What if Ghost The Musical was written by a Ghost?

A friend of mine wrote a book.

Wait, that’s not entirely accurate.

A friend of mine made it look like he wrote a book.  The truth is, he had it written by someone else.  A ghost.  (Insert spooky music here, or this from the upcoming musical version of Ghost.)

And in the publishing world, hiring a ghostwriter is a lot more common than you think.  It’s what a lot of people do if they (or someone else) think there is a market (translation: money to be made) in the written word of that individual or in a particular subject.

Bill Clinton’s bio, Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, and yep, sorry to burst your bubble young female detectives, but even the Nancy Drew books.

And that’s what amazed me as I’ve been reading on the subject lately.  I always knew that business books and biographies were written by poltergeists-for-hire who for a fee will write your book and turn over ownership to you.  And in those genres, it makes a heck of a lot of sense, because without a Casper, the books probably wouldn’t have ever been written in the first place.

But fiction?

Yep.  And a lot of it.  (Some folks say as much as 40% of today’s books are ghosted.)

Ever wonder why your favorite mass paperback author can turn out a book a year 20 years in a row?  They might be incredibly prolific . . . or they might have a little supernatural aid.

So, of course, I wondered why it doesn’t ever happen in the theater?

What if someone like Neil Simon hired the brightest young comic mind he could find to churn out a new play for him.  The play would be produced, there would be a built in audience and a lot of press, and maybe it would get a head start in the market.

And I’m not saying the young comic Turk wouldn’t have Neil’s guiding hand along the way.  He’d be involved and it would have to meet his approval before it saw a day on the stage.

Could a successful songwriting team do it?  With as long as it takes a show to develop, maybe this is a way to have more musicals by some of our favorite writers?

Why doesn’t it happen?

Is it ego?  Is it that our genre of entertainment is more complicated than the novel and requires more collaboration?

Maybe a little of both.

But the real reason that we don’t have ghostwriters in the Broadway biz is that . . . despite a lot of cracks we take for being commercial . . . our art is too pure for that.   Sure, we’re the commercial theater, but we’re not in the mass commercialization business as much as it may seem.

Our passionate writers wouldn’t let someone else touch their ideas for all the gold in the world.

And that’s why ghosts don’t haunt Broadway, I’m proud to say, and never will.


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  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    Sadly, the way Broadway is today regarding straight plays, the great Neil Simon wouldn’t have the same career today he had back in the 60s and 70s, when I grew up and seeing a new Simon play every year was an annual ritual.
    And before you sprain your arm patting Broadway on the back for its “purity” let me introduce you to SHATNER’S WORLD, EVITA starring that brilliant actor Ricky Martin, and oh yeah…the abomination known as SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK.
    Pure my ass…

  • David Rigano says:

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree. Perhaps it doesn’t happen as much anymore, but I’d say the biggest reason we don’t have ghostwriters on Broadway is because the ghosts don’t remain anonymous. We call them Show Doctors instead, and they take credit for their work. Most recently, that I can remember, Thomas Meehan came in to fix Bombay Dreams when it came over the pond from London. Comden and Green wrote additional songs for Peter Pan. Jerry Herman wrote additional songs for A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. Still today, however, directors come in uncredited to fix shows that are in trouble. So, I’d say if we don’t have as many ghosts, it’s mainly because they won’t go without credit.

  • kevin says:

    What about (and I love the show) Man of LaMancha???? There were ghosts involved as I understand!!!!!

  • Ken Nowell says:

    Hm. My noble side recoils, but how fun it would be! Just imagine getting to write Stoppard’s next play. What’s that? Let me get a pen. M’kay, a play … a FUNNY play about … the drawing compass … a menage a trois between mountainclimbers scaling Everest and … Isaac Newton. Got it!

  • Roger says:

    There were a few ghost writers just last season. Brian Yorkey did major work on the book for Catch Me If You Can, and Rupert Holmes completely re-wrote Wonderland. Also, Priscilla’s book is the work of many writers (in addition the the 2 credited) – Tony Sheldon wrote most of his own material, for example.

  • Margie says:

    Unless Broadway has changed since the good’ole days when they were ALWAYS bringing in established writers (such as Joe Stein of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF fame) to “fix” the script, I think you night be mistaken. A “ghost” is exactly that — someone who remains hidden and nameless and faceless – but unless you have a superstar playwright, I think there’s still ghost writing going on VERY OFTEN with script doctors coming in to make things work.

  • There is a very big distinction between a ghost and a doctor.
    A ghost comes in before a word is written. The “named” author says, “Write this for me!” and the ghost does and gives up ownership. A doctor comes in to save a script, and may not receive credit, but usually retains ownership (or is at least paid that way).

  • There is, of course, the possibility that the shows credited to Shakespeare were written by someone else.
    Uncredited script doctoring does seem like ghostwriting to me. I was a little disappointed to discover that Neil Simon wrote the best one-liners in A Chorus Line.
    By the way many times, in the book world,ghostwriters are picking the brains of their clients, so the material is not solely created by the ghosts.
    My favorite story of an item that was ghosted is the famed letter to Mrs. Bixby from President Lincoln, as read in Saving Private Ryan. It was actually found in the scrapbook of Lincoln’s personal secretary, John Hay. Hay’s writing often used the word “tendering” and “beguiled” whereas Lincoln never used it. So scholars attribute the letter to Hay.
    Mahesh Grossman, author, Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger: How to Hire a Ghostriter Even if You’re on a Shoestring Budget http://www.WriteABookToday.com

  • Yosi Merves says:

    The post about show doctors receiving billing and hence no longer being ghosts seems to hit the issue on the head. On the other hand, by the definition of ghosting, wouldn’t many examples of it happening be unknown? Didn’t the last On the Town revival have unbilled choreography by Joey McKneely? I believe Scott Ellis also worked on Wonderland along with Rupert Holmes. Jerry Zaks often gets called in to lend support to shows in trouble. In the case of The Addams Family, he became the de facto director.
    I’m surprised no one has mentioned “The Producers” yet, where pretty much all the music was ghostwritten by Glen Kelly. Many shows of the last fifty years have ghostwriting in terms of musical arrangements and orchestrations due to musically illiterate composers or overworked orchestrators.
    I imagine ghosting can become tricky to navigate when it comes to royalties and compensation, more hands going into the weekly royalty pool.
    Broadway is far from a pure art form, with innumerable examples of decisions made for commercial rather than artistic reasons. I do not know how rampant ghosting is in theater as compared to other creative fields, but I don’t mind its’ presence as long as the contributions strengthen the show and it makes for interesting trivia and stories. The casting of Nick Jonas in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying is a different matter.

  • amnyc says:

    “our art is too pure for that. Sure, we’re the commercial theater, but we’re not in the mass commercialization business as much as it may seem.”
    It’s not just the artistic factors that makes Ghosting a musical highly unlikely. The economics of a ghosted book (where the writer gets paid to turn over all rights to the work) make sense- given a predetermined plot and characters, a writer should be able to turn around the content to make a quick deadline, and the compensation (paid in full upon delivery of the draft) is sufficiently generous to make up for the loss of subsequent residual income.
    Not so with musicals. A Broadway musical takes far more time to write and develop than a typical ghost-written book, so initial compensation to the ghost writers would be much higher. And after paying the writers generously, the musical still will need to be produced (and likely developed even further), so the amount of money to be paid up front would represent a significant cost in the musical’s production budget. I’m not sure there are any producers who would be willing to take that gamble.
    Furthermore, the only way to lower the ghosting fee would be to grant the writers more of a stake in the royalties of a show- including film/TV rights, writing and publishing royalties, recording royalties, secondary licensing, etc. The more of these contracts signed, the less likely the ghost would be able to stay hidden in the shadows, thus defeating the whole point of the ghostwriting process.

  • Michael L. says:

    I know “Jane Martin” is a pseudonym, but we could say that her alter ego (Jon Jory, anyone?) is her ghostwriter.

  • Duane Kelly says:

    How reliable is your source of information that “Dreams From My Father” was ghostwritten? I once heard Frank Rich give a lecture about that book and he certainly had no doubt that Obama wrote it. Not that Frank Rich has always been right.

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