The Bloggers
Subscribe to this Blog

'Giving Up The Ghost'

Joe Holley

Some years ago, I'd begin my workday by walking down the marble halls of a historic pink-granite building, settling in before my computer in a stately, high-ceilinged office and assuming my identity as a white-haired woman in late-middle age with a distinctive Texas twang and a salty wit known to the nation.

I became Ann Richards -- or, at least, her speechwriter.

As Sandford Dody, ghostwriter par excellence, observed in his book "Giving Up the Ghost: A Writer's Life Among the Stars," putting words in the mouth of someone else and making them sound like their own words is an unnatural act. "After all, how does one become a ghost without dying a little?" he asks, plaintively.

Dody, who died for real July 4, had mixed feelings about being a ghostwriter, although writing about Bette Davis, Helen Hayes and other stars of the stage and screen seems to have made him a good living. (Our archived obits, in PDF format, are here for Bette Davis and Helen Hayes.)

"Having started my career as a playwright with the encouragement of knowledgeable powers," he writes in his tart memoir, "fortified with a scholarship, a grant, the faith of a great literary agent, and the protection of and assistantship to one of the pundits of the drama, for whatever reason, I evidently lost confidence in my own ability to project my rocket to the moon, and I hitched my wagon to the stars instead."

For me, becoming Ann Richards was relatively easy, despite the fact that I'd never been a middle-aged woman, or the governor of Texas. Both of us were from Waco, so I had heard the easy rhythms of that Central Texas twang my whole life (mother, aunts, teachers). Once I got into the groove on a speech -- armed, of course, with what I knew she wanted to say -- I could hear that voice flowing through my fingers, becoming her words on the screen. Had I looked into a mirror at that point, I wouldn't have been altogether surprised to see my face wreathed in a white bouffant.

Go here to read Dody's obituary in The Washington Post and here for our Ann Richards obituary.

By Joe Holley |  July 29, 2009; 10:28 AM ET  | Category:  Joe Holley
Previous: The Daily Goodbye | Next: George Russell


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company