"The Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger's decision to step away from public life at the height of popularity in the mid-'60s created a mounting fascination over the years, particularly around the unpublished manuscripts he had locked in his safe. Now Shane Salerno (co-writer of "Armageddon") is looking to blow the lid off the 20th century's most enigmatic literary figure with a new documentary called "Salinger," which interviews confidants and fans of the late novelist to possibly shed some light on why he kept us all in the dark.
In keeping with the recluse theme, we've pinpointed ten famous lone wolfs of cinema whose lives of solitude, like Salinger himself, make them all the more compelling personalities.
Gallery | 10 Famous Movie Recluses
- Obi-Wan Kenobi, 'Star Wars' (1977)
The galaxy's most charming desert hermit has featured prominently in George Lucas's space opera sextet, but when we first see Alec Guinness pop up in "A New Hope" he's just "Ben," a "crazy old wizard" living on the ass-end of Tatooine. Through the miracle of exposition (and the reverse-engineered casting of Ewan McGregor) we learn that he was a Jedi Knight who fought in the Clone Wars and hated flying, eventually driven to the solitude of his adobe hut so he could watch over baby Luke Skywalker until the kid was old enough to drive, basically.
- Willy Wonka, 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (1971)
A shroud of secrecy followed confectionary genius Willy Wonka after he closed his London sweets factory. The chocolate bars kept coming, but as an old hobo says outside the factory gates, "nobody ever goes in ... and nobody ever comes out!" Huh, that's certainly a noodle scratcher. Wonka eventually emerges in the form of Gene Wilder doing a somersault, leading five "lucky" kids on a tour through his bonkers facility where little orange midgets use three times the national defense budget to make candy. How eccentric!
- Dracula, 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' (1992)
Somewhere along the foggy outskirts of Transylvania lurks the mysterious Count Dracula, who for years (or is that centuries?) has sequestered himself inside a foreboding castle that looks like somewhere Skeletor might live. By the power of Grayskull! Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) comes calling to arrange real estate dealings for the Count, and finds a desiccated white skinned dude with a taste for the red stuff (we don't mean wine). The ancient vampire's been keeping himself busy with his three hot, perpetually naked wives (including Monica Bellucci) but decides to leave it all behind once his heart is stolen by well-known heart thief Winona Ryder.
- Charles Foster Kane, 'Citizen Kane' (1941)
Perhaps the most famous "famous last words" in film history are when rich industrialist Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) utters the enigmatic word "Rosebud…" before dramatically croaking. Ensconced in his sprawling estate known as Xanadu, Kane is not unlike Howard Hughes or the media magnate William Randolph Hearst --the latter of whom he's modeled after -- in his need to take on the world through empire building only to ultimately seek isolation from the throngs of humanity. Then we found out "Rosebud" was his sled.
- Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, 'Grey Gardens' (1975)
The Maysles Brothers found elderly Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale living an eccentric life as recluses in a dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons. Relatives of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, their existence as a tragically homebound/co-dependent mother-daughter pair, singing, sunning, and arguing the days away, turned them into cult icons after the doc was released. Little Edie in particular, with her trash chic clothes and curious energy, became a fashion icon. This doc may seem like the stuff of gothic fiction, but it's all real, eventually inspiring a Broadway musical and an HBO movie.
- Bruce Wayne, 'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012)
No longer the young buck kickin' ass and takin' names, the Batman that rode off on his motorcycle in a blaze of pyrrhic triumph at the end of "The Dark Knight" is now a hobbled, broken man. In the eight years since he took the fall for Harvey Dent's crimes, Wayne (Christian Bale) has resigned himself to Howard Hughes-style seclusion in his palatial mansion, growing a sick goatee and walking around on a cane. That is, until a bright young cop named John "Robin" Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) inspires him to take on the mantle and fight the forces of The League of Shadows once more.
- Boo Radley, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (1962)
Solitude gives way to the stuff of legend as Arthur "Boo" Radley's appearance (played with quiet dignity by Robert Duvall) is threaded very carefully throughout this adaptation of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. At a crucial moment he saves the lives of young Scout and Jem, the story's child protagonists, but is spared the spotlight for his heroism. Like Salinger, Lee also sought a private life away from the public eye, and like her character of Boo she made a heroic stance against Southern racial injustice with her book. Perhaps a passage from the book made by Jem explains the reclusiveness of both author and character: "Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time… it's because he wants to stay inside."
- William Forrester, 'Finding Forrester' (2000)
So little is known about J.D. Salinger that it would be hard to make a proper biopic, so Gus Van Sant went the fictionalized route and gave us a character with similar mystique in the form of Sean Connery's William Forrester. Living an anonymous existence in the Bronx, Forrester is agoraphobic, so tormented by past trauma he never leaves his apartment, but an inner-city youth named Jamal (Rob Brown) with a gift for writing discovers this old timer is the author of famous one-and-done novel 'Avalon Landing' (a stand-in for "The Catcher in the Rye"). Together they form a mentor-mentee bond that brings Forrester out of his shell. It's a fun literary fantasy for any aspiring writer who ever wished Salinger was their bestest pal, although we're pretty sure J.D. would have never said, "You're the man now, dawg!"
- Howard Hughes, 'The Aviator' (2004)
"The way of the future… way of the future… way of the future…" One of the most famous real-life recluses of all-time was given a sterling biopic via Martin Scorsese as star Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed the original "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" Howard Hughes. (Sorry, Tony Stark.) Granted, this film mostly gives us the semi-functional Hughes before he gave way in later life to utter delusion, growing out his fingernails, wearing tissue boxes as shoes and keeping jars of his own urine. We still get crazy OCD Hughes action, though, including sequestering himself in his screening room for years, and repeating mantras uncontrollably… "way of the future… way of the future…"
- Margot Tenenbaum, 'The Royal Tenenbaums' (2001)
Harsh stuff your dad said: "You used to be a genius… Anyway, that's what they used to say." That's the disgraced Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) giving his adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) a stern talking to after discovering she's been cheating on her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray). An acclaimed playwright since she was a teenager, Margot's early confidence has dissolved in a haze of extramarital affairs and chronic writer's block that's prevented her from completing a play in seven years. She spends most of her days soaking in a bathtub alone, ignoring her husband, and since Murray is said hubby it's safe to say intense depression is at the root of it. Who wouldn't want to spend all day with Bill Murray, right? Wes Anderson's Tenenbaum family was in fact inspired by Salinger's Glass family of characters, one of whose married name is "Tannenbaum."