Holden Caulfield would be disgusted: the exploitation of Salinger has begun

He is not buried yet and already the drooling has begun. Everyone from book publishers and biographers to actors and film-makers are on the starting blocks, poised to join the race for every possible remnant and relic of J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, who died in his usual solitude on Thursday at 91 years old.

About to erupt is a cultural feeding-frenzy of a kind Mr Salinger would surely have abhorred. Because it will ultimately be about commerce, it is a rush that is certain, as Gawker.com put it yesterday, to be “drawn out and bitter”. Nor is it likely to be dignified, a spectacle of adults clawing for a dead man’s gold that would surely have made Holden Caulfield, Catcher’s teenage narrator, chuckle with disgust.

Might a film at last be made of the celebrated novel? (And who, you are asking, among the latest generation of young male actors would be a decent Holden? Zach Ephron or maybe Daniel Radcliffe?) Now Salinger is no longer around to sue – something he did without hesitation whenever his privacy or the sanctity of his work were at stake – will biographers now vie with one another to give us a new portrait of the mysery-cloaked scribe?

First, though, there is the question of what manuscripts may or may not be hidden in the New Hampshire hideaway that was his home and virtual prison for over fifty years. If, as repeatedly rumoured, there are as many as 15 books penned by him somewhere inside, will his death remove all constraints and allow for their publication?

It is a tantalising notion that for now remains unanswered. Some have reported in the past that Salinger did indeed toil over new works in a concrete bunker on the 90-acre estate he purchased shortly after the 1951 publication of Catcher.

An intruder into the wooden home, hidden behind fences and trees on a small hill outside the small town of Cornish, might find wedges of manuscripts locked in safes or stuffed into drawers. Alternatively, there may be only the ashes of burned pages in the grate of the living room fire.

Some of the suspense would be removed if his representatives and his heirs, notably his two children Margaret and Matthew, would speak up. They may be able to explain what was left behind by Salinger and what stipulations are left in his will about what should be done with any unpublished works. The entertainment world wants to know also whether instructions have been left as regards the rights to the works we know about.

So far no one is cooperating. In the statement announcing his death, his literary agents sent a pretty clear message that there will be no repealing any time soon of his edicts for strict privacy. “In keeping with his lifelong, uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy there will be no service, and the family asks that people’s respect for him, his work, and his privacy be extended to them, individually and collectively, during this time,” they said.

A 1957 letter published last year that was attributed to Salinger suggested that he was far from naive about what would occur following his death. In it he speaks of making arrangements in his will for his then-wife, Claire Douglas – they were divorced ten years later – and any other heirs to be financially protected by the provision to them of the unsold rights to his works. He knew then how valuable they would be – and the scramble they would spark. “It pleasures me to no end... to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction,” he writes in the letter.

Nowhere would the hunger for those rights be more intense than in Hollywood. For decades, directors, producers and actors have dreamed of giving the celluloid treatment to Catcher . Jerry Lewis used to boast that he was born to play Caulfield. Leonardo de Caprio is another actor who has voiced his desire to portray him on the screen.

While alive, Salinger did succumb to Hollywood just once, agreeing to a film version of his 1949 story Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut. But the result, My Foolish Heart, starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward, was panned by the critics, did horribly at the box office and mortified the author. All other attempts to buy film rights off him, even by Samuel Goldwyn himself, came to nought.

Even though Catcher is now more than half a century old, its message of teenage anger and confusion, remains as appealing as ever to film makers, says Dana Polan, a professor cinema at New York University. “Every generation has to go to school, and every generation is caught in this kind of tension between the pressure to conform and perform and the desire for one's own voice and one’s own independence,” he said. “Many US films are made for a young audience and what sells is rebelliousness and angst.”

Much depends now on what instructions Salinger himself left behind in his will. But the attitude of his two children will matter too. While Matthew has remained mostly loyal to his father in public statements, a 2000 book on him by Margaret was by no means flattering. Aside from claiming that his obsession with his health led him even to drink his own urine, she complained about his controlling personality.

It is harder to control from the grave. A Salinger-fest – lucrative and possible lurid – may be just around the corner.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness