This film is an in-depth analysis of Jerome David Salinger, which was researched by Shane Salerno over a ten year period. Interviews with several celebrities who knew J. D. Salinger or were huge fans include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Martin Sheen, Gore Vidal, Danny DeVito, and E. L. Doctorow.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Shane Salerno, Film Director
J. D. Salinger was a complicated man whose life experiences included 299 days of combat in World War II which brought on a nervous breakdown at the end of the war.
Jerry Salinger was born on January 1, 1910 in New York City. His father, Solomon, was a Jewish rabbi and his mother Marie was an Irish Catholic who converted to Judaism and took the name of Miriam. Solomon also ran a successful cheese import business. After attending New York University for one year, Salinger’s father sent him to Europe for five months to learn about the import business. In Vienna, he was more interested in language than the import business.
His College Experience
After his time in Europe, he attended a small college in Pennsylvania, and then returned to New York to take night classes at Columbia University. It was there that he met Professor Whit Burnett who became a father figure to Jerry and changed his life. Burnett, the editor of “Story” magazine, recognized that Salinger had talent and urged him to enter his work in “Story” as well as “Esquire,” “Collier’s Magazine,” and the “Saturday Evening Post.” Jerry received $25 for his first published article in “Story” which was entitled “The Young Folks.”
Jerry’s Love for Oona O’Neill
In 1942, Jerry started dating Oona O’Neill, the debutante daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill, who was only 16 at the time. Their relationship ended when she married the famous Hollywood star, Charlie Chaplin when he was 54 years old. Jerry was upset that she had rejected him and from that time on, he was attracted to teenage girls which one newspaper recognized and reported.
Marriage in Germany
During the war, Jerry met Ernest Hemingway in Paris and gave him a sample of his writing which Hemingway praised. When World War II ended, Jerry stayed on in Europe, signing on to the Counter-intelligence Corp where he was assigned to interview former Nazis. It was here that he met his first wife, Sylvia, a teenager, who was a former Nazi. They married in spite of the fact that the military forbade their personnel to marry a Nazi. The marriage lasted only eight months until the couple recognized that they were totally unsuited for each other.
It was during his war service that Jerry began working on his best-selling novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” which was published in 1951. He claimed that he was carrying the unfinished manuscript when his battalion landed in Normandy on D-Day.
Jerry’s goal as a young writer was to be published in the “New Yorker” magazine which continually rejected him. They finally published his story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” in 1948 when he was still relatively unknown.
Another of his teenage crushes was a 14-year-old girl named Jean Miller with whom he had a five-year relationship. She was interviewed for the documentary and related that they met in Daytona Beach in 1949 and used to take long walks on the beach together. He later told Jean that he could not have written his story “For Esme - With Love and Squalor” if he had not met her.
In 1949, Sam Goldwyn bought Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.” which became a movie adaptation called “My Foolish heart.” Jerry disliked the adaptation of his short story so much that he never again allowed any of his work to be adapted to film.
Publication of “The Catcher in the Rye”
In 1951, Little, Brown and Company published J. D. Salinger’s landmark novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” which started his skyrocket to literary fame. The novel quickly attained cult status. It has become a standard part of the high school curriculum in the United States. The book has sold more than 65 million copies and continues to sell more than 250,000 copies a year in paperback. Success did not sit well with Salinger. He was not prepared for the instant celebrity. He told his publisher to take his picture off the back of the book. In 1953, two years after the publication of “Catcher,” he left New York City and settled in a secluded, 90-acre place in Cornish, New Hampshire. He preferred to cut-off all contact with the public and his literary output slowed down.
His work entitled “Nine Stories” came out in 1953, followed by “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” which were published in book form after appearing previously in the “New York Magazine.” "Hapworth 16, 1924" was his last story that was published while he was still alive.
Not a Total Recluse, Say Friends
Interviews with his friends and acquaintances elicited the fact that they did not regard J. D. Salinger as a total recluse. He met cordially with his friends on many occasions and enjoyed travel, poker games, and other entertainment. Jerry often patronized the Blue Angel Night Club where he identified with entertainers who were trying to make their mark. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1961.
Marriage to Claire Douglas
In 1955, Jerry married Claire Douglas, the daughter of a famous art critic, and they had two children, Margaret and Matthew. Claire met Salinger at a party in 1954 when she was just 19 and still a student at Radcliffe College. They married the next year, and her husband insisted that Claire drop out of school and live with him, only four months shy of graduation, which she did. Claire was his inspiration for his character Fanny, which is typical of his portrayal of friends in his novels. He himself is supposedly the character of Holden Caulfield.
Divorce and Other Relationships
In 1966, Claire Douglas sued Salinger for divorce, after which Salinger entered into a relationship with a college freshman, Joyce Maynard, who lived with him in Cornish for ten months. Joyce Maynard was interviewed for the documentary and told that they would watch movies together. Jerry’s favorite was “Lost Horizon.” She received many letters from Jerry, and was shocked when she found out that several other women were the recipients of his love letters. He finally married a young nurse, Colleen O’Neill and the two remained married until Salinger’s death in Cornish on January 27, 2010 at the age of 91. He had lived in seclusion there for more than 50 years. It was unearthed that there were ten finished novels locked away in his house in Cornish. Three previously unpublished short stories by J. D. Salinger appeared online in November 2013. They are entitled “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” “Birthday Boy” and “Paula.”
Seclusion in Cornish
J. D. Salinger found peace and quiet in the hills of Cornish, New Hampshire. He would not do book tours or go on television shows. He became famous for not wanting to be famous. He stated “I don’t have any intention of publishing. There is a stillness that comes from non-publishing.”
Jerry had a bunker on his property where he would go for weeks at a time to write. Nobody, even his family, were allowed in the bunker. He even put a cot in so that he would not have to sleep in the house. Claire citied these instances in her suit for divorce.
Jerry admitted that he believed that writing about Holden Caulfield was a mistake. It meant he could not live a normal life, his children suffered, and people would not leave him alone.
Manuscripts Found in Cornish
The most exciting part of the documentary occurred at the end when it was revealed that ten finished manuscripts of J. D. Salinger were found in Cornish, along with a timetable for the publication of five of these, from 2015 to 2020. The five manuscripts include: a counter-intelligence story, a World War II story about Sylvia and himself, a religious manual of the Vedanta religion, five stories about the Glass Family, and more about Holden Caulfield. He also left a caveat that “The Catcher in the Rye” can never become adapted to film.
Because of J. D. Salinger’s reclusive nature, his photographs have not been given usage rights and are not included in this article.