Michael Moats in The Awl:
Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye. This excerpt is from a longer essay, “The Real Holden Caulfield,” available at the Fiction Advocate.
It was either dumb luck or artistic excess that led Salinger to give his most sentimental and developmentally arrested character the name “Holden.” Salinger jammed his foot into the trap set by that name, and only managed to walk away because, as with everything about Holden, there is an authenticity that insulates him and his author from the annual term paper analyses that he is “holdin’ on to his innocence” or “holdin’ back his emotions.” According to one story, Salinger was walking through Manhattan some unassuming day in 1947 when he came across the marquee for the movie Dear Ruth, starring William Holden and Joan Caulfield. Side-by-side in marquee letters (in lights, as it were) were the words ‘Holden’ and ‘Caulfield.’ Another story carries over the Joan Caulfield connection, but instead claims that ‘Holden’ came from one of Salinger’s shipmates during his time as part of the entertainment crew on a cruise ship. The plot thickened in 2001 when Denver’s Rocky Mountain News printed the obituary of a man named Holden Bowler, an Idaho-born singer, ad man, 1932 U.S. Olympic athlete, and, in 1941, shipmate to J.D. Salinger on the cruise liner SS Kungsholm. According to Bowler’s widow, “Jerry told him, ‘What you like about Holden is taken from you, and what you don’t like about him, I made up.'” Salinger took no action to confirm or deny the story, nor did he ever comment on speculation that ‘Caulfield’ was pulled from Joan Caulfield.¹ Salinger’s daughter Margaret wrote that her father often complained about “giving his beloved characters ‘terrible’…names, such as Seymour, but that’s just what Seymour’s parents would have done, he said, so he had to do it even though it ‘nearly killed him.’”² So it simply may be that Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield are responsible. It may also be worth noting that the hero of David Copperfield, referred to by Holden in the opening sentences of The Catcher in the Rye, divulges in his own opening chapter that he was born with a caul. So perhaps there is some David Copperfield kind of crap in Holden’s story after all.