December 8, 2010
J.D. Salinger on when a novel is just a novel
by Dennis Johnson
The University Archives website — an auction house that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with a university — is offering another look into the deep reclusiveness of J.D. Salinger. As an auction notice on the site details, for $22,500 you can by a very polite letter Salinger wrote to an aspiring film director named Hubert Cornfield — I didn’t make that name up — in response to Cornfield’s inquiry about acquiring film rights to The Catcher in the Rye.
As the announcement on the UA website describes it,
The letter is written on a small, cut piece of paper …. The signature, in full “J. D. Salinger”, is in blue ink, and very clear. The letter reads, in full: “Dear Mr. Cornfield, I expect to be away for several months, and I’m afraid I can’t have that talk with you. Let me say, though, that what my agents had to say is quite true. I appreciate and respect your ardor, but for the present I see my novel as a novel and only as a novel. Should I change my mind in the future – which is extremely doubtful – I very probably would take on any casting and directing chores myself. Thank you for your interest, but please take this as absolutely final. Kindly excuse this note-paper. I’m pressed for time. (signed) J. D. Salinger”.
As the UA post also explains, Salinger never did allow a film to be made of Catcher, whether directed by himself or anyone, probably because the one story of his that he did allow to be filmed — “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” which in 1949 was made into a film called My Foolish Heart, starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews — was, he thought, awful.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.