I don’t know how I would react to fame, the ever-prying lenses of cameras, the crush of people’s expectations, the constant roar of the crowd. Fame kills, I think, and it does so without remorse.
When I was young and in need of heroes, I saw chess champion Bobby Fischer as a viable candidate. I played chess badly, and so it was that I admired a guy about my age who played better chess at 13 than most chess players will ever play in their prime.
As a writer in training, I grew up with the canon of literature as it was preached during the 1950s; I rebelled against it, and so it was that I admired a guy of my mother’s generation who brought the Caulfield and Glass families to life outside the scope of what my teachers taught.
No one likes to see their heroes rusting away with age and crumbling into apparently flawed and strange creatures. Perhaps neither man expected the fame he achieved or understood its dangers. Bobby Fischer became eccentric and mean spirited and J. D. Salinger hid away from the public eye with what, at times, was an admirable persistence and what, at other times, seemed more like a self-righteous disdain for the rest of the world.
Rightly or wrongly, I am disappointed in both men because each of them threw his talent away. If Bobby’s mission was chess and if Jerry’s mission was short stories and novels, then let the vicissitudes of fame be damned and find a way to stay on course.
Bobby’s chess, including his innovations for the game, will continue to influence prospective masters who might benefit from his contributions to openings and end games. Jerry’s “The Catcher in the Rye” may well fade with time as its focus becomes more and more dated, but his writing brought us more than that in his sparse, but strong collected works. And perhaps there’s more, novels and stories sequestered for years in a safe that may one day find a friendly light of day.
Bottom line, though, I disappointed in Jerry and Bobby because they both quit, perhaps for cause, but that’s ultimately the weakest of rationale.