J.D. Salinger. The name alone evokes a mysterious feeling. Who was this man? What motivated him? Like most literary nerds, I’ve had questions for years that mostly went unanswered. That is until recently. A new documentary by respected filmmaker Shane Selerno that recently aired on PBS affiliates, took a closer look at the life of the author most well-known for “The Catcher in the Rye.”
Tracing his roots back to his youth as a privileged child who attended prestigious schools, the documentary provides a fair look at what motivated Salinger to live a very private — some would say reclusive — life. The fact that Salinger disappeared to Cornish, New Hampshire following the tremendous success of his novel has always amazed me. As a public relations practitioner, it is part of my job to attract the attention of the media for clients. So it is difficult for me to understand why Salinger preferred a secluded lifestyle, especially at a time when authors were considered celebrities by the media.
Salinger may have opted out of the limelight, but he certainly had a firm grasp on how to take advantage of the media on rare occasions. In 1974, when Salinger learned that pirated editions of his stories, “The Complete Uncollected Stories of J.D. Salinger” were circulating, he became irate. Despite his love of privacy, Salinger wasted no time picking up the phone to call New York Times reporter Lacey Fosburgh to voice his displeasure.
Although removed from the public eye for close to 10 years, Salinger used the power of the media to his advantage. Shortly after his conversation with Fosburgh, a front page New York Times story appeared and Salinger’s book was subsequently removed from the shelves of bookstores across the nation in a matter of days.
I find it intriguing that a man who went out of his way to avoid the media, didn’t hesitate to contact them to serve his own purposes.
Perhaps publicity sometimes trumps privacy?