Je vous le dis en vérité, si vous ne vous convertissez et si vous ne devenez comme les petits enfants, vous n’entrerez pas dans le royaume des cieux. Jésus (Matthieu 18: 3)
Le monde les a haïs, parce qu’ils ne sont pas du monde, comme moi je ne suis pas du monde. Jésus (Jean 17: 14)
The process of growing older is not necessarily allied to growing wickeder, though the two do often happen together. Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey: that journey upon which it is certainly not better to travel hopefully than to arrive, though we must travel hopefully if we are to arrive. JRR Tolkien
Le succès est toujours issu d’un malentendu. Paul Valéry (?)
The problem with you, Joyce, is you love the world. JD Salinger
Les gens applaudissent toujours pour les mauvaises raisons. Holden Caulfield
Pour moi, aucune biographie de J.D. Salinger ne sera jamais complète sans une reconnaissance qu’il n’était pas simplement victime mais agresseur. (…) Quand un homme de 53 ans écrit à un étudiant de première année à Yale, il n’écrit pas à une femme, il écrit à une fille. Et lorsqu’il suggère qu’elle devrait abandonner sa bourse, quitter la fac, quitter son emploi au New York Times et couper toutes relations avec le monde, cela s’appelle aussi un événement de stress post-traumatique quand cela se répercute à travers sa vie. Joyce Maynard
His writing was all about innocence and the damage done to innocence by the world. E.L. Doctorow
in his fiction, Salinger had a chance to be the good, untraumatized man he couldn’t be in real life. Lev Grossman (Time)
Salinger wasn’t a recluse; rather, as the authors stress, “what he wanted was privacy.” This is often treated as the most outlandish aspect of his personality, when really it’s the most commonsensical. One of the talking heads featured in the documentary belongs to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who explains that people who haven’t lost the ability to walk anonymously down the street cannot appreciate what a tremendous freedom it is. “I’m tired of being collared in elevators, stopped on the street, and of interlopers on my private property,” the elderly Salinger griped in a rare interview. “I want to be left alone, absolutely. Why can’t my life be my own?” The film features a fan who, as a young husband and father, traveled to Cornish to haunt the end of Salinger’s gravel driveway, believing that the author “felt like I did and we could talk about deep things.” Salinger, after asking if the man was “under psychiatric care,” questioned how he could have left his family for such a quest. In this respect, if few others, Salinger was decidedly less crazy than the society around him. The attention trained on him was pathological, and his withdrawal from it entirely understandable, but the more he pulled back the more hotly the popular obsession burned. (…) As for Salinger’s idealization and pursuit of teenage girls — a penchant that seems to me of a piece with his general fetishization of immaculate youth — Salerno and Shield see two causes: heartbreak over Oona O’Neill, an early love who married Charlie Chaplin while Salinger was at war, and sexual insecurity caused by having “only one testicle” (or an undescended testicle, which seems more likely). But “Salinger” the book also includes an anecdote about Salinger’s apprenticeship (imposed by his father) to a meat company in Vienna in the late 1930s, during which visit he fell in love with a Viennese girl of 16. Salinger later fictionalized her in a story titled “A Girl I Knew,” praising her “immense eyes that always seemed in danger of capsizing into their own innocence … When she sat down she did the only sensible thing with her beautiful hands there was to be done: she placed them on her lap and left them there.” The man’s fixation on very young, large-eyed and exquisitely simple girls seems to have been well in place before Oona broke his heart and the war ravaged his spirit. (…) It’s not always easy to accept that what gives some artists their access to greatness can also stunt them as human beings. In a few, rare cases, the work transcends the hobbled souls who created it. Laura Miller
La seconde guerre mondiale était vraiment le traumatisme transformateur de la vie de J.D. Salinger. Elle a fait de lui un artiste, mais elle l’a aussi brisé comme homme… Il a vécu toute sa vie avec le syndrome de stress post-traumatique … Lorsque vous relisez l’oeuvre avec cela à l’esprit, vous comprenez même que « The Catcher in the Rye » est un roman de guerre déguisé. Salinger se faisait répliquer par ces femmes son innocence perdue d’avant-guerre et utilisait de très jeunes filles comme des machines à explorer le temps pour revenir à avant diverses blessures. Il y a donc quelque chose d’immensément poignant dans cette quête finalement assez problématique. Shane Salerno
Ce qui pousse Holden à fuir son pensionnat est une crise sexuelle. Son camarade de chambre plus âgé est sorti avec une fille qu’Holden connait et aime platoniquement. Ce banal athlète, un certain Stradlater, est du genre à réduire grâce à son bagout ses conquêtes à la plus complète soumission: « Il était sans scrupules. Vraiment. » Tout au long du roman Holden est tiraillé entre son aversion pour cette attitude macho envers les filles et son sentiment confus que peut-être il devrait l’imiter afin d’être comme tout le monde. C’est cette tension qui pousse la voix narrative du roman, avec son oscillation entre les fanfaronnades de celui à qui on ne l’a fait pas et sa naïve honnêteté de petit garçon. Il tente d’exorciser son innocence en se payant une prostituée, mais n’arrive pas à conclure. Il se demande comment apprendre à séparer l’amour et le sexe pour acquérir de l’expérience et comment se débarrasser de son embarrassante habitude de voir les filles comme des êtres humains plutôt que comme des moyens d’acquérir la confiance sexuelle. Son antipathie pour la culture en général lui vient de son sentiment que celle-ci est complice de cette attitude désinvolte et conformiste envers la sexualité, en partie grâce à Hollywood. Dans la seconde moitié du livre, il exprime une volonté plus générale de protéger l’innocence de la sordide hypocrisie adulte, mais ce désir romantique découle de son anxiété sexuelle. Ainsi, le roman ne traite pas de l’angoisse adolescente en général. Mais il est centré sur cette expérience très particulière de se sentir spirituellement menacé par la formidable pression sexuelle des pairs, cette peur que la maturité sexuelle implique pour tout être le sacrifice de son intégrité morale. Theo Hobson
Attention: une rebellion peut en cacher une autre !
Oona O’ Neill, Sylvie, Claire Douglas, Joyce Maynard, Jean Miller, Marjorie Sheard, Elaine Joyce, Colleen O’Neill …
Avec la sortie aux Etats-Unis d’une nouvelle biographie accompagnée d’un documentaire sur l’auteur culte américain JD Salinger confirmant le traumatisme qu’avait été pour lui la guerre …
Mais aussi son lot d’habituelles et plus ou moins croustillantes révélations sur les rapports notoirement compliqués avec les femmes du « dernier et meilleur des Peter Pan » …
Comment, au-delà de l’habituel voyeurisme et des côtés effectivement inquiétants du personnage, ne pas voir la confirmation, du séjour en hôpital psychiatrique à l’obsession de l’innocence enfantine et de la fuite hors du monde, du scénario du jeune héros de L’Attrape-coeurs ?
Dont, à l’image de son auteur privé par la guerre de l’amour de sa vie (la ravissante fille du dramaturge Eugene O’ Neill partie épouser un Charlie Chaplin de 36 ans son ainé), la fugue est initialement provoquée par la perte de son amie de coeur dans les bras du meilleur sportif de l’école ?
Mais aussi tout le malentendu du succès d’une oeuvre dont loin de la rebellion contre l’ordre social à laquelle on la réduit souvent …
La force tient au contraire, comme le rappelle le critique du Guardian Theo Hobson, à son exceptionnelle perception du déchirement du héros entre sa quête de pureté et d’innocence et la pression intériorisée de ses pairs de prouver sa naissante masculinité ?
Salinger, sex and scruples
Salinger’s cult novel isn’t really about rebellion against adults, but rebellion against the spirit of our age
1 February 2010
J.D. Salinger’s cult novel The Catcher in the Rye is about being a teenager, isn’t it? Its narrator, seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield, is the prototype of the teenage rebel, the bolshie misfit, full of self-indulgent angst, and contempt for the « phoney » adult world: he’s every-teen, isn’t he? As I see it, this is a lazy orthodoxy. It implies that his disaffection is general, unfocused, the common denominator of all adolescent angst. It also nudges him into line with sixties-style rebellion, centered on sexual liberation.
The « every-teen » image obscures the fact that Holden’s crisis is rooted in a specific anxiety, one that is not normally seen as central to the adolescent psyche. His anxiety is that sex is a threat to authenticity. This is what animates the book, and I think explains its uniqueness.
What causes Holden to run away from his boarding-school is a sexual crisis. His older room-mate has been on a date with a girl that Holden knows, and is platonically attached to. This banal jock, Stradlater, tends to schmooze his dates into full submission: « He was unscrupulous. He really was. » Holden is torn between his aversion to this macho attitude to girls, and his uneasy sense that maybe he has to imitate it, to conform. This tension is what drives the narrative voice, with its oscillation between streetwise boasting and unworldly boyish honesty.
He tries to exorcise his innocence by hiring a prostitute, but can’t go through with it. He wonders how he can learn to separate love and sex, in order to get experienced, and how he can kick the inconveniently innocent habit of seeing girls as human beings rather than stepping stones to the acquisition of sexual confidence. His antipathy towards culture in general is based in his sense that it conspires in a flippant, conformist attitude to sex, partly by means of Hollywood.
In the latter half of the book he expresses a more general desire to protect innocence from dirty adult falsity, but this Romantic yearning flows from his sexual anxiety. So the novel is not about teenage angst in general. At its heart is this very specific experience of feeling spiritually threatened by the power of sexual peer-pressure, this fear that sexual maturity entails a sacrifice of one’s moral integrity.
A key reason for the novel’s enduring cult-status, I suggest, is that this anxiety became more prevalent, with the sexual revolution, but increasingly hard to speak about. For the master-narrative of the sexual revolution is that conformity belongs only to the repressed past, not to the liberated present. And this dominant ideology has proved very hard to question; those who question it are so easily labelled reactionaries, prudes. Novelists, and other artists and thinkers, have overwhelmingly failed to develop Salinger’s insight, that sex can be the site of a conformity that feeds soul-killing. The sexual frankness of someone like John Updike is not fundamentally questioning of the ideology of sexual liberation but in thrall to it. (The same goes for Martin Amis, whose teenage hero in The Rachel Papers is a sort of slick, soulless Holden.)
So please: no more clichés about this being the sacred text of teenage rebellion, adolescent angst. This view robs the novel of its daring particularity. The reality is that it uses the setting of teenage rebellion in order to tackle a profound issue, the tension between sexual conformism and morality. It does so with a raw spiritual courage that exposes just about all subsequent novelists as a bunch of phoneys.
J.D. Salinger: A ‘Selfish Old Goat,’ but Not a Perv
Author J.D. Salinger, who died in January, is once again in the news, in all his appalling glory.
The Morgan Library in Manhattan has put on display Salinger’s correspondence with a friend — Michael Mitchell, the artist who drew the original illustration on Salinger’s 1951 novel, « Catcher in the Rye. »
These letters in particular do not address Salinger’s preference for young women, but the Catholic Church scandal has transformed sexual predators who target young people into a major focus du jour. A topic once so hush-hush that perpetrators could hurt children with impunity for decades now rarely leaves the public consciousness.
Thus, no sooner had I posted the Morgan Library news on my Facebook page, than this comment appeared:
Salinger was a « private person » because he was a pedophile who wanted to be left alone to do whatever it was he did with underage and barely legal teenage girls in peace.
Another friend wrote:
Pedophilia is a disorder involving sexual attraction with prepubescent children. Salinger was involved with young women. He was not a pedophile.
Quickly came this reply:
Tell that to the young girls.
The definition of a pedophile is: An adult who is sexually attracted to children. Pretty straightforward, but with writers, as well as other creative artists, it’s complicated.
While I found no evidence that Salinger ever molested an underage woman, I found plenty of evidence that throughout his life he was searching for a state of grace that he found in the minds of the young, especially young females.
When Salinger was 22, he fell in love with the 16-year-old daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Oona O’Neill was known for her quiet charisma and ethereal beauty. The two dated for a while, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Salinger joined the Army and O’Neill moved to Los Angeles, where she met actor and director Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin, 55, married Oona O’Neill after she turned 18. The couple remained married for 35 years and had eight children together. I’ve yet to hear anyone call Chaplin a pedophile.
Likewise Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whose wife is 31 years his junior. Even film director Woody Allen, who married his girlfriend Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn in 1997, has gained a grudging acceptance. Thirty-five years separate Allen and Previn. Few would argue the relationship was appropriate when it began. But now? Hey, they look happy.
There was a time when May-December relationships were not so taboo or rare. Women died in childbirth. Men died in war. And after all, it’s a compliment to both parties: He’s been all over the world, and yet he loves me. She’s so innocent, and yet she loves me.
My grandmother, born in 1901, had just graduated from college when she married a widower twice her age with three children. I once asked her why she didn’t marry a man her own age. Didn’t she have suitors? Oh yes, she said. « But I didn’t feel anything for them. »
Ah, l’amour. The X factor.
After serving in World War II, Salinger returned to the life of a writer living in New York and publishing in the slick magazines of the day. In 1951, Little, Brown and Company published his novel, « The Catcher in the Rye. » Salinger’s fame ratcheted up and cracks began to appear.
One of the more poignant anecdotes in the unauthorized (and incomplete) 1988 biography, « In Search of J.D. Salinger, » by British author Ian Hamilton, was this one. It took place at a party. The unnamed wife of a New York editor said she was unprepared for the « extraordinary impact of [Salinger’s] physical presence. »
There was a kind of black aura about him. He was dressed in black. He had black hair, dark eyes, and he was of course extremely tall. I was kind of spellbound. But I was married, and I was pregnant. We talked, and we liked each other very much, I thought. Then it was time for [my husband and I] to leave…and I went upstairs to where the coats were…Jerry came into the room. He came over to me and said that we ought to run away together. I said, « But I’m pregnant. » And he said, « That doesn’t matter. We can still run away. » He really seemed to mean it. I can’t say I wasn’t flattered, and even a bit tempted maybe.
Later that night she, her husband, and another couple from the party ended up in Salinger’s apartment. At first he played the congenial host, but when the conversation turned to colleges, his mood darkened. He began a monologue about the 12 stages of enlightenment.
According to the editor’s wife, Salinger said her husband « was at the first stage, the very lowest, and I was around stage four. As for Jerry, he said that for him the act of writing was inseparable from the quest of enlightenment, that he intended devoting his life to one great work, and that the work would be his life. There would be no separation. »
This was the man who would eventually leave New York and take refuge in a rambling house near Cornish, N.H. He spent half a century there.
In 1955, Salinger married the daughter of a British art critic. They had two children and then, after 12 years of marriage, divorced. According to court papers, the isolation of the rural New Hampshire home and Salinger’s retreat for days or even weeks at a time to his small writing cabin nearby contributed to the failure of the marriage.
In 1972, along came young Joyce Maynard, by way of a fetching photograph on the cover of The New York Times magazine and the headline: « An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life. » Salinger wrote her a fan letter. She wrote back. After a few months corresponding, they met and she moved in with him. He was 53 years old.
For years Maynard kept quiet about her ten months with Salinger, but in 1998 she went public with the memoir, « At Home in the World. » The book was savaged by critics. Katha Pollitt acknowledges the book’s flaws, but adds this caveat:
It’s easy to make fun of Joyce Maynard. As if her relentless self-marketing and theatricality weren’t enough, the very fact that she presents herself as vulnerable, a victim in recovery, leaves her open to mockery…[But] we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that while still very young Maynard was on the receiving end of quite a bit of damage from adults. If she doesn’t always seem to understand her own story — if she seems like a 44-year-old woman who is still 18 — maybe that goes to show how deep the damage went.
After Maynard packed her bags and left New Hampshire, there were more young women in Salinger’s life.
Here was a man who (by his own admission in the Morgan Library letters) could not « afford the marvelous distraction of first-class friendship. » Salinger called himself an « old goat » and « selfish. »
So just who is an appropriate companion for a selfish, friendless old goat?
In the late 1980s, Salinger, by then around 70 years old, married a New Hampshire nurse named Colleen O’Neill. She was 40 years his junior.
In a recent article about hermits, a psychologist said that some people « really need their downtime. » They may have an « avoidant attachment style » or a compulsion to « prove to themselves that they don’t need anybody. » Or it could be simpler than that. Perhaps a recluse merely desires « a mystical experience. You can’t pathologize that. »
Maybe Salinger found the dynamic with younger women to be more spiritual. After all, some have suggested Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in « The Catcher in the Rye, » is a modern-day saint in search of purity.
In the last decade or so, Salinger rarely made the news unless he was going to court to block one thing or another. Then three months ago, he died at the age 91, and suddenly his name was everywhere — in obituaries, in tributes, in wistful reminiscences of the large part this one novel played in the adolescences of so many.
My personal favorite involves a friend. A few months ago on Facebook she posted a picture that dated back 20 years. She wore a lacy, satiny pastel-pink confection of a dress made by her beloved abuelita for quinceanera (a sweet-16 party, only for 15-year-olds). « Somewhere, » my friend wrote, « there’s a picture of me in this dress brooding in a corner and reading ‘The Catcher in the Rye.' »
Over six decades the novel has sold 65 million copies worldwide. Even its detractors, one of whom called the book « mawkish » and poorly written, conceded the novel has had an enormous influence, and it did so by virtue of its sincerity.
A better, more cynical writer than Salinger easily could write a book about a troubled yet appealing teenager, but its artifice and insincerity would be self-evident and readers would reject it as false. Whatever its shortcomings, « The Catcher in the Rye » is from the heart — not Holden Caulfield’s heart, but Jerome David Salinger’s.
So here we have a writer who was personally repellent, but who gave the world his heart. I’ll take him just as he is.
Why did J.D. Salinger spend the last 60 years hiding in a shed writing love notes to teenage girls?
Anne De Courcy
29 January 2010
The writer J. D. Salinger, who died yesterday aged 91, was as famous for his five decades of stringent reclusiveness as for his best-known novel, The Catcher In The Rye, which was an instant bestseller when it was published in 1951.
It also marked the beginning of an obsessive withdrawal from the world. This hermit, who guarded his privacy with a shotgun and guard dogs behind high walls, was equally fierce in protecting his anonymity with squads of lawyers who attempted to block anything intimate being written about him.
He was the ultimate anti-celebrity, refusing interviews and insisting his photograph was removed from the dust-jackets of his books.
The only recent photograph of him (taken many years ago) is of him wearing a furious face as he fends off an intruding cameraman.
Along with this quest for total seclusion went a predilection for teenage girls – not so much a Lolita syndrome as an urge to discover innocence and then mould it to the shape he wished.
Born in New York on January 1, 1919, J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger’s early life gave little hint of what he would become, although there were several factors that affected him deeply.
One was the shock of believing he was Jewish and then discovering that he was only half-Jewish – his mother was, in fact, a Catholic.
Another was his doomed first love affair, in 1941, with the 16-year-old Oona O’Neill, whom he had wished to marry – she later wed Charlie Chaplin.
Their romance ended when he was called up by the Army in 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
More scarring still, however, were his experiences in World War II, in which he saw numerous comrades killed around him.
He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and fought all the way to Paris. There, he met Ernest Hemingway who encouraged his writing.
Still in Europe when the war ended, he was sent to Germany to interrogate Nazis.
There, he fell in love with a girl called Sylvie – later believed to be a former Nazi official – whom he married and, after eight months, divorced.
He later described her as ‘an evil woman who bewitched me’.
He returned to the U.S. and began his writing career with short stories. Then, in 1951, he published the novel on which he had been working for ten years.
This was The Catcher In The Rye, a tale that captured the essence of teenage angst before anyone knew it existed, and it had instant and lasting success.
So far, it has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide and still regularly tops polls of the most popular novel of all time. When Mark Chapman shot John Lennon, he was carrying a copy.
Told in the voice of its tall, grey-haired hero, Holden Caulfield, who runs away from boarding school to New York, where he finds everyone ‘phoney’ except his adored little sister Phoebe, it spawned a new genre of fiction that remains stupendously popular: the first-person narrative of someone young, neurotic, misunderstood, insecure and vulnerable. It was an undoubted masterpiece.
But two years after this literary and financial success gave him untold freedom and independence, Salinger headed off to the remote rural town of Cornish, New Hampshire – and the isolation that characterised the rest of his life.
The house he chose stood behind high walls and a screen of trees and was located on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River valley. It was reached by a rough road that winds for several miles up a hill.
There was no name on the mailbox at the end of the steep drive leading to the house, and No Trespassing signs hung on several of the tree
At first, he made occasional forays to New York. At a party, he met a young student, Claire Douglas, the 18-year-old half-sister of a British aristocrat.
Soon she moved in, and in 1955, when Claire was 20 and Salinger 36, they married. But as Salinger’s desire for solitude increased, he made her burn all her papers and cut off all contact with her friends and family.
He also built himself a separate cabin a quarter of a mile away in the woods, painted it dark green as camouflage against possible intruders, and spent most of the time there working.
Claire, who had tried desperately to please him, found herself plunged into an isolation she had never sought.
But when she became pregnant, Salinger cut off all contact with the outside world and from the fourth month of her pregnancy, she saw no one whatsoever.
Thirteen months after the birth of their daughter, Margaret, Claire had spiralled into depression and ran away with the baby. But she returned four months later to the husband she still loved, and in 1960 their son Matthew was born.
Salinger shifted the entire focus of his life to the cabin in the woods, staying there for up to two weeks at a time, burning wood in his stove to heat up the cans of food or meals brought to him by Claire or their children.
Sometimes he would sit outside between the reflectors he had installed to help him tan.
Salinger became increasingly eccentric, drinking his own urine and sitting in a special device known as an orgone box, which was supposed to promote health.
He hated sickness, which he tried to cure in his children with homeopathy and acupuncture practised with wooden dowels instead of needles; when they cried with pain or his methods failed, he would fly into a rage.
He worked sitting in an old car seat, typing on an ancient typewriter at a desk made from a plain slab of wood. He hated being disturbed, even by Margaret.
One remark he made at this time to his ten-year-old daughter expresses much of his attitude to women. After a quarrel he told her: ‘We’d better find a way to make up because when I’m through with a person – I’m through with them’.
It was perfectly true; but in his first marriage, it was his wife who cracked first. By 1966, the strain of Claire’s life of isolation had begun to have a physical effect on her.
She suffered from sleeplessness, loss of weight and sexual problems. In 1966, she filed for divorce, which was granted the following year.
Then, in spring 1972, Salinger saw a picture of a young writer, Joyce Maynard, on the cover of the New York Times Magazine with the headline An 18-Year- Old Looks Back On Life. Soon, Joyce was receiving fan letters from him.
Intrigued, she wrote back – and soon gave up her degree course at Yale University to live with him in New Hampshire.
She was 19; he was 53, with a lifestyle based on macrobiotics and Zen Buddhism – at various times he was also to become involved with Scientology and Christian Science.
Their sexual problems began at once. Salinger did not want more children and their relationship, according to Joyce, was based on oral sex – she had a condition that made full sex painful.
The nine-month affair ended while on holiday in Florida with his children, whose custody he had kept. Salinger told her to leave at once, go home and clear her things out of his house before he returned. (In 1999, she put the story of their affair in a memoir, At Home In The World, and sold 14 letters from Salinger at Sotheby’s, where they fetched almost £100,000.)
Salinger went back to his life of seclusion in the hidden cabin, around which he now owned 450 acres. Dressed in a blue boiler suit, he wrote every day, although not for publication – a possible treasure trove of up to ten novels are believed to lie in his locked safe.
In 1981, he began a relationship with the 36-year-old actress Elaine Joyce, again initiated by letter. This lasted for several years, until he met Colleen O’Neill, the director of the annual town fair, who was 40 years his junior. They married in the late Eighties.
Salinger’s privacy was momentarily breached in October 1992 when a fire broke out in his house and Colleen had to drive her blue pickup truck to a telephone box to call the fire brigade.
One of the reporters who were drawn by the news spotted him looking at the damage, but as soon as he approached, the white-haired writer darted away.
Give or take the reprinting of an early story, Hapworth 16, 1924, it is almost 50 years since the publication of his last book, Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, in 1963, a silence he explained himself with words that could be his epitaph: ‘I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.’
Telluride: Joyce Maynard slams ‘Salinger’ documentary, says author was a ‘victimizer’ of young women
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – The world premiere of « Salinger » at the Telluride Film Festival on Monday was a tale of two girlfriends. A pair of the late author’s former « muses » were in attendance — one pleased by the documentary, one not so much so.
A post-screening panel discussion led by an admirer of the film, director-producer Ken Burns, included Jean Miller, Salinger’s companion for five years in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. Sitting quietly in the audience, meanwhile, was Joyce Maynard, who had a strange liaison with the legendarily reclusive author in the early ‘70s.
Maynard’s attendance at the festival was bizarrely coincidental, and had nothing to do with promoting « Salinger, » which the Weinstein Co. is releasing on Friday. Maynard had come to town to celebrate the premiere of another film, « Labor Day, » Jason Reitman’s adaptation of her novel.
« Joyce is in the front row, » Burns pointed out as the discussion wrapped up, « and if we had time machine we would be able to go back and invite her up to add immeasurably to our understanding of this complicated person. »
But when TheWrap spoke with Maynard after the screening, she was displeased enough with what she saw as some of the film’s thematic omissions that the filmmakers will probably be relieved she wasn’t sharing her thoughts on the dais.
Maynard, who wrote a book about her experiences with Salinger, continues to see the author, who died in 2010, as just one step away from being a child predator.
« I thought the film was an extraordinary accomplishment—minus a crucial element, and yes, that’s very troubling to me, » said Maynard outside the Palm Theatre. « I believe that no biography of J.D. Salinger will ever be complete without an acknowledgement that he was not simply a PTSD victim, he was a victimizer as well.
« And it’s very troubling to hear my 18-year-old self, and girls who were younger than I was, referred to as ‘women.' »
Some of those references took place in the panel discussion, which dwelled heavily on the idea of Salinger as a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. « World War II really was the transformative trauma in J.D. Salinger’s life, » said « Salinger » director Shane Salerno, who participated in the Q&A via Skype. « It made him as an artist but it broke him as a man… He was living with PTSD throughout his life…
« When you re-read the work with that in mind, you even understand that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a disguised war novel. »
Whether it was Miller in 1949 or Maynard in 1972, said Salerno, Salinger « was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds. So there’s something immensely heartbreaking about this rather problematic pursuit. »
That pursuit, admitted Miller, « raises havoc in the muse’s life … That short story ‘The Girl With No Waist at All’ really represents the moment before a girl becomes a woman. »
In the « Salinger » book, Miller reveals that her relationship with Salinger, who befriended her when she was 14, was platonic until he took her virginity five years into their relationship, after which he immediately broke up with her.
Maynard was not nearly so sanguine as Miller about any afterglow from her live-in coupling with Salinger, which was similarly sexless until almost the end.
« When a 53-year-old man writes letters to a freshman at Yale, he’s not writing to a woman, he’s writing to a girl, » Maynard told TheWrap. « And when he suggests that she should give up her scholarship, leave college, leave her job at the New York Times and cut off all relationship with the world, that is also called a post-traumatic stress event, when it reverberates through her life.
« Not a day has passed in 40 years that I have not faced the residue of my relationship with Salinger — and in a professional way, profoundly. Which is why I was so happy to be at this festival with a movie of a novel of mine and projects having nothing to do with Salinger. »
Maynard does appear at some length in the last half-hour of the documentary.
Burns opened the discussion by noting that he lives four towns south of Cornish, N.H., where Salinger notoriously withdrew from public life from the mid-‘60s until his death three and a half years ago. He said he grew used to Salinger seekers coming through his neighborhood wanting stalking tips.
Tantalizingly, Burns added almost as an aside that he did correspond with Salinger a number of times – « he would send me passages from Christian Science manuscripts that tell you how to cure ailments with prayer. »
At one point, Burns pointed out, « All the important muses of his life seem to represent some kind of attempt at innocence, perhaps a fantasy of innocence » with « an almost frightened-of-sex aspect. »
Miller called her relationship with him very asexual.
« I thought of him as my uncle for many years, » she said. « I don’t think really in a way he was all that interested in sex. Jerry’s power of you was absolutely mental and spiritual. »
‘Hi, how’s Heathcliff?’ JD Salinger’s secret lover reveals how he picked her up at the pool when she was just 14 when he saw her reading Wuthering Heights – as she speaks for first time in 60 years
Jean Miller met Salinger in Daytona Beach, Florida when she was 14 years old and the relationship lasted five years
‘I saw this glass curtain come down’: Their relationship ended five years later just after they had sex for the first time
Associated Press and Daily Mail Reporter
3 September 2013
A woman who had a five-year relationship with J.D. Salinger starting in 1949 and waited 60 years to discuss her time with the reclusive author is finally spilling her secrets.
After the author’s death in 2010, Jean Miller finally opened up about the relationship to filmmaker Shane Salerno, who has made a soon-to-be released documentary on Salinger.
Miller was just 14 when she began the relationship with the secretive Salinger and the flow of such revelations has gone from trickle to flood thanks to the upcoming film and a new biography.
According to CBS, Miller’s silence was a sort prerequisite to being a friend of Salinger’s.
‘I didn’t want to talk about it because I knew [Salinger] didn’t want me to talk about it,’ she said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning.
Miller opened up about Salinger, for the first time since she last saw him 60 years before, to Salerno after the author’s death.
Among the intimate revelations—descriptions of Salinger’s spiritual nature and how deeply affected he was by WWII—was the disclosure that Miller had been just 14 when she met Salinger.
Miller says the two met at a Daytona Beach, Florida Sheraton hotel. Salinger was 30.
‘I was sitting at a pool, I was reading Wuthering Heights. And he said, “How is Heathcliff? »’
Despite warnings from her mother, Miller continued the relationship, which consisted of long walks on the beach and the exchange of many letters.
For five years, the friendship blossomed. Then, the two had sex for the first time and Miller would only see Salinger once more for the rest of her life.
‘I saw this glass curtain come down, and I just knew it was all over,’ she said.
But she still remembers him fondly.
‘He wanted to go below the surface of your life,’ Miller said. ‘Jerry Salinger would say to me, a young girl, “Do you believe in God?” No adult had ever talked to me [like that]. Not only that, no adult had ever listened to me.
‘He once said to me, “If you ever lose track of me, just read my stories. »’
The authors of a new J.D. Salinger biography are claiming they have cracked one of publishing’s greatest mysteries: What ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ novelist was working on during the last half century of his life.
The new book and related film will be released next week and they both claim that the novelist instructed his estate to release at least five new books.
Some of the work is brand-new, while other volumes extend existing stories and characters.
Starting between 2015 and 2020, a series of posthumous Salinger releases are planned, according to Salinger, co-written by David Shields and Shane Salerno and scheduled to be published Sept. 3.
Salerno’s documentary on the author opens Sept. 6. In January, it will air on PBS as an installment of ‘American Masters.’
Providing by far the most detailed report of previously unreleased material, the book’s authors cite ‘two independent and separate sources’ who they say have ‘documented and verified’ the information.
One of the Salinger books would center on Catcher protagonist Holden Caulfield and his family, including a revised version of an early, unpublished story The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.
Other volumes would draw on Salinger’s World War II years and his immersion in Eastern religion.
A publication called The Family Glass would feature additional stories about the Glass family of Franny and Zooey and other Salinger works.
Salinger does not identify a prospective publisher. Spokesman Terry Adams of Little, Brown and Company, which released Catcher and Salinger’s three other books, declined to comment Sunday.
Salinger’s son, Matt Salinger, who helps run the author’s literary estate, was not immediately available for comment. If the books do appear, they may well not be through Little, Brown.
New classics? The new book, released next week, (left) claims the five upcoming works from J.D. Salinger will be both be completely new and add to much-loved stories like The Catcher In The Rye (right)
In the mid-1990s, Salinger agreed to allow a small Virginia-based press, Orchises, to issue his novella Hapworth 16, 1924, which first appeared in The New Yorker in 1965.
But after news leaked of the planned publication, Salinger changed his mind and Hapworth was canceled.
No Salinger book came out after the early 1960s, as the author increasingly withdrew from public life.
Over the past 50 years, there has been endless and conflicting speculation over what Salinger had been doing during his self-imposed retirement. That Salinger continued to write is well documented.
Friends, neighbors and family members all reported that Salinger was writing in his final years and the author himself told The New York Times in 1974 that he wrote daily, though only for himself.
‘There is a marvelous peace in not publishing,’ he said at the time.
But there is no consensus on what he was writing and no physical evidence of what Salinger had reportedly stashed in a safe in his home in Cornish, N.H.
The Salinger estate, run partly by Matt Salinger and Salinger’s widow, Colleen O’Neill, has remained silent on the subject since the author’s death in January 2010.
The two did not cooperate with Salerno and Shields. Until now, neither Salerno nor Shields has been defined by his expertise on Salinger.
Salerno is a Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include Armageddon, the Oliver Stone film Savages and a planned sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar.
Shields is an award-winning author whose books include the novel Dead Languages; a nonfiction work on pro basketball that was a National Book Critics Circle prize finalist; and Reality Hunger, a self-described ‘manifesto’ for modern literature.
Their 700-page Salinger biography has new information well beyond any possible posthumous fiction.
Nine years in the making and thoroughly documented, Salinger features many rare photographs and letters, unprecedented detail about the author’s World War II years and brief first marriage, and a revelatory interview with the former teenage girl, Jean Miller, who inspired his classic story For Esme – With Love and Squalor.
It also has an account of how Salinger, who supposedly shunned Hollywood for much of his life, nearly agreed to allow Esme to be adapted into a feature film.
Sneak peek: ‘Saliinger’ theatrical trailer
Salinger both fleshes out and challenges aspects of the author’s legend. He is portrayed as deeply traumatized by his war experiences and stunned by his post-‘Catcher’ fame.
But he also comes off as far less reclusive and detached than long believed. He does agree to the occasional interview, even initiating discussion with The New York Times, and appears sensitive to his public image.
His affinity for young people is not confined to his books, and Salinger’s biographers closely track his history of intense attachments to teens, from Oona O’Neill in the 1940s to Joyce Maynard in the 1970s.
The book is structured as an oral history, featuring hundreds of new and old interviews, excerpts from newspaper accounts and previous biographies and commentary from Shields and Salerno.
Those quoted range from Salinger’s children to authors Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal to Mark David Chapman, who cited Catcher as a reason he murdered John Lennon in 1980.
Salerno has been promising to make headlines ever since announcing the biography and film shortly after Salinger’s death.
Earlier this year, he quickly arranged lucrative deals with the Weinstein Co. for a feature film, the producers of ‘American Masters’ for TV rights and Simon & Schuster for the book.
The filmmaker himself has proved as effective as Salinger at keeping a secret, with only a handful of people even knowing of the project’s existence during Salinger’s lifetime.
Salerno spent some $2 million of his own money and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe in search of material.
He is also adept at revealing secrets, with recent stories by The Associated Press and other media outlets, featuring photographs never previously published.
Salinger never authorized a biography, but several unauthorized books have come out over the past 30 years, notably one by Ian Hamilton.
In 1987, Salinger successfully blocked release of Hamilton’s ‘J.D. Salinger: A Writer’s Life,’ citing the use of previously unpublished letters. Hamilton described his legal battle in ‘Searching for J.D. Salinger,’ published in 1988.
J. D. Salinger’s Women
The winsome, uncanny girls of Salinger’s fiction have real-life counterparts. They’ve always kept the secrets of this country’s most famous recluse. Till Joyce Maynard changed her mind.
New York magazine
. . . There were half circles under her eyes, and other, subtler signs that mark an acutely troubled young girl, but nonetheless no one could have missed seeing that she was a first-class beauty. Her skin was lovely, and her features were delicate and most distinctive.
–Franny and Zooey
Last year, on the afternoon of November 5, J. D. Salinger, who would turn 79 on New Year’s Day, headed through his house for the living room to answer the front door. Hard of hearing, his eyesight failing, he was beginning to show his age noticeably. He had lived in seclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire, since 1953, much of it in this spacious, comfortable chalet-style house situated on the top of a hill overlooking the lush Connecticut River Valley. Salinger is not in the habit of greeting strangers kindly. In recent years, he’s been known to brandish a shotgun at trespassers. But the woman standing before him that day was not a stranger. Her name was Joyce Maynard; 25 years ago, when Maynard was a bright-faced 19-year-old Yale dropout, she and Salinger had ended an affair. In the intervening years, while Salinger has maintained his famous public silence, Maynard has relentlessly chronicled almost every conceivable detail of her private life. She’s written, for instance, about her adolescent anorexia, her post-adolescent bulimia, her alcoholic father, her two rounds of breast implants, her bitter divorce. She has her own quarterly newsletter, Domestic Affairs, dedicated to publishing personal pieces about families, and her own Website, through which interested fans can order tapes of her reading an essay about the death of her mother or her stories from NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
At the time of their breakup, Maynard resolved to keep quiet about their romance. Occasionally, though, she could not resist mentioning it. “Jerry is a very private person, as I’m sure you’re aware” she told a Toronto Star reporter in 1992. “And I will always respect his privacy. I made that promise a long time ago. However, I do have ownership of our shared past. And yes, I can say I was permanently changed by the relationship. He was as much a force in my life as any person I’ve known. After I left, it seemed like I’d been in Lost Horizon. There was no place on earth for me to go.”
Around the time she appeared at his house, Maynard talked about Salinger with the Sacramento Bee. “I was giving a speech one time,” she said, “and the woman who introduced me said, ‘Well, she used to be J. D. Salinger’s girlfriend.’ I thought, ‘God, is that all I’ve been?’ I didn’t want to be reduced to that.”
Shortly after her encounter with Salinger, she described him yet again, on her Website. “Last time I saw him,” Maynard wrote, “I was a frightened and crushed girl . . . and he was, to me, the most powerful man in the world. . . . He told me I was unworthy. But when I stood on his doorstep the other day, I was a strong and brave 44-year-old woman and I knew he had been wrong.”
Maynard had traveled to Cornish from her home in Marin County, California, where she had bought a house with the money she made from selling the film rights to her novel To Die For, which became a Gus Van Sant movie starring Nicole Kidman. By the time she’d come east, she had already completed 200 pages of a memoir about her years with Salinger and showed it to her editors at St. Martin’s Press. The memoir is tentatively titled If You Really Want to Hear About It, a reference to the first sentence of Salinger’s coming-of-age masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye, and is scheduled to be published in the winter of 1999 by Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s. The memoir didn’t stay a secret for long. A Boston Globe writer named Alex Beam, whose novels have also been published by St. Martin’s and who knew Maynard in prep school and college, got wind of it through a St. Martin’s source. He called her about it, after which Maynard promptly called the New York Times. Both the Times and the Globe published articles on November 21.
“I don’t for a moment think he would want me to write this,” Maynard told the Times, which is putting it mildly. Through the years, Salinger has guarded his privacy with, in addition to his shotgun, squads of lawyers. He successfully fought in court in 1986 to block the publication of Ian Hamilton’s biography J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life, forcing Hamilton to completely recast his work and retitle it In Search of J. D. Salinger.
Maynard’s decision to write the book also sparked heated debate within literary and publishing circles. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Maynard had “no sense of shame”; the New York Post called her “shameless.”
The debate spilled over into Maynard’s chat room on the Internet. (It must be said, Maynard’s proposed memoir and the revelations it elicited constitute a weird premonition of the controversy now surrounding the president). One fan called Salinger a “pedophile,” but another believed Maynard “had every right to want the relationship, as is normal for an 18-year-old, physically mature woman.” When one Internet user accused her of exploiting Salinger, Maynard herself answered. “And I wonder,” she wrote, “why you are so quick to see exploitation in the actions of a woman — sought out at 18 by a man 35 years her senior who promised to love her forever and asked her to forswear all else to come and live with him, who waited 25 years to write her story (HER story, I repeat. Not his). And yet you cannot see exploitation in the man who did this. I wonder what you would think of the story if it were your daughters. Would you still tell her to keep her mouth shut, out of respect for this man’s privacy?”
Although there was nothing markedly peculiar about her gait as she moved through the hall — she neither dallied nor quite hurried — she was nonetheless very peculiarly transformed as she moved. She appeared, vividly, to grow younger with each step.
–Franny and Zooey
Up to now, practically the only window into the mind of one of America’s most famous writers has been Salinger’s published books, the last of which came out in 1963. Virtually all of them, of course, are about people on the cusp of adulthood. His writing about girls and young women, while chaste, is highly charged. His teenage heroines, among them Esmé (“For Esmé — With Love and Squalor”), Leah (“A Girl I Knew”), Barbara (“A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All”), Phoebe Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye), and Mattie Gladwaller (the Babe Gladwaller stories), are singular, uncanny creatures.
Not surprisingly, the women Salinger has fallen in love with bear more than a passing resemblance to his fictional creations. In 1941, while he was living with his parents in New York, Salinger, then 22, fell in love with Oona O’Neill, the 16-year-old daughter of Eugene O’Neill whose mythic beauty and hauntingly quiet personality would later be compared to Jacqueline Kennedy’s. Salinger met O’Neill in the summer of 1941, when he and a high-school friend went to visit the friend’s sister, Elizabeth Murray, at Murray’s home in Brielle, a town on the New Jersey shore where Oona’s mother kept a summer home. “Oona had a mysterious quality to her,” says Gloria Murray, Elizabeth’s daughter. “She was quiet, but she was stunning in her beauty. You just couldn’t take your eyes off her. My mother took Salinger over to meet Oona and he fell for her on the spot. He was taken with her beauty and impressed that she was the daughter of Eugene O’Neill. They dated when they got back to New York.”
Their romance ended when Salinger joined the army following Pearl Harbor. Some time after that, O’Neill moved to Los Angeles, where she met Charles Chaplin. She married him when she turned 18; Chaplin was 55.
In the army, Salinger was involved in some of the worst fighting in World War II, including the four-month period from the D-day invasion through the Battle of the Bulge. Following the war, Salinger appeared to have a nervous collapse. Convalescing in France, he met and married a French doctor, but they were divorced after eight months. Back in the States, Salinger got serious about writing. He published stories in numerous magazine, most notably The New Yorker. Then, in 1951, he published a novel he had been working on for ten years, The Catcher in the Rye. A surprise best-seller, it afforded Salinger the opportunity to become a recluse, which he did when he moved to Cornish in 1953, the year he published Nine Stories.
In Cornish, Salinger, who was now 34, devoted some of his social life to entertaining teenagers who attended the local high school. In particular, he often escorted teenage girls to school dances and sporting events. Then, in 1954, at a party in Cambridge, he met Claire Douglas, the daughter of the respected British art critic Robert Langdon Douglas. A peppy, bright Radcliffe co-ed, she was 19. Claire was soon spending time in Salinger’s Cornish home. As Salinger’s romance with Claire blossomed, he was also in the process of imagining Franny Glass, one of his most fully realized characters and one who bears more than a passing resemblance to Claire herself. On February 17, 1955, at just about the time he published “Franny” in The New Yorker, Salinger married Douglas and gave the story to her as a wedding present. They had a daughter, Margaret, in December of that year. A son, Matthew, was born in 1960.
In 1961, Salinger published Franny and Zooey, a literary event considered so noteworthy Time put Salinger on its cover. In 1963, he published Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, which despite horrendous reviews became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. During these years of intense work, Salinger withdrew more and more into himself — and away from Claire.
“He was just never home,” says a former Salinger employee. “He had a studio” — actually a concrete structure resembling a bunker — “down a quarter of a mile from the house, and he was always there. He’d be there for two weeks at a time. He had a little stove he could heat food on. I think it was tough on Claire. When I was there, Jerry was always down in his little writing room.”
By 1966, Claire’s life of isolation had begun to take a physical toll. “She complained of nervous tension, sleeplessness, and loss of weight, and gave me a history of marital problems with her husband which allegedly caused her condition,” Dr. Gerard Gaudrault, who examined her at the time, would write. “My examination indicated that the condition I found would naturally follow from the complaints of marital discord given to me.” Perhaps on the basis of this outside confirmation, Claire filed for divorce in September 1966. In the divorce papers, her lawyer argued that “the libelee” — Salinger — “wholly regardless of his marriage covenants and duties has so treated the libelant” — Claire — “as to injure her health and endanger her reason in that for a long period of time the libelee has treated the libelant with indifference, has for long periods of time refused to communicate with her, has declared that he does not love her and has no desire to have their marriage continue, by reason of which conduct the libelant has had her sleep disturbed, her nerves upset and has been subjected to nervous and mental strain, and has had to seek medical assistance to effect a cure of her condition, and a continuation of the marriage would seriously injure her health and endanger her reason.”
A divorce was granted in early October 1967.
I saw her coming to meet me — near a high, wire fence — a shy, beautiful girl of eighteen who had not yet taken her final vows and was still free to go out into the world with the Peter Abelard-type man of her choice.
–De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period
On the cover of The New York Times Magazine on April 23, 1972 was a photograph of Joyce Maynard, accompanying a story with the Salingeresque title “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back On Life.” In the picture, she is sitting on the floor of a corridor wearing red socks, blue jeans, a beige sweater. Her black hair hangs uncombed. Her gaze is childish, wide-eyed. Her smile is impish. The look and the pose — she props an elbow against a step as she tilts her head sideways to rest her cheek in the palm of her hand — combine to make her seem girlish, yet she is clearly a woman. “There were pictures of her taken around this time that show her,” one friend would later say, “as the Lolita of all Lolitas.”
The piece is an interesting if not brilliant work in the generational-memoir genre, linking private lives to great public events. Maynard’s thesis was that the generation that was born in the fifties — hers — was “a generation of unfulfilled expectations . . . special because of what we missed” and held together by common images — “Jackie and the red roses, John-John’s salute, and Oswald’s on-camera murder.”
Salinger was so impressed by the piece — and by Maynard — that he typed out a one-page letter warning her about the hazards of fame. He mailed the letter to her in care of the New York Times.
By the age of 18, Maynard had already lived a complicated and productive life. She was born to intellectual parents; her father taught English literature at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, and her mother, Fredelle, had published two highly regarded books, Guiding Your Child to a More Creative Life and Raisins and Almonds, a memoir of her Canadian youth. There was, however, “an elephant in the living room,” as Maynard has put it; her father was an alcoholic. According to a childhood friend of Maynard’s, she “blamed his alcoholism on having a failed career as an artist” — a view her family and friends did not share.
In 1970, Maynard transferred from the Durham public schools to Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter’s first co-ed class. While there, she published a story in Seventeen based on the unwanted pregnancy of a teenage couple in Durham; the piece angered local citizens, who felt Maynard had invaded the couple’s privacy. In the fall of 1971, Maynard entered Yale University, as a part of its third class to include women. As a freshman, she published “The Embarrassment of Virginity” in Mademoiselle, then her cover story in The New York Times Magazine. Her fellow students could dismiss the former but not the latter. “When I walked into the first class we had after the Times article appeared,” says Leslie Epstein, who taught the creative-writing class Maynard took that spring semester at Yale, “I could see the envy rising off the other students like steam off a radiator.”
One day, as she was sifting through the bags of fan mail she received in response to the Times article, she started reading one particular letter. Over the years, Maynard would say that, even as she read it for the first time, she knew the letter was the most profound and insightful she had read in her entire life. What’s more, she felt an instant connection with the letter’s author. Then, reaching the end of the page, she saw the signature — “J. D. Salinger.”
Maynard and Salinger corresponded for the rest of the semester. Salinger sent several letters, each one to two pages long; Maynard answered them all. “It was known at the time that Joyce was in touch with Salinger,” says Samuel Heath, who attended both Phillips Exeter and Yale with Maynard. “It seems Salinger was telling her, ‘Don’t let them spoil you. Don’t let them destroy you as a voice,’ ‘them’ being the Establishment, the publishers, the outside world. He was doing the Catcher in the Rye routine — protecting her.”
When Maynard came home for the summer, they continued their correspondence. After they had exchanged about 25 letters, Maynard went to Cornish to see Salinger. Then, instead of returning to Yale for her sophomore year, she moved in with Salinger. “Her father was furious,” says a friend of the Maynard family, “not only because she was living with J. D. Salinger but, on a more practical level, because she had dropped out of college. He always thought she had the potential to write literature. He didn’t want her to sell out.”
No doubt Maynard must have felt she was fulfilling her father’s dreams, for during the fall and on into the winter, while she lived with Salinger, who worked regularly on writing he did not intend to publish, Maynard herself worked on a memoir called Looking Back, a book based on her Times Magazine cover story. One highlight of the long winter was the trip Salinger and Maynard made into Manhattan when, one day, Salinger bought her a coat and then took her to lunch to meet his friend William Shawn.
Mostly, Maynard and Salinger stayed in Cornish and wrote. When they were not working, Maynard puttered around the house, which she later described as being furnished in a “pedestrian” fashion. Salinger liked to lecture her on the advantages of homeopathic medicine and on Zen Buddhism.
The sex life of Maynard and Salinger, Maynard has told people, consisted only of oral sex. The arrangement was Maynard’s decision rather than Salinger’s. Even then, however, one of Maynard’s life ambitions was to have a family, but Salinger had made it clear that he had no intentions of having any more children, and the issue became a source of contention between them over the winter. Finally, in the late spring, when the couple traveled to Florida on a vacation, the conflict reached a breaking point. They were lounging on the beach when Salinger finally gave her his own unqualified answer: If that’s what she wanted, then their relationship was over. When they got back to Cornish, she should move her things out. It was at this point, as Maynard later described it to a friend, that she stood up from the beach, brushed the sand off her arms and legs, and left. Her affair with Salinger was over. It had lasted ten months.
The grey-haired man turned his head again toward the girl, perhaps to show her how forbearing, even stoic, his countenance was.
–Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”
In 1981, the actress Elaine Joyce was working on a short-lived television series called Mr. Merlin when she received an interesting piece of mail. The widow of singer Bobby Van, Joyce was 36 at the time. The letter was from J. D. Salinger. “I was doing a series,” says Joyce, “and he wrote me a letter. I get fan mail all the time, but I was shocked. I really didn’t believe it. It was a letter of introduction to me about my work.” Joyce responded, just as Maynard had; and in this case, as well, a sustained correspondence followed. “It took me forever,” she says, “but I wrote back, and then we wrote to each other quite a bit.” As he had with Maynard, Salinger eventually arranged for the two of them to meet, and they began a relationship. The couple spent a lot of time in New York. “We were very, very private,” Joyce admits, “but you do what you do when you date — you shop, you go to dinner, you go to the theater. It was just as he wanted it.” The only real suggestion the public had that the two were involved occurred in May 1982, when the press reported that Salinger showed up for an opening night at a dinner theater in Jacksonville, Florida, where Joyce was appearing in the play 6 Rms Riv Vu. But to conceal their affair, Joyce denied knowing him. “We were involved for a few years all the way through the middle eighties,” Joyce says. “You could say there was a romance.”
That romance ended in the late eighties when Salinger met Colleen O’Neill, a young woman from New Hampshire who was the director of the annual Cornish town fair. “Jerry used to come and walk around the fairgrounds with her,” says Burnace Fitch Johnson, a former Cornish town clerk. “Colleen would have to repeat things to him when people spoke to him, because he’s quite deaf.”
Their relationship developed to the point where, as of 1992, when the New York Times ran a story about a fire at Salinger’s house, the reporter identified Colleen as being “his wife.” She was also, according to the newspaper, “considerably younger than her husband.”
Johnson confirms that, as of today, the couple has been “married for about ten years.” Since 1992, at least as far as public surfacings are concerned, the Salingers have remained in seclusion — until Joyce Maynard, that ghost from the past, celebrated her 44th birthday last year by showing up on their doorstep.
As for Maynard, since 1973, she has published her books and married an artist, Steve Bethel, with whom she had the children she wanted so badly (a daughter and two sons). In 1989, her marriage having failed, she set out on what would end up being for her, as she called it, a “many-years-long search for true love, while engaged in raising kids.” This search included a six-month love affair with a musician, followed by a period during which she had casual sexual flings with a number of men.
“Fifteen minutes into our first date,” one of these men says, “Joyce kept referring to this guy named Jerry. She was talking about ‘Jerry this’ and ‘Jerry that.’ It was as though they still knew each other. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the Jerry she was talking about was J. D. Salinger.
“Joyce,” he continues, “is the most self-obsessed person I’ve ever met. She gives narcissism a bad name.”
One morning, Maynard let him read her cache of Salinger letters. On a number of occasions, she discussed how she would never write about Salinger, out of respect for his privacy. One story Maynard told him spoke to the very nature of Salinger’s personality, his saga, and the kind of life he may have lived — and the number of women he was involved with — once he and Maynard broke up. One time, Maynard was at a literary dinner party in Manhattan years after her affair with Salinger had ended. At this dinner party, Maynard told her friend, were two women writers about her age, X and Y, who did not like her. Maynard offered a passing veiled reference to Salinger that X and Y overheard. Then X made a comment to Y loud enough for Maynard to hear. “You know,” X said to Y, “I have a cache of Salinger letters, too.”
What was J.D. Salinger’s problem?
A new book and film argue that the trauma of war forged the author of « The Catcher in the Rye »
Sep 5, 2013
The big revelation in “Salinger” (the film) and “Salinger” (the book), both to be released this week, is that rumors of a vault of unpublished manuscripts by the author of “The Catcher in the Rye” have turned out to be true, and, furthermore, that some of these writings continue the stories of the Glass family and Holden Caulfield. Less exciting (a lot less exciting) is the news that at least one of the manuscripts (which will be published between 2015 and 2020) is a “manual” for the Vedanta religion, the faith that engrossed Salinger for the last 50 years of his life.
Book and film also feature biographical information from new sources, most notably Jean Miller, a woman Salinger met in 1949, when she was 14, and with whom he had a quasi-romantic friendship for about five years. (Salinger dismissed her the day after the relationship was consummated.) Miller was the inspiration for the title character in his story “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.”
Apart from such discoveries, the film’s director, Shane Salerno, and his co-author on the book, David Shields, offer some theories about Salinger’s life and work: specifically, the persistent question of just what was wrong with him. As both book and film amply document, the author was a terrible father and worse husband, a man who withdrew from public life and repudiated his fame, yet was not above using that fame (via creepily seductive letters) to court teenage girls from his redoubt in Cornish, N.H. He was so merciless a perfectionist that he broke with a lifelong friend when the man, an editor, inadvertently allowed one of Salinger’s short stories to be published in a magazine with the wrong title. He once threatened his family’s former nanny with a gun when she came to his door collecting for the Red Cross drive.
Salinger wasn’t a recluse; rather, as the authors stress, “what he wanted was privacy.” This is often treated as the most outlandish aspect of his personality, when really it’s the most commonsensical. One of the talking heads featured in the documentary belongs to actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who explains that people who haven’t lost the ability to walk anonymously down the street cannot appreciate what a tremendous freedom it is. “I’m tired of being collared in elevators, stopped on the street, and of interlopers on my private property,” the elderly Salinger griped in a rare interview. “I want to be left alone, absolutely. Why can’t my life be my own?”
The film features a fan who, as a young husband and father, traveled to Cornish to haunt the end of Salinger’s gravel driveway, believing that the author “felt like I did and we could talk about deep things.” Salinger, after asking if the man was “under psychiatric care,” questioned how he could have left his family for such a quest. In this respect, if few others, Salinger was decidedly less crazy than the society around him. The attention trained on him was pathological, and his withdrawal from it entirely understandable, but the more he pulled back the more hotly the popular obsession burned. Another man interviewed by the filmmakers is a photographer who hid in the bushes outside Salinger’s house and surreptitiously shot the writer as he walked his dog.
Both book and film versions of “Salinger” are refreshingly frank about their subject’s many shortcomings and how they might have affected his work. The playwright John Guare, who appears in the film, notes that any writer would find cause for concern in having his novel held up by not one, not two but three separate assassins when they were asked for an explanation for their crimes. Salinger himself said he regretted writing “The Catcher in the Rye,” mostly because of the attention it drew to him. The film also refers to Mary McCarthy’s famous takedown of the Glass family stories, “J.D. Salinger’s Closed Circuit,” in which she accused him of creating a fictional hall of mirrors in which his own self was replicated and congratulated for its brilliance, charm and integrity over and over again. (This argument is briefly and eloquently translated into images, using the film’s recurring visual motif of a besuited man typing tormentedly on a movie-theater proscenium while scenes from Salinger’s life are projected behind him. The motif is otherwise comically histrionic.)
Salinger’s genius lay in his seemingly unfettered yet acutely focused voice, for the way that it released the irreverent impulse trapped within the confines of postwar America. In “Catcher,” he distilled the fiery, even Puritanical spirit of adolescence, with its tremendous energy and its vast blind spots, into the purest form imaginable; the novel is to youth what crack is to cocaine. In the middle of “Salinger” the film, amid the Errol Morris-style reenactments and the Ken Burns-style documentary footage, the movie opens into footage of young people all over the world reading or holding up copies of “The Catcher in the Rye,” and it’s impossible not to be moved by the spectacle, even if “Catcher” wasn’t that book for you. It’s that book for so many kids — and the more power to it, for their sake.
But the grown men who turned up on Salinger’s doorstep seeking conversations about “deep things” and the Mark David Chapmans (and John Hinckleys and Robert John Bardos) who saw “Catcher” as a call to strike down the world’s “phonies,” were not so much liberated into adolescent skepticism as trapped in adolescent angst. They turned to Salinger because he seemed to understand exactly how they felt. Whether they realized it or not, they were trying, and largely failing, to grow up, and they thought Salinger could help them. Unfortunately, they’d come to the wrong man because Salinger never figured it out himself.
“His writing was all about innocence and the damage done to innocence by the world,” E.L. Doctorow says in “Salinger” the film, registering as one of the more thoughtful and adult voices reflecting on the work. Too many of the other commentators are actors (all male) who express more enthusiasm than understanding. For Shields and Salerno, Salinger’s preoccupation with innocence and its desecration largely originates in his World War II experiences, which were brutal. The author participated in both the D-Day invasion and the liberation of a concentration camp. Salerno and Shields argue that “The Catcher in the Rye” “can best be understood as a disguised war novel.” Salinger’s rejection of public life can likewise be seen as a lifelong response to trauma. The film dissolves from his famously soulful author photo for “The Catcher in the Rye” to Ted Lea’s equally famous illustration of a harrowed soldier, “That 2000-Yard Stare,” with the eyes of both images superimposed on each other.
As for Salinger’s idealization and pursuit of teenage girls — a penchant that seems to me of a piece with his general fetishization of immaculate youth — Salerno and Shield see two causes: heartbreak over Oona O’Neill, an early love who married Charlie Chaplin while Salinger was at war, and sexual insecurity caused by having “only one testicle” (or an undescended testicle, which seems more likely).
But “Salinger” the book also includes an anecdote about Salinger’s apprenticeship (imposed by his father) to a meat company in Vienna in the late 1930s, during which visit he fell in love with a Viennese girl of 16. Salinger later fictionalized her in a story titled “A Girl I Knew,” praising her “immense eyes that always seemed in danger of capsizing into their own innocence … When she sat down she did the only sensible thing with her beautiful hands there was to be done: she placed them on her lap and left them there.” The man’s fixation on very young, large-eyed and exquisitely simple girls seems to have been well in place before Oona broke his heart and the war ravaged his spirit.
Isn’t it just as likely that Salinger went into the war a rigid, unforgiving man, and that the war broke him in the way it broke many others, but all the more so because he lacked the flexibility to absorb its terrible truths? “Salinger” (book and film) amply documents the author’s youthful arrogance and selfishness, his infatuation with his own cleverness and his inability to see the world from the perspective of anyone who wasn’t a lot like himself — or whom he could imagine to be a lot like himself, as he did at the beginnings of his many short-lived romances. These traits preexisted the war and Oona’s “betrayal,” and this, combined with his immense, innate talent, may have given his fiction the concentration and the vividness that make his depictions of young people so persuasive. Besides, Salinger famously carried six chapters of “The Catcher in the Rye” with him on D-Day, the first action he saw. That novel, too, at least partially preexisted the war.
It’s not always easy to accept that what gives some artists their access to greatness can also stunt them as human beings. In a few, rare cases, the work transcends the hobbled souls who created it. Only nostalgia could interest me in the further adventures of Holden or the Glass family. But also waiting in that cache of manuscripts are at least two books about grown-ups, set during the war, and I am more than a little curious to see what Salinger made of that.
Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of « The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia » and has a Web site, magiciansbook.com.
Toronto woman who exchanged letters with J.D. Salinger recalls author as ‘handsome’
Marjorie Sheard, now 95, was looking for a mentor, her niece says.
Apr 25 2013
For decades she secretly kept his typewritten letters in a shoebox, tucked away in her Rosedale apartment. It was the closest she would come to literary success.
In 1941, Marjorie Sheard, a twenty-something advertising copy writer and aspiring novelist wrote to a young J.D. Salinger when his early work was appearing in publications such as Esquire, before he wrote Catcher in the Rye.
“I think she was just looking for a mentor, really. She liked his work and was interested in his advice,” says her niece, 60-year-old Sarah Sheard, from her Riverdale home.
If that was the case, Marjorie, who is now 95 and living in a seniors’ home on Queen St. E., got more than she bargained for.
In the span of a few years, from 1941 to 1943, she and Salinger exchanged a series of letters that were playful, sweet and offered a revealing look at the days when his most famous novel was still in the works.
In one letter the 22-year-old author asks Marjorie what she thought of “the first Holden story,” which he wrote was called “Slight Rebellion Off Madison.” He signed the letter “Jerry S.”
Sarah says that there were always whispers in the family that Marjorie had exchanged letters with Salinger, who died a recluse in 2010, but it wasn’t until Marjorie moved to a personal care home about a decade ago, that she gave the letters to a family member. Recently Marjorie and her family decided to sell the nine letters to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York to pay for her medical care.
Tiny in her bed with a novel tucked under her blankets, Marjorie seems pleased when a reporter hands her a gift — a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
“May I keep it?” she asks after running her fingers over the cover.
She recalls Salinger and says “he was so handsome once.”
Marjorie, a widow who has no children, says their correspondence stopped because it simply ran its course. She also said that she did think of Salinger afterwards but never wrote him again.
It was a romance that would probably be out of place in modern time, says Sarah.
“There’s a unique quality to their exchanges that I don’t think would happen now. The slowness of typing caused them to be more considered in what they said. They didn’t dash things off the way we can in a text nowadays,” she says, smiling.
Sarah remembers her aunt as a glamorous woman who sewed her own clothing and was never without her signature red lipstick. She was successful at her job writing ads but was heartbroken over the fact that she never became the fiction writer she always dreamed of.
“She always wrote on a typewriter and I remember when she was in her 50s, she had been working on a novel for decades,” Sarah says.
She remembers her aunt sent it to a publisher it was sent back with plenty of negative feedback and ugly scribbles all over the copy.
“She was embarrassed and hugely disappointed and gave up after that,” Sarah says.
She says the bittersweet part of the Salinger story is that they don’t have the letters her aunt wrote to Salinger.
“Again, she will be remembered for writing to this famous author and she won’t really be considered a writer in her own right,” Sarah says. “He was obviously very intrigued with her and what she was writing him and it’s sad we’ll never know what that is.
“I think they were both very shy people and they could be more expansive on the page than in real life.”
“There’s a courtly quality there but there’s also some sizzle,” she says, laughing.
“What do you look like?” Salinger wrote in the fall of 1941, requesting that Marjorie send him a photograph of herself.
In a subsequent exchange he thought better of it and said, “I wrote from a mood — and not a nice one.”
But Marjorie did mail him a photo, a black-and-white portrait, her lovely face pointed upwards towards the camera.
“Sneaky girl. You’re pretty,” he replied back.
With files from the New York Times
15 Revelations from New J.D. Salinger Biography
He liked young women but didn’t want to sleep with them, he married a Gestapo informer, he wanted to play Holden Caulfield in the film. Here are 15 revelations from the juicy new oral biography of the famed author. By Andrew Romano
The Daily Beast
September 2, 2013
On Tuesday, Simon & Schuster will publish Salinger, an oral history about the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, and dozens of other stories and novellas. Three days later, on Sept. 6, a documentary of the same name by screenwriter Shane Salerno (Savages, Armageddon) will debut in theaters.
There have been several accounts of J.D. Salinger’s life and work published over the past few decades, including titillating memoirs by his daughter, Margaret, and his former teenage paramour, Joyce Maynard.
But by conducting more than 200 interviews over nine years, many of them with individuals who had previously refused to speak on the record; by compiling more than 175 photographs, including dozens that have never been seen before; and by combing through diaries, legal records, private documents and lost Salinger letters, Salerno and the book’s co-author, David Shields, seem to have created the most extensive portrait yet of a writer who spent nearly 60 years doing everything in his power to avoid precisely this kind of exposure.
As such, Salinger is full of fascinating revelations. Here are 15 that everyone should be talking about.
1. There’s More Salinger to Come
For the last 45 years of his life—from June 12, 1965, the day that “Hapworth 16, 1924” appeared in The New Yorker, until Jan. 10, 2010, the day he died—Salinger did not publish a single story or novel.
But according to Salerno and Shields, who cite “two independent and separate sources,” five new or retooled works of fiction will be released in irregular installments between 2015 and 2020: The Family Glass, which “collects all the existing stories about the Glass family together with five new stories that significantly extend the world of Salinger’s fictional family”; a “manual” of Vedanta, the Hindu religious philosophy to which Salinger adhered for much of his adult life, with “short stories, almost fables, woven into the text”; a World War II novel based on Salinger’s short first marriage to a German woman; a World War II novella that “takes the form of a counterintelligence agent’s diaries … culminating in the Holocaust”; and “a complete retooling of Salinger’s unpublished 12-page 1942 story ‘The Last and Best of the Peter Pans’” that will be collected with the rest of his Caulfield material, including The Catcher in the Rye, to create a complete history of Salinger’s other fictional family.
“Jerry Salinger listened like you were the most important person in the world,” Miller says in the book. “I felt very free with him.”
There are hints in Salinger that, after 1965, the author submitted at least some of this material to The New Yorker. Truman Capote once told biographer Lawrence Grobel that “he knew on good authority that Salinger… had already written five or six novellas, and that The New Yorker had rejected all of them”; writer Phoebe Hoban says, “I’ve heard [William] Shawn turned down at least one manuscript was he was still editor.” But former New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell denies it, and journalist Renata Adler claims that Salinger gave her a different explanation. “He said that the reason he chose not to publish the material he had been working on,” she tells Salerno and Shields, “was to spare [the famously prudish] Mr. Shawn the burden having to read, and to decide whether to publish, Salinger writing about sex.” So at least the new Salinger books will be saucy.
Speaking of …
2. Salinger Was Born With a Single Testicle
At one point, Salinger called himself as a “condition, not a man.” Based on their research, Salerno and Shields are convinced that the author was referring, at least in part, to the fact that he had been born with only one testicle.
After Pearl Harbor, Salinger tried to enlist in the Army, but he was, as he put it in a letter to his literary mentor, “classified I-B with all the other cripples and faggets [sic].” According to one of his fellow soldiers, however—Salinger later volunteered for a counterintelligence position and went on to serve in Europe—the author once told his hero Ernest Hemingway “that he didn’t think the army would take him… [because] he had only one testicle.” Salerno and Shields write that they initially dismissed the assertion, but “two women independently confirmed that Salinger had this physical deformity, about which, one of them said, he was ‘incredibly embarrassed and frustrated … It was a big deal to him.’”
The biographers go on to theorize that “surely one of the many reasons [Salinger] stayed out of the media glare was to reduce the likelihood that this information about his anatomy would emerge.” They also claim that it inspired him to “embrac[e] Eastern religions that endorsed chastity.”
At the very least, Salinger’s congenital abnormality may have contributed to the fact that …
3. Salinger Had a Thing for Much Younger Women
The contours of Salinger’s attraction to girls on the cusp of womanhood have been detailed before. But Salerno and Shields’s account is the most comprehensive yet. After losing the gorgeous young debutante Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, to Charlie Chaplin in 1943, Salinger seems to have spent the rest of his life fixated on girls who were approximately the same age as Oona was at the time: 17 going on 18. He would begin epistolary romances with undergraduate writers he’d read in the newspaper (Maynard); he would call up gamine actresses he’d seen on TV. He even had a pickup line, according to biographer Paul Alexander: “I’m J.D. Salinger and I wrote The Catcher in the Rye.” Unsurprisingly these come-ons seemed to work.
He said, ‘You take more steps toward me and I’m going to shoot at the ground right in front of you.’
They certainly did with Jean Miller, the young girl who inspired Salinger’s classic story, “For Esme—With Love and Squalor.” In the early 1960s, a Time magazine reporter interviewed a woman, identified in his unpublished file as “J,” who was alleged to have had an affair with Salinger when she was 16 or 17 years old. “J” denied the affair at the time, but decades later, Salerno and Shields tracked her down—and, after “a number of conversations over many months,” convinced her to talk.
It turns out that Jean Miller was only 14 when she first got involved with Salinger. “Jerry Salinger listened like you were the most important person in the world,” Miller says in the book. “I felt very free with him.” At first, Salinger and Miller would just walk and talk, first in Florida, then in New York, and later at his compound in Cornish, N.H. Years later, when Miller was 20, they finally had sex—an encounter that Miller initiated. The next day Salinger dismissed her forever. “I think he was enjoying me being a child all those years,” Miller says in the book. “I knew it was over. I knew I had fallen off that pedestal.”
Salinger’s relationships always followed the same pattern, according to Salerno and Shields. They said « he was drawn to very young, sexually inexperienced girls whom he knew he was unlikely to become intimate with, or if they did become sexual partners, they were unlikely to have enough experience with male anatomy to judge him. He almost always backed away from his lover immediately after the consummation of the relationship, thereby avoiding rejection.”
But young wasn’t enough; Salinger’s lovers also had to look the part. Once, Salinger flew to Edinburgh to meet a girl to whom he’d sent “over a hundred pages of letters.” But she was ”very tall and big-boned and kind of awkward”—not the Lolita he’d imagined—so he turned right around and left.
That said, even when Salinger liked a girl …
4. Salinger Wasn’t Particularly Smooth in Bed
According to Salerno and Shields, Salinger “never consummated his relationship with Oona O’Neill, Jean Miller had to throw herself at him to get him to respond, and Leila Hadley Luce describes her dates with Salinger as Platonic.”
With Joyce Maynard, the usual routine just wouldn’t work. “I couldn’t do it,” Maynard tells Salerno and Shields. “I couldn’t do it. The muscles of my vagina simply clamped shut and would not release. After a few minutes we stopped.” Salinger eventually took Maynard to a homeopathic specialist in Florida; the same day he announced “I can’t do this anymore,” and their relationship was over.
With his second wife, Claire Douglas, sex of any sort was rare. “We did not make love very often,” Douglas once told her daughter, Margaret. “The body was evil.” Douglas attributes at least some of Salinger’s reticence to his religious beliefs. But according to biographer Paul Alexander, the problem was that Salinger’s view of Claire changed after she gave birth: “Before that, she had been very much the image of the late teens, early twenties woman he was initially fascinated by. Now she was a mature woman.”
And yet …
5. Salinger Was Quite the Charmer… at Least on Paper
In 1999, Joyce Maynard sold her letters from Salinger at auction; they were purchased by a software millionaire and given back to Salinger. Salerno and Shields have obtained them and published excerpts. What comes through in the letters, more than anything else, is the chummy, clever, seductive force of Salinger’s voice—which remained remarkably Holden Caulfieldesque even in 1972, a decade after he penned his last published story.
“A few unsolicited words in strictest privacy, if you can bear it, from a countryman, of sorts, one who is not only an equally half-and-half right-handed New Hampshire resident but, even more rare and exciting, perhaps the last active Mouseketeer east of the White House,” Salinger writes. “I’ve spent a great part of my life in grave and increasingly sad doubt about almost every value I’ve ever had a good, long look at. My little conclusions about this and that sometimes almost sound wise to me, even, but I’m not really taken in, because I really and truly haven’t the character, the strength of character, to be wise.”
6. Salinger Married a Gestapo Informant Even Though He Was Half-Jewish
According to Salerno and Shields, it was Salinger who broke up with his first wife, the half-German, half-French Sylvia Welter, and not vice versa, as previously reported; he left an airline ticket back to Germany on her breakfast plate. The reason? She was allegedly a Gestapo informant.
The evidence here is speculative. To support their case, Salerno and Shields have obtained a copy of the official annulment, which accuses the defendant, Welter, of “bad intentions” and “false representations.” They have included a comment from Salinger friend Leila Hadley Luce in which Luce claims that Salinger had “found out some disturbing things about what [Welter] did in the war, specifically with the Gestapo. And they have commissioned a new investigation by consultant Eberhard Alsen, who uncovered “strange facts about Sylvia’s life that suggest she might have been a Gestapo informant.” Incidentally, Salinger’s parents—his Jewish father and converted mother—were convinced at the time that Welter was an anti-Semite.
7. Salinger Wasn’t As Anti-Hollywood As Previously Reported
In 1949, Sam Goldwyn made “My Foolish Heart”—an adaptation of Salinger’s story “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut.” Salinger hated it, and swore never to cooperate with Hollywood again. Or so the story goes.
But according to Salerno and Shields, the conventional wisdom isn’t true. As late as 1957, Salinger’s agent H.N. Swanson was submitting Salinger’s work to Hollywood producers; the biographers reproduce a rejection letter for “The Laughing Man” as evidence. And later, in the late 1960s, Salinger agreed to let producer-director-writer Peter Tewksbury adapt “For Esme—With Love and Squalor” for the screen, but Tewksbury eventually backed out when Salinger insisted that the daughter of writer Peter De Vries play the title role. “She’s too old,” Tewksbury said. “She is past that delicate moment that makes the miracle of Esme… I would be destroying the beauty of Salinger’s work, and I won’t do that.”
In fact, Salinger spent his last, reclusive decades in his Cornish, N.H. living room, screening Lost Horizon and other classics. He was such a film fan that…
8. Salinger Wanted to Play Holden Caulfield Himself
“He said that the only person who could ever play Holden Caulfield was himself,” Joyce Maynard tells Salerno and Shields. “But even he acknowledged he was too old for that—although, in some ways, he was playing Holden Caulfield forever.”
9. Salinger Wanted to Give His Daughter a Dirty Name
Frustrated by her souring relationship with Salinger, Maynard fixated on the idea of having a daughter. “How this child was to be conceived I can’t imagine because nothing was happening that would have made that possible,” she says, “although we actually had a name for this child.”
The name came to Salinger in a dream: “‘Bint’—the little girl was always referred to as ‘Bint.’”
Later, after Maynard published her memoir, she received a letter from a British scholar. “Do you know what the word ‘Bint’ actually means?” he wrote. “It’s a word that means ‘whore,’ worse than ‘wench’: it’s a very ugly word for a woman.”
10. Salinger Could Be a Pleasant Neighbor—Except When He Wasn’t
Late in the book, Salerno and Shields reprint a short story by Edward Jackson Bennett, the publisher of the Claremont (N.H.) Daily Eagle, about bumping into Salinger one Sunday afternoon in 1968. Bennett, newly divorced, has mixed himself a pitcher of martinis. He is sitting in the sunshine. Salinger, now a full-fledge recluse, saunters by.
“Come up and have a martini,” Bennett says. Salinger does. “We made no introductions, nor were names exchanged,” Bennett writes. “Instead we chatted about the hard winter, the birds, and whether or not we’d be planting peas this May in the upland country.” As Salinger rises to leave, Bennett tells him they have something in common—their divorces were granted at precisely the same time. A smile creases Salinger’s face. “You have a point there,” he says, “and perhaps we share other similarities, too. Thanks for the drink.”
Still, every warm moment in the book is undermined by five or six instances of chilly behavior. A few pages later, for example, Ethel Nelson, formerly the Salingers’ nanny, relates a less neighborly tale. “I said, ‘Jerry, we’re here for the Red Cross drive,” Nelson tells Salerno and Shields. “‘You always give to it. He said, ‘You take more steps toward me and I’m going to shoot at the ground right in front of you.’ He had his gun in his hand. He did not want people trespassing on his land. He said, ‘You wait a minute. I’ll go in and write a check and throw it down to you.’ That’s how distrusting of people he had become.”
11. Even the Local Kids Wouldn’t Leave Salinger Alone
The book is very clear about Salinger’s desire for absolute privacy; the writer stopped considering himself a public figure around 1953 and came to resent all the reporters, photographers, and fans who materialized on his doorstep in subsequent decades. When Salinger first moved to Cornish, he tried to befriend a group of local teenagers, but one of them betrayed him by publishing an article in the local paper. Years later, he still couldn’t fit in. “A number of high school kids devised this elaborate plan,” according to literary agent Catherine Crawford. “They actually threw one of their friends out of a car. They drove by [Salinger’s] house, and they covered the kid in ketchup to make him look bloody. [He was] moaning, rolling around. Salinger came to the window, took one look and knew it was fake, so he shut the blinds and went back to work.”
12. Still, Salinger Wasn’t a Total Hermit
Salinger was reclusive, but Salerno and Shields also make it clear that he wasn’t a total hermit. At one point, he shows up at the center of London society—sharing drinks with a Vogue model he met on a ship; partying with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; accidentally snorting gin up his nose with Australian ballet dancer Robert Helpmann; arguing with Enid Starkie about Kafka. At another point, Salinger mysteriously appears, in 1966, on the Long Island set of Reflections in a Golden Eye. Even after Salinger had decamped to Cornish, he loved to lunch with William Shawn and Lillian Ross at the Algonquin in New York. (“It will set me up for months,” Salinger wrote to Ross after one of their gatherings. “I was at peace.”) Back in New Hampshire, Salinger liked to watch the horses at the county fair, take in Dartmouth basketball games, and eat spinach and mushroom wraps at a cafe in Windsor, Vermont.
13. Salinger Was Not, However, the Greatest Date
This is how Leila Hadley Luce describes Salinger’s courting style: “Even when he spoke, he was not easy to talk with because if it was raining and I said, ‘Oh, I don’t mind, I like to walk in the rain,’ he’d say, ‘Oh my goodness, what a cliché.’ … Every cliché I used, he would say, ‘Oh, that’s a cliché. How can you say that?’ I felt very self-conscious talking with him because he was, of course a perfectionist.” Sounds like fun.
14. Salinger Was Also a Terrible Poker Player
According to editor A.E. Hotchner, Salinger refused to bluff—which jibes, somehow, with Holden Caulfield’s famous aversion to “phonies. “He felt anybody who bluffed was a weenie, as he would say,” Hotchner remembers. “I said, ‘But if you don’t bluff, you’re not going to be a successful poker player.’ I don’t recall Jerry ever winning a round of poker; he was too cautious and suspicious. God knows, Jerry never drew to an inside straight.”
15. It’s Too Late Now, But If You Want Salinger’s Phone Number, It’s in the Book
Really. It’s on the bottom of page 414, right in the middle of his “lost letters” to Joyce Maynard. “Just in case of anything at all,” Salinger writes, “my phone number here is 603-675-5244.” If only the editors of Newsweek had dug up those digits back in 1972.
Voir par ailleurs:
Everything You Need To Know About the J.D. Salinger Documentary
Sep 6, 2013
The only clear takeaway from Salinger is that he was totally right to get the hell out of Dodge. If this is what the bright hot sun of public attention yields, this mishmash of people who sorta kinda knew him making hyperbolic claims, I sympathize with his impulse to disappear. We are all better off living in dark little farmhouses than in movies that include, I kid you not, reenactments where hunky actors bearing very little resemblance to oneself carry heavy-looking logs up hills. Every once in a while Salinger seems to display some faint trace of self-awareness about its bombast — as when it interviews one nut who went to Salinger seeking spiritual guidance and was told the truth, i.e., “I’m a fiction writer, go back to your family.” But there is something at once lurid and way too innocent about this film, and its accompanying book.download
Reams have been written already about what a terribly gossipy and craven genre biography is. There are good ones, but most of the time the biographer really has to sift through the ugly matter of a person’s life. Salinger lacks even the limited intellectual aspiration biographers can usually claim. Both book and film read more like celebrations than investigations. And though celebration has its place, there’s much less excuse for the kind of prurient rubbernecking biographical research necessarily involves when you have no interest — and no one involved in these Salinger projects has any interest — in illuminating the work with this information. If all you care about in biography is enhancing and protecting celebrity status, you’re doomed to be little more than a paparazzo-in-text.
You may leave the theater or the biography having learned something new about the man — that he believed himself to have a telepathic connection with his first wife, say, or that he wore dark blue coveralls to write — but the details don’t amount to a real psychological portrait. They are trivial details, and ones which the filmmaker-biographers confusingly decline to connect to the whole. That makes them ripe for bullet points though, and obviates your need to see the entire movie:
1. Salinger’s affair with the beatutiful debutante Oona O’Neill (later Chaplin) left him brokenhearted. The film doesn’t outright call her a heartless bitch for marrying another kind of celebrity, but it cuts awfully close to that thesis.
2. Based on precious little evidence, the film claims that Salinger’s first wife, a woman named Sylvia Welter, was a Nazi. The precise nature of her ties to the Party are left vague, likely because, as one discovers in the accompanying book, there is no real evidence of such ties beyond some hearsay from a Salinger associate and a scattered university enrollment history.
3. Salinger evidently had, in the testicular sense, a Franny but not a Zooey. (Credit for that way of putting it goes to Flavorpill Literary Editor Jason Diamond.) Salerno and Shields get real sappy about this, and suggest it gave Salinger a guiding sense of inadequacy. Perhaps. Perhaps also this really could not matter less as an item of journalistic/literary/scholarly analysis, because one intellect does not emerge directly from one’s crotch. Mercifully, this “revelation” is not discussed in the film.
4. This is more of something we knew already, but the documentary and book elaborate: Salinger was a big creep when it came to women, generally targeting the young and credulous and then shoving them out the door the moment it turns out they don’t satisfy his pedestalicious read on them. One, the inspiration for Esmé in the beautiful short story “For Esmé, With Love and Squalor,” he literally put on a plane the second after he slept with her. Not terribly charming, but also a not-unfamiliar story to literary women all over Brooklyn and environs.
5. Salinger had a giant vault which contained all sorts of manuscripts he intended to publish. A couple of them are about characters who already populate these stories: the Caulfield and Glass families. One is about a branch of Hinduism and basically no one will read it. Another couple are what sound like thinly veiled accounts of Salinger’s wartime experiences, including his marriage to Sylvia. In short: Woooooof.
There, I have now saved you $13.50.
Of these items, only the last appears to have been carefully verified. The rest is all straight-up gossip. It’s possible that every documentary is ultimately more of a profile of its maker than its subject. But that’s more true of Salinger than of the average case. It’s clear that Shane Salerno and David Shields are giant fans of J.D. Salinger, but fandom doesn’t scholarship make. And frankly, like Salinger, I think he was better off alone than with fans like these.