Since J.D. Salinger’s death many film critics like Dana Stevens have enjoyed quoting from Salinger’s seminal work The Catcher in the Rye where the fictional character of Holden Caulfield proclaims “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies.” The quote has become a jumping-off point for film critics who have used the line to help explain why Salinger didn’t want Catcher in the Rye turned into a film, but they’re sadly mistaken when they also assume that the author of Catcher in the Rye didn’t like movies.
In Joyce Maynard’s memoir At Home in the World she discusses her lengthy relationship with J.D. Salinger and makes it clear that movies played a rather large part in the author’s life. In the book (originally published in 1998) Maynard explains that Salinger loved watching movies and talking about them in great detail. He seemed to enjoy debating a film’s merits and faults. In one of the books most fascinating passages Maynard details Salinger’s viewing habits.
“Although we were talking regularly on the phone now, the letters continue. He writes about the movies he loves best – he loves movies, not films – and how, some years back, he got himself a 16mm projector so he could watch old prints of movies he loves, right there in the living room with his children: The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Thin Man, The Lady Vanishes, Lost Horizon. As much contempt as Jerry conveys about nearly everything being produced in the current world of film, theater, art and literature, he holds an attitude of tenderness and occasional reverence for what came out of the thirties – the years when he was close to the age that I am now. With the exception of a handful of movies – From Here to Eternity, The Pink Panther – his favorite movies were made long before I was born.”
– Joyce Maynard on J.D. Salinger in “At Home in the World: A Memoir”
This brief passage indicates that Salinger had more than a passing interest in the movies. He obviously enjoyed writing about them and watching them enough to purchase a 16mm projector. Salinger seemed to like Hitchcock’s early work and the writer even found room in his heart for one of my favorite comedies, The Pink Panther (1963). Simply put, Salinger liked the movies but he had particular tastes and preferred older films.
Film critics who continue to parrot the idea that J.D. Salinger didn’t like movies are doing Salinger and their readers a great disservice. If you don’t know a thing about the author’s movie viewing habits you shouldn’t write about them. Period. Besides Dana Stevens assuming that Salinger must have hated the movies in the same way she thinks his fictional character did, I’ve come across this same ridiculous assumption repeated by people like Ron Reed of Filmwell who feels that “J.D. Salinger doesn’t appear to have been much of a movie fan.” and Dave at MovieSet who proclaims that he’s got “… a dossier on stuff I know about Jerome David Salinger and his literary work: 1) Salinger hates movies.” and then there’s Michael Dance at MovieCultist who has written a piece simply titled “J.D. Salinger: The Man Who Hated Movies.”
Willful ignorance shouldn’t become a staple of film criticism. Do a little research before you write or stick to the old adage, “Write what you know.”