Happy Halloween! It’s time to talk about ghost writers! Not the lingering spirits of tormented authors, though they are all around us. S’up Ernest. No, rather the real writers behind the big names. Did you know that, among others, James Patterson and Alexandre Dumas have used them? They’re not spooky like actual ghosts, they’re only scary when it comes to the realm of egomania and intellectual property. But they are interesting.
It was news to me that famous authors use ghostwriters. I thought ghostwriters worked mainly for celebrities whose perfume lines hadn’t done well so they were moving on to books. Or perhaps for survivors of freak accidents and weird events who had interesting stories to tell but weren’t writers themselves.
Perhaps the tale I am about to tell you is something like the former. A famous person, though not a writer, who employed a very, very famous writer to pen his story for him. You guessed it. I’m talking about Harry Houdini employing H. P. Lovecraft. I knew you’d get it. Well done. Well done for anticipating that one.
Images Via CBS and Wikipedia
At the time, Houdini was far, far better known than Lovecraft. In fact, Lovecraft lived and died in Providence, Rhode Island pretty much in poverty. He never gained much attention during his lifetime and was published only in pulp magazines, such as Weird Tales. It was when Weird Tales was struggling financially that editor J. C. Henneberger contacted Lovecraft about ghostwriting for master escape artist Harry Houdini, as he felt something from Houdini would boost sales of the magazine.
Image Via Wild About Houdini
Lovecraft wrote ‘Imprisoned with the Pharaohs’ and was paid $100 for his trouble. Houdini became an instant fan of Lovecraft. The story was re-published, titled “Under the Pyramids,” and Lovecraft received a mention. In 1926, Houdini asked him to ghostwrite an essay on superstition, but sadly Houdini’s untimely death the following year put an end to the project.
The Cancer of Superstition was partially completed by Lovecraft and a collaborator, C. M. Eddy, Jr. In 2016, a collection belonging to a magic shop was discovered to contain a copy of the manuscript. The Guardian reported:
According to Potter & Potter Auctions of Chicago, the 31-page typewritten manuscript was discovered in a large collection of memorabilia from a now-defunct magic shop. Part of the collection consisted of papers kept by Houdini’s widow, Beatrice, and her manager, Edward Saint.
The manuscript concludes: ‘Most of us are heathens in the innermost recesses of our hearts.’
I love bizarre celebrity interactions and have definitely added this to the list of my favorites, which is topped by the fact that Samuel Beckett used to drive Andre the Giant to school when Andre the Giant was Andre the Giant Child. It’s also a unique interesting instance of ghostwriting because ghostwriters typically gain no attention personally at all, while Lovecraft went on to be posthumously recognized as one of the greatest horror writers of the twentieth century.
Featured Image Via IGN