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September 13th, 2013
05:46 PM ET

New film puts J.D. Salinger where he loathed to be – in the public eye

Today, there are those who are famous for being famous, photographed almost out of habit. So it's easy to forget about the era when well known names could be legendarily private.

Author J.D. Salinger thought he got more than enough attention in his time. Salinger wrote "The Catcher in the Rye," and a few novellas and short-stories, then he virtually vanished until his death in 2010.

Now a new book and film are putting the late author back where he loathed to be: in the public eye.

"He turned his back on celebrity before celebrity was celebrity," said Shane Salerno, who wrote, produced, and directed the new documentary "Salinger."

The filmmaker dedicated a full decade to the project, conducting 200 interviews, traveling to five continents, and pouring through several personal artifacts.

"This was an archaeological dig, this was a detective story," said Salerno.

For those who say "The Catcher in the Rye" author would not want to be captured this way, Salerno says, "He maintained lifelong friendships when he wanted to, he would call the press and grant spontaneous interviews, he really was a recluse who liked to come out of hiding to remind the world he was a recluse."

Salerno wants audiences to know that beyond the rarely seen images and imagined solitude, was a man full of life and stories untold.

"J.D. Salinger led an extraordinary life. When I found out that J.D. Salinger landed on D-Day, that J.D. Salinger fought in some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, that he was in a mental institution, that he entered a concentration camp – there were so many aspects of his life that the public didn't know, that I had to make the film," said Salerno.

The director says without his film, Salinger's stories may have been lost forever.

"There were a number of people who were never going to speak about J.D. Salinger on the record while he was alive. Many of the people that I interviewed were in their eighties and nineties. A number of people we interviewed for this film have since passed away,” Salerno added.

The most intriguing discoveries pertained, of course, to love. The late author's relationships were among his best and worst kept secrets. Salinger's affair with Yale student Joyce Maynard was well known, but his later relationships were almost top secret – like Salinger's forbidden love, who he understandably kept private.

"We found her, we found pictures of her that no one thought ever existed," said Salerno.

"J.D. Salinger was a counterintelligence agent in World War II, and in the process of being part of the de-Nazification of Germany, he met and fell in love with a Gestapo agent named Sylvia, married her, snuck her across to the United States, and brought her into his parents' Park Avenue Jewish household," said Salerno.

Salinger is best known for his fictional stories, and it turns out, according to the film, there may be more of those as well.

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