What a sad life it had been. A great wave of fame had broken over him in 1953, two years after he happened to write a book called “The Catcher in the Rye”. Jerome David Salinger hated it: his book might be on all the syllabuses, picked over by the academicians, hailed as the authentic voice of every teenager who had ever squeezed a pimple or tried, drawing himself up tall, to order a Scotch and soda, but his life was nobody’s godammed business. His dream was to live in the woods, with a fireplace and a typewriter and sheaves of notes hooked on the wall, almost like a deaf-mute in his dealings with the world. To his neighbours, however, he remained Jerry the Friendly Squire. He gave the world his last original published work in 1965, his last interview in 1980.
Yet, his love for privacy caused people close to him to sell him out to tabloids, and in general, inspired people to seek him out. They kept sneaking year after year to his place on the hill in Cornish, New Hampshire: for ageing rebels, second-year master’s students with lacquered nails, broad-shouldered phonies in Norfolk jackets, snappers from Newsweek, that place hold a mystic aura of a pilgrimage site. That is, until January 27th 2010 when J. D. Salinger, a giant of American literature, passed away at the age of 91.
The last portrait he permitted was in 1953 (to Maurey Garber), but Ted Russell sneaked into his compound in September 1961 for Polaris/Sygma. When Life magazine published “Legends: The Century’s Most Unforgettable Faces,” they included Russell’s photo above for Salinger. Apart from Russell, there were sneak peeks into the reclusive author’s life here and there, but the next big story came in April 1988, when the New York Post proclaimed “GOTCHA, CATCHER!” on its cover, with a full-page photo of obviously agitated Salinger just about to punch a camera. Paul Adao and Steve Connally (“a pair of intrepid photographers to Time Magazine”, freelance paparazzi to the others) staked out Salinger’s home for days and snapped some of the first pictures in many years of the fit-looking literary legend as he wheeled a grocery cart out of a supermarket. Salinger actually hit the camera, chastised the lensmen before he headed for his Toyota pickup truck.
(I wrote the first draft of this on the very day Salinger died, but thought it tasteless. I have since revised it using excepts from the Economist’s obituary).