Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Remembering Sebastian Sampas

                                         


On this date -- March 2 -- in 1944, Sebastian "Sammy" Sampas died at age 21. Sampas was one of Jack Kerouac's closest and dearest friends, and it would be hard to overstate the significant influence one had on the other (especially in ways literary and intellectual). Jack's third wife, Stella, was Sebastian's sister. Sampas appeared in the following Kerouac works (Source: Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend):

Kerouac Work                                               Character Name

Doctor Sax                                                    Sebastian
Visions of Cody                                             Sebastian
Book of Dreams                                            Silvanus Santos
Vanity of Duluoz                                            Sabbas (Sabby) Savakis
Visions of Gerard                                          Savas Savakis
Atop an Underwood                                      Sam
The Town and the City                                  Alexander Panos
The Haunted Life and Other Writings           Garabed Tourian

There are some wonderful letters back and forth between Sebastian and Jack in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956 (1995, Penguin). In a November 1942 letter Jack calls Sampas his "mad poet brother (p. 31). (The original letter is on sale HERE for $12,500!)

Here is how a letter from March 1943 starts (p. 43):
Sebastian!
You magnificent bastard! I was just thinking about you, and all of a sudden, I feel
very Sebastianish,
very Bohemian!
very Baroque!
very GAY!                                                                                                         (TURN!)
I was thinking, in a flash of glory, about all the things we've done!!!--and all the others we're going to do!
AFTER THE WAR, WE MUST GO TO FRANCE AND SEE THAT THE REVOLUTION GOES WELL! AND GERMANY TOO! AND ITALY TOO! AND RUSSIA!
For  1. Vodka
        2. Love
        3. Glory. 
Alas, there was no "after the war" for Sampas -- he was killed by wounds received in the Battle of Anzio during WWII while serving as an army medic.

It would take an entire book to describe adequately the deep and loving friendship Sampas and Kerouac shared, so I won't attempt it here. Suffice to say that you can get a good sense of it from Kerouac biographies, letters between the two, and, of course, Jack's own words about Sampas in the above listed works.

RIP, Mr. Sampas,



2 comments:

robin andrea said...

Thank you so much for reminding me of Sebastian Sampas. I'm going to have to do a lot more reading to get a fuller sense of him. Just reading the words that he was killed while an army medic during the Battle of Anzio brought tears to my eyes. My father was a combat medic during World War II. He was injured in the Battle of the Bulge while rescuing soldiers from an over-turned tank behind enemy lines. He received a Purple Heart for that. Just a fleeting connection from a time long ago.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Thanks for your feedback, Robin. Sammy doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, so good luck reading up on him. Most of what I know is from Kerouac biographies. Maybe I will tackle creating a Wikipedia entry for him. Your dad was a legit war hero . . . wow!