By Nick Allen
The London Telegraph
JD Salinger always insisted The Catcher in the Rye was “unactable” and refused to let Hollywood anywhere near his masterpiece.
But six months after his death, producers believe their chances of landing film rights to The Catcher in The Rye, considered the “holy grail” of scripts, are improving and a movie could be on the horizon.
Salinger maintained an intractable grip over the book during his lifetime and his publishers have insisted the rights are still not for sale.
But Hollywood has been emboldened by the fact that the author died, at the age of 91, during a year when federal estate tax was not applicable, meaning his wealth was not taxed at the usual rate of up to 45 per cent.
The prospect now looms that the death tax will be applied retroactively, and those salivating over the prospect of a film hope that could encourage a quick sale.
Other factors spurring on those determined to “film the unfilmable” include a letter Salinger wrote in 1957 indicating the rights could be sold after his death.
He wrote: “It is possible that one day the rights will be sold. 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.”
The novel was published in 1951, when Salinger was 32, and became a cultural touchstone, with its themes of teenage angst and rebellion, selling 65 million copies.
In the past, stars have queued up for a chance to play its young anti-hero Holden Caulfield. The list reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood glitterati, including Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tobey Maguire.
John Cusack once said his only regret at turning 21 was that he had become too old to play Holden, while Ethan Hawke said at age 16 he became convinced he “was Holden Caulfield”.
In his lifetime, Salinger rejected attempts by Sam Goldwyn, Jerry Lewis and Billy Wilder to film the novel, along with Elia Kazan’s effort to put it on Broadway.
More recent requests from Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein were rejected out of hand.
The irony is that Salinger himself was a movie fan. His disenchantment with Hollywood only began when one of his short stories, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, was made into the 1949 film My Foolish Heart.
It was a critical and commercial failure and he vowed never to allow others to interpret his work for the big screen.
He later explained that he wrote for his own pleasure and wanted to be left alone at his 90-acre home in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Salinger and his wife divorced in the 1960s, and his daughter Margaret later wrote a memoir in which she revealed the author drank his own urine and spoke in tongues.
From his bunker, he conducted an on-going campaign over the decades to stop Catcher being filmed, describing the prospect as “odious”.
Salinger did once consider a stage version but told Sam Goldwyn to “forget about it” unless he could play Holden himself.
According to writer Joyce Maynard, who had a relationship with Salinger in the 1970s, he would never have allowed anyone but himself to take the role.
He believed it would take more than a “talented young actor in a reversible coat”.
Following Salinger’s death his representatives have declined to say who the trustees of his estate are and it may be that he specifically instructed non-publication in his will, in which case he will continue to frustrate Hollywood from the grave.
A spokesman for his publishers told The Daily Telegraph: “There are no plans to sell the film rights.” That would mean Hollywood might have to wait the best part of a century until the book is out of copyright, when the great-great-grandchildren of today’s stars may finally get their shot.
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