J.D. Salinger gained widespread fame after publishing the popular and critically acclaimed novel The Catcher in the Rye in 1951. The novel, which saw nearly instant success, was popular for Salinger’s depiction of main character Holden Caufield and the alienation Caufield felt as a teenager. The classic book is still taught in many high school classes today.
Much like Harper Lee after him, Salinger was under-prepared for the notoriety that came with publishing a widely popular novel. As a result, Salinger lived most of the rest of his life as a recluse. For example, the novelist died in 2010, but he gave his last interview 30 years earlier in 1980.
Below, you’ll find five facts you may not have known about J.D. Salinger.
- Birth and family. Salinger was born on New Year’s Day in 1919 in New York City. His father, Sol, was a Jewish rabbi and a kosher cheese salesman, while his mother, Miriam, was of Scottish, Irish and German ancestry and was not Jewish. Salinger had one older sister named Doris, and his family called him Sonny, though he went by Jerry at school.
- Hobbies. As a young child Salinger showed an aptitude for drama in both writing and acting. According to biographer Norma Jean Lutz, Salinger’s father was outspoken in his opposition to the idea of Salinger becoming and actor. When he got older, Salinger was also involved in the glee club, French club, and aviation club.
- Education. Salinger enrolled at NYU in 1936 and began studying special education. His studies were short lived as he dropped out after only a single year at school. He later attempted college again at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania bu again dropped out — this time after only one semester. In 1939 Salinger began studying again, this time in an evening writing class at Columbia University. The man who taught the class, Whit Burnett, would become Salinger’s mentor.
- Love life. A few years after he had his first work published, Salinger began dating Oona O’Neill, whom Salinger didn’t actually seem to like a whole lot. O’Neill eventually married famed actor Charlie Chaplin and Salinger married Silvia Welter in 1945. The two split in 1947. Years later, Salinger married Claire Douglas in 1955. Together, the couple had two children, Margaret and Matthew. Eventually Salinger and Douglas divorced in 1967 and in 1972 Salinger began dating 18-year-old Joyce Maynard. Maynard and Salinger ultimately split up, as well, and Salinger was said to have been involved with TV actress Elaine Joyce during the 1980s. Salinger eventually married Colleen O’Neil in 1988.
- Religion. Though Salinger was raised Jewish, he was known to experiment with religion. In the 1950s, Salinger turned first to Zen Buddhism and then to Kriya Yoga. Later Salinger explored Dianetics, which was a precursor to Scientoloty. Salinger also was interested in reincarnation, homeopathy and accupuncture.