This week in Literature and Arts

March 12, 1922: Jack Kerouac is born in the second floor bedroom at 9 Lupine Road in Lowell, MA. His folks were French-Canadian imports who spoke French at home (Jack, baptized Jean-Louis, didn’t learn to speak English until attending grammar school).

Jack’ now been dead longer than he was alive. The short unhappy life…, but how many little boys grow up to write books that launch a literary movement?

A decade ago, I covered the opening of a sterling Kerouac exhibit at the New York Public Library that included the “On the Road” manuscript on a roll of teletype paper. Amazing to see it.

Happy 95th birthday, Jack.

Happy 69th birthday to Billy Crystal, born in New York City March 14, 1948. Billy’s first years were spent in the Bronx before his family relocated to Long Beach out on the Island. He was a champion high school athlete and attended college on a baseball scholarship.

If you’re a fan at all of this guy, pick up his memoir Still Foolin’ ‘Em released when he turned 65. He discusses his life and career and the highs and lows of getting older. I’d recommend the audiobook over print because Billy narrates it himself and several segments were recorded live in front of an audience where he’s at his best. You’ll laugh your ass off.

Happy birthday to the great Sylvia Beach, bookseller and publisher of Ulysses, born March 14, 1887, in Baltimore (her actual first name was Nancy, she changed it).

She knew a good thing when she saw it.

March 16, 1850: Following years of obscurity, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 45, becomes an early American literary celebrity with the publication of The Scarlett Letter by Ticknor & Fields. Hawthorne already had published “Young Goodman Brown” and other of his now noted short works in magazines to little ado.

His use of romance chafing against severe New England Puritanism (he was born in Salem, MA) combined with psychological themes came to maturity in The Scarlett Letter and readers ate it up.

Happy birthday to Australian stage/TV/film actor Leo McKern, born in Sydney March 16, 1920. Despite losing his left eye at 15, McKern served in World War II. After his military service, he moved to England to pursue acting and became a staple of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and the Old Vic.

He played character roles in numerous films and British TV programs for decades before landing the lead in the BBC’s Rumpole of the Bailey series. In film, McKern appeared in science fiction (X the Unknown), fantasy (Ladyhawke), comedies (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother) and dramas (The Shoes of the Fisherman, Ryan’s Daughter, The French Lieutenant’s Woman).

But for Beatles geeks he’ll always be Clang from HELP!

Happy 85th birthday to John Updike, born March 18, 1932, in Reading, PA.

I spent a weekend with him roughly a decade ago at the University of South Carolina’s symposium on literary biography thanks the late, great Matt Bruccoli. Updike the star attraction and I was just a press hack covering it. He was very nice and very quiet. He smiled often and showed me his library card.

Updike should have won the Nobel, but he wasn’t political enough. No matter. His place in American letters is secure, but it would have been grand for him to have it.

Let the day not pass without birthday wishes to George Plimpton, born in New York City March 18, 1927. Like with Updike, I met Plimpton through Matt Bruccoli (there was a bit of drinking involved). Because of the Thurston Howell-esque way he had of speaking, George seemed snobbish, but he was very warm and friendly. Funny and a good listener.

He was a solid writer, and while he found fame as a journalist, if you’ve never read his comedic novel The Curious Case of Sidd Finch track it down, especially if you’re a baseball fan. Fun stuff.

Michael Rogers ( is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He is also former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.