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Pat York

Pat York

Posted: February 2, 2010 07:48 PM

Catching J.D. Salinger

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In 1966 I was invited to photograph the actors Marlon Brando and Robert Forster in the film version of Carson McCullers' novel "Reflections In A Golden Eye." It was a night shoot starting at dusk and continuing until daybreak with the location at the Mitchel Military Base in Long Island. John Huston, the Director, was a friend of mine and I had met the producer, Ray Stark, and his wife, Frances Brice, the daughter of the famous Fanny Brice, at various functions.

I was warned that Marlon Brando did not trust photographers and any film I shot of him had to be delivered to him personally and he would have it processed.

As usual on a film set there was time spent waiting for scenes to be set up. During one of those breaks a handsome mature man approached me and started a conversation. He kept telling me he loved my voice and he also asked many questions about my views on certain topics, and my likes and dislikes. There was no opportunity to ask him about himself as he was questioning me without a break, and kept telling me how much he liked my voice. I thanked him but could not understand his obsession with my vocal chords.

Finally he mentioned that he could not believe I had no trace of an accent and inquired what part of Italy I was from. I told him I was an American who had been born in Jamaica and attended a French school in England and had also been tutored in Germany with the rest of my education in the States. He looked stunned. He told me that he had been asking various people who I was and had been told by at least three that I was Italian. We both laughed and I introduced myself and he then gave me his name -- J.D. Salinger.

We talked for the rest of the evening between my photographing and the silences demanded by the filming. He introduced me to a writer I admired enormously, Lillian Ross, a great friend of John's, who had written the brilliant book 'Picture' about the making of the film 'The Red Badge Of Courage' directed by John in the 1950's. I believe she brought her baby with her that evening.

At this period I knew that Salinger had become a recluse so I could not equate this fact with the man I was speaking with so freely. I told him how much I loved "The Catcher In The Rye" and that my young son, Rick, had just read the book and could talk about nothing else. Its Author said he would like to be in touch with Rick and asked for his name and address.

My assignment on this film was to photograph some daytime scenes as well as the night shots. By this time J.D. Salinger had returned home but I remember having a picnic with John, his long time suffering assistant and co-writer of the screenplay, Gladys Hill, a few others including the brilliant artist, Mark Rothko. I still have those images.

My first photographs of Brando were taken while he was walking in movie-induced rain and then I was asked to photogaph him in his trailer. At the end of the session I handed over some of the early rolls of films I had shot and he said: "What is this for"? I reponded that I had been told he did not trust or like photographers and I had been asked to give him any film taken during the evening shoot. He smiled and said: "Ahh, but I trust you completely."

Shortly after, I left for Europe to visit my son, Rick, who was in school in Switzerland. I had arranged various European assignments -- Racquel Welch in Spain, Francoise Dorleac and Michael Caine in Finland, Albert Finney in London, the talented writer, John Osborne, on location by the English sea and, for Glamour magazine, a young actor who had just triumphed in his first two films -- Taming Of The Shrew and Accident -- Michael York. We met in 1967 and married in 1968 but that is another story!

J.D. Salinger did have a correspondence with my son. A few years later Rick was studying in Paris. We met for dinner one evening and he was desolate. His apartment had been ransacked and, amongst other items, the suitcase where he kept all Salinger's letters had been taken. He did not care about losing many other possessions; he could not accept that his idol's correspondence had been stolen.

I am always loath to take advantage of projecting work into a meeting that has not been set up professionally but I shall always regret that, despite the darkness of the night shoot, I had not asked to take Salinger's photograph. It would have remained a potent souvenir of a brief, but unforgettable, encounter.