American Masters to shine light on reclusive author J.D. Salinger for 200th episode

By Andrew Lapin

The forthcoming American Masters documentary on reclusive author J.D. Salinger is "a little bit of a thriller," according to Susan Lacey, e.p. The biopic debuts in January 2014 as the 200th episode of the series.

The forthcoming American Masters documentary on reclusive author J.D. Salinger is “a little bit of a thriller,” according to Susan Lacy, e.p. The biopic debuts in January 2014 as the 200th episode of the series. (Photo: Courtesy of the Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire)

The author of The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey died in January 2010 after living for more than 50 years as a recluse in Cornish, N.H. Shortly after news of his death emerged, Hollywood screenwriter Shane Salerno announced he had been covertly working on Salinger, an independent documentary probing the author’s sheltered existence.

Susan Lacy, American Masters executive producer, learned of Salerno’s film while attempting to procure the rights to an unrelated Salinger biography for the program. Salerno — whose screenplay credits include Alien vs. Predator: Requiem and Oliver Stone’s Savages — agreed to produce his film for American Masters after Lacy contacted him. Salerno is a fan of American Masters and says he taught himself the craft of documentary filmmaking by watching the biography series.

Salerno has worked on the film in secret for more than seven years, and conducted nearly 150 interviews with people who knew or admired Salinger. He compiled so much extra footage that the program is currently considering making the film a two-night event, Lacy told Current. Yet very few people have viewed the footage, and Lacy wouldn’t reveal any of the secrets Salerno uncovers, saying only that the style of the film resembles “a mystery. It’s a little bit of a thriller.”

WNET timed announcement of the acquisition to Jan. 27, 2013 — the third anniversary of Salinger’s death. Salerno, who retains full rights to the self-financed production, is separately pursuing a theatrical release ahead of its broadcast bow. He will also co-author an 800-page biography on the author, The Private War of J.D. Salinger, to be published by Simon & Schuster in September.

Questions, comments, tips? lapin@current.org

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