At Tuesday’s Museum of Modern Art “Salinger” screening Harvey Weinstein gave a shout-out to his most honored guest Elie Weisel as he introduced the documentary’s determined writer-director-producer Shane Salerno.
Salerno, 40, began the project when he was 30. “I don’t recommend 10-year productions. It’s extraordinary to be standing here and I want to thank everyone who shared stories with me for the first time,” including Jean Miller (pictured above with Salerno) who at age 14 met J.D. Salinger, who was then 30. Salinger pursued her until she was 18 and once they went to bed left her.
“Something I’ve never told,” Salerno added, “Deborah Randall who is credited as a producer is my mom. We made this film together and she’s very sick and wasn’t able to be here tonight. So after a decade it’s an emotional night and with your permission I’d like to dedicate this to her.”
“Salinger” details the writer’s canny use of his reclusiveness, his lifelong attraction to the young girls he often pursued through letters and the disturbing trio of shooters supposedly inspired by “Catcher in the Rye”’s Holden Caulfield who took aim at John Lennon, Ronald Reagan and Rebecca Schaeffer.
As for Jerome David Salinger’s relevance in 21st America, Paul Haggis “grew up on ‘Franny and Zooey.’ It’s a book I read every few years. It was one of my early loves,” he said, adding, “Salinger’s mystique is as interesting as his work, as a writer and his life. I found him a very strange man. We all wanted to know more.”
John Patrick Shanley saw “Salinger as a huge influence on the culture, certainly a huge influence on the image of New York to New Yorkers and outside New York.
“In addition I went to a private school in New Hampshire right down the road from where he was hanging out” — in Cornish. “Although I never saw him, you always felt there’s this mysterious guy just around the corner. So I’m here to see him tonight.”
Didn’t he ever try to catch a peek?
“I didn’t,” Shanley answered. “I guess that’s why I never became a reporter, I’d rather make it up on my own.”
For Charlie Rose, who has Salerno on his PBS show Sept. 4, Salinger has “the same relevance he’s had forever. To get inside the minds of young people, while it changes, there’s also a certain continuance and permanence about the idea of growing up and what it is that you feel. He somehow got inside what that was.”
Jess Weixler, who came directly from filming “The Good Wife” season opener, was 16 years from being born when Salinger published his last story in 1965.
“I do think he still has relevance. ‘Catcher’ is a classic coming of age moment — and it’s such an easy read. The language feels modern somehow. It’s not hard,” she said with a laugh, “to get through this book.”
Tina Brown, on the arm of husband Harold Evans, agrees that Holden “will always appeal to young adolescent people. But I’m not the kind of JD Salinger nut some people are, even though as an ex-New Yorker editor I should revere the legacy as it were. But he wasn’t my favorite writer.”
Salinger’s mystique continues, she noted. “In a celebrity culture the most exciting thing is inaccessibility which is the thing he realized pretty swiftly. The question is: Did he burn out? Did he know that? And that’s the reason we didn’t hear from him. But I’d love to read the unpublished material which has been hidden and is supposedly coming out. That will be the major literary event: Whether he’s any good anymore?”
Initially the Salinger family cooperated but broke from Salerno, who would only say, “I don’t want to get into names but it didn’t work out.”
“That’s to be expected,” Brown said. “Families, wives, always hate their biographers. I don’t know any who stayed on good terms.”
“‘No man is a hero to his valet,’” quipped Evans.
As she exited Barbara Walters mused, “I wonder if anyone who goes to see this, who cares about it, has to be over 50. Otherwise, you don’t really care.”
Lennon’s murder onscreen brought back her Mark David Chapman interview. “He said how much he regretted it and as they took him away — this was in prison — he said, ‘I’m so sorry, so sorry. I was crazy at the time.’ That’s the only time ABC got me a bodyguard because when we did the story they were afraid people would be too upset.”
The “Salinger” after party followed at Royalton 44.