Why J.D. Salinger would be disappointed with his biopic

You may have heard: On September 15th, a new biopic called Rebel in the Rye is being released. It is the story of J.D. Salinger’s life, and I can only imagine he wouldn’t be pleased about it.

Now, this is not the first attempt to tell Salinger’s life story. Far from it. In 2013, a documentary called Salinger was released, and several biographies have also been written over the years.

As a fan of The Catcher in the Rye, I cannot pretend I don’t find his life story fascinating — I even included Salinger in my list of five recent movies all writers should watch. It was inspiring and sent me running to my computer to get working on my next book. But that doesn’t mean Salinger would be happy with them.

In Salinger, author A. Scott Berg — who wrote the biography on which the movie Genius was based — tells the tale about Salinger’s first major experience with Hollywood.

The Epstein brothers, two well-known screenwriters of the time, wanted to adapt one of Salinger’s short stories from The New Yorker, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, into a feature-length film. The movie was made, but the producer changed the name to My Foolish Heart. “Salinger’s response was extremely violent,” Berg said. “And he vowed never to sell another work to Hollywood again.”

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Salinger was extremely protective over his characters, not to mention his personal life. The man famous for being reclusive was not particularly open about the details of his life, and he certainly didn’t want to share them on a world stage.

“He always, always felt that what people should know about an author was nothing personal,” longtime friend Jean Miller recalled about Salinger. “They should know an author through his work, and that’s all he was willing to give people.”

Prior to his death in 2010, Salinger established the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, which explicitly bars The Catcher in the Rye from ever being adapted to film.

Does all this mean that, as fans, we should boycott the new movie? I’m certainly not advocating for that. I plan on seeing it. But that doesn’t mean the author would be pleased about the spectacle.

That’s just one of the many downfalls, I suppose, of achieving such high acclaim and fame.

Take a look at the trailer for the film here:

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