Of course I believe in ghosts. I’ve been one. So have most writers who detoured through public relations on the way to more honourable callings. Chances are they’ve ghostwritten letters, speeches, articles, even books, not to mention jokes, apologies, eulogies, and marriage proposals. In public relations, things are not as they seem.
For some years, I ghost wrote annual reports for the president of the institution that employed me and letters, articles and briefs for the president of an organization I volunteered with. I received no public credit for these editorial misrepresentations. Ghosts rarely do.
Looking back on my time as a ghost, I sometimes wonder about the ethics of it. Oh, I know that moralists say there is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward. But the officials I wrote for were putting my best foot forward as if it were theirs. This is troubling. I agreed to give them some of my prose, not one of my feet.
Writing isn’t the only craft that relies on ghosts. Singing, dancing, instrumental performing, and acting do as well. In Hollywood musicals of the 1930s and ‘40s, characters were expected to break into song without notice. If they weren’t able to, they lip synched to ghosts. This could be disconcerting when different ghosts sang for the same actors in subsequent movies. You didn’t know whether to admire the actors’ versatility or scorn their inconsistency.
I was really disappointed to learn that one of my favourite tap dancers didn’t sing any of her songs and another sang only some. Now, when I watch DVDs of their movies, the knowledge that I’m listening to ghosts detracts from the magic. I can’t get used to the idea that my favourites are deliberately deceiving me.
At least their dancing is authentic. Or so I thought until I discovered that an uncredited body double danced for the star in a more recent Hollywood movie. So now when I sample my DVDs I can’t help wondering whether that’s really Eleanor Powell, Vera Ellen, George Murphy, or Gene Kelly. Or is it only a series of uncredited ghosts?
Characters in the old musicals weren’t just expected to sing without warning. Many were also expected to accompany themselves or others on the piano, and a few did. The rest faked it while ghost pianists, unseen and unacknowledged, made them sound and look good.
Not all ghosts are unheralded. Paramount Pictures credited a couple of jazz musicians who ghosted for Fred Astaire and Burgess Meredith in a movie about rival trumpet players vying for the same woman. I don’t know why the studio revealed the fraud. Maybe Fred and Burgess were afraid that if it didn’t they’d have to join the musicians’ union.
A fellow musician and I used to take turns ghosting for a friend who enjoyed pretending that he could play the trumpet after just three lessons. But we only did it at parties and never for pay.
A consummate mimic, the would-be musician weaved and swiveled convincingly, fooling most of the partygoers. He continued to fool them when he held the trumpet with one hand and waved with the other. He even fooled a few when he put the horn to the side of his head and signaled that he was playing by ear. He fooled only a couple, though, when he pretended to play through his naval.
The first Hollywood ghosts, I suspect, were stunt men, now known as stunt persons (to include women) or stunt performers (to include other species) or stunt doubles (to include – I’m not sure what they include. Maybe conjoined twins). Anyhow, stunt men, women, performers or doubles replace actors in scenes too dangerous or difficult for them to play.
The depth of the duplicity is stunning. Why, a series of aptly chosen ghosts can make a tone deaf wimp with two left feet seem like a melodious daredevil with wings on his shoes.
But human ghosts can’t match their digital counterparts in deception. Digital ghosts regularly correct the pitch in vocal and instrumental performances and even remove wrong notes. So if you want a career as a singer, but can’t carry a tune, don’t worry. Your digital ghost can carry it for you.
If you want a career as a cover girl, but don’t have the desired look, take heart. Your other digital ghost can make your skin clearer, your teeth straighter, your lips poutier and your body slimmer.
The Gospel tells us that Satan is the father of lies. I sometimes wonder whether he has anything to do with ghosting. He’s a spirit, you know.