Calgary Herald

Letters expose J.D. Salinger’s hidden life

Author wasn’t reclusive, loved Burger King, travel


For more than half a century, an encounter with J.D. Salinger was akin to stumbling across the holy grail. The author of The Catcher in The Rye retreated from the public eye in 1953 and lived a hermit-like existence, seldom venturing from his remote New Hampshire home and ignoring anyone who had the temerity to attempt conversati­on.

Or so everyone thought. It turns out that the world’s most celebrated literary recluse was not so reclusive after all. Far from being a curmudgeon who loathed company, Salinger enjoyed coach trips to Nantucket, Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, chatting happily to fellow tourists. He even went to Britain several times to visit Whipsnade Zoo, take in an Alan Ayckbourn play and go for dinner at the Savoy.

Previously unpublishe­d letters from Salinger to a British friend disclose extraordin­ary details of his hidden life. They cover the most unlikely subjects, from his preferred choice of fast food establishm­ent (Burger King) to his love of British television dramas (Upstairs Downstairs was a favourite). He had a passion for tennis and an admiration for Tim Henman, saying it would be nice if the British player “knocked ‘em all down” and won the 2006 Wimbledon championsh­ip. He also praised Henman’s mother and father for not being “profession­al tennis parents.”

He referred to Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1988 as “the outgoing dummy and the incoming dummy,” and to U.S. politician­s as “an odious bunch.”

A 1990 trip to Niagara Falls was “oddly pleasing” and his fellow tourists were “more often than not interestin­g and nice company,” although he noted that they were overweight.

The cache of 50 typed letters and four handwritte­n postcards date from 1986-2002. The recipient was Donald Hartog, who met Salinger in 1937 when they were both 18 and studying German in Vienna. They remained friends for life.

Salinger died in January last year, aged 91. Hartog, a food importer from London, died in 2007 and the letters — signed “Jerry” — passed to his daughter, Frances. She has donated them to the University of East Anglia, where they will be displayed.

Miss Hartog said: “The letters are very touching and they are written very much in the style of his books — casual but using exactly the right words. There is tremendous warmth and affection towards my father and this is so different to how Salinger is often portrayed.”

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