Hollywood has for years yearned to get their hands on that holy grail of screen rights: The Catcher in the Rye. Now that author J.D. Salinger has passed away, the question looms even larger. Much is being made of a 1957 letter to an enquirer in which he lays out his antipathy towards selling his work to filmmakers, but leaves open the door to a posthumous adaptation. In it he states: “Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.”
For years, Salinger refused outright any requests to adapt his iconic 1951 novel. Much of his ire was rooted in a 1949 failure from Samuel Goldwyn called My Foolish Heart, which turned his short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” into a mushy, saccharine mess. From that point on, Salinger turned down a long list of notables, including Goldwyn (who had the nerve to ask for more), Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan (for the stage rights), and Steven Spielberg.
Whether or not Salinger retained the attitude expressed in that letter over 50 years later – after having separated from his wife and after the named daughter, Margaret, wrote a scathing memoir of him – remains to be seen. But it is interesting to ponder whether or not we could be seeing a Catcher movie any time soon. Salinger believed it was a “very novelistic novel” and thus did not necessarily lend itself well to adaptation in other media, but clearly the bulk of Hollywood has disagreed for decades.
What do you think? Do you want to see Holden on screen?