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A CurtainUp Feature
Holden Caulfield: Theater Aficionado

This piece was actually written more than a dozen years ago. When J. D. Salinger died on January 27, 2010, ringing down the curtain on a long run as America's most elusive and reclusive literary celebrity, it seemed like a good time to re-post this early Curtainup essay. While A Catcher In the Rye which became a seminal reading experience for teen agers in 1951 and still sells some 250,000 copies a year, still has not been adapted for stage or screen, interest in the reclusive writer is strong as ever. After viewing the fascinating and enlightening American Masterpiece Series' 2 1/2 hour documentary about Salinger, this seems yet another opportune time to re-visit my essay. If you missed it, try to catch a re-run. —e.s.

Close to half a century after its 1951 debut The Catcher in the Rye continues to resonate with high school and college students. He's also continues to hold a place in the heart of the people in their 50s and 60s who are Holden's contemporaries--or at least they would be if he were a real person instead of frozen in time as an icon and favorite allusion for the disenchanted young everywhere.

Not the least of the institutions which Holden examines with less than unqualified admiration is the theater. While he admits that his father can't be blamed for being upset at his carelessness about money, he quickly points out that dad makes enough money as a corporate lawyer to invest in Broadway shows that invariably flop. Later, in the same chapter, he strikes up a conversation with two nuns. When one, a high school English teacher, expresses her admiration for Romeo and Juliet he agrees but with typical Holden-esque reservations. Because he likes Mercutio and finds him "very smart" and more sympathetic than Romeo, his killing bothers him. He's also a little embarrassed to discuss a play which "gets pretty sexy in parts" with a nun.

In chapter 16 Holden walks over to "mobbed and messy" Broadway to buy theater tickets for his Sunday afternoon date with Sally Hayes. He heads right for the box office since this was pre-TKTs discount booth and prices were not yet beyond the reach of even a well-heeled preppie. And so he buys two orchestra seats for I Know My Love by S. N. Berhrman, starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Since he considers Sally "the queen of the phonies" (phoniness being the quality that Holden disdains most in people), he knows she will be thrilled to see a show with these luminaries of the stage. His own take on the show is that it isn't as bad as some he's seen but that it's was nevertheless "on the crappy side." And while he did like the Lunts he thought they were "too good and full of themselves." Besides his amusing analysis of the play and performances, he also has a few well chosen words for the many "phonies" in the audience.

Theater enthusiasts who've never read The Catcher in the Rye or haven't read it since high school, should take a first or second look at it if only for these idiosyncratic comments on the theater in chapters 15-17.

Since Catcher is still on many required high school reading lists, and sells a husky 250,000 copies in paperback each year (Sales of the book overall about 65 million). You should therefore have no troubling finding a copy of the book in your library or on line.

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