When he died in 1969, beat author Jack Kerouac left behind a house in St. Petersburg, Fla., countless letters and papers, a following of passionate readers and a daughter he had met just twice.
Now his daughter, Jan Kerouac, is accusing the Kerouac estate, which is administered by John Sampas, Kerouac's former brother-in-law, of breaking up the estate by selling off pieces for profit.Jan Kerouac has sued, stating that when Jack Kerouac's mother died in 1973, her will, which left her son's possessions to the Sampas family, was illegally drawn up.
The estate should belong to her, she says. "The purpose of gaining control isn't just money, but so that I can get all of my father's possessions into one archive and sell them to a museum or library," she said in an interview.
It's hard to keep track of what has become of all of Kerouac's belongings, but it's clear from his letters that the author wanted them kept together.
George Tobia, a lawyer for the Boston firm of Burns & Levinson, which is representing the Kerouac estate, says his clients are working as hard as they can to keep the most important items intact.
The items that are meaningful from a literary or scholarly standpoint - including letters from Kerouac to beat poet Allen Ginsberg and manuscripts of Kerouac's books, including "On the Road" - are in such public institutions as the New York Public Library, he said.
If other things sometimes come on the market, Tobia added, that doesn't mean much. For example, in a recent sale that Jan Kerouac said made her furious, actor Johnny Depp bought a raincoat that belonged to Jack Kerouac.
"You couldn't have treasured items more cared for than the estate is caring for them," Tobia said. "But our position is that we have shoes, hats. They're not going to treat every shred of clothing he ever donned or touched as if it was the Shroud of Turin."
The dispute is in some respects a typical case of the arguments that can take place after an author dies and leaves potentially lucrative effects behind. It's all the more difficult because of the tenuous personal connections with Kerouac: Jan's mother, Joan Haverty, was separated from Jack Kerouac soon after their marriage; Stella Sampas, John Sampas' sister, married Kerouac several years before he died. (She died in 1990.)
Meanwhile, the estate is accusing Jan Kerouac of greed, she is accusing the estate of greed and Kerouac scholars are weighing in with their own views.
Gerald Nicosia, who wrote a biography of Kerouac in 1983 and who supports Jan Kerouac, said in an interview that Jan Kerouac had been severely mistreated by the estate. And, he said, the public had a right to see the entire Kerouac archive.
"There was a lot of craft to his work," he said. "I believe that once all these manuscripts are available, we'll get rid of this myth that he was just a barbarian who produced this stuff off the top of his head."