Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger and the challenge of privacy

Another sign of an unattractive celebrity culture

WASHINGTON, D.C. - May I rant?

Thank you.

Harper Lee, the author of “To Killing Mockingbird” is going through an ordeal now that is boiling my bile. 

Why is it the more Great People want privacy, the more they are preyed upon? 

I bet half the Americans over 15 years old would list “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Catcher in the Rye” as their favorite books. I sure would. They are both in my top ten.

Harper Lee and J.D. Salinger both shunned attention, publicity and biographers. And both were hounded. In Salinger’s case, hounded in his grave.

For their sake, I wish I could apologize on behalf of writers and reporters.

Marja Mills, once a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, has just published a book about Lee, “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee.” Mills rented a house next door to the Lee sisters in 2004 and lived there for 18 months. Mills says she had the "the trust, support and encouragement" of Lee and her older sister, Alice.

Harper Lee says that isn’t true.  In a statement she released this week, Harper explains: 

I understand that Ms. Mills has a statement signed by my elderly sister claiming I cooperated with this book. My sister would have been 100 years old at the time… After my stroke, I discovered Marja claimed I cooperated with this book … Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood."

Lee put out a similar statement in 2011 when news of the pending book first emerged.

J.D. Salinger was more reclusive and that may have motivated snoops even more. He was pestered for his whole life.  Several biographies and memoirs of his confidantes were published when he was still alive, including one by a former girlfriend.

In 2013, a documentary about Salinger was released that apparently had incredible detail about the author. The film was accompanied by a 720 page book.

I understand the curiosity. I’d like to know where Boo Radley came from as much as the next person. I understand that biography has a value to intellectual history. 

But I object to the notion that lives of great people must be public despite their wishes.  These are not characters like Paris Hilton who want to profit from raw celebrity.   

What does it have to do with Washington and politics? It’s another sign of the total moral collapse of American civilization – our celebrity culture and its unattractive elements.

People of great accomplishment should not have to be stalked by paparazzi, even the high-class literary version. They’ve given enough with their work.

Rant over. Thanks again.

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