Telluride: Joyce Maynard Slams ‘Salinger’ Doc, Says Author Was a ‘Victimizer’ of Young Women

Telluride: Joyce Maynard Slams 'Salinger' Doc, Says Author Was a 'Victimizer' of Young Women

Maynard, who began a relationship with Salinger when she was a teenager, tells TheWrap she finds omissions in Shane Salerno's film “very troubling”

The world premiere of “Salinger” at the Telluride Film Festival on Monday was a tale of two girlfriends. A pair of the late author's former “muses” were in attendance — one pleased by the documentary, one not so much so.

A post-screening panel discussion led by an admirer of the film, director-producer Ken Burns, included Jean Miller, Salinger's companion for five years in the late '40s and early '50s. Sitting quietly in the audience, meanwhile, was Joyce Maynard, who had a strange liaison with the legendarily reclusive author in the early '70s.

Maynard's attendance at the festival was bizarrely coincidental, and had nothing to do with promoting “Salinger,” which the Weinstein Co. is releasing on Friday. Maynard had come to town to celebrate the premiere of another film, “Labor Day,” Jason Reitman‘s adaptation of her novel.

“Joyce is in the front row,” Burns pointed out as the discussion wrapped up, “and if we had [a] time machine we would be able to go back and invite her up to add immeasurably to our understanding of this complicated person.”

See video: ‘Salinger’ Doc: There Are Manuscripts Locked in a Vault

But when TheWrap spoke with Maynard after the screening, she was displeased enough with what she saw as some of the film's thematic omissions that the filmmakers will probably be relieved she wasn't sharing her thoughts on the dais.

Maynard, who wrote a book about her experiences with Salinger, continues to see the author, who died in 2010, as just one step away from being a child predator.

“I thought the film was an extraordinary accomplishment–minus a crucial element, and yes, that's very troubling to me,” said Maynard (below) outside the Palm Theatre. “I believe that no biography of J.D. Salinger will ever be complete without an acknowledgement that he was not simply a PTSD victim, he was a victimizer as well.

Joyce Maynard - Portrait Session

Getty Images

“And it's very troubling to hear my 18-year-old self, and girls who were younger than I was, referred to as ‘women.'”

Some of those references took place in the panel discussion, which dwelled heavily on the idea of Salinger as a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “World War II really was the transformative trauma in J.D. Salinger's life,” said “Salinger” director Shane Salerno, who participated in the Q&A via Skype. “It made him as an artist but it broke him as a man… He was living with PTSD throughout his life…

“When you re-read the work with that in mind, you even understand that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a disguised war novel.”

Whether it was Miller in 1949 or Maynard in 1972, said Salerno, Salinger “was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds. So there's something immensely heartbreaking about this rather problematic pursuit.”

That pursuit, admitted Miller, “raises havoc in the muse's life … That short story ‘The Girl With No Waist at All’ really represents [Salinger's interest in] the moment before a girl becomes a woman.”

In the “Salinger” book, Miller reveals that her relationship with Salinger, who befriended her when she was 14, was platonic until he took her virginity five into their relationship, after which he immediately broke up with her.

Also read: Telluride Flight Crash-Lands With TWC & ‘Salinger’ Crew; Outbound Travel Snarled

Maynard was not nearly so sanguine as Miller about any afterglow from her live-in coupling with Salinger, which was similarly sexless until almost the end.

“When a 53-year-old man writes letters to a freshman at Yale, he's not writing to a woman, he's writing to a girl,” Maynard told TheWrap. “And when he suggests that she should give up her scholarship, leave college, leave her job at the New York Times and cut off all relationship with the world, that is also called a post-traumatic stress event, when it reverberates through her life.

“Not a day has passed in 40 years that I have not faced the residue of my relationship with Salinger — and in a professional way, profoundly. Which is why I was so happy to be at this festival with a movie of a novel of mine and projects having nothing to do with Salinger.”

Maynard does appear at some length in the last half-hour of the documentary.

Burns opened the discussion by noting that he lives four towns south of Cornish, N.H., where Salinger notoriously withdrew from public life from the mid-'60s until his death three and a half years ago. He said he grew used to Salinger seekers coming through his neighborhood wanting stalking tips.

Tantalizingly, Burns added almost as an aside that he did correspond with Salinger a number of times – “he would send me passages from Christian Science manuscripts that tell you how to cure ailments with prayer.”

At one point, Burns pointed out, “All the important muses of his life seem to represent some kind of attempt at innocence, perhaps a fantasy of innocence” with “an almost frightened-of-sex aspect.”

Miller called her relationship with him very asexual.

“I thought of him as my uncle for many years,” she said. “I don't think really in a way he was all that interested in sex. Jerry's power of you was absolutely mental and spiritual.”

  • charlesjneilsonmd

    Perhaps Salinger's self exile into the woods of Vermont was the intelligent person's way to raise the threshold for criminal arrest that would certainly have happened if he had lived in a large city, especially New York. However, his attraction to young females was not overtly sexual as much as it was a mental and spiritual attraction that enabled him to re-experience the innocence of youth. Just one false move, like that near kiss he refused on the beach by the 14 year-old Miss Miller, was all that could have incriminated him. Rather, Salinger had repressed sexuality in favor of intellectual intercourse with immature females. Here we see one of his supposed intellectually gifted youths criticizing him later in her life for somehow taking advantage of her when he encouraged her to leave college and the New York Times. How is this different than a young girl being pulled away from a promising life by some no count blustery motorcycle guy to whom she is attracted? Some kids listen to their parents and others have internal impulses that lead them onward to self destruction. No doubt Salinger had personal problems, magnified by the fact that at least 3 major killers were mesmerized by his literary work TCIR. But everyone got surprised by his behavior, even Jean Miller, who maintained his close interest until her first sexual encounter resulted in his immediate exit from her life. It is clear that pure youthful innocence was the intoxicant for Salinger and the source for his approach to writing. To ruin a relationship solely because of sexual relations interfering with one's appreciation and attitude toward another human being is backwards……and therein lies the reason one female is uncomfortable or dismayed (eg Miller) or another is unable to stand the repercussions of such “rejection” enough to blame Salinger for stealing her future (eg Maynard). Had Salinger been a sexual person, there would have probably been no complaints.

  • Al Waishard

    It appears old Salinger was an old pedophile, besides being just another lousy writer, that got his mind twisted by playing around occult Hinduism.

    “Catcher in the Rye” is THE most overrated book in the world. If you've never read it – you're way ahead of the game..

  • Lily G

    is incredibly overrated, not as good as –the latter from the point of view of a young girl. Still, Holden is a memborable character–much more so than is J.D. Salinger, despite all the publicity. (The documentary was slow [see it in excerpts on Netflix] but quite well done. Joyce Maynard doesn't give us as an audience enough credit; the Salinger “old creepy perv” is quite apparent in the film. Jean Miller tells the story from this very naive girl's perspective, even though she's in her 70s was really sad. He dumped her as soon as she was “old enough” to have legal sex with.) Seeing the film and reading the bios of Salinger and the letters he wrote to Jean Miller and Joyce Maynard, he really sounds like the embodiment of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov's novel . Salinger's disgust with his very young wife (a former Radcliffe student) Claire Douglas's body when she became a mother and more womanly is taken straight out of the pages of , (published in Paris in 1955, and New York in 1958). Of course, Nabokov creates this kind of monstrous character of H.H. as the narrator with art in mind. Salinger “re-created” himself as this elusive figure–but the fact is he was pretty dried up a few stories and a novel past Catcher. Of course, Salinger's attraction to girls was sexual (as was H.H.'s), and of course is was artistic, too. It certainly doesn't excuse anything. We can appreciate the an artist's work and still have him rather monstrous.