Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That was the way it was ...

An exemplary collection that most pinpoints the Lowell Jack Kerouac grew up in is an out-of-print collection titled That was the way it was ... A Selection of Charles G. Sampas' "Sampasscoopies Lowell History Columns" compiled by his daughter Marina Sampas Schell.

It is definitely worth tracking down and owning ... he was Lowell's first blogger!

Monday, October 29, 2012

SampasScoopies Remembers The Spotlight

This is one of the only contemporary mentions of what The Spotlight actually was, as printed and distributed by Leo Kerouac and remembered by Lowell's eminent historian of the time, Charles Sampas of Sampas Scoopies fame.

Lowell Sun (November 7, 1974)

I remember Friday nights at the Royal as especially important in my Lowelllifetime [sic], because after the movies, a weekly newspaper called The Spotlight was distributed. It was printed around the corner in the Spotlight Press, which was owned by Leo Kerouac and associates ... and it contained studio writeups about forthcoming  movies in the various local cinema citadels (Strand, Merrimack Square, Rialto, Crown, Jewel, etc.)  . . . as well as a humorous column by Campbell and Mulholland, who also wrote a column  in The Lowell High School Review

It was a cornucopia of information  about the show world for youngsters like me . . . and the local column with its puns and witty sayings was fabulously interesting . . . The movies were silent in that era . . . and th emusic was provided by a pianist who followed the music instructions provided with each movie . . . You could close your eyes and could visualize the scenes on the screen from the "tone" of the music . . . There was always a "chase" . . . the exciting scene which provided the finale.

Here below is the present state of the Royal Theatre, see more pics from this great site.


The Lowell Sun and The Town and the City (June 15, 1950)

The Town and the City was first serialized in The Lowell Sun on June 15, 1950 and was ran through the summer to September 3, 1950. It wasn't excerpts, but the complete novel. One wonders what the incentive would have been for anyone to buy it in Lowell, and if it was serialized elsewhere.

Sorry for the poor quality, if only I had a scanner! I have tons of stuff lying around here . . .

Jack Kerouac Will Enter Either B.C. or Columbia

Popular biographical concensus has it that Jack Kerouac was indecisive about choosing between Boston College or Columbia College prior to entering Horace Mann. Many books will tell us that Kerouac chose Columbia, went to Horace Mann in Fall 1939 to prepare for Columbia. However, the truth is that Kerouac, at the close of his year at Horace Mann, he was still undecided.

Lowell Sun (June 21, 1940)

Jack Kerouac Will Enter Either B.C. or Columbia

LOWELL--- Johnny Kerouac, former Lowell high star athlete, is home after graduating from the Horace Mann earlier this week in New York city. Prior to the graduation exercises he was awarded a varsity baseball letter. During the season he played both in the outfield and infield for the Horace Mann school.

It was understood that he will enter either Columbia or Boston college in the fall. While he is an outstanding baseball and trackster, he is more prominent as a football player. Last fall he was a triple-threat star for the Horace Mann eleven. During the summer he will stay in Lowell and make-up his mind about his college career. He conferred with Lou Little of Columbia and Frank Leahy of B.C. and both were interested.

In the meantime he is seeking a berth with the Lowell-Twi-League or the Middlesex county league.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Visions of Gerard

from Ken Lopez Bookseller

NY, Farrar Straus, (1963). A volume in Kerouac's fictionalized autobiography -- the Legend of Duluoz Series. Inscribed by the author: "To Jamie/ the Angel/ from Jack Kerouac." With a "compliments of the Author" bookplate pasted above the inscription on which someone -- presumably Kerouac -- has typed "who says Hullo Jamie" below the word "Author." Jamie was, in 1963, the 4 year old son of Kerouac's former college buddy Ed White, who was fictionalized as Tim Gray in On the Road. Ed and Kerouac were introduced by White's roommate, Hal Chase, who also introduced Kerouac to Neal Cassady. Kerouac and Ed kept up a correspondence from 1947, the year after they met, to 1969, the year Kerouac died, exchanging nearly 90 letters and postcards over the course of their friendship. White was apparently the first person Kerouac wrote to in 1949 when his first novel, The Town and the City, was accepted for publication. A wonderful inscription, reflecting not only a longtime friendship -- and a multigenerational one at this point -- but also Kerouac's innate sweetness. Books inscribed by Kerouac are increasingly scarce in the market these days. Glue bleeding through bookplate, not affecting the inscription on the flyleaf; a fine copy in a near fine dust jacket with several short edge tears, reinforced on the verso at the spine heel. [#029251] $12,500

Charles Sampas Rants - Lowell Sun (September 26, 1942)

Lowell Sun (Saturday, September 26, 1942)
Charles G. Sampas


I wonder about the two young wives that sit so close to the violet wool lady—I wonder if they heard her blithe idiotic remark ‘You’d hardly know there was a war going on, would you?’ … They MUST  have heard it … and I wonder how they felt … Didn’t they feel, surely, like turning to her savagely and telling her that THEY can tell there is a war going on … Didn’t they feel like telling her about how lonely they are for their husbands—overseas now—and how worried—and about the dreams that are packed away in lavender, the dreams that may never come true, the boys that may never return, the hearts that may break? …
They must feel cold, breathless rage, at the remark of the young violet-wool lady … They must feel futile anger that their husbands are fighting so that carefully-coiffed young women, like the violet-wool can sit in comfort in a music-filled nighterie to make absurd remarks like “You’d hardly know there was a war going on, would you?” …

Eleven little words … harmless in themselves … and perhaps it’s just the mood I was in. but the words seemed to be wavering over her smooth blonde head, so that she seemed constantly to be repeating them … like a balloon filled with words that tell you what a character in the comic strips is saying …

When you’ve been working hard all day in the midst of telegraphed reports on the war, from all news services. from all fronts—when all the words you read and edited on the Stalingrad stories, on the ship sinkings, on the Singer-missing stories, on the Solomons and Madagascar and the R.A.F. and the underground and the reprisal killings and the desert fighting—when all three words jump around in your brain as you sit there, coddling your coffee, no longer warm, and trying to relax yourself into the music, those little eleven words of the violet-wool lady strike you the wrong way … Because you’re conscious every minute, every second of the war—as every American should be conscious. MUST be conscious, if the war is to be won …

Maybe I felt so coldly angry at her remark because my wife and I had just been talking about a lad who’d visited our home so often, a laughing lad named Jack Kerouac, from whom we’d heard last when he joined the merchant marine and was on his way to Russia … An aware young man, this Jack, who cut his college career in half to do what he could as his contribution to this war …

We were talking about Jack, somewhere en route to Russia, over the cold dark waters at the top of the world, and we were thinking, too, of the German report that 41 ships of a convoy to Russia had been sunk, and we were wondering about the truth of the report, and hoping that, somehow, Jack’s ship was not around at that time, and knowing that it would be a long time before we’d know—about Jack getting to Russia—about Jack—coming home again …

Such an inane, silly remark “You’d hardly know there was a war going on, would you?” And yet, Young Violet Lady, there must be many friends of yours now scattered around the wide, dangerous corners of the war, if only as a nuisance that’s done away with your silk stockings and made such a headache for you, of the gasoline problem…You MUST be conscious of the war, if only as it affects you now, this moment, when you are out with a boy at least five years your junior … Would this be so if those other lads were home, and not carrying guns or flying planes or cutting through death-lurking waters? …

Listen Violet-Wool: Hate the war! Rage against it! Be bitter and hurt and resentful about it—but don’t ignore it! … Cry because of it! … Tremble because of it! … Be frightened stiff or courageous over it! … But never pretend it isn’t here! … Keep the war close to you, like a pain and like a sorrow! Think of it exultantly and proudly, like a crusade or like a holy obligation—but don’t be bored by it! … never—not for a moment—dismiss it from your mind with small-talk, conversation-making remarks like:
“You’d hardly know there was a war going on, would you?”
               Never say that again!

All that pollution, and it still was called home ...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Margaret Coffey (Pauline "Moe" Cole in Maggie Cassidy)

I have a great deal of things  I have been trying to track down relating to Lowell. One is Margaret Coffey who is called "Pauline "Moe" Cole" in the novel Maggie Cassidy. Many biographers take Kerouac's word for gospel and repeat it in their book without fact-checking first. I may have done the same with her, I don't remember.

Over the years I have done random research in Lowell and online, and not much had turned up. Today I found this, which makes me wonder if I am in fact wrong. This Margaret Coffey, indeed born in Lowell would have made her about seven years older than Jack when he was introduced to her in Lowell.

I intend on contacting the poster at this geneaological site to see maybe if I can come up with a bit more information.

My skimming through the newspaper archives does have numerous mentions of a "Margaret Coffey" winning various singing contests around town. Could there have been two Margaret Coffeys?

Why not?

There was another "Gerard Kerouack"in the 1920s as well as a "Leo Kerouack" both from Lowell, Massachusetts.

UPDATE: So then another search on the Internet now disqualifies the woman up top, for now we have a Margaret Coffey born in Lowell in the same year as Kerouac, 1922. Since I am too cheap to subscribe to every site offering further information, I have a few more names to go on at thevery least to see if I can locate where she went. Most biographers unequivocally assume she went on to sing with Benny Goodman, which is news to many jazz historians who have no such records.

82 First Street, where she apparently lived in 1940 according to the U.S. census is located in Centralville. It is a 2-family residence built in 1890  that still stands today.

So where did she go? Did she keep in touch with Jack?

I next found mention of a "Peggy Coffey" advertised as a beautiful "songstress in a Bryant College (Providence, Rhode Island) newsletter from May 1946.

Is this going anywhere? I prefer to keep looking, because this is what it is all about, researching, digging, and then maybe I can finally write with authority who this girl was instead of repeating the biographers like Joyce Johnson, in the newest biography of Kerouac, who just blindly states that Coffey sang with Benny Goodman without a shred of proof (other than relying on Maggie Cassidy as her principal source). Because, so far I haven't seen any evidence of it. This is NOT TO SAY IT ISN'T TRUE! It's just that I haven't seen the evidence to back it up. Sometimes I fell into this trap when i was working on my biography. But hey, it was my first book, I did what I felt was my best effort. Now I know so much more. 

I am warmer now on Peggy Coffey's trail. 

The Bilboard on February 16, 1946 writes from New York that a "Cavalcade of canaries whirs merrily on. Newest replacements in band vocal departments include Peggy Coffey, who had taken over Jeanne Berkley's chores with the Bobby Byrne band ..." By June 1946 the same rag states that a singer named Karen Rich has replaced Peggy Coffey as the "canary" for Bobby Byrn. The Nashua Telegraph lists Coffey as a vocalist for the Vic Roy Orchestra on December 12, 1946. 

If this is the one and the same, she seemed to have been barely getting by via minor league Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw knock-offs, not the big men themselves. 

Still, I am not 100% positive. However, someone, somewhere, that knows their big bands and jazz would have documented this. I find nothing.

I will keep on this.

UPDATE [October 16, 2012]:

Dave Moore updates with this:

Peggy Coffey appeared with Bobby Byrne at the Roseland Palace, New York, May 23, 1946. The Billboard review includes:
“in the minus department is girl vocalist Peggy Coffey who still has to learn such fundamentals of chirping as breath-control. Gal tries hard but doesn’t have the voice nor experience to get over. Byrne might do better to use her less frequently.”
Around the same time she appeared as vocalist on a record by Bobby Byrne: “Ridin’ On A Summer Afternoon” / “Whatta Ya Gonna Do”.
It seems that Byrne replaced her with Karen Rich shortly after this, and Peggy joined the Vic Roy Orchestra later that year. 

Dave even tracked down a 78 RPM record she did with Bobby Byrne that recently sold on Ebay (her name is even featured on the label!):

Cosmo Records
Bobby Byrne & his orchestra 
A 78 rpm record

"Whatta Ya Gonna Do" - vocal by Peggy Coffey

The Town and the City (1950)

Commuters at Lowell Train Depot

January 1941
Photographed by Jack Delano

Commuters who have just got off the train in Lowell await their ride home.

Roger Brunelle & the cresting Merrimack: Lowell, MA

The Mile of Mills

Pollard Memorial Library

"By Saturday morning the sun is shining, the sky is piercingly heartbreakingly blue, and my sister and I are dancing over the Moody Street Bridge to get out Saturday morning Library books. All the night before I've been dreaming of books--I'm standing in the children's library in the basement, rows of glazed brown books are in front of me, I reach out and open one--my soul thrills to touch the soft used meaty pages covered with avidities of reading--at last, at last, I'm opening the magic brown book-- 
                                                                                             Jack Kerouac, "Doctor Sax" (1959)

Leo's Boxing Gym

In a small article in the Lowell Sun dated October 16, 1930 there was mention of Leo Kerouac's interest in opening an athletic facility in the Massachusetts Mills complex with his storefront facing Bridge Street. He wanted to "host facilities for basketball, football training, baseball training and gymnastics."

His planned gym would have been installed here (where there was also a bowling league):

Note in the foreground, Sullivan Brothers Printing. This became Leo Kerouac's competition, and ultimately his and his daughter Caroline's employer after he sold his business in 1937. Ultimately, Sullivan Brothers fired Leo when he was unable to persuade his son to choose Boston College over Columbia University (though during my interviews for my Kerouac bio, a son still working there claimed it wasn't true and that Leo was a "hell of a good worker, the best there was."

Prior to his planned athletic facility, Leo owned and operated a very small boxing gym at 759 Lakeview Avenue, now the home of Eastern Bank. My great uncle, Ralph Larrivee used to work in this gym sweeping the floor and stuff like that when he was just a boy in the 1920s.

B.F. Keith's Theater - Then and Now

Another theatre that was important to Jack Kerouac during his boyhood was B.F. keith's Thatre. This venue was built in 1911 and was to be used primarily as a vaudeville theatre. It was located at 25-27 Bridge Street. On its exterior facing the canal, the words boasted that B.F. Keith's was the "house of perfect sound...VITAPHONE"

Part of the proceeds of the theatre funded Keith Academy for boys andKeith Hall for girls. In 1933 it officially became R.K.O. Keith's theatre and that it remained until 1965. The building remained empty until 1975 before it wa foreclosed upon by the city of Lowell for backtaxes and then razed a year later to become a parking lot.

Two Ads for Spotlight Print

Dissolution of Partnership for Spotlight Print (Lowell Sun - June 27, 1927)

Manuel Santos is featured as "inky Manuel" in the novel Visions of Gerard. The NOTICE OF DISSOLUTION OF PARTNERSHIP reads: Notice is hereby given that the partnership heretofore existing between Leo A Keroack and Manuel Santos under the firm name and style of the Spotlight Print with a place of business at 463 Market Street in said Lowell, has been dissolved this day by mutual agreement. 

                                                                                       LEO A. KEROACK
                                                                                       MANUEL SANTOS

Presently, this building adjoins the Olympia Restaurant with some history of its former tenants and architecture here.

Leo later moved his operations to the Mass Mills yard with a storefront facing Bridge Street.

Obituary for Gerard Kerouac - Lowell Sun (June 7, 1926)

The Royal Theater

"We waited impatiently for 1:15 movie time, sometimes arrived 12:30 and waited all that time looking at cherubims in the ceiling, round Moorish Royal Theater pink and gilt and crystal-crazy ceiling with a Sistine Madonna around the dull knob where a chandelier should be,-long waits in rickety nervous snapping bubblegum seat-scuff scattle tatter “Shaddap!” of usher, who also had a hand missing with a hook at the hump World War 1 veteran my father knew him well fine fellow." --- Dr. Sax

The Royal Theater was located on 484-486 Merrimack Street in a building called The Husson Block and was owned by the Husson family. It sat diagonally across from the Pollard Library on Merrimack Street. This was somewhat in the proximity of Little Canada and was owned by the Husson family. The Royal Theater's bill changed twice a week and had a square marquee with the name “Royal” emblazoned in big red neon letters on three sides. Above the entrance were three floors of apartments. The Royal was  an entertainment bargain even though its confines were quite undistinguished.

The theater was opened as a movie house at 488 Merrimack in 1911 by Charles Harpoot and was called the Jewel Theater. In 1913 he purchased more property across the street at 507 Merrimack and built a 1200 seat theater called “The New Jewel.” Though he had planned to close the original, it operated as the Royal as early as 1914 until 1964.

It is currently condemned with a big red X on the front.