Neal Cassady on TV in 1961

by Dave Moore

In October 1961 Neal Cassady appeared on a 45-minute TV programme called “PM West.” It was hosted by Terrence O’Flaherty, the SF Chronicle film critic, was filmed on 7 October 1961 at KPIX Channel 5 in San Francisco, and broadcast on 25 October. Titled “Epitaph on a Beatnik,” the guests were Shig Murao (Ferlinghetti’s partner at City Lights), Eileen Kaufman (late wife of poet Bob Kaufman), Pierre DeLattre, and Neal Cassady. Neal was paid $24 for his appearance.

According to O’Flahery all of the “PM West” videotapes were wiped by Westinghouse many years ago, although some still photographs taken at the time survive (the photographs accompanying this article). In New York City photographer Fred McDarrah was watching the broadcast in October 1961 and took some shots of the TV screen. A photo of Neal, somewhat distorted by a misaligned receiver, later appeared in a couple of McDarrah’s books, and elsewhere.

Pierre DeLattre, who later knew Neal in Mexico, has written about the TV programme, saying that he’d previously heard much about Neal being a wild character but then “Here comes this guy in a blue suit and a red tie, playing it very straight. Well, the next time I met him was years later, and then he was back to being the Neal Cassady I associated with Neal Cassady.”
In October 1961, of course, Neal was still within the two years probation period from San Quentin, so had to ‘behave’ himself, especially on television.

Around the same time, fall of 1961, Neal began mixing and partying with young students from nearby Stanford University, meeting them in Perry Lane, the bohemian area of Palo Alto. In February 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel by the writer Ken Kesey, was published. Neal met him and his friends when Kesey, an ex-Stanford student, returned to Perry Lane from Oregon that summer. Kesey had long wanted to meet the hero of On the Road, and the two discovered that they had a common interest in sports, literature, and drugs.


Cassady's Earnings Statement from Westinghouse
Cassady’s Earnings Statement from Westinghouse

EPITAPH ON A BEATNIK—the birthplace of the Beatnik was San Francisco’s North Beach. How they came there, what they did, and why they left is discussed by PM WEST host TERRANCE O’FLAHERTY with PIERRE DELATTRE, an ordained minister who ran the “Bread and Wine Mission” for the Beatniks of Upper Grant Avenue; SHIG MURAO, who figured in the censorship trial against “Howl,” Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Beat” poem; EILEEN KAUFMAN, whose husband, Bob, is a leader of the Beat literary movement; and NEAL CASSADY, an original of the Beat Generation on whom the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, was based.

Contact sheet of stills from the programme

Dave Moore lives in Bristol, UK, and is the author of many articles on the Beat writers. Founding editor of The Kerouac Connection magazine (1984-2000), he compiled and annotated Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967 for publication by Penguin (2004). Dave also writes on mystery and crime fiction as well as jazz and blues, and is the author of The Kerouac Companion (2010), which includes a definitive guide to the 600-plus characters in Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend, and other Beat works. Dave also runs the Yahoo discussion forum, Kerouac Studies, and is administrator of three Facebook groups: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation (where this information was originally posted), and Jazz of the Beat Generation.