Salinger, the salacious, controversial, and come-to-find-out-maybe-not-that-good new J.D. Salinger documentary, is out today in limited release, casting a spotlight on America’s most notoriously reclusive novelist. And why, three years after his death and 60-plus years after the publication of his most enduring work, does he remain a figure of such fascination? Probably because he didn’t want to be. It’s the nature of American celebrity: once the public appetite is whetted, it can’t be satiated, and that goes double if you try to pull a disappearing act. After the jump, a look at some of the most famous — in spite of their wishes — recluses in pop culture history.
“It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer’s feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years.” So wrote Salinger on the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey, one of his last published works; by that time, he’d already withdrawn to relative seclusion in New Hampshire after the massive success of The Catcher in the Rye. After 1959, he only published one new story, “Hapsworth 16, 1924,” which took up most of the June 19, 1965 issue of The New Yorker. The piece was panned by critics, and Salinger published nothing else in his lifetime, though he told The New York Times (in a rare interview) that he was still working: “I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” It’d long been rumored that he left a treasure trove of unpublished manuscripts; the most significant revelation of Salinger is that five of them will be published posthumously, beginning in 2015.