If Matt Salinger had serious aspirations as a writer, he might have suffered the plight of living in his father's shadow. But the son of J.D. Salinger--author of the classic novel of teen-age Angst , "Catcher in the Rye"--aspired from an early age to be an actor.
"When I began, it was very important for me to succeed or fail based on my talent alone," says Salinger. Early on, he considered adopting a stage name, "but never very seriously.
"I love my father and I'm proud of him and I wouldn't feel psychologically comfortable formally hiding who I am and who my parents are."
Matt, now 30, landed his splashiest role last year when he starred in "Captain America," based on the popular comic book character. But the action-adventure, produced by 21st Century Films, is still without a release date at Columbia Pictures.
The movie has the hero on a mission in World War II, frozen in ice for 40 years, returning to deal with a vastly changed world, and to fight for justice.
"The script (by Stephen Tolkin) was wonderful," says the athletic Salinger, who stands 6 feet 4. "I loved the character. . . ."
But not the shoot. Salinger claims that cost-cutting measures were taken that damaged the picture, including scenic locations scratched from the schedule.
"There wasn't a day in Yugoslavia that we got (on film) everything that we were supposed to. The bottom line is, we never finished the film."
(Producer Menahem Golan insists he spent the entire $12 million originally budgeted for "Captain America." He considered shooting a new ending, he adds, but opted to use the one already shot. "The film is finished," Golan says flatly.)
Raised in rural Vermont, Matt Salinger was educated at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. (actor James Spader was a classmate), Princeton and Columbia University. While in New York, he also studied with Lee Strasberg, had a regular role on the CBS daytime drama "One Life to Live," and appeared in a number of stage productions.
But it was a 1984 play at the Zephyr Theater in Los Angeles that got him "some attention and an agent," says Salinger, who now lives in Malibu. "I've worked pretty steadily since then."
He's logged a resume of impressive film and TV credits, including director Sidney Lumet's "Power," the title role in CBS' "The Hunt for Claude Dallas," and the lead in another CBS movie, "Deadly Deception."
Admitting to "a period of bitterness and frustration" over "Captain America," Salinger's now in a happier mood. He and his wife Betsy welcomed their first child on Aug. 29.
"It's been a real period of re-assessment," Salinger says. "I've made a lot of choices about how I want to live my life--about what I would want to hold up to (my son) for scrutiny and be proud of."
Appearing in at least one stage production yearly, he's turned down a number of TV pilot offers, he says, and is now developing his own projects with partners.
Earnest, talkative and open, he tenses a bit when a reporter turns the subject to his famous, press-shy father.
Some in Hollywood have tried to use Matt to get to his father, who has steadfastly refused to sell film rights to "Catcher in the Rye" since its publication in 1951.
"I've had a lot of pretty unseemly approaches to that, to get my help," Matt says. "He (J.D.) believes strongly that it should exist in the reader's mind.
"And I say, 'Good for him.' "