Five fun facts from the biography of J. D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye
1. At high school, J. D. Salinger was so fond of acting that he signed the yearbook with the names of the roles he’d performed. His father, however, didn’t want Salinger Jr. to go into acting, and he went to New York University for a year before dropping out. Somewhat aimless, he worked for a short time in Europe as an importer/exporter in the ham trade – an experience which converted him to vegetarianism. He had taken the job at the behest of his father.
2. Salinger once dated Oona, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill – but she left him for Charlie Chaplin. She was six years younger than Salinger, and the relationship didn’t last long. Oona ended up marrying Chaplin.
3. Salinger fought at D-Day. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Salinger was drafted into the US army and ended up being posted to England in 1944 and taking part in the Utah Beach invasion. He later also fought at the Battle of the Bulge. In his backpack while he was fighting were early drafts of a novel narrated by a character named Holden Caulfield, the novel that would later become The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger later said, perhaps with his tongue half in his cheek, that the name of his protagonist was inspired by two Hollywood film stars, William Holden and Joan Caulfield.
4. He had difficulty getting The Catcher in the Rye published. However, it did eventually find a publisher and appeared on the shelves in 1951. It became hugely popular among the 1960s youth and has remained popular with readers ever since – it has sold over 65 million copies.
5. The Guardian obituary for J. D. Salinger in 2010 was written by a scholar, Mark Krupnick, who had been dead for seven years. Salinger lived to the age of 91, and some of his obituaries were written years in advance, sitting in a filing cabinet somewhere waiting until news of the writer’s death arrived. Salinger had fascinated readers for decades since his withdrawal from the public eye and his reclusive lifestyle. The Catcher in the Rye remained his one full-length novel. He was known for being something of an eccentric: he was a ‘urinobibe’ (he drank his own urine), and, following the break-up of his marriage to a woman fifteen years younger than him, he had a string of relationships with younger and younger women – in 1992 his third marriage was to a woman forty years his junior.
Image: The Catcher in the Rye cover from the 1985 Bantam edition, photo shot by Derek Jensen, 2006; Wikimedia Commons.