Notoriously private author J.D. Salinger wanted to remain a mystery to his readers, his son says. He moved to New Hampshire partly because of the respect the state has for privacy rights; now, all that could be taken away just two years after his death.
For years, Matt Salinger has been working with lawmakers to form a bill that would make the rights to a person’s likeness and identity inheritable for at least 70 years after their death, meaning Matt would be in control of how and where his father’s name and image is used. Now, that bill has been vetoed, and Matt is shocked.
“I’m stunned and just hugely disappointed that Gov. (John) Lynch saw fit to veto something that was the result of thousands of hours of well-intentioned, diligent, bipartisan work. My father moved there in the ’50s because it was beautiful but also because of a certain kind of respect for individual rights. He basically wanted to be left alone and do his work, and New Hampshire, he quickly sensed, respected that,” Matt said.
Matt is especially upset with the way his father’s likeness has been used commercially to sell prints and t-shirts, saying at least one of them was created by a photographer who infringed upon Salinger’s privacy in a terrible act of selfishness to get his shot.
“A photographer literally jumped out of the bushes on top him … then took this picture as my father was recoiling,” he said. “My father looked terrified, looked angry, looked startled and looked a bit haunted. It’s a terrible photograph, but that wasn’t enough for this person who made these T-shirts. He then went in … and made his eyes bright red, and made his face yellow — just made him look more freakish and wild.”
John Lynch said the bill was just too broad and that lawmakers have to be careful when dealing with matters of free speech.
“Legislation that could have the impact of restricting free speech must be carefully considered and narrowly tailored,” he said.
Matt has countered with the idea that an author’s likeness, ideas, and voice can have great impacts on how the reader perceives their work, and he fears it could affect his father’s legacy in a negative way. It’s possible that the veto won’t stand, but only time will tell for Salinger’s family if they will be able to protect what they hold most dear.