5 Cultural Icons Who Are More Elusive Than You Think

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What does JD Salinger have that Justin Bieber hasn’t? An air of mystique, that’s what.

In an age of social media when you not only know who Harry Styles is (when you probably shouldn’t), but you also know his inside leg measurement and what he’s had for breakfast (before he’s even had it), the romance of secrecy is a valuable commodity. In short: less in more.

So proves the anticipation surrounding Salinger, a documentary on the enigmatic author of The Catcher in the Rye (and not much else), due out this autumn. The film has taken nine years to make and, inexplicably, comes from the man who wrote the scripts for Bruce Willis/asteroid face-off Armageddon and Alien vs Predator

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What the film unveils is itself open to speculation. When probed earlier this year, Harvey Weinstein – the media mogul who repeatedly tried (and failed) to buy the rights to adapt Salinger’s stories and who snapped up Salinger – said: "It depends how you define a great revelation.”

Here’s the lowdown on JD Salinger and four other mysterious cultural icons:

JD Salinger
Salinger’s debut novel The Catcher in the Rye lists among the most influential books of the 20th century and is said to have spurred on numerous writers.

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It can also boast the dubious claim to being the inspiration behind the assassination of John Lennon and the shooting of President Ronald Reagan.

The impact on the career of the book's author was no less dramatic. Two years after its publication in 1951, Salinger fled New York, setting up home in a secluded compound in New Hampshire. Here, his output tailed off and he broke almost all contact with the media.

His last interview, in 1980, was seemingly made against his wishes. After an unsatisfactory adaptation of his short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, Salinger also made a point of refusing to sell the film rights of any of his work. He died in 2010, aged 91.

Was it just a monumental case of writer’s block? New film Salinger seems to suggests not. The documentary promises “unprecedented access” to the figures around the author, with teasing nods to "the biggest secret of [Salinger’s] lifetime": "two thick manuscripts".

Does this suggest the posthumous release of a massive body of work. Ahead of the film’s release it’s hard to say. In keeping with its subject — and what could prove to be a publicity masterstroke — the film’s maker Shane Salerno is refusing to do promotional interviews.

Daft Punk
Together, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo make up arguably the biggest musical act in the world right now. They’ve worked with Kanye West, composed the soundtrack to and starred in Disney blockbuster Tron: Legacy and of course this year have scored both a number one single and album.

But you’d struggle to pull either of them out of a Never Mind the Buzzcocks line-up. That’s because since the start of their career as Daft Punk, they’ve been obscuring their faces in public and since the early Noughties hiding beneath robot helmets.

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“We don’t want all the rock’n’roll poses and attitudes,” Bangalter said back in 1997, explaining why the duo didn’t want to put themselves out in the spotlight. “They are completely stupid and ridiculous today.”

The pair went as far as sticking black bags over their own heads during an interview with a Polish journalist in the mid-2000s.

But earlier this year, they did speak to Esquire’s own Alexis Petridis (sans bags). Read his piece here.

And, if you fancy cultivating a dangerous sense of ambiguity in your office, find out how to get your hands on your very own robot helmet here.

Thomas Pynchon
Since jumping out of the window of his Mexican home and jumping on a bus into the mountains to avoid a photographer in the early Sixties, author Pynchon has maintained a healthy aversion to publicity.

He refuses to talk to journalists and only a few photos of him exist, most dating back to his high school and college days.

Despite winning the National Book Award in 1974 for Gravity’s Rainbow, failed to turn up to collect his prize. This led to the theory in the mid-Seventies that Pynchon and JD Salinger were in fact the same person. Another rumour in the early Nineties supposed he was the Unabomber.

Meanwhile, a university friend interviewed by Playboy revealed that Pynchon claimed that the author was afraid of the limelight because he had a complex about his bad teeth.

In the Nineties, a CNN camera crew tracked Pynchon down to New York and filmed him in the street near his Manhattan home. After the author argued that the filming was an invasion of his privacy, when the network did show its three-minute reel of footage, it agreed not to identify the one-second clip that featured him.

That didn’t stop Pynchon from appearing in not one but two episodes of The Simpsons in 2004.

Burial
The identity of Burial has been the subject of fevered debate since the mysteriously hooded electronic musician dropped his debut in 2006. The heat was turned up a notch when his second album Untrue was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize, resulting in The Sun launching a campaign to expose the artist.

The tabloid was hoping for Fatboy Slim or Aphex Twin to be responsible. We were hoping the figure would be unmasked to reveal the old man from the petrol station, who would have got away with it if it wasn’t for us pesky kids.

In the end a rather ordinary-looking man called Will Bevan reluctantly stepped forward, posting a single photo of himself on MySpace. But that hasn’t stopped speculation.

In recent months, rumours that Burial and regular collaborator Four Tet (real name Kieran Hebden) are in fact the same person – no doubt encouraged by Hebden’s regular “I am Burial” tweets – have been circulating.

There’s even mutterings that you can see the Will Bevan from the MySpace picture in the background of Four Tet’s Boiler Room session (although that would suggest that you can see both Burial and Four Tet in the same room at the same time, debunking the theory? We’re confused). 

Bill Murray
The actor is said to have turned down roles ranging from Han Solo in Star Wars to Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story to Tim Burton’s Batman, but also of note is the list of roles he missed out on because nobody could get hold of him.

He was first choice for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, lined up for Noah Baumbauch’s The Squid and the Whale and didn’t make Wes Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket because he was driving around in a Winnebago.

After Ghostbusters, he switched his agent for an automated phone line that he rarely listened to and insisted that directors fax scripts to his local stationery store.

This isn’t to say Murray is publicity shy: in recent years, the actor has become known for his random appearances. When he’s not drunkenly stealing golf carts and driving through Swedish city centres, turning up at a house party and doing the washing up or bartending, he’s known to appear from nowhere in restaurants, steal a chip from a punter’s plate, before leaving with the words: “No one will ever believe you.” (This has in turn inspired this website dedicated to erratic Murray sightings.)

Two years ago, when asked for an autograph, he instead agreed to film this with the fans: