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OSF veteran portrays haunting life of actor in new novel – Ashland News

OSF veteran portrays haunting life of actor in new novel – Ashland News


Scott Kaiser's book “Harriman's Ghost” contains the dueling tales of a troubled star of stage and screen.

By Lee Juillerat for

Using skills learned and honed during his life in the theater, Scott Kaiser takes an innovative approach to telling the complex story of an actor's hidden life in Harriman's Ghost.

Harrimans Ghost is Scott Kaiser's first novel, but not his first writing effort.
He has written 23 books, including short stories, teaching guides for performing Shakespeare, and numerous plays and stage adaptations. He is a nationally recognized master teacher of acting and voice, as well as a director.

For 28 seasons he was a staff member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he directed, adapted, coached or performed in all of Shakespeare's canonical plays.
Kaiser has led theater training programs at several universities, including Carnegie-Mellon, University of Washington, Duke, Santa Clara, Seattle University, University of Oregon, and SOU.
Copies of Harrimans Ghost, published by Muse of Fire Books, cost $16 and are available at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland and on
Lee Juillerat

The book tells side-by-side stories from the lives of the fictional Ben Harriman, a revered star of film and television, and Janet Cooper, ghostwriter of Harriman's official biography. In Harriman's Ghost, she is inspired to write another book that reveals 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 adaptations and teacher guides, which motivated him to write Harriman's Ghost.

The Kaiser's foray into writing a novel was delayed, he said, because I wasn't ready. I knew I had a lot of skills to learn.

After planning and writing Harriman's Ghost over a period of years, it's clear he was ready. Harrimans Ghost is a gripping and unpredictable page-turner that probes the often haunting life of Harriman and the people he influences, including Cooper.

The tale is told by Cooper, who, after painful prodding, travels the country in search of the unspeakable truths that Harriman often inflicted on his former wives, children, and countless others. These chapters are framed within pages of Harriman's official biography, versions that often sugarcoat reality.

Harriman had an influence on everyone in his life, Kaiser said. His influence spans the lives of everyone he touched. Even after his mysterious death, he continues to live on in people's minds and hearts.

Kaiser, 64, said he was able to tell the story from Cooper's perspective because of his life in theater and his teaching. He is currently a teaching fellow at Southern Oregon University. Essentially, I was able to inhabit both characters.

Likewise, Kaiser's extensive theater experience lends credibility to the story. My knowledge of acting, in particular, comes from decades in the genre. I experienced this, I observed this. A feeling of authenticity is what I wanted to create.

Creating what he wanted was a challenge. During the writing process, Kaiser worked to refine and revise the story. I probably cut out more than you see in the novel, he said, calling novel writing a new profession, one he felt most comfortable doing in the morning . I do my best, he explains, laughing as soon as he gets out of bed.

Harriman's Ghost is what Kaiser calls a showbiz novel, and young Harriman's first theatrical forays were with the Rogue Shakespeare Festival. I didn't want to use the name OSF (the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) when I lived in the small town of Dismal in the Rogue Valleys. I wanted it to be fiction. Throughout the book, I invented institutions.

And even though Harriman's Ghost is fiction, it includes insights into real life, including how often actors, especially those who are Jewish, change their names.

The epilogue, however, is particularly insightful, in which Harriman speaks words that echo Kaiser's thoughts on the importance of failure. As Harriman points out: My advice is to fail. Fail repeatedly. Fail persistently. Fail spectacularly. Accept failure as your friend, your teacher, your key signature, your credo, your shooting star. Because success in this business, ultimately, comes from fearless trial and error, repeatedly falling on your face and getting back up again until you stumble upon something that works. Yes, you will be scratched and bruised and bloody, you will curse the gods and you will turn around to stop. But get up anyway and try again.

Kaiser is quick to point out that the characters are his creations: No one is based on anyone I know or have known. It's an amalgam, it's a stew.

He added that “while some of the questions that haunt Cooper are answered, others are not. This is intentional.

I like it, Kaiser admits, putting an end to the somewhat unresolved problem.

Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at [email protected].




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