ashland.news
June 14, 2024

OSF veteran depicts an actor’s haunting life in new novel

Scott Kaiser has published his first novel, "Harriman's Ghost." Kaiser had a 28-year association with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and now teaches at SOU.
May 25, 2024

Scott Kaiser’s book ‘Harriman’s Ghost’ contains dueling narratives of a troubled star of stage and screen

By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news

Using skills learned and honed from a lifetime in live theater, Scott Kaiser takes a novel approach to telling a complex tale of an actor’s hidden life in “Harriman’s Ghost.”



“Harriman’s Ghost” is Scott Kaiser’s first novel, but not his first writing effort.
He has written 23 books, including short stories, instructional guides to acting Shakespeare, and numerous plays and adaptations for the stage. He is a nationally recognized master teacher of acting and voice, as well as a director.



For 28 seasons he was on the staff at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he directed, adapted, coached or performed in every play in Shakespeare’s canon.
Kaiser has directed theater training programs at several universities, including Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Washington, Duke, Santa Clara, Seattle University, the University of Oregon and SOU.
Copies of “Harriman’s Ghost,” published by Muse of Fire Books, are $16 and are available at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland and at Amazon.com.
— Lee Juillerat

The book tells side-by-side stories of the life of the fictional Ben Harriman, a revered film and television star, and Janet Cooper, ghost writer of Harriman’s official biography. In “Harriman’s Ghost,” she is goaded into writing another book that unveils the truth about the actor’s troubled life.

“I’ve wanted to write a novel for some time,” said Kaiser, who has written numerous short stories, play adaptions and instructional guides, of what motivated him to writing “Harriman’s Ghost.”

Kaiser’s foray into writing a novel was delayed, he said, because “I wasn’t ready.… I knew I had a lot of craft to learn.”

After planning and writing “Harriman’s Ghost” over a multiyear period, it’s clear that he was ready. “Harrimans Ghost” is an absorbing, unpredictable page turner that probes into the often-haunting life of Harriman and the people he influences, including Cooper.

The narrative is told by Cooper, who after painful prodding, travels across the country seeking to uncover the untold truths that Harriman has often inflicted on his former wives, children and countless others. Those chapters are framed within pages from Harriman’s “official” biography, versions that frequently sugar-coat reality.

“Harriman had an influence of everybody in his life,” Kaiser said. “His influence is on everybody’s life he touched.” Even after his mysterious death, “He continues to live in the minds and hearts of people.”

Kaiser, 64, said he’s able to tell the story from Cooper’s vantage because of his life in theater and teaching — he’s currently an intern professor at Southern Oregon University. “Essentially, I was able to inhabit both characters.’

Likewise, Kaiser’s extensive theater background gives the story credibility. “My knowledge of the business of acting, in particular, comes from decades in the genre.… I lived this, I observed this. A sense of authenticity is what I wanted to create.”

Creating what he wanted was a challenge. Over the writing process Kaiser worked to refine and revise the story. “I probably cut more than you see in the novel,” he said, calling writing a novel as a “new craft,” one that he felt most comfortable doing in the morning. “I do my best work,” he laughingly explained, “right out of bed.”

“Harriman’s Ghost” is a what Kaiser terms a “showbiz” novel, and the young Harriman’s initial theater forays are with the Rogue Shakespeare Festival — “I didn’t want to use OSF’s (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) name” — while living in the Rogue Valley’s little town of Dismal. “I wanted it to be fictional. Throughout the book I’ve made up institutions.”

And even though “Harriman’s Ghost” is fiction, it includes real-life insights, including the frequency that actors, especially those who Jewish, change their names.

Especially insightful, however, is the Epilogue, in which Harriman speaks words that echo Kaiser’s thoughts on the importance of failure. As Harriman insists, “My advice is to fail. Fail repeatedly. Fail persistently. Fail spectacularly. Embrace failure as your friend, your teacher, your key signature, your credo, your lodestar. Because success in this business, in the end, comes from fearless trial and error, from repeatedly falling on your face and getting up again until you stumble onto something that works. Yes, you’ll get scratched and bruised and bloodied, you’ll curse the gods and revolve to quit. But get up anyway and try again.”

Kaiser is quick to emphasize the characters are his creations: “No one is based on someone I know or have known. It’s an amalgamation, it’s a stew.”

He added that, “While some of the questions haunting Cooper are answered, others are not. That’s intentional.”

“I like,” Kaiser admits, “ending it somewhat unresolved.”

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net.

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