What do Prince Harry, tennis champion Andre Agassi, Nike founder Phil Knight, and Willie Sutton, the robber who never fired a shot, have in common? A biography written by the ghost writer J. R. Moehringer, capable of transforming the lives of others into highly successful bestsellers. Moehringer – who is 58 years old, is married to editor Shannon Welch and has two children – turns everything he touches to gold. Spare, the biography of the UK’s backup heir – or lesser as the title has been translated into Italian – broke all sales records for a non-fiction work on its first day of publication, even beating Michelle and Barack Obama: 1.43 million copies.
Absolute Sales Record
“The only books that have gone faster on the first day on sale are those of the other Harry, Harry Potter,” said publisher Larry Finlay, of giant Penguin Random House. Within a week of its release, worldwide copies have increased to 3.2 million, of which 1.6 million in the US and eight hundred thousand in the United Kingdom. Extraordinary circulation also for the Italian edition edited by Mondadori, five hundred thousand copies, of which one hundred thousand have already been sold. The book ranks first. The success of the Open was similar, the epic story of one of the greatest tennis champions of all time, which in our country has exceeded seven hundred thousand. But how does the ghost writer work? “You try to put yourself in their shoes, and even if you’re thinking in the third person, you write in the first person,” J. R. Moehringer explained on American public radio. The real author of the book – signed by another – comes to identify with the person he is writing about, to the point of becoming “his mirror image of him” of him.
Even Ghost Writers Have a Life
As he recounted in his gripping memoir Bar of Great Expectations, which last year became a film directed by George Clooney and starring Ben Affleck, Moehringer grew up with his mother on Long Island, in a town called Manhasset, where Francis Scott Fitzgerald set The Great Gatsby. The title bar – which was called Dickens, another expert author of orphans and touching stories – became for him “the link of each rite of passage with the previous and following one”, and provided him with the father, or fathers, of which he needed. Of his real parent, who worked on the radio as a deejay and who had abandoned him, today he remembers above all his voice: «he had that nice Paul Robeson tonality, and when he wasn’t talking, he put on incredible records. If he listens to certain songs by Stevie Wonder or Van Morrison, I seem to hear him again ».
“I just want to write,” says a young Moehringer to a priest who asks him about his plans for the future, over a glass of whisky. After studying at Yale, Moehringer began his career as a journalist: he took his first steps at the New York Times, wrote for the Rocky Mountain News in Colorado, and finally, in 1994, landed at the Los Angeles Times. He won the Pulitzer in 2000 for his portrayal of Gee’s Bend, an isolated river community in Alabama where many descendants of slaves live.
Moehringer knows how to move readers to empathy. An article by him about a homeless man, who turns out to be the legendary boxing champion Bob Satterfield, becomes the basis for the 2007 film The revenge of the champion, with Samuel L. Jackson. But the big blow came about ten years ago, when Andre Agassi read The Bar of Great Expectations and was struck by it. He too has a story to tell. The winner of sixty ATP titles and eight Slams is a great champion, but also a complex person, with a difficult past: a failed marriage with actress Brooke Shields, alcoholic raids, and of course also a difficult relationship with his father, ex violent and authoritarian Armenian boxer, who forces Andre and his brothers to grueling workouts.
Global Success With Agassi and Harry
Open is a worldwide success, which definitively consecrates Moehringer as a ghost writer. Then the author falls in love with the story of Willie Sutton, a legendary bank robber who has never killed anyone. A sort of Robin Hood of the Great Depression, who died in 1980 at the age of 79. Full day is a book that overflows with romance, and that Moehringer signs with his real name. The author instead returns to the shadows with The art of victory (2016), the autobiography of the founder of Nike, Phil Knight – the man of the Swoosh, the unmistakable logo of the company.
Finally, the bestseller of the year. The problematic relationship with the father figure is the common thread that binds all of Moehringer’s books, and Prince Harry could only turn to him, to write about his childhood with King Charles III. “He never forgot that I didn’t like the dark, so he stroked my face until I fell asleep,” Spare reads. “Aside from those fleeting moments, however, Dad and I essentially coexisted. It was difficult for him to communicate, to listen, to express his feelings face to face». It seems that it was George Clooney who recommended Moehringer as a ghost writer.
In the UK, some question certain reconstructions of events. “The line between memory and fact can be blurred,” admits Moehringer, who cut the first draft with an ax to get Spare’s 540 pages. “The hardest part was to remove,” admitted Harry, who eliminated certain details so as not to make the disagreement with the royal family irreversible. “My father and brother would never forgive me.” The important thing is to make the individual story universal, to make a life striving towards success, which faces tormented phases, become compelling. After Lady D’s death, Meghan Markle arrives as a saving angel: «I had the feeling that there could only be one face for me.
This article is originally published on ilgazzettino.it