Volume > Issue > Jack Kerouac’s Creedal Moment

Jack Kerouac’s Creedal Moment

DECLARATION OF HIS CATHOLICISM

By James K. Hanna | May 2024
James K. Hanna is a Director of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and author of The Remarkable Life of Bishop Bonaventure Broderick: Exile, Redemption, and a Gas Station (Serif Press, 2022).

It has been called one of the most bizarre panel discussions ever held on television.

Episode 32 of the third season of author and columnist William F. Buckley Jr.’s television talk show Firing Line aired on September 4, 1968. Buckley began by announcing that the episode’s topic would be “the hippies, an understanding of whom we must, I guess, acquire or die painfully.” Buckley’s pain, though not fatal, began soon after his opening monologue. The panel included Beat movement writer Jack Kerouac; sociologist Lewis Yablonsky, author of The Hippie Trip (1968); and poet, musician, and polemicist Ed Sanders.

Buckley, introducing Kerouac, called him a “regular practicing novelist” and referred to his bestselling On the Road (1957) as “seeming to preach a life of disengagement and making a virtue out of restlessness” — an image Kerouac himself would project during the 30 minutes that followed.

Kerouac sat to Buckley’s immediate left. The host, known to lean to the right politically, now physically leaned far-right, anxious to put space between himself and the clearly soused Kerouac. Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, a friend of Kerouac’s who was in the audience, later claimed that when Kerouac arrived at the studio inebriated, Buckley asked him to replace Kerouac on the panel. Ginsberg politely declined.

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