Sunday, July 15, 2007

Coggins, Kerouac and Crawford

In the early 90s, I lived in this apartment house:

on Russian Hill in San Francisco, near the corner of Leavenworth and Greenwich. During the composition of my latest novel, Runoff, I needed a place for the well-heeled client of my PI protagonist August Riordan to live, and I decided to put her in the building because I always liked the place and I knew that it had originally been a single family residence.

At the time I lived there, I thought the only thing of particular interest in the vicinity was the stretch of Lombard Street called the "crookedest street in world," which is a block north.

Turns out I was completely wrong because a few blocks south and west, on Russell:


an alley I walked by hundreds of times, is 29 Russell Street:

A house rented in the early 50s by Neal and Carolyn Cassady. Neal, of course, is famous as the inspiration for a number of characters in novels by Jack Kerouac, as well as being a member of the Merry Pranksters.

During the first few months of 1952, Keroauc roomed with the Cassadys in a cramped attic space above their bedroom. There were no facilities, and rather than wake the Cassadys in the night to pass through their bedroom on the way to the bathroom, he would often pee out the attic window!

But Kerouac did more than pee while he was there. He worked on three books: On the Road, Doctor Sax and Visions of Cody.

Okay, you may be saying, we've had the Coggins and Kerouac advertised in the title of the post, but where is the Crawford? Turns out Kerouac was out walking one evening and ran across a movie being filmed at the nearby Tamalpais Apartments on Hyde:


The movie was Sudden Fear and the star, Joan Crawford, was filming a scene where she unlocks the door to the apartment building:

Never one to waste a real life experience, Kerouac incorporated it into a segment of Visions of Cody entitled "Joan Rawshanks in the Fog:"

"I had never imagined [a camera crew] going through these great Alexandrian strategies just for the sake of photographing Joan Rawshanks fumbling with her keys at a goggyfoddy door while all traffic halts in real world life only half a block away and everything waits on a whistle blown by a hysterical fool in uniform who suddenly decided the importance of what's going on by some convulsive phenomena in the lower regions of his twitching hips, all manifesting itself in a sudden freezing grimace of idiotic wonder just exactly like the look of the favorite ninny in every B-movie you and I and Cody ever saw..."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apparently did not wholly agree with Kerouac's assessment of the film and Crawford's performance since they nominated her for best actress in a leading role ...

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