Mackenzie Phillips, Sarah Palin and ghost writers
The sordid tell-all by Mackenzie Phillips and Sarah Palin's upcoming memoir bring us to the issue of ghost writing. Palin has been upfront from the beginning about her collaboration with Lynn Vincent, but Phillips doesn't list any co-author. Ghosting has a long tradition among celebrities and athletes (and speechifying politicians of all parties), and author Gail Farrelly, a frequent contributor to Read Street, gives us her view:
When I read about celebrity memoirs, my thoughts turn to ghostwriters, since it's rare for celebrities to write their own books. The concept of ghostwriting has always intrigued me, because it's hard for me to understand the willingness to let your own words, the product of your brain and imagination, be published under someone else's name. On the positive side, though, if you love to write and are good at it, maybe ghostwriting is not a bad gig. You earn a living at what you like to do, make good contacts, and see your work in print.
Ghostwriter Sandford Dody (he died this year on July 4 at the age of 90) was the subject of a recent article Ghostwriter Struggled With Life in Shadows in the Wall Street Journal. Celebrities such as Bette Davis, Helen Hayes, and Robert Merrill were among his subjects.
My favorite story in the article was the one about the book, First Person Plural, he ghosted for silent-screen star Dagmar Godowsky. The article quotes the opening sentences of her memoir: "It is my tragedy that the years have deprived me of my bad reputation. At one time my notoriety assured me of a marvelous evening. Now, Euclid would be fascinated to know, my circle has been squared." Terrific writing, no? Godowsky tried to convince the publisher that she had written the book herself. No dice. "They talked to her and realized she hadn't even read it," reports Granville McGee, Sandford Dody's partner.
In 1980 Dody published his own memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Love the title. At that point (he somewhat softened his stance later), he was disgusted with celebrities and wrote, "The most suitable way to view stars is from a long way off.'' But in the 29 years since that comment was published, celebrities seem to be getting closer and closer. Right in our faces blabbing about their lives seems to be just where they want to be. Good grief! If they won't go away, couldn't they at least step back a little?
Although it seemed Dody didn't particularly like his ghostwriting job, one online commenter (Peter Parrott) to the Wall Street Journal article reported that his own dad, sportswriter and baseball executive Harold Parrott, a ghostwriter of many baseball books, was very proud of his work and "never seemed to think it diminished him." Interesting. But then Parrott also had (as his son describes) a very successful executive career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. In contrast, Sandford Dody was never a big success at the show business career he had once sought.
I wouldn't do well as a ghostwriter. No matter what the pay, I'd still be annoyed that the work wasn't acknowledged as mine. In addition, I'd be concerned that what I was writing wasn't true. I'm a compulsive fact checker; instead of getting on with the writing, I'd be out in the field checking and double checking. That wouldn't go over well with publishers these days!