An unemployed actor tracked down Salinger to get his permission to adapt The Catcher in the Rye.
In 1953, J. D. Salinger fled Manhattan for rural Cornish, New Hampshire, hoping to protect his privacy and find the solitude he needed for his work. The Catcher in the Rye, which spent thirty weeks on the New York Times’ best-seller list, had generated immeasurable publicity and adulation for Salinger, who wanted none of it. Among his new suitors were such Hollywood bigwigs as Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick, both vying for the screen rights to Catcher. They failed to secure Salinger’s approval, as did many others, in turn—but that didn’t stop Bill Mahan, an unemployed former child star and devoted fan from Los Angeles, from giving it a shot. In the early sixties, he resolved to claim the film rights himself, even if it meant disturbing Salinger at home.
Mahan’s account of his unlikely adventure can be found in his papers at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. On December 1, 1961, he wrote to Salinger by registered mail to share his vision for turning Catcher into an independent feature, with the author retaining “artistic control.” At the age of thirty-one, Mahan had no credits as a producer or a director, and very little money, so he proposed to shoot the film “art-house” style, without changing a word of dialogue. Given the shoestring budget, Salinger would, of course, have to grant him the rights for free. In hopes of sealing the deal, Mahan wrote that he would arrive in Cornish on December 13, whether he’d heard from Salinger or not. Read More