It Kills Me
July 19, 1957
Dear Mr. Herbert,
I'll try to tell you what my attitude is to the stage and screening rights of "The Catcher in the Rye". I've sung this tune quite a few times, so if my heart doesn't seem to be in it, try to be tolerant....Firstly, it is possible that one day the rights will be sold. Since there's an ever-looming possibility that I won't die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy.
It pleases me to no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won't have to see the results of the transaction. I keep saying this and nobody seems to agree, but "The Catcher in the Rye" is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade "scenes" - only a fool would deny that - but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator's voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it...
Not to mention, God help us all, the immeasurably risky business of using actors. Have you ever seen a child actress sitting crosslegged on a bed and looking right? I'm sure not. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biassed opinion, is essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn't be nearly enough. It would take someone with X to bring it off, and no very young man even if he has X quite knows what to do with it. And, I might add, I don't think any director can tell him.
I'll stop there. I'm afraid I can only tell you, to end with, that I feel very firm about all this, if you haven't already guessed.
Thank you, though, for your friendly and highly readable letter. My mail from producers has mostly been hell.