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tv   Charlie Rose  PBS  September 5, 2013 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight, j.d. salinger. there is a new biography and a new documentary film about him. the director of the film and coauthor of the book is shane salerno. >> what's interesting is how aggressively he pursued his fame, how aggressively he pursued notoriety. you read these early letters and he's actually really excited that samuel goldwyn has optioned his story. he's really excited that they're talking about him in hollywood or that the magazine that had uncle wiggly or bananafish selling really well. whatever his expectation of fame were, when it happened, he couldn't get away from it fast enough. >> rose: shane salerno for the hour, next.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: j.d. salinger's one of the most successful authors
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of all time. his 1951 novel catcher in the rye. it is a classic sold over 250,000 -- eafer a million copies and continues to sell over 250,000 each year. he turned his back on fame and chose instead the life. salerno shows his life. here's a trailer for salinger. >> in 1979 i got an assignment for newsweek magazine to photograph this author. he doesn't like to be photograph but we do know he picks up his mail in windsor vermont. so i waited and this jeep pulls up and he goes into the post office really quickly and when he came out, i got it, i got
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salinger. >> the publication of catcher in the rye in 1951 was a revolution. there had not been a voice like that. >> when you're a kid and you read catcher in the rye it's like oh my god someone gets it. >> how many minions came to that book. >> the great mystery is why he stopped. >> salinger was a national story, shooting star. >> at the height of that success, he disappears. >> he came the howard hughes of his day. >> mystery, we all like mystery. >> second world war created j.d. salinger. there was a lot of mystery what he did in the army. few people have seen so much death. >> salinger had a break down. >> adequate readership. >> if one person used something i had written as a justification for killing somebody, i'd say
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god, people are crazy. >> literally living inside of j.d. salinger's catcher in the rye. >> but if three people used something i had written as justification, i would be very very troubled by it. >> he wanted nothing to come between him and his characters. they were real to him. he knew them like god. >> you cannot dismiss the issues of his private life. >> people hurt him, people he trusted him. >> you have ruined my life. >> i saw two manuscripts. >> what's in that book. >> someone crack that colored man it will be the story of the century. >> writing a book is a horrible exhausting struggle. one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon. and he had demons. >> rose: shane salerno also cowrote the new biography,
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salinger, he cowrote it with david shields and i'm pleased to have him here at this table. so. there's so much to talk about. let me just talk about you first. why salinger? for you. >> there were several reasons. first, in my house when i was a kid, salinger was a big deal. my mother really loved salinger and made sure that i knew about salinger and that i read salinger. there were two aspects of this. the first was the work, and it was how much she loved the work and how much i became a true true admirer of his work. but the second was the man. my mother was fascinated by salinger the man, who turned his back on celebrity before celebrity was celebrity. and she would talk about this kind of iconic figure who lived in the woods of new hampshire and he didn't want to be
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disturbed. so there was this mythology around the work that i was incredibly interested in as a child. but i didn't know, like a lot of people who loved salinger's work, they don't know much about his life. and so i began, when i started this around 2003, 2004 -- >> rose: when you started this, you started what. >> originally i was thinking of doing it as a feature film and i was very interested in having daniel day lewis play j.d. salinger and i had friends make films with him and they told me that he was very serious about research and that he needed a wealth of information before he would ever consider anything. so for an unplanned, for a hoped meeting that i would have with him, i started doing a lot of research. and that research led me to start talking with people that had never spoken before on the record. and it became very clear to me -- >> rose: did you film these interviews. >> i didn't initially. it was over the phone and some
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in person. but it became very clear to me that those stories had to be told. >> rose: and it became clear that was a documentary not a feature film. >> yes. it became clear to me that most of these people were in their late 80's, early 90, 93, 94, 95 and that they were passing away very quickly and if their stories weren't recorded now, they would be lost forever. and i began a quest, and that's really what it was. at that time i went in naively i thought it was a six months project that was going to cost $300,000. it ended up being a ten year project that cost $2 million of my own money. >> rose: of your own money. >> of my own money. i was 30 when i started, i was 40 when i finished. it was a decade long detective story. >> rose: this is family money. >> no, no family money, this is money i had made as a screen writer working and was basically financing a labor of love and a
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passion with my day job. >> rose: you financed 100% this film. >> 100%. >> rose: that puts you in pretty good position now in terms of. >> we were very fortunate in that we were able to attract three partners. the weinstein company is the feature film component and distributor. american masters is the american component and simon & schuster is the book component. >> rose: how did you bring david shields into this. >> i brought david shields into this because he was someone i interviewed very early in the process. i really loved his work and he knew salinger very well. there was no way for me to shoot the film, have my day job and work on the 700-page book entirely by myself. so we collaborated on the book and literally wrote it together. i mean you know often in the same room for months and months at a time. and you know, he was great, he really made a huge contribution to this. >> rose: do you think you understand j.d. salinger? >> i think i have a very good
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understanding of j.d. salinger. i think that i understand that how pivotal world war ii was. it was the fulcrum of his life. it was the transformative trauma. if j.d. salinger had not gone to world war ii, we wouldn't be having this conversation. >> rose: he would not have been a great writer. >> no, there's no way. and the proof, white way he would say that. all of the work that was written prior to world war ii he dismissed, he actually gold them the ghosteries of his youth. he went in, a short story writer and came out with a devastated and shell shocked tone that was exclusively salinger's tone. and after that, you get as may, bananafish, catcher, the mine
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stories, raise high, the glass room. the world war ii is really the ghost in the machine of all of salinger's work. and though he often said he wasn't an auto biographical writer, he was a deeply auto biographical writer and all of those stories share the characteristics of his own life. >> rose: is the discovery of this film in part there are these books that are going to be released. >> it's part of the discovery but there are many discoveries. i think very few people know that j.d. salinger was in a mental institution because he was so traumatized by world war ii. i think very few people know that j.d. salinger lost the love of his life to charlie chaplain, oona o'neill who herself was an extra woman. a woman who between 16 and 18 dated peter arno, orson weld, j.d. salinger and then married
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charlie chaplain. he was 54 and she was 18 and interestingly salinger's life was completely marked by that. oona imprinted salinger so much so that all of his, and i think it's the right word his fascination maybe even his obsession with young women was squarely rooted in losing oona to chaplain. so much so that by the time he gets to joyce maynard she is 54 and he was 18. he was in the charlie chaplain role. >> rose: women are central to this film and i want to talk about that. put it aside for a second. before he went to war, who was he. >> he was a kid who grew up at 1133 park avenue. he was a privileged son. he was someone who didn't need to go to world war ii. he was initially rejected and he fought very hard to be able to go and fight. he had a romantic view of war. he thought he needed it to become a better writer. he thought it was going to be like a jack london story about
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adventure. he had no idea that what leah head was d day, the battle of the bulge. he had no idea he was going to walk into -- >> rose: know and experience things that would change him. >> forever. it was really the transformative trauma of his life. we argue very passionately in the book and film that j.d. salinger walked into a concentration camp and never walked out. he himself said you never get the smell of burning flesh ought of your nostrils no matter how long he lives. and that was something he told multiple people over his life sometime. >> rose: he was there for like 280 days. >> he was not on the front lines as an infantry man but he had a privilege and i would argue kind of a horrible view of the entire war because he could see the bodies and the casualties on a day-to-day basis. and he knew, he knew how
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worthless battles like the battle of herkan force were and they didn't need to be fought. he saw the cumulative horror it. and you find it in the catcher in the rye who we say in the book it's a disguised war novel. he says i will write it down myself which of course danny cooper kind of borrowed very much for dr. strange love. it's bizarre. he got what he asked for in that he wanted the experience of war to make him. he kept saying in early interviews he was trying to get rid of the neck ties that he had. his privileged park avenue life-style. he was aware that he didn't have that great wound. unfortunately for him and fortunately for us as readers, he was able, he had that wound which was world war ii.
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you know, world war ii broke j.d. salinger as a man but it made him as an artist. >> rose: how did it break him? >> it broke him because -- >> rose: because of what he saw. >> yes. and because of, i mean again, it was not just all the battles but it was the concentration camp at the end. it was a particularly horrible concentration camp, it was a subcamp of dakau when the american soldiers were approaching the camp, the german soldiers locked the jewish prisoners in a bunker and set them on fire. that's the root of the quote that salinger says and that you hear in the film and in the book. it was so devastating to him that he checked himself into a mental institution after the war. he then did something that's truly extraordinary. when he left the mental institution, instead of going home like most people would, he signed up for more and became
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part of the denaziification of germany. >> rose: why did he do that. >> he wanted to seat people pay. and then straight out of a salinger story he falls for a gestapo agent and is deeply deeply in love with this woman, marries her against the law at the time, there was a fraternization and he brings them to his parents home. he found out from lela hadley and sj perleman he found out they had these gestapo ties.
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>> rose: he didn't find out he wasn't jewish. >> he was deeply conflicted about religion his entire life. >> rose: he wrote throughout the war. >> what's astonishing about salinger he not only wrote during the war but he published during the war. the liberation of paris, he was running up saying read this. i mean, he was, you no, incredibly ambitious. all the things that he ran away from after the publication of the catcher in the rye he completely embraced. he was an extraordinarily ambitious guy. this was a man who the new yorker rejected story after story after story. instead of taking the rejections and moving on he would write them back letters and tell them here's what wrong with your
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stories. >> rose: later became his great great great friend, the editor. >> yes. what's awe maiding his editor before sean actually wrote a letter we have in the book basically saying we don't think this j.d. salinger is right for us. of course he becomes their signature writer. >> rose: you inserted my interview. >> we did. he says j.d. salinger's idea of perfection is really perfection and that comes from a very funny story which is that they were doing this story of salinger's and they got down to the final proof and they changed a comma in the story. and when they changed a comma, the quote from the editor was that salinger was very melancholy about that comma. so he was very furious. he would not have been a great filmmaker. >> rose: but they rejected him because what? they didn't think he was good. >> well, they were not on the
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level of the stories that he wrote after world war ii. >> rose: secondly hemmingway read him in paris and was impressed. >> that someone could be writing and publishing in the fourth division which hemmingway was assigned to during the war. hemingway and him struck up an incredible relationship. when salinger went to a mental institution after the war the first person he writes is hemingway and there's a famous letter we have in the book dear papa. basically saying he's in the hospital going through a very tough time. he's looking for a nurse that can save him, a kathryn barkley i think he said. had he and hemingway really did have a deeply moving conversation. we have a letter in the book where salinger references to his close friend paul fitzgerald when hemingway died, it deeply moves salinger. and hemingway was a true inspiration for him the way
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hemingway wrote about, the iceberg theory of writing. salinger went to school on that. he went to school on hemingway. between that and the al chemy that happened with war, that's the j.d. salinger we know today. >> rose: when was that. tell me that. when do we know the j.d. salinger we know today. >> the bananafish. 47 or 8. >> rose: he is then great. >> yes. the new yorker was so blown away by the story which again they initially rejected which is interesting. he changed it and then they accepted it. but he would then add two other stories published that year and was given a first option contract and that's when he became a new yorker writer, that's when he became j.d. salinger to the world. what's interesting is there were still stories they passed on after that and of course quite famously the new yorker rejected the catcher in the rye, which is
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a story we tell in the film which is sort of an unbelievable story that they not only rejected it but they didn't believe it. >> rose: but new york is a city that celebrates authors, celebrates talent, celebrates creativity. he had all of that. >> all of that. >> rose: and he was celebrated. >> completely. >> rose: why did he say this is not for me. >> what's interesting is how aggressively he pursued his fame, how aggressively he pursued notoriety. you read these early letters. he's actually really excited that samuel goldwyn has optioned his story. he's really excited they're talking about him in hollywood or unquell wiggly or bananafish is telling very well. whatever his expectations of fame were, when it happened, he couldn't get away from it fast enough. whatever he imagined it was going to be, what it turned out to be in reality was something that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with. >> rose: so what happened?
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what about what it turned out to be. >> i don't know. we tell a very unknown story but i think a signature, critical story in his life where he goes to a dinner party and he's the toast of new york. and everyone is talking salinger's here, he's really here, salinger's here. and he excuses himself to go make a phone call. gets up and walks out and never comes back. >> rose: i have a theory about that. it is people like salinger today. the thing they love the most is who created the work. >> yes. >> rose: and some of them, that's what brings them the great joy. it is not the celebration. and for a smaller percentage of them, the celebration gets in the way of the work. just gets in the way of it. and so they want to reject that. so they took salinger to the extreme. they go where they feel they can really create because that's
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where the joy is. that's where their being is. >> to be on the cover of "time" magazine in 1961 with something that only wednesday to states men and nobel laureate. >> he wrote another book. i mean after all they rewarded you with fame and money. we said you're one of the important writers of the century, now come on, let's have some more. and then he doesn't get it. >> in american literature like salinger, the greatest novel ever. >> heights and big success. the biggest height he disappears. >> don't talk about that, don't think that. you don't have to know a kid to pick up what the elephants are in the room that the family's not talking about. >> he sort of became the howard hughes of his day. >> people have a very specific response to salinger's work that
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is wholly unique to salinger. people read salinger andthey're protective of salinger. they read salinger and they love this very clean story. it's a myth it's not a real story but they love this story that j.d. salinger published this book, was given overwhelming fame and couldn't handle it, didn't want it and disappeared. the truth is he published for 14 years after the catcher in the rye from 51 to 65. the truth is he was not a recluse, there was nothing reclusive at all. >> rose: he would come back to new york. >> he would come back to new york, traveled a world. obviously a recluse wouldn't pursue actresses the waive he did or pursue maynard the waive -- we he did. he would go to the church picnics and church dinners every sunday night. there was nothing reclusive about j.d. salinger. but he was deeply private and that's very different. and there were reasons for him to be private.
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there were aspects of his life that he wanted to keep private. >> rose: catcher in the rye was published. critics said what? >> well they were mixed. initially there was reviews that were not positive and then immediately there was overwhelming praise. so like the "new york times" actually had two different reviews. one sort of saying, you know, it's not a great book and then one saying it's a revelation. so there was a mixed response to it initially. but then even the new yorker actually ended up publishing quite hilariously a love letter review to him after initially rejecting the story. >> rose: for you what's the best thing he ever wrote. >> probably as may or bananafish. >> rose: which came before. >> the catcher in the rye will always be there. it's probably the greatest anti-establishment book of all time. it's more relevant in some ways
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than 2013 than it was in 1951 when it was published. but the work that has been more lasting impact or the nine stories and raise high. >> rose: but as your film points out and john guer says three murders were committed by people who referenced catcher in the rye. not one, not two but three. >> yes. and there's actually more. those are the three that are the most celebrated. >> rose: john lennon being the most. >> john lennon, the rooting of ronald reagan and the shooting of an actress in hollywood named rebecca shaffer, 1981 and 89. again something unique to salinger. there's no murder connected to kill a mocking bird or any other great gatsby. it's a bizarre phenomena that lies in a very weird misreading of the book.
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people taking holden's thought, private thought and enacting them on other people. people taking the idea of their being phonies in the world and wanting to destroy those phonies. it was one of the most shocking things that we discovered was that there was this connection that and here's what's really crazy, the killers not only did this but then actually communicated with each other afterward and actually would discuss their affection for the catcher in the rye. i mean in mark chapman's case -- in two of the three cases they brought the books with them when they did the shooting. and that they wanted -- >> rose: what do you think went through these people. >> there are references in the book to my people shooting hat and certain things holden says. it's important to remember that
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this book has been read by 60, 70, 80 million people around the world and these are very specific disturbed cases of disturbed individuals. but if you misread the book, you can read holden's antipathy to the culture as some kind of bizarre license to kill. >> rose: did j.d. salinger make a ton of money. you think about the amount of books he sold. >> certainly and he lived incredibly froogly. one thing i rea spec is how true he was to his artistic believes. this is a kid who grew up on park avenue and obviously wanted to be celebrated in that book by the new yorker which is one of the many paradoxes in his live. he wanted to be published and only to be published in the magazine that most catered to the highest end of the culture. >> rose: what did that mean to him.
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>> i know that jerry loved him. no one called him j.d., he was always jerry. he loved william shaw, they would have lunches in new york with lillian roth a very fames story that mentioned in our film by joyce maynard of having lunch with sean and lillian roth. it was not a successful lunch, is probably the most polite way to put it. >> rose: how much would you like or not for j.d. salinger to have seen your film? >> i really would have liked to have him to have seen this film. i think that way spent ten years on this, we cared deeply about getting it right. even after we were done and he passed away, we went back. >> rose: passed away at 91. >> in 2010. >> rose: no but at 91 years old. >> yes, at 91.
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we spent three more years going further because i knew when he passed away a number of people who said no to me who had not talked would now thank you. and so i went back and we spent three more years doing all that. i don't think he would have liked the idea of a film because frankly he didn't like anything he couldn't control down to the comma. but i think that there would have been, and i don't want to give away the end of the film but i do think there's an acknowledgment of the decade that went into this and the love that went into it. we had a very tough challenge. we had to tell the real story of a beloved icon. we had to tell the full story of his life. >> rose: he is beloved. >> he is beloved. >> rose: the question of salinger and young women. first there was oona. >> yes >> rose: she would go out every night. she's a young woman who would show up at the store club.
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everyone knew her. >> she was debutant of the year and she was gene o'neill's daughter. >> rose: she had a love affair. >> i think he loved her far more than she loved him. he was deeply frustrated. >> rose: she abandoned him by going to wall wood. >> they were divided by war. he went off to war and she went off to hollywood. she became the artist he became and she became the life long love of charlie chaplain and they had a number of children together. and were together until the dave he died. >> rose: did they get back together at all? >> no. i mean salinger wrote a very unpleasant note when he learned the news. >> rose: that she was going to marry chaplain. >> that she had married chaplain. >> rose: what did he say. >> it was kind of a cartoon he drew and it was very unpleasant. it was probably the best way to leave it. and as a result of that, she swore she would never speak to him again. >> rose: and then there's the
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story of the woman who was profiled in cbs sunday morning program was interviewed as well. 13 or 14. >> she was 14 years old. her name is jean miller, she had never told her story before. finding her was an impossibility, a needle in a stack of needles. all we had to go on was the letter j. we didn't even have her name let alone her last name. and she had never told her story for 60 years. her story, very short version is that in 1949, she was 14 years old. she was at a pool in daytona beach, a man 30 years old struck up a conversation with her. that man turn out to be j.d. salinger. >> rose: they were off the beach. >> every day for 10 or 11 days they would walk the beach together and go down to the pi
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er. >> rose: what was that about. >> he was a damage war vet. he had ptsd. he was searching for innocence, he was searching for a prewar innocence. he had seen the forest through the war. they spend the ten days together and at the end of the ten days he walks up to her mother and says i'm going to marry your daughter. he begins writing her these letters. we have these letters they're in the film and the book. they began this incredibly unique, very unusual relationship that culminates five years later her losing her virginity when she was 19. >> rose: and then? >> and then he dismissed her. >> rose: why did he do that? >> his, his pattern with people was that they would be in his life for a period of time, four
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years five years six years seven years and then they would be banished. and throughout the film and throughout the book, you see this pattern with men and women, particularly with women. and in some cases it's wrong to say women because in some cases there's jean and joyce maynard these were girls. >> rose: what is that b what do psychologists say about that or psychiatrists. >> listen, there's no question he had a certain attraction and interest in young women. >> rose: because of innocence. >> because of innocence. he was never with someone that was under aged sexually that we ever discovered. >> rose: he wasn't a predator. >> not at all. we never have suggested that and we would never suggest that. what we do suggest is that there's this undeniable record from 43 to, you know, of being very interested in women at a particularly specific point
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before they become women. and he was trying to, as we save in the book, almost use them like a time machine to go back to 1943, before he landed on that beach in normandy and his life changed forever. >> rose: then there's joyce maynard. she is on the cover of the "new york times" magazine. >> which in itself is an incredible contradiction for salinger because salinger took his picture off the cover of the catcher in the rye. he hated the idea of author photographs but when he saw joyce maynard on the cover of "new york" magazine as an 18-year-old wearing a watch very similar to one of his signature characters. >> rose: as may. >> as may. he immediately wrote to her and sought her way. the way he pursued her in 1972 is identical to the way he pursued jean miller in 19 49.
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>> when i was 18 i read a magazine article that changed my life. it was published in the new york "time" magazine with a photograph of me on the cover. within three days of the publication of that article there were three enormous stacks of mail in front of my dormitory room. and in among them was this one letter that eclipsed all the rest. it began dear ms. maynard i'll bet you're sitting in your dormitory room surrounded by letters by magazine editors and tv editors and radio people. all of which is true and then he went on to say he knew a thing or too himself about the dangers, the perils of early success. he says people will try to exploit you and i urge you to be cause shuttle. i got to the bottom of the letter and by that time i was already connected to this person that i saw the signature j.d.
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salinger. >> exactly what he was doing and exactly how powerful the name j.d. salinger is. with the right girl it creates a spell that they fall under. >> getting a letter from j.d. salinger was like getting a letter from holden caufield but written just to me. >> i mean i think he wanted to talk them out of the world 6 had. he said quite famously to joyce maynard once is the problem with you is you loved the world. the statement his family issued when he passed away is i am in this world but not of it which was the fulfillment of the beliefs but it was also his fundamental philosophy in life. you know, he didn't want to be part of the world. >> rose: joyce maynard then left and then wrote about it. >> she didn't write about it, to be fair to her she didn't write
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bit, she kept silent for probably 20 odd years. she wrote about it in 1999, 2000 area. >> rose: crazy and ballistic when he found out. >> she made the decision to go to his house and confront him and have a meeting of closure and he at that point knew she was writing this book, it was public knowledge. they had a horrible blowout on the steps of his house that we recount in the film. he said you know you've spent your life writing meaningless garbage and now you intent to exploit him. nothing we found about his personal life takes away from the astonishing mind. there are parallels to that story. there are things john nash does
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in the book a beautiful mind that are uncomfortable but they are surrounded by damage, in his case just like salinger's psychological damage and they are critical to understanding salinger. and they do share that these are complicated men, men of genius that you're going to see do uncomfortable things. at the same time they were producing some of the greatest work ever. >> rose: i want to show some photographs. >> sure. >> rose: here is salinger during the height of the war. >> this is only known photograph of j.d. salinger, took me ten years to find this photo. the only known photograph of j.d. salinger ever writing the catcher in the rye. he landed on d day carrying six chapters of catcher in the rye literally had them. other people had pictures on
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their girlfriend or their mom and j.d. salinger had six chapters of catcher in the rye with him and he carried them like a talisman. we couldn't even make out what this was. we got it from the fitzgerald family who was one of salinger's closest and dearest friends sitting on the mountain of photos and letters kept since 1945 and we were able to convince them over time to share those letters with us. >> rose: o'neill and charlie chaplain. >> you can tell by that picture and many others that he was it for her, you know when he died she really fell apart. she loved him more than anything in the world. and jerry salinger very much wanted to be with her so it was very tough for her. we have in the book the only photos ever published of jerry
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salinger's first wife. they've never been seen for years with the gestapo. she had a very interesting life. she went back to europe then coming back to the united states. she never spoke of or wrote of salinger as many women did in really keeping his secrets. and that's an astonishing thing. his second wife claire has done the same thing, she's never spoken about salinger, claire douglas for, you know, since they were married. and there's an extreme protectiveness with him. this is the last known image jerry salinger. >> rose: people made to get a photograph of him. >> it's astonishing. to tell you one story, it's a great story. news week, time and life
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magazine were all assigned to go big cover stories of salinger in 1960, 61. life and news week ran their stories but couldn't get a photo of salinger. so life magazine said to ted russell, they pulled him out of a photo assignment at the un, sent him down to cornish, can you get a photograph of j.d. salinger. this is a writer in 1961 and this is unheard of. >> rose: like greta, garbo. >> ted russell sat in the cold and rain for three days in the bushes waiting for salinger and that's where he signals that legendary photo of him which is in the film and the book and really perfectly captures salinger's private world. >> rose: joyce maynard.
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i spent a long time composing my response to j.d. salinger's letter on my yellow legal pad. it's like a piece of carbon paper and second sheet underneath. dear mr. salinger i will remember your advice every day of my life. i read your letter hover and over and carried it in my pocket all day. i no longer need to read it i know it by heart not only the words but the sentiment expressed. >> she became a student of salinger, you know. she's very clear whenever you talk to joyce, she's very clear to say i was never his girlfriend, i was his student. student of life. he mentored her, taught her. what's unlearn about that particular relationship separate of the age, she was an 18 year old woman, 18 year old girl or woman depending on your point of view who was very much focused on her career. and he wanted her to abandon
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that and come to cornish new hampshire and live with him and renounce the world with him. she couldn't do that. and having children, that's what broke them apart. but a fascinating relationship. >> rose: he published, the love letters he wrote to her have been published. >> they never been published. we actually published them for the first time. what she did that a lot of people have a big problem with is she sold them to sotheby's. they sold the letters and bought by the software developer peter norton who returned them to salinger. no one ever knew what happened to them. in the course of the nine and-a-half years we found them& and they are published in here for the first time. i was 30 when i started and i'm
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40 now and it was an incredible detective story trying to understand this man, trying to understand what happened. it really started with what happened to j.d. salinger,would someone sell 65 million copies of a book and disappear. why would one want to be the toast of new york and then vanish. did he really right every day for 45 years alone. >> rose: did he. >> yes. that's the mostathon shrink part. can you imagine someone like if karen malic or steven spielberg stopped making films but privately were making films that they weren't showing to anyone for 45 years and we got the opportunity. >> rose: and the scwawlt of that work? >> i have to believe that the quality of that work is there but the real question is it on
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the path like 19 this or was it very much of the world like bananafish, catcher and raise high. that's what we're going to see. he's either going to have the greatest second act that any writer's ever had in history. i mean there's no precedent for this. there's no precedent for a writer of his caliber and weight writing for 45 years and not publishing. and at the same time we have to ask ourselves is the work full of silence and are we going to get the work of silence, silence from the world. or is it going to be the master works for which we hope. i'm betting on the master works i'm betting on j.d. salinger. >> rose: you're betting on
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yourself. what did it do to you. >> it was tough. i don't want to turn this into, you know, but it was tough. i mean this was ten years of my life. it was my whole 30's. and it was financially tough. there was enormous risk, particularly if the companies hadn't bought it. we only showed it to three companies because we had to maintain the secrecy. so we couldn't do an auction situation and a bidding situation. so for those three companies not only to step up but in the case of american masters to step up in an unprecedented way financially, was a great end of this story. we screen the film at the telluride film festival. ken burns who put many bricks in the cathedral that's pbs said
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the story was extremely extraordinary. we were in very difficult place. we were taking on salinger and trying to tell the full story of his life. and honor him but honor him by also telling a complete story and that meant telling some things that perhaps he wished weren't told. but it wouldn't have been a true story or full story and it wouldn't have been the full story of his amazing life if we had shied away from those things. if we had run from all of the things there were coming up and the patterns and the information and the contradictions. he lives in his contradictions. the contradictions of his life are what's most revealing. >> rose: what are the contra deckions. >> for instance the joyce maynard example is a great contradiction. he takes his picture off the cover of the catcher of the rye
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he dismisses author photographs as phony but when he sees joyce maynard on the cover there went that. he talked about the world, all the problems in the world and then writing a letter to a friend saying how much he loved a whopper at burger king. he was fascinating figure. and that's why those characters of those stories are filled with live. >> rose: he said what about his work at the end. >> he never said anything. >> rose: didn't he talk about the family, these are the stories of the families. >> here's what he said the glass family are his life's work. he's been waiting for them most of his life. he said he has quote mono maniacal plans to finish them.
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he showed joyce maynard a gene genealogy of the glass family working out all of their stories. i think that family was as real to him as his own and in the 1960's his family began to compete with a fictional family. there were two families living at the j.d. salinger residence. one was the glass family who were fictional but very much real to jerry salinger and the other were claire, margaret and matthew, who did not get to see their father because he would be locked away in a bunker. now margaret salinger says -- >> rose: a bunker meaning a building outside. >> margaret salinger had one childhood in that house and matthew salinger had another childhood. to be to fair to salinger matthew salinger has always said and always maintain, and it would be unfair for me not to point out that jerry salinger
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was a wonderful father that many of the stories told by his sister margaret were untrue and not representative of his childhood. so to be fair to point out both sides of that story. but he's working -- >> rose: so many hours alone out there. >> when he was working he required true and total isolation to produce the work that he did. >> rose: but he wrote every day. >> he wrote every day by his own account. in 1974 when he called the "new york times," by the way a very unreclusive thing to do, if you're a true recluse you don't call the "new york times." >> rose: you can call -- >> yes. >> rose: why did you call her. >> again, she was a beautiful, really a stunning woman and called her out of the clear blue and said i'm only going to talk for a few minutes and then proceeded to talk for on 30 minutes. >> rose: she had a story. >> she knew and she scrambled and we talked to her husband. she passed away. >> rose: she died young. >> she did, she died of cancer. you know, he answered the phone,
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david, and you know, she said it's salinger it's salinger give me a piece of paper, give me a piece of paper. that conversation was incredibly revealing. he revealed that he was writing every single day on the record front page of the "new york times." he revealed he was writing every single day. he revealed that he loved to wrote, that he had no intention of publishing and to -- go ahead. >> rose: go ahead. >> i was just saying that was a fascinating interview. one of the things i think we proved very clearly in the book and the film that j.d. salinger was not a recluse. it's troubling sometimes to read these articles oh you shouldn't have written this book about this poor recluse. it's nothing it's based on a false premise that j.d. salinger was a recluse. or anything. there's so many myths that surround salinger. what we did was correct the record. for instance with his first wife, the truth is he found out
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who she was immediately filed for an annulment and sent her back to europe. the other stories in other books was she went back to europe and filed for divorce which was completely untrue. owe why he was turned down for service in world war ii. a lot of what we did was just correcting the record because the same stories about salinger have been repeated for four or five decades. >> rose: you walk out of this building having done this interview for an hour. and tonight at dinner a friend comes to you and he says i've got the greatest story in the world. i've just seen your movie, i want you to tell it. it's a hell of a story, a great story but it's going to take ten years of your life. you're 40. when you finish this book and film, you will be 50. are you prepared to make that commitment? >> i don't know. i don't think so. i want to do another documentary very badly. i've been working on something but i don't think i could ever do what i did on this.
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this was a once in a lifetime thing. it took a decade of my life. i don't know if i would be able to be willing to pay that kind of price ever again. but i learned a lot on this. i made a million mistakes but i learned from them. >> rose: what mistakes. >> well listen, i think that if i had it to do over again, i would have done a few things very differently. certainly editorially i would have done things very differently. i mean finding the rhythms to get it down to two hours and eight minutes was extremely tough. i think we either did or we got very close. i've learned a lot from this process and i hope people connect with the film. i hope people understand the work that were involved with it and the love that went into it.
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>> rose: you hope they take away what. >> that j.d. salinger was an extraordinary one of a kind artist. he was important and will always be important. the true story of his life is as valuable as the story of his work. i want people to know about j.d. salinger's life, a life that spans 91 years and was truly extraordinary. i think it deepens your understanding of his work if you know his life. i think it deepens your understanding of the stories if you know how much of these stories are up auto biographical, the pain that he went into them. the greatest complement we get when people see the film is when people go home and say read nine stories hover the weekend and i read it through the prism of world war ii and it was a completely different experiments. it was amazing. catcher in the rye since all our publicity started in the last couple weeks has shot to number
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seven on amazon. this is a book published in 1951. that means are people not only rediscovering salinger but that new people are coming to salinger for the first time. to become part of that at all he certainly need our help in terms of sales but as part of people discovering him and rediscovering him for the first time that's the best thing i'll take away from this -xgerience. >> rose: shane salinger, salinger. thank you for joining us. see you next time. this is"n
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