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One and Only: the Untold Story of On the Road

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Authors: Gerald Nicosia and Anne Maria Santos

This is the essential, never-told tale of the third person who went on the road with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. In a sense, Lu Anne Henderson could be thought of as the fifth Beatle except, unlike Pete Best, she went along for the ride and was married to the leader of the band, which, in the case of the Beatles, would have been weird.

Over the years Lu Anne has been glossed over and overshadowed by Carolyn Cassady, Neal's second wife, who has "owned the narrative" regarding the "On the Road" years. Since she considered Lu Anne competition (and for good reason), Carolyn has managed to create a portrait of Lu Anne that could be considered the literary equivalent of a velvet painting – not exactly flattering even with black lights and heavy narcotics. Lu Anne is portrayed as either being naïve and silly or sexually aggressive and promiscuous.

In reality, Lu Anne was a very smart, very pretty teenager who was shuffled around by divorced parents who themselves were struggling to survive the Great Depression. At first, one might think of her as the muse for Cassady and Kerouac, but she was more of a magnet. She drew men to her, especially the man she considered to be her "one and only." And where Neal went Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, among others, were sure to follow.

There were many times Neal ran to Lu Anne, whether to hit the road again or to get away from however many lives he was leading at that moment (safe to say he had at least two women on the hook at any given time, on either coast). When Neal ran to Lu Anne it was out of passion, whereas when he ran to Carolyn it was out of a sense of duty to her and their children.

"One and Only" is part memoir and part edited transcription of audio recordings made by the author, Gerald Nicosia, with Lu Anne in 1978 (she died in 2010). In the memoir we hear the story of a quick-minded, rambunctious Denver beauty queen who had an eye for young and not-so-young men – including a bright, handsome pool hall hustler and petty criminal named Neal. It was 1945 and Lu Anne was 15 when 20-year old Neal came into her life.

At the time, Neal was notorious in Denver for stealing and going joyriding in cars, sometimes returning them, most times abandoning them. He would commandeer an otherwise unoccupied (sometimes idling) automobile and head into the foothills of the Rockies with a girlfriend (or two) for some carnal fun in one of the abandoned homes he and his friends knew well. He was first arrested at 14, then again at 15 and 16. By the time he was 20, Neal claimed to have stolen well over 100 cars. That's when he first laid eyes on Lu Anne. He told his friend he would someday marry her – and three weeks later he did. Even though she was 15, Lu Anne's mother agreed to the marriage to get the young wildcat off her hands.

Neal wasn't a typical juvenile delinquent. He had an IQ of 132 yet dropped out of school as a child to help support his indigent father, who worked part-time as a barber and full-time as an alcoholic. It wasn't unusual for a precocious, pre-teen Neal to be seen in courtrooms speaking and pleading on behalf of his sodden father. Neal grew up on skid row and learned to support himself and his father through his looks and charm – something he would fall back on throughout his life.

In 1941 Neal was taken under the wing of Justin Brierly, a prominent Denver educator and Columbia University admissions advisor who had a soft spot for troubled-yet-talented youth. Brierly encouraged Neal to read classic literature and even bailed him out of jail a few times. In the end, Brierly was able to secure an oral admission examination for Neal at Columbia University. The kid who lived in the gutter was going to get the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious Ivy League schools in the country.

So, in 1946 Neal and Lu Anne went to New York, which is where the story of "One and Only" (and "On the Road") truly begins.

A good portion of "One and Only" is the aforementioned transcript of the interview that author Nicosia conducted for his seminal Kerouac biography "Memory Babe". The book is co-authored by Anne Marie Santos, Lu Anne's daughter.

During the filming of the soon-to-be-released adaptation of "On The Road", Nicosia and Santos helped put the actors through a special "Beat Bootcamp", which included working intensively with Kristen Stewart, the actress playing the role of Mary Lou (the name of the character based on Lu Anne). Santos herself even appears in the film as a stand in for Kristen Stewart in one scene – which means Lu Anne's daughter actually stands in for the film version of her mom. Because of that, to some degree, Lu Anne Henderson herself – the last of the three that went on the road together – was able to make a small appearance in a story (a story that to this day has a cultural impact around the world) in which she played such an important role nearly 70 years ago.

In the final (and best) chapters in the book, we hear Lu Anne's story from the perspective of her daughter, Anne Marie, and from another oft-forgotten but integral player, Al Hinkle. Hinkle was Neal and Lu Anne's close friend who stood faithfully by Neal in many tough situations. They also worked together on the Southern Pacific Railroad. In "On the Road" he's known as Ed Dunkel, who, along with his wife, joins the crew for part of the trip and always seems to be just in the background. In these chapters, we learn about Lu Anne after those years and the colorful life she led (along with her multiple marriages) until her death in 2010.

"One and Only" is a must-read for those who are experienced in the ways of the Beat Generation as well as the works of Kerouac and Ginsberg primarily. Of course, William S. Burroughs and Gregory Corso make up the other half of the Four Horsemen of the Beat Apocalypse but their works weren't as directly informed by Cassady's existence as those of Kerouac and Ginsberg. "One and Only" is also a good primer for those who have only read "On the Road" because the character of Mary Lou is so prevalent throughout.

Yet there's something more important about "One and Only". In the past, Lu Anne/Mary Lou has been written about by Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg, Carolyn Cassady and Jan Kerouac (Jack's daughter), just to name a few. Her tale has been told by others, many of whom bore a grudge or only knew (or presumed they knew) a small part of the woman. Here Lu Anne's story is told by those best suited to tell it: Lu Anne herself, her daughter Marie, and her life-long friend, Al. Neal and Jack died young and broken; Lu Anne lived a long life full of good times and bad and through it all she remained loving and caring. Perhaps that's the essence of the magnetism that attracted Neal to her and kept him running back to her, even up until the night he fell asleep beside some railroad tracks in Mexico never to wake again. In some small way, the scales have been rightfully balanced.

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