12 November, 2010

The greatest artists you never saw

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday November 12, 2010

Who can ever forget Marni Nixon? What a wonderful voice - remember her "Shall we dance" from The King and I? Or "Tonight" and "I feel pretty" in West Side Story? And how about "I could have danced all night" from My Fair Lady? That beautifully clipped English soprano voice.

What's that you say? I'm thinking of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn? No, sorry. They were the faces you saw on the screen. The voices were all Marni Nixon, the greatest singer you’ve never seen - the ghost singer.

What about you, have you ever been a ghost? I'm sure you have. In fact to be successful in business you have to be able to do it without (too much) resentment.

Those times when you did a job exceptionally well, beautiful work in record time - and you had to let your boss take all the credit.

Or the times when you have given your staff the credit and praised them to the sky. Even though you knew it would never have happened if you had not had the idea in the first place - or been there to push them along even as they told you what a dumb idea it was.

The world of art is full of ghosts. There are so many people who want to be artists. So few who have any talent.

So you get ghost writers providing the words for the rich, the famous, and the wannabes.

Like British Big Brother Peter Bennett who has made a career out of being famous. In 2006 he published an autobiography, Pete My Story, and did the usual book tours. In one interview he was surprised to hear what he had written. His publicist commented, "You really should have read it, Pete".

Even an experienced journalist like Merle Ginsberg must have struggled to ghost Paris Hilton's autobiography Confessions of an Heiress. Maybe that's why sections feature the diaries of chihuahua Tinkerbell.

If you feel that the world needs to hear your story, go for it. Biographers are not that dear. In fact one Indian web company sells articles and books at $8 for the first 350 words and then $2 per 100 words (I hesitate to write this with my editor looking over my shoulder...).

There are now companies that produce e-books and sell them on the web at reasonable prices. They cover every topic in the world: how to write a wedding speech, teach yourself guitar, stocks and shares for beginners, and so on.

You can set up one of these companies yourself. Can't write? Don't worry - your teams of Indian writers can churn out the copy as fast as you can post it on the net. You cover those costs in the first few paid downloads, as you Google Adwords the titles all around the world.

Painters have always used their "assistants", from Michelangelo to Rembrandt to Rubens. More recently Andy Warhol blatantly called his studio "The Factory", with art assistants churning out his Campbell's Soup and Chairman Mao and Marilyn Monroe.

Just this week his Elizabeth Taylor portrait, copied from a Life magazine photo, sold for $63 million. Did he paint it? Probably, possibly, what does it matter? There's a blurred link between the artist and the ghost.

They called Marni Nixon "The ghostess with the mostest" and there's irony in the tail. While the beautiful, enchanting actresses have all passed on, their ghost is still living and singing at 81. She gave a concert in California just last month.

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