Ghost Light by Frank Rich
A Memoir

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There is a superstition that if an emptied theater is ever left completely dark, a ghost will take up residence. To prevent this, a single "ghost light" is left burning at center stage after the audience and all of the actors and musicians have gone home. Frank Rich's eloquent and moving boyhood memoir reveals how theater itself became a ghost light and a beacon of security for a child finding his way in a tumultuous world.

Rich grew up in the small-townish Washington, D.C., of the 1950s and early '60s, a place where conformity seemed the key to happiness for a young boy who always felt different. When Rich was seven years old, his parents separated--at a time when divorce was still tantamount to scandal--and thereafter he and his younger sister were labeled "children from a broken home." Bouncing from school to school and increasingly lonely, Rich became terrified of the dark and the uncertainty of his future. But there was one thing in his life that made him sublimely happy: the Broadway theater.

Rich's parents were avid theatergoers, and in happier times they would listen to the brand-new recordings of South Pacific, Damn Yankees, and The Pajama Game over and over in their living room. When his mother's remarriage brought about turbulent changes, Rich took refuge in these same records, re-creating the shows in his imagination, scene by scene. He started collecting Playbills, studied fanatically the theater listings in The New York Times and Variety, and cut out ads to create his own miniature marquees. He never imagined that one day he would be the Times's chief theater critic.

Eventually Rich found a second home at Wash-ington's National Theatre, where as a teenager he was a ticket-taker and was introduced not only to the backstage magic he had dreamed of for so long but to a real-life cast of charismatic and eccentric players who would become his mentors and friends. With humor and eloquence, Rich tells the triumphant story of how the aspirations of a stagestruck young boy became a lifeline, propelling him toward the itinerant family of theater, whose romantic denizens welcomed him into the colorful fringes of Broadway during its last glamorous era.

Every once in a while, a grand spectacle comes along that introduces its audiences to characters and scenes that will resound in their memories long after the curtain has gone down. Ghost Light, Frank Rich's beautifully crafted childhood memoir, is just such an event.

About Frank Rich

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Frank Rich served from 1980 to 1993 as the chief drama critic of The New York Times, and is now an op-ed columnist at the paper as well as senior writer for The New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York City with his wife, the writer Alex Witchel.
Published April 9, 2002 by Random House. 352 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, History, Business & Economics. Non-fiction

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(“How could she love a man who struck me?”) So Rich lost himself in show-biz reveries—listening to cast albums, hoarding playbills, longing to be “a part of it.” By high-school graduation, he had latched on to a pal whose father wrote musicals (including Fiddler on the Roof), worked as an usher a...

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Entertainment Weekly

Ex-New York Times drama critic Frank Rich seems to have emerged from the womb with an ear for a snappy show tune: At age five, he dissects songs from A Star Is Born;

Oct 27 2000 | Read Full Review of Ghost Light: A Memoir


As the chief drama critic of The New York Times from 1980 to 1994, Frank Rich was so powerful that the lights on a Broadway play could be darkened overnight by his criticism.

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