Who is J. R. Moehringer, Prince Harry’s ghostwriter?
As JOHN JOSEPH MOEHRINGER himself says, “the midwife does not go home with the child”. Such is the number of ghostwriters. Mr Moehringer could have been expected to adhere to his rule rigorously as he delivered the memoirs of Prince Harry’s toddler, “Spare”. But the hype surrounding the book has prompted Mr. Moehringer to vehemently defend its factual inaccuracies. On Twitter he quoted the prince, who says in “Spare” that his truth is as valuable as “so-called objective facts”. That sounds like a royal endorsement of “alternative facts.” Mr. Moehringer’s reluctance to step in on behalf of “Spare” may reflect the fact that the job is as much his as Prince Harry’s. From chimps to champs to presidents, it seems he can find a writing voice for anyone, and especially men with daddy issues (and a huge breakthrough). Who is Prince Harry’s ghostwriter?
Mr. Moehringer, born in 1964 in New York City, began working as a journalist at the New York Times. In 2000 he won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in the Los Angeles Times for a portrait of an isolated river community in Alabama populated by the descendants of slaves. His work wasn’t all that serious: he once inhabited the voice of Cheeta, the chimpanzee star of the 1930s Tarzan films, to write a piece marking the character’s 75th birthday.
The memories of Mr. Moehringer’s “The Tender Bar,” published in 2005, established his true authorial theme: how to survive dysfunctional families. He wrote about his absent, “brutally insensitive” and “self-destructive” father, a rock DJ. Raised by his mother with little money in a small apartment, his male role models were Uncle Charlie and his friends, who provided alcohol-soaked company at a local bar. George Clooney made the book into a movie in 2021.
The story of a lost boy searching for his true self caught the eye of Andre Agassi, a 1990s tennis star known for his wild beard. He asked Mr. Moehringer to help him write his memoirs. Faced, initially, with a Mr. Agassi completely “bare, resistant”, Mr. Moehringer opened his subject with about 250 hours of interviews. He even moved to Las Vegas to be near the tennis player. His process seems to bear a close resemblance to psychoanalysis. Prince Harry calls Mr. Moehringer his “confessor” in acknowledging his memoirs. Like the book “Spare” by Mr. Agassi, “The Open,” was surprisingly revealing. Turns out the Wimbledon winner hated tennis. Even the mullet was fake (to hide the baldness). And, of course, there was the emotionally distant father.
Moehringer later helped Nike co-founder Phil Knight, now a billionaire, write his memoir “Shoe Dog.” He enlivens the ragged pedestrian tale with his trademark staccato sentences. There are plenty of these in Spare, too. Prince Harry’s publishers, Penguin Random House, must have realized that the Moehringer template was a good fit for the prince; Mr Clooney, a friend of Prince Harry, is reported to have made the introductions. What suited the publishers may not have served Prince Harry best, who emerged with little dignity. But in an age of selfies and social media exposure, dignity won’t sell books. ■