Born to a family of tradesmen in New York City, Charles Gayler began his career as a teacher before he moved to Ohio and worked as a journalist and editor. While there, he developed an interest in politics that led him to write songs and speeches for Whig Presidential candidate Henry Clay in the 1844 election. In 1846 he married Grace Christian, with whom he had eight children. While one source suggests that his wife was actress and fellow Pfaffian Getty Gay (Rawson 103), Thomas Butler Gunn indicates that Gay was Gayler’s mistress (10.34). According to Gunn, who describes Gayler's failed attempts to go home with a Mrs. Norris (nee Green), Gayler was not “constant to his mistress” (18.236).
A multi-skilled professional, Gayler edited the Cincinnati Evening Dispatch and later turned to acting in Shakespeare revivals and ultimately writing plays. His gold rush melodrama, The Buckeye Gold Hunters, was produced in Cincinnati in 1849. Flushed with this success, Gayler moved to New York and worked as a theatrical manager and producer of his own plays. His timely self-produced Bull Run, or the Sacking of Fairfax Courthouse opened on August 15, 1861 in the wake of the battle. He also wrote reviews for the Tribune (where Pfaff’s regular William Winter worked) and the Herald.
The bulk of his work consists of hundreds of comedies, operettas, tragedies, and melodramas. Called by James L. Ford “the father of American dramatists,” Gayler found success rooted in the New York theatrical scene, and some of his works use New York as a dramatic setting, such as Lights and Shadows of New York and his novel Out of the Streets, a Story of New York Life. His melodrama The Son of the Night: A Drama, in Three Days: And a Prologue (1857) was staged at New York’s Broadway Theatre in April 1857, and his popular Fritz, Our German Cousin opened at Wallack’s Theatre in 1870. Yet Clap mentions Gayler in a discussion of his appreciation for drama that isn’t necessarily “High Art” (Figaro 13 Feb. 1866), describing Gayler’s The Child-Stealer as an example of necessary “low comedy” (Miller 30). Gayler’s 1879 play Sleepy Hollow: or, The headless horseman: a comic pastoral opera in three acts adapts the fictional material of Washington Irving, a writer greatly admired by the frequenters of Pfaff’s.
Described by Thomas Butler Gunn as a “tall, burlylish man with an over-rich complexion...and plenty of self-esteem,” Gayler was a fixture on the Pfaff’s social scene (Sentilles). He was also a member of The Ornithorhyncus Club, a bohemian group which preceded the Pfaffians (Winter, Old Friends 308). Gayler was involved in several Pfaff’s-related publications as a writer or editor, including Momus and Yankee Notions. Gunn was critical of his editorial practices, calling him “an incompetent scissorist” who would tank Yankee Notions in six months (8.182). Gunn also writes that Gayler was to be Editor of an unnamed new publication which would be filled with “stealings” (plagiarized works and unpaid contributions (11.87). Paradoxically, Gayler was one of the men identified by Frank Bellew as "playwrights registering their dramatic works before the first copyright law went into effect" (Miller 52).
While his flowing beard often led visitors at Pfaff’s to mistake him for Walt Whitman, Gayler was a Pfaff’s regular long before Whitman arrived at the scene. A Brooklyn resident from Whitman’s neighborhood, as well as his predecessor at the Times, Gayler may have introduced Whitman to other Pffafians and inspired him with his career trajectory (Karbiener 13). Gayler’s relationship with Whitman appears to have soured, however, after Whitman replaced Gayler as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In 1860, a magazine edited by Gayler (Momus) "contained some verse in which Leaves of Grass was called ‘pestilent...rotten and foul’ and the author the ‘dirtiest beast of the age.’" Gay Wilson Allen suggests that this was a "grudge attack" prompted by Whitman’s succession of Gayler at the Times. According to Allen, Gayler lived near the Whitmans on Myrtle Avenue and never forgave Walt for replacing him at the Times (242). Gayler is listed as one of the “few survivors of the old assembly” who still gathered at Pfaff’s in the 1870’s after the bohemians left (Parry 61; Stovall 308).
A biography, timeline, and bibliography of Gayler's works, written and compiled by Lyn Ribisi, is available here.
Allen spells Gayler's name here as "Gaylor." According to Allen, Whitman got his job as an editor at the Brooklyn Daily Times because his political attitudes were in line with the paper and because Gaylor had been fired for refusing to "read proof on the job printing." Allen speculates that Gaylor may have been feeling "independent" in the spring of 1857, having had two plays produced in New York in 1856 and 1857. Also, his duties at the Times may have increased at this time, with George C. Bennett, the owner of the Times, looking to expand (208).
In April, 1860, a comic magazine named Momus debuted, edited by Gaylor. Allen writes that "it contained some verse in which Leaves of Grass was called 'pestilent...rotten and foul' and the author the 'dirtiest beast of the age.'" Allen feels this was a "grudge attack" prompted by Whitman's succession of Gaylor at the Times. According to Allen, Gaylor lived near the Whitmans on Myrtle Avenue and never forgave Walt for replacing him at the Times (242).[pages:208,242]
A playwright. He was part of the "fraternity" that met at Pfaff's resturant, that "had late suppers, and were brilliant with talk over beer and pipes for several years." Browne claims "Those were merry and famous nights, and many bright conceits and witticisms were discharged over the festive board" (156-7).[pages:156-157]
Figaro notes that Gayler has a new piece that is set to debut in Boston. Gayler's Child Stealer will be performed at Wood Theatre in New York during the coming week (89).[pages:89]
Figaro mentions Gayler when discussing his appreciation for drama that isn't necessarily "High Art" (72). Figaro also mentions Gayler's Child Stealer (73).[pages:72,73]
Figaro mentions Gayler's The Child-Stealer set to be performed in New York; it had already run in Philadelphia (8).[pages:8]
Figaro writes that Gayler has sent him the plot of his Child Stealer, which will soon be seen at Wood's Theatre (104).[pages:104]
Figaro refers to his past week's remarks about Gayler's Child Stealer (40).[pages:40]
Figaro threatens to have Gayler arrested for "cruelty to audiences" if he does not cut the performance time of The Child Stealer (120).[pages:120]
Figaro mentions the upcoming production of Child Stealer at Wood's Theatre, starring Lucille Western (57).[pages:57]
Identified as one of "The group of men at that table [who] constituted the Bohemia of a quarter of a century ago, the most notable gathering of its kind that one city has ever known." Also identified as "the father of American dramatists."
Gunn describes meeting Gayler: "Met Gaylor. Banks has supervised him in editing(!) Strong's Yankee Notions! Gayler did little else than abuse Mc Lenan, saying that John had no notion of fun, never had an idea in his life &c – that he, Gayler had put 'hundreds of dollars' in Mac's pocket, by suggestions &c – that Mac had been 'ungratified' to him – with much more. Judging from the stupidity of Mac's notions, I should think it highly probable that Gayler had favored him with the ideas and cursedly bad ones. I defended Mac, on principle, for he is an artist and can put splendid effect in his drawings. Gayler is a tall, burylish man with an over-rich complexion, (something of an Irish voice – I always suspect him of Celtic descent) and plenty of self esteem which manifests itself unpleasantly when he's conversing with those whom he considers his inferiors. He sings a good song, makes puns, and wouldn't be a bad tavern-king were he not prone to attempting rough-riding over others. He can write parodies and dogged – nothing else. Born (so he gives out) in New York he once had a good position on a Cincinatti [sic] commercial paper (hence probably his intimacy with Mac Lenan who was born in Hogopolis) which together with his wife and family – four or five children – he abandoned for a married woman of the Allie Vernon stripe with whom he lives now, miserably enough. Levison and Haney met him once, when he intimated his intention to commit suicide, saying he 'was going to hell direct.' He is not constant to his mistress nor – in all probability – is she faithful to him. He had an affair with 'Getty Gay' – another little, literaryish strumpet of the Allie V. order who writes idiotic bosh in one of the Sunday papers. I believe he got into a quarrel with Underhill about her. Cahill recollected something of it as occurring at the Ornithoryncus. Also Gayler was especially down upon Wilkins of the Herald, and used to talk of him as 'a d____d' Life in Boston 'black mailer' &c &c. Gayler can sing a good song. All his instincts and characteristics are Irish. Strongs Notions could hardly have been more stupidly edited under his own control. Banks will be a spectacle for gods and men on assuming the editorial(!) chair. He'll swear Bai Jove! he's been keeping quiet for the last five years, and now, Bai Jove! he's got the chance he's been looking for and people shall see what is in him!! Left Mort & Gayler – the former goes to Boston to night – and to Bleecker" (34-35).[pages:34-35]
Gunn states that Gayler will be editor of a new magazine, which will fill its pages with "stealings" (e.g., reprints, plagiarized works, unpaid contributions): "G. Roberts is going to commence a monthly magazine, Gayler editor. All stealings" (87).
Gunn explains that Gayler gave Frank Wood the title "Le Jeune Homme Pouvre" (poor young man): "Wood, too,has figured in the Saturday Press, doing weak translations from the French and what not – gratuitously, of course. Le Jeune Homme Pouvre, as Gayler dubbed him in one of his Bohemian articles, in the Courier, taking the title from one of Woods Saturday Press translations, is just now in high feather on his present or coming editorship. He consorts a good deal with Arnold, who returned from his rustication, has retaken up his abode in the Houston Street boarding house" (163).
A newspaper engraving of Charles Gayler (223).[pages:87, 163, 223(ill.)]
Gunn describes Gayler's appearance: "Down-town to 'Courier' Office. Gayler looking burly, sulky and seedy" (12).
Gunn describes Gayler's failed attempt to organize a party: "A projected spree to Clover Hill, at the back of Brooklyn, organized by Gayler, who puffs the place in the 'Courier', didn't take place, in consequence of lack of money on the part of the Bohemians, to Gayler's growling dissatisfaction. Nobody came to eat the expensive dinner ordered. O'Brien is in a bad way, drunk four days together, subject to delirium tremens. He got turned out or had to leave the Hone House, where He asked, gravely, at first, for a pint (!) at the bar! he occupied a room and is now 'on town' in every sense. He looked deplorably shaky and wandered in talk, on visiting Haney, to-day. The Clover Hill party was to have consisted of Gayler, its getter-up, George Arnold, O'Brien, Nordhoff, one of the young Harpers and Frank Wood. Shepherd received an invitation, but declined, anticipating that the expense would fall on one or two, and that the party would terminate in drunkenness. Young Wood, formerly a mild-spoken six-feet of vapidity, has become a good deal of a drunkard and more of an habitual swearer, his mildest exclamation being the utterance of the name of the second person in the Trinity" (157-58).
Gunn describes Gayler entering the Courier office while Gunn and Smith, Cahil, and Haney are talking about the Clover Hill spree: "To 'Courier' Office: Smith, Cahill and Haney there, the latter telling us of a Clover Hill excursion in company with Bellew, O'Brien, George Arnold, Frank Wood, Sears and Gayler; a party of the latter's organizing. They played football, cricket, &c. dined, drank and sang and were charged $6 each for their dinner; partly in consequence of O'Brien's stipulating for 'green seal' champagne, partly for the dinner that was got but not eaten t'other day. Gayler came into office, red-faced and burly, as usual" (162).
Gunn mocks Gayler's editorial past: "For Gayler; he 'edited' 'Yankee Notions' for three or four years, which pretty well settles his claims, besides he never acknowledges merit on others' writings. 'He proposed it' said Addey, about his engagement – as if I didn't know that. I went in for fair play and no cliqueism and here's the result. If I had, instead of telling Addey all I conscientiously believed about his enterprise, had soaped and beslavered him, I might have secured the control myslf [sic], as 'tis the wolves are on him. Well, the honest dogs must hunt other game, I suppose" (164).
Gunn explains that Addey wants him to edit for Momus, because Addey wishes to fire Rosenberg, Gaylor, and Briggs: "Addey wants me to edit 'Momus'. A message to me from Addey, through Cahill, requesting me to see him tomorrow night, about assuming the editorship. He wants to clear out Rosenberg, Gaylor and Briggs by this week. Also a request that I should write a political article, in place of Briggs, to go in for Wednesday – anything I did should go in. Shall see Addey, but not write the article, till something definite is done. One thing about Lotty, I haven't put down. She told me of it as we sat on the stoop, in the sunny morning. That privation and misery, while in New York, had made her sick, producing ulcers, which still adhered to her. I asked her where, with 'Lotty, you can tell me anything, you know?' The answer came, 'On my womb'. What strange confidences have I had with this girl! Never, I think, were such, without sexual relations of which I am innocent. May 1. Tuesday. Out for a short distance, to Blakeman's. Newman the artist up in my room, in a great state of funk and I tell him my Sentiments. excitement about 'Momus', down on Rosenberg and pronouncing Addey a weathercock; entreating me to come up tonight and settle matters. Boweryem, Cahill and Bowman present. Writing. In the evening to Addey's new abode, a boarding-house in 11th street. He talked awhile of indifferent matters, said he was going to clear out Rosenberg and Gayler at the end of the week and to edit it himself. He wanted some articles from me 'by Friday'. Whereupon I told him my sentiments about the business and said that I should neither write nor draw, unless engaged at a stipulated sum, as men, my inferiors, had been; that I declined utterly to have anything to do with Rosenberg as editor. Then he proposed $10 weekly, for writing, from two to three columns, at my option, which I agreed to. Newman entered and presently Bellew and Boweryem. Talk till 10 1/2, then out" (189-190).
Gunn describes finding Gayler, Briggs, and Addey at the office: "Writing 'Momus' copy till 4, then to Office with it, finding Gayler, Briggs and Addey there, the first defending the originality of a desperately old joke, the second foxyish and with red blotches coming out over his face – facetious as usual" (200).[pages:12, 157-158, 162, 164, 189-190, 200]
Gunn describes a talk with Gayler, "Will Waud, John McLenan, Gayler, young Fletcher Harper, and others, together, apart, in groups, hither and thither, drinking and talking promiscuously. Day tropical. I saw Thad Glover pass by. (By the bye Cahill accompanied him to the Fashion Race Course and spent a good deal of money on that occasion.) Bellew and I lunched in the dining room, subsequent to visiting Bobbett and Hooper's office, previous to which I went to see Paul, whom I found prostrate with a sick headache. Set off about 2 1/2 with Bellew to see the newly- arrived "Great Eastern" steam-ship. Gayler walked a it of the way with us. (He was out of sorts, down on his luck and condemnatory in his sentiments, was "Charley," when in the barroom. He talked of Addey's impecuniosity [sic], of how repeatedly he had disappointed him (Gayler) of money, of the forthcoming collapse of Momus, anon of the Courier's postponements in cashing up. I asked him if he had anything dramatic under way. He said he couldn't get a piece accepted. "They know, too, that I never wrote a piece that wasn't a success!" Then he disparaged "Doe sticks." Raising his black widebrimmed sombrero, his broad red face perspiring freely, the thronged barroom for background it made a picture" (59-60).
Gunn explains Gayler's part in writing Hick's "Confession", "There's a so-called "Confession" of his [Hicks] published, in which he claims to have been engaged in a hundred murders – evidently lies, exaggerations and melodramatic rot. The fellow couldn't write or read; Charley Gayler had a hand in his "Confession[x]." Home, rather [x] Wrote it" (99).
Gunn learns that Lotty knows Gayler from a note from her, "The note concluded with regards to me. Boweryem was rather chapfallen, his dignity upset – albeit his general "cockyness" has brought him similar rebuffs heretofore, from his own talk. He criticized the spelling, which was – Lotty's! I find she knows Gayler: she commissioned Boweryem to get a M.S. play of her husband's from him, which the burly biographer of Hicks "the pirate" had undertaken to correct" (235).[pages:59-60, 99, 235]
Gunn states that Gayler was a friend of Getty Gay, "Gayler was said to have been one of her [Getty Gay] male "friends" in the Ornithorynchus' time, I have heard that he quarreled with Wilkins about her" (16).
Gunn describes meeting Gayler and Joe Harper at Crook and Duffs, "Met Gayler and Joe Harper at Crook and Duffs, the former slightly offensive, his normal condition – a little braggart, too, this time" (41).[pages:16, 41]
Gunn describes a conversation with Fred Watson about Mrs. Norris and Charles Gayler: "This Fred Watson, as he calls himself, is a lewd little knave; this evening he got to telling stories of his boarding-house amours and the like; how he lay with a landlady and had to pay no board for nine months; how he lay with two sisters, one a girl of fifteen or sixteen, both knowing each others pudicity [sic] and simultaneously being whored - and more of the same sort. He and Abrams, once of the Sunday Courier, were fellow boarders in the sty of concupiscence, the scene of these possible nastiness. Watson was privy to the amour of Abrams with the Mrs Norris whom Billington had to do with subsequently; indeed, in conjunction with Gayler, he was present at the affecting parting between the pair, when Abrams went to London for the first time. Mrs Norris, alias Green (for she was known under both names) – whom Watson eulogizes Priapishly, exacted the lust of Gayler, who wanted to return home with her, but she, disliking his appearance, entreated Fred to enter the carriage and order the driver to proceed, as she didn't want that 'big red-faced man' to know her address. Gayler says Watson, resented this; at his, Watson's expense. In his talk of the women Watson evidently wished me to infer that he had shared her favors. He has known Billington for some time, and, with Abrams, lived next door to him, when he (Billington) moved from this house to Beach Street, near Hudson, where I once visited him. Watson says Gayler is married to the woman he lives with; I have chronicled his story elsewhere. Gonzalo's kingdom – all hores [sic] and knaves!"[pages:235-236]
Gayler's The Child-Stealer is recommended by Clapp as an example of necessary "low comedy" (30).
Frank Bellew published a cartoon in the Picayune which depicted Edward G. P. Wilkins, Brougham, Boucicault, Cornelius Matthew, Charles Gayler, Fitz-James O'Brien, and Benjamin A. Baker as "playwrights registering their dramatic works before the first copyright law went into effect" (52).
Edward G. P. Wilkins accused Gayler of copying his play Many a Slip Twixt the Cup and the Lip from the French drama Les Crochets du Pere Martin. Gayler claimed he had never seen the French play and that his drama was written earlier.[pages:30, 52, 58]
His play The Mountain Bell was first performed in the 1867-68 season at Mrs. Conway's (382). During the same season A Sensation Drama, or, the Perplexed Author was also performed. Gayler is also recorded as being on stage as an actor (391).
Gayler Presented a dramatization of his own novel, Out of the Streets "as published in Frank Leslie's Chimney Corner" at the New York Theatre in the 1868-69 season. There seems to have been some staffing problems with the actors during the play's run (450).
Gayler's Fritz, Our Cousin German played at Wallack's during the 1869-70 season and starred J.K. Emmet.[pages:382,391,450,564]
Wrote Taking the Chances, or, Our Cousin From the Country (a comedy) for J.H. McVicker at Burtons. The show opened March 19, 1855. Gayler adapted The Son of the Night from the Porte St. Martin, Paris for the Broadway for a May 4, 1856, performance. Gayler is described as prolific.[pages:438,518,544,585-586]
Gayler's The Love of a Prince opened April 13, 1857. His "novelty" entitled Olympiana, or, a Night with Mitchell appeared at the New Olympic July 13, 1857. Odell mentions that The Love of a Prince was performed by Laura Keene's company as part of a benefit for (Joseph) Jefferson.
Gayler assumed the role of speaker/expositor of Dr. Kane's pictures of the Arctic Regions, the Aurora Borealis, etc., at the Crystal Palace in 1857. A poem was read by Laura Keene at a benefit for him on Jan 16, 1858. A rivalary began between Gayler and Kane on Jan. 6, 1858.
Gayler's Our Female American Cousin was one of first of the wave of imitiations of Keene's Our American Cousin in 1859. Gayler also wrote There's Many a Slip 'twixt the Cup and the Lip , a farce, and Romance of a (Very) Poor Young Man. Gayler arranged a sequel to Tom Taylor's play [Our American Cousin] written by Sothern called Our American Cousin at Home, or, Lord Dundreary Abroad. Gayler's Bull Run, or the Sacking of Fairfax Court House was brought out in the 1860-1861 season as part of the "war fever" theater season. His third "novelty" to play at the new Wallack's in the 1861-1862 season was the three-act comedy The Magic Marriage that concluded with a farce.
Gayler's "Very elaborate, spectacular, magical burlesque The Wizard's Tempest, or the King of the Magical Island produced by Prof. J.H Anderson, possibly performed at Wallack's, seems to have a plot or characters based on The Tempest. Son of the Night, or, Ben Liel, the Priate was performed Sept. 30, 1862, during a benefit for Harry Pearson. Gayler also wrote a piece for the Webb Sisters, Kitty, or, Out of the Streets.
Gayler is cited by Allston Brown as crediting O'Brien with the authorship of Rosedale in 1890. His Irish play The Connie Soogah, or, the Jolly Pedlar described as a "complete novelty" and played for six weeks. Gayler is also credited with Our American Cousin at Home and Ravelings.
His Petroliamania, or Oil on the Brain was a successful skit that ran for eleven weeks and was "the most pretensious of minstrel burlesques." The show's run was shortened by 10 days due to Lincoln's assassination.[pages:38, 97,104,117,125,280,319, 333,379,394,466,495,542,560-561,579,605,681]
Gayler is mentioned as one of the "happy, careless children of Bohemia" who attended the "carnivals in Pfaff's cellar" (5).[pages:5]
Gayler, mentioned here as "an early American dramatist," is listed as one of the "few survivors of the old assembly" who still gathered at Pfaff's in the 1870s (61).[pages:61]
Refers to him as "Victor Sejour Gayler" (3).[pages:3]
Personne writes that "Mr. Gayler's Cousin is Mr. Taylor's Cousin, with a slight difference in attire" in discussing Gayler's Our [Female] American Cousin (2).[pages:2]
Personne reports that Gayler's burlesque of Romance of a Poor Young Man has been performed at the Broadway Boudoir. Personne reports that he is waiting for either the show to end or the theater to fail (3).[pages:3]
Personne reviews Gayler's Poor Young Man, a bulesque of the Wallack play (3).[pages:3]
Personne writes about Gayler's play for the Florences, The Slip (3).[pages:3]
Personne reprints Gayler's letter about his remarks about Many a Slip 'Twixt the Cup and the Lip (2).[pages:2]
Mentions Gayler among his criticism of "the whole race of bluefire and patent trap writers" (3).[pages:3]
Personne thinks that the play Distant Relations is Gayler's work (3).[pages:3]
Personne writes that if the "Professor and his troupe" come to town, Gayler will have a piece, "not from the French" for them (3).[pages:3]
A regular in the bohemian circle at Pfaff's.[pages:142]
Stovall discusses his relationship to Whitman and the Brooklyn Daily Times. Gayler became a playwright and remained a regular patron of Pfaff's even after the Bohemians left.[pages:3 (n.)]
Gayler was a member of a New York group of artists and writers that existed before the Pfaff's Bohemians that also included Eytinge, North, Bellew, Charles G. Rosenberg, Seymour, and O'Brien. Winter was not a member of this group; all of its members are dead at the time of Winter's writing. Winter states, "That society, unlike the Pfaff's coterie, was, after a fortuitous fashion, organized, and it had a name,--the remarkable name of the Ornithorhyncus Club." The club was named after a Duck-Billed Platypus(308).[pages:308]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015