J.D. Salinger published at least nine books during his lifetime, but he's most famous for writing what is considered one of the best American novels, Catcher in the Rye. The story revolves around the high school life of Holden Caulfield and has resonated with teens for decades. Salinger had an interest in teenagers outside of his literature, however: The reclusive author had a lifelong attraction to young women. Salinger's girlfriends and lovers were often barely women at all, as the older man often pursued girls who were half his age. He eventually married a 21 year old when he was in his late 60s.
In the late '80s, when Salinger was in his 60s, he met 21-year-old Colleen O'Neill and became infatuated. There are multiple stories about how the pair met. In one, Salinger met O'Neill on a bus and began inundating her with letters. In another, they met at the New Hampshire Cornish fair, which O'Neill directed each year. Former Cornish town clerk, Burnace Fitch Johnson, said:
Jerry used to come and walk around the fairgrounds with her. Colleen would have to repeat things to him when people spoke to him, because he’s quite deaf.
The two married in 1988 and lived a relatively secret life. The New York Times revealed their partnership in 1992 when they reported on a fire at Salinger's house. The article called O'Neill Salinger's wife. They also remarked that O'Neill was "considerably younger than her husband."
At a 1954 party in Cambridge, Salinger met 19-year-old Radcliffe student, Claire Douglas. Salinger was in the process of creating character Franny Glass, who appears in "Franny," published in The New Yorker, as well as in his novel Franny & Zooey. Scholars have noted that Douglas bore an uncanny resemblance to Franny. In 1955, Salinger and Douglas married, and they had two children together.
During their marriage, Salinger was rarely home: He often retreated to his studio, leaving Douglas to care for their children. Douglas began to suffer physical effects from Salinger's treatment, and she filed for a divorce in 1966. Her lawyer said:
[Salinger] has declared that he does not love her and has no desire to have their marriage continue, by reason of which conduct the libelant has had her sleep disturbed, her nerves upset and has been subjected to nervous and mental strain, and has had to seek medical assistance to effect a cure of her condition, and a continuation of the marriage would seriously injure her health and endanger her reason.
At age 22, Salinger fell for Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, when she was only 16 years old. They dated over the summer of 1941, but the relationship ended months later when Salinger joined the armed forces during WWII.
The friend who introduced Oona and Salinger, Gloria Murray, compared Oona to Jackie Kennedy. She said of the teen:
Oona had a mysterious quality to her... She was quiet, but she was stunning in her beauty. You just couldn’t take your eyes off her. My mother took Salinger over to meet Oona and he fell for her on the spot. He was taken with her beauty and impressed that she was the daughter of Eugene O’Neill. They dated when they got back to New York.
The two broke up after a few months, and Oona married famous actor Charlie Chaplin; Chaplin was 55, and Oona was 18. After their marriage, Salinger sent Oona a series of "nasty" letters.
In 2014, Jean Miller revealed that she had a five-year relationship with Salinger, which began when she was 14 years old — Salinger was 30. Miller says the two of them met at a Sheraton hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. Miller was reading Wuthering Heights by the pool, when Salinger approached her and said, "How is Heathcliff?"
They were friends for five years, consummated their relationship once, and then Miller only saw him one more time during her life. She said Salinger spoke to her in an adult way, asking her questions like, "Do you believe in God?" Miller said that no adult had ever spoken to her that way.