J.D. Salinger is a well-regarded author, yet little is known about much of his life. After writing the controversial and popular novel “The Catcher In The Rye”, Salinger became reclusive and guarded his private life closely. But a new book, documentary, and television special by Shane Salerno has brought Salinger–and details about both his personal and professional life–to light.
PBS will air “Salinger” on Tuesday night with a run time of 135 minutes, longer than the version of the documentary that premiered in theaters last fall, and Salerno says there are important additions to the television special that give insight into Salinger’s time at war.
“There is important new World War II material, including an extended version of Salinger’s first day of combat, which was D-Day, and other brutal battles that forged him. World War II is critical to understanding Salinger. It was the transformative trauma of his life and is the ghost in the machine of all of Salinger’s stories. There is a pivotal new relationship with a 16-year-old girl, which was a consistent pattern in Salinger’s life, and viewers will learn how a betrayal in that relationship served as the first brick in the wall of silence Salinger built. One of the key participants speaks for the first time,” Salerno says.
Salerno worked on the project for more than ten years, gathering never-before-published photos of Salinger, letters, and what appears to be information about several unpublished works of the author’s…including stories that follow “The Catcher In The Rye” subject Holden Caulfield. But while many critics have praised the work for being so in-depth, others say that Salinger would be outraged and offended at the probe into his life.
“As for Salinger, it’s not the documentarian’s responsibility to consider whether his subject would approve or disapprove of the work. I spent 10 years of my life on this because I was committed to getting it right and we did get it right, the truth is some people just didn’t like what we found. I have enormous respect for Salinger as an artist but I reject the idea that he deserves an entirely different standard for biography than Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson or Oskar Schindler. If you were making a film about any of those men you would tell the great accomplishments of their life as well as personal failures, and that’s what I did with Salinger,” Salerno said.
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