The latest Beat Generation movie focuses on the murder that looms in the background of all Beat literature and lore. Kill Your Darlings is about when Lucien Carr, (Dane DeHaan) a Columbia student who was friends with and brought together Beat Generation superstars William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allan Ginsburg, murdered David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall,) an older man who was obsessed with him.
The relationship between Carr and Kammerer was very odd. Kammerer was Carr’s former teacher from St. Louis who followed him around across several states hoping for a romantic relationship to develop. Although Carr sometimes seemed to welcome Kammerer’s friendship, Kammerer was definitely a stalker. When Kammerer followed Carr to New York their strange relationship turned deadly. On August 13th, 1944 Lucien Carr stabbed David Kammerer to death with a pocket knife at the Riverside Park near Columbia University. He then tied David’s hands and feet together, weighted his body with stones, and threw him into the Hudson River.
Carr then asked his friend William S. Burroughs, who was also a good friend of Kammerer’s since childhood, what he should do, and Burroughs told him to turn himself in. But Kerouac, the next person he told, helped him get rid of the murder weapon and Kammerer’s glasses. Afterwards, Carr and Kerouac went to a bar, a movie, and to a museum.
Two days later Carr turned himself in, Kerouac was jailed for aiding and abetting. His father would not post bail, so he “briefly” married his girlfriend Edie Parker so her family would bail them out. William S. Burroughs was also jailed, but was able to post bail immediately. Carr only spent two years in prison for the murder of Kammerer. According to Carr’s defense, Kammerer made yet another sexual advance, declared his love for him, and threatened to kill Carr and his girlfriend Celine. That’s when Carr says he panicked and stabbed him in the heart with the only weapon he had: his boy scout knife.
In Ginsberg: A Biography, author Barry Miles gives this account of what happened: “Kammerer made drunken threats against Celine. He claimed he loved Lucien and couldn’t live without him. He would kill Lucien and himself if he couldn’t have him, and he insisted that they have sex. Lucien resisted and they began to struggle.”
This murder shook up, haunted, and partly defined the entire Beat movement. Sometimes it served as a blatant inspiration. Kerouac and William S. Burroughs collaborated on a hard-boiled novel about the murder called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. The book was was not published until 2009, over 60 years after it was written. Kerouac wrote about the murder in <em>The Town and The City and Vanity of Duluoz.
After Carr served his time, Kerouac wrote his seminal novel On the Road at Carr’s apartment with paper Carr had stolen from his job at United Press. The legend is that Kerouac wrote the entire novel in one binge, fueled by coffee, speed, and marijuana, on a scroll. It turns out that there was no “scroll,” but the pages were taped together to make it appear to be one long piece of paper. Kerouac then moved into the apartment briefly to finish the second draft.
Lucien Carr was sobered by his experience, in more ways than one. While he buddies became hard-partying poets and authors, Lucien, as “Lou” Carr, stopped drinking and held down a a job United Press news agency for almost 50 years. He came to prize his privacy so much that he was upset when Allen Ginsberg dedicated his famous poem “Howl” to him because he wanted to live a normal, anonymous life. He also offered this bit of advice to Ginsberg: “Don’t let yourself go mad, and keep hustlers and parasites at arm’s length.”