With its long-standing tradition of making every single noteworthy piece of literature into a two hour visual ordeal — for better and often for worse — it might seem a wonder why Hollywood hasn't yet attempted to bring cinematic life to J.D. Salinger's great American novel, "The Catcher in the Rye." After all, the name Holden Caulfield is practically synonymous with misanthrope, and any actor worth his salt would consider the job of portraying him as weighty as "Hamlet." (Helloooooo, Oscar.) Yet, there's a reason there's not been a "Catcher in the Rye" movie — actually, several reasons, and they came from directly J.D. Salinger himself.
In 1957, Salinger penned a very thoughtful letter to a producer named "Mr. Herbert" on the issue of selling the adaptation rights to "Catcher" and explained that the merit of his novel, as he saw it, was the narrator's inner dialogue — the "novelistic"-ness of the novel, as he put it.
Salinger wrote, "the weight of the book is in the narrator's voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartoons — in a word, his thoughts. He can't legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique." In other words, a movie would totally screw up making Holden a screw up.
Salinger went on to say that even if some of Holden's inner turmoils could be translated into working dialogue, an idea which he wasn't very comfortable with, such a film is "essentially unactable."
"It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don't think any director can tell him," he declared.
As much as we're all about movies, obviously, Mr. Salinger sure makes an interesting case as to why his might be the lone bestseller which avoids becoming box office fodder ... until it's property of the public domain, of course.
Check out the letter below: