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Ghost walk

Posted by Masakim on October 24, 2003

In Reply to: Ghost walk posted by R. Berg on October 24, 2003

: : : I am looking for the origin and meaning of the phrase "ghost walk" in theatre meaning to get paid. I have heard it many times and have no earthly clue as to where it might have come from or why it comes to have that particular meaning. Any ideas out there?

: : I have a vague recollection of a discussion where someone said it's a reference to the ghost of Hamlet's father.

: That discussion may be in the archives, but I couldn't find it. From Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases":

: 'The ghost walks on Friday'; 'the ghost does not walk'; 'when will the ghost walk?'; 'has the ghost walked yet?' There is - or is not - any money for salaries and wages; when will there be - has there been - such money? These are theatrical catchphrases, dating from the 1840s; the first printed recording was in 'Household Words', 1853. The origin: . . . 'Hamlet', I, i. [Robert Claiborne's] suggestion, 1977, 'Could it be that, given the last cast of that play, the company business manager often "doubled" as the ghost?' may be right.

the ghost walks.
It's payday and the all salaries will be paid; said to have originally been a 19th-century British theatrical expression. A company doing _Hamlet_ had been paid for a month or so. When during a performance Hamlet exclaimed "Perchance 'twill walk again," the actor playing the ghost answered from the wings, "No, I'll be damned if the ghost walks any more until our salaries are paid." That night the salaries were finally paid.
From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins", Revised and Expanded Edition_ by Robert Hendrickson
If I played with applause, it was a matter of indifference whether "the ghost" walked on Saturday or not. (R. Dyer _Nine Years of Actor's Life_, 1833)
When no salaries are forthcoming on Saturday the "ghost doesn't walk." (_Household Words_, September 24, 1835)
An Actor's Benevolent Fund box placed on the treasurer's desk every day when the ghost walks would get many an odd shilling or six-pence put into it. (_Referee_ June 24, 1883)