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The famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger has died, but chances remain slim to none that any adaptation of his classic literary works will reach the screen or stage.
With more than 65 million copies of “The Catcher in the Rye” in print, many have sought to turn Salinger’s stories into movies, Broadway shows or book sequels over the past 63 years, but the author always adamantly refused.
That isn’t about to change — all because Salinger was unhappy about the one time he allowed an adaptation.
Salinger, who died Wednesday at age 91 in Cornish, N.H., agreed to have one of his short stories, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” made into a movie, which was released in 1949 as “My Foolish Heart.” The film was a critical and commercial failure and apparently an affront to the author, who vowed never again to make the mistake of allowing others to interpret his vision.
Ever since, numerous producers, filmmakers, authors and stage directors have sought rights to his 1951 novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” as well as to his 1961 book “Franny and Zooey” and other stories.
In 2008, the rights to his works were placed in the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, of which the author was sole trustee. Phyllis Westberg, who was Salinger’s agent at Harold Ober Associates in New York, declined Thursday to say who the trustees are now that the author is dead — but she was clear that nothing has changed in terms of licensing movie, TV or stage rights.
“Everybody knows that he did not want it to happen, and the trust will follow that,” Westberg told THR.
In its most recent legal action, the trust last year sued to successfully stop publication of the novel “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye” by Fredrik Colting of Sweden. It was described as a sequel that picked up the story of “Rye” protagonist Holden Caulfield 60 years later in a rest home, where he reflected on his life.
The U.S. District Court in New York rejected Colting’s claim of fair use, ruling the novel borrowed too much from the original to be considered a parody. Thus, it violated the copyright, which Salinger had renewed in 1979.
Among those who have sought unsuccessfully to win rights to “Catcher” over the years were producer Samuel Goldwyn, director Billy Wilder and actors Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, John Cusack and Jerry Lewis. The last reportedly tried many, many times.
Goldwyn exchanged letters with Salinger in the early ’50s in which the author discussed mounting a play in which he would play Caulfield opposite Margaret O’Brien, and, if he couldn’t play the part himself, to “forget about it.”
Writer Joyce Maynard, who wrote about her affair with Salinger, confirmed 50 years after the book was published that the only person he ever would consider to play the part of Caulfield would have been the author himself.
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