Lucien Carr, a Founder and a Muse of the Beat Generation, Dies at 79
Lucien Carr, one of the founders -- and one of the last survivors -- of the Beat Generation of poets and writers, although one who never wrote poetry or novels, died on Friday. He was 79.
Mr. Carr died at George Washington University Hospital after collapsing at his home in Washington, said his son, the writer Caleb Carr. He had suffered from bone cancer in recent years.
A literary lion who never roared, Mr. Carr served as an inspirational muse to a bunch of college chums at Columbia University in the 1940's: the poet Allen Ginsberg and the novelists William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, writers who a decade later changed the course of American letters in coffeehouses in San Francisco and New York.
It was Mr. Carr, for example, who introduced Ginsberg to the works of Rimbaud, a major influence on Ginsberg's work, and then introduced Burroughs to Kerouac and Ginsberg. He introduced them all to Neal Cassady, a railway worker with literary ambitions who became part of the Columbia undergraduates' coterie of "angel-headed hipsters." Together they formed the nucleus of what became the Beats.
Any practical assistance Mr. Carr gave to the Beat movement came as an encouraging editor, the profession he pursued for nearly half a century at United Press and United Press International. It was Mr. Carr, for example, who gave Kerouac the roll of teletype paper, pilfered from U.P., on which the author wrote "On the Road," and it was Mr. Carr who was among the first to read the novel and offer advice, which may or may not have been taken. As Ginsberg once said, "Lou was the glue."
Chroniclers of the era and biographers of its writers have always had as much trouble placing Mr. Carr in the group snapshot of the Beats as they have had in defining the movement. Both defied description. The one episode all seize upon came while Mr. Carr was still at Columbia. In repulsing the homosexual advances of a hanger-on of the Beat crowd, Mr. Carr stabbed his pursuer with a Boy Scout knife and killed him. Mr. Carr served a brief time in prison for manslaughter, but was later pardoned.
Born in New York but raised in St. Louis, Mr. Carr had boyish good looks that were only enhanced by a slouchy physique and sardonic grin hidden under a riverboat gambler mustache. A motorcycle enthusiast, who took up boating on his retirement, Mr. Carr was a great jazz aficionado and an avid reader for whom the greatest joys in life were in simple things like a long riff on a tenor sax or a well-turned dependent clause.
Shortly after leaving Columbia, Mr. Carr, to the consternation of his fellow Beats, took a job with United Press in New York and spent the rest of his career, until his retirement in 1993, with the wire service, mostly as the news editor supervising the agency's report for morning newspapers. He remained in contact with the Beats, although Kerouac and Cassady died young.
Ginsberg remained a close friend until his death in 1997 and often visited Mr. Carr at U.P.I.'s newsroom to lobby for coverage of whatever political cause he was pursuing at the moment.
If he had been more of a midwife to the Beats, Mr. Carr was an extremely vocal mentor to two generations of journalists who came up through the ranks at U.P.I. He was a great champion of brevity. "Why don't you just start with the second paragraph?" was his frequent advice to young reporters overly fond of their own prose.
He guided U.P.I.'s coverage of the major stories of the second half of the 20th century from the cold war and the Kennedy assassination to Vietnam and the moon landing.
He was married twice, first to the former Francesca von Hartz, with whom he had three sons: Simon, of New York City; Caleb, of Cherry Plain, N.Y.; and Ethan, of Amherst, Mass. His second wife was the former Sheila Johnson. He is survived by all of them as well as by Kathleen Silvassy, his companion for the last several years of his life. -- Wilborn Hampton/The New York Times