Salinger’s biggest hit
A new documentary on author JD Salinger is out. Shane Salerno worked on it for an entire decade and finally, it aired at the Telluride Film Festival not too long ago and Salerno headed up a major PR push. Reviews, though, have not been good, characterizing it as a breathless, hyped up film with little substance.
I caught a riveting interview of Salerno on Charlie Rose’s TV show a few weeks ago, and from what he had to say, it’s clear that we’ll learn a lot more than we’ve heard to date about the very private Salinger. Or, we may have learned it already from the interviews and reviews.
I’m interested to see the film. But really, this post is about the careful way Salerno avoided calling Salinger a pedophile or casting even the slightest aspersion on the author’s predilection for girls under 18. It’s infuriating.
Case in point: Salinger was 30 years old when he met a 14-year-old on the beach and had a romantic (but, Salerno says, not “sexual”) relationship with her. “I’m going to marry your daughter,” he told the girl’s mother. When a 30-year-old goes after a 14-year old? He’s a pedophile. Even if he’s a well-regarded author. Let’s call a spade a spade. Or a pedophile a pedophile.
Case in point: He fell in love with 16-year old Oona O’Neill, the beautiful daughter of the playwright. Salinger was 22 and the pair were separated by his service in the second World War. She married another famous pedophile, Charlie Chaplin. Salinger ended up marrying a 19- year old. *
Case in point: Seeing 18-year-old writer Joyce Maynard on the cover of the New York Times magazine in a photo startling for its Lolita-ishness, he began a correspondence with her. She ended up dropping out of college in her sophomore year to live with him for 10 months. He was in his late 40s. Her mother advised her to “dress like a child” to be more appealing to him.
So many of Salinger’s books are about child-love of one type or another, whether veiled or outright.
What bothered me about the Charlie Rose interview was that Salerno tiptoed around calling Salinger’s interest in teenage girls what it is–not normal. Today we would call him a pedophile.
Salinger was a great writer. And clearly a perv.
I’m all for respecting the work of great writers, but I’m also all for an honest look at them. An honest assessment. And that, I fear, is where Salerno may not have gone far enough.
The guy wrote some good books. But he’s not a god.
By the way, the companion book to the documentary is getting panned by readers. Salerno and his co-author took the easy way out and gathered 720 pages of interview quotes. Readers report that the whole is disjointed and an unpleasant read. Since the book’s pretty pricey, I might scan it in the library. Be forewarned.
Also, I’m rather peeved at the way Joyce Maynard has been demonized for writing her story–which includes her relationship with Salinger. Let’s get real. If you’d been romanced age age 18 by a great author, wouldn’t you want to write about it? And then there’s the way some have excoriated her for selling Salinger’s letters to her in 1999, a time when she badly needed money to support her children. Tech guru Peter Norton bought them and said he would return them to Salinger. But that’s another story entirely.
*This footnote refers to a story I read on my second least favorite source–Huffington Post--which defended Salinger and then said “Chaplin is no pedophile.” Even the most cursory search would show up plenty of evidence of Chaplins’ interest in young girls. Anyone can write anything on Huffington Post–it’s just not vetted. Just like on my LEAST favorite source, Wikipedia, which is such a go-to search today that it shocks me.