Kerouac’s On the Road. Though I don’t recall taking much time to read as I spent six weeks finding my way to Florida via Montana, and then back to California via a different route. But those books and music were inspiration to take in the land.

As a kid I had only been to three states in my life by the time I’d graduated from high school. Perhaps not traveling much in those earlier years fueled my desire to some day see all 50 states. But equally influential were writers who wrote about being strangers in a strange land. Words do have a way of transporting us, and at least for me I wanted to experience the land with my own eyes.

Eventually, I traveled to all 50 states over various trips over a couple decades. There is no real way to quantify any of those trips I’ve taken over the years, but I will say it has deepened my love for the land and for people. And I won’t be the first to point out that while we are now more connected than ever, we are also more disconnected than ever.

Having visited the house Kerouac lived in Orlando for a brief time has conjured up some memories so I thought I’d throw your way a well-known excerpt from On the Road to inspire you on your own journey.(And don’t ask me what it means. Kerouac was a poet and whatever alcohol/Catholic/Buddhist influence he was under at the time is beyond me. I only sense that he was searching for truth and meaning.)

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and There all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old…”
Jack Kerouac
On the Road

There is a great big world out there full of stories that need to told. Best wishes to all of you out there writing those stories—be they screenplays, novels, short stories, poems, plays or essays.

Scott W. Smith

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“Someone handed me Mexico City Blues (written by Jack Kerouac) in St. Paul in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language.”
Bob Dylan

“If you’re working with words, it’s got to be poetry. I grew up with Kerouac. If he hadn’t wrote On The Road, the Doors would have never existed. (Jim) Morrison read On The Road down in Florida, and I read it in Chicago. That sense of freedom, spirituality, and intellectuality in On The Road — that’s what I wanted in my own work.”
Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ Keyboard player

Though I’ve spent a good deal of my life living in Florida it wasn’t until yesterday that I visited the house Jack Kerouac lived in for a short time back in 1957-58. I was on the tail end  of a week-long stay in the Orlando area before I flew back to Iowa.

Though Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1969 (on top of living in the Orlando area a couple times) most people don’t associate Kerouac with Florida. Probably because he didn’t write about it much—it’s only mentioned in a few letters. He’s more known for being born in Massachusetts, his brief college experience in New York City and, of course, his time on the road. (Heck, he wrote more about Iowa than Florida.)

The Kerouac Project began when reporter Bob Kealing wrote about discovering the house in 1997. Marty and Jan Cummins happened to own a bookstore not far from where the Kerouac house and contacted Kealing about working on preserving the house. Plans were set in motion, but as it is with most visions money was an issue. But after Jeffrey Cole read about the project in USA Today he provided the necessary funding to purchase the property.

Other people and groups would come together to restore the home and launch The Kerouac Project, which includes a writers in residence program. When I drove by the house yesterday to take a few pictures of the outside of the home the current writer in residence, Alicia Holmes, was sitting in the front porch and asked if I’d like to see inside the house. Of course I did.

The house is located at 1418 Clouser in the College Park area just outside downtown Orlando. Though technically he lived in the small porch apartment in the back of the house with his mother. Inside there is a 10×10 room where the 35-year-old little known writer Kerouac (at that time) slept and actually wrote  The Dharma Bums in one of those classic 11 days continual writing sessions he was known for. Though he had written On the Road at this time it had not yet caused the sensation that would eventually catapulted him into fame as writer.

In case you never make it to Orlando here’s a tour I found online.

According to Bob Kealing’ book Kerouac in Florida, back in the early 60s Kerouac bought two lots in the Sanlando Springs area of the Orlando suburb Altamonte Springs with the hopes of starting a “communal retreat.” Those plans never materialized, but if you’ve ever driven from Daytona Beach to Orlando on Interstate 4, you’ve traveled the land once known as “Jack’s Patch,” which is now part of the west bound lane of I-4 just before you reach the 434 exit. Somehow a fitting end for a writer whose best known work was On the Road.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”
Jack Kerouac
On the Road


Scott W. Smith

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Flipping through the TV channels today I came across a 1969 film starring Robert Redford that I had not seen before and it was quite good. So I decided to find out about the screenwriter of Downhill Racer. From what I can gather the film was written by James Salter based on a novel by Oakley Hall.

Salter is known as a writer’s writer meaning he is well-respected by writers though he is not as well known or read as say Pat Conroy. According to IMDB Salter was born in Passaic, NJ in 1925 and went to high school with Jack Kerouac and Julian Beck.

Salter graduated from West Point in 1945 and is most known for his book Burning the Days about his days as an Air Force fighter pilot, the novel A Spirit and a Pastime, and a collection of short stories Dusk and Other Stories. In 2000 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his literature.

Though credited with working on three films in 1969 his relationship to Hollywood & films seems to have been short lived which explains the following quote:

“A film writer is very much like a party girl. While you’re good-looking and still unlined, the possibilities seem endless. But your appeal doesn’t last long and you’re quickly discarded.”
James Salter

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