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Search >> Gayler, Charles (1820-1892)

Playwright, Journalist, Editor, Actor.

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. One source suggests that his wife was actress and fellow Pfaffian Getty Gay (Rawson 103). Either the relationship is mistaken, or "Getty Gay" was Grace Christian’s stage name.

As a journalist, Gayler edited the Cincinnati Evening Dispatch, but turned later 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 where he worked as a theatrical manager and produced his own plays, including the timely Bull Run, or the Sacking of Fairfax Courthouse, which 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. Much of Gayler’s success is 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. His 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.

Gayler was one of the men identified by Frank Bellew as "playwrights registering their dramatic works before the first copyright law went into effect" (T. Miller 52). He was also a member of The Ornithorhyncus Club, a bohemian group which preceded the Pfaffians (Winter, Old Friends 308). His flowing beard often led visitors to Pfaff’s to mistake him for Walt Whitman, a mistake which certainly would have occasioned much merriment at Pfaff’s. Gayler’s relationship with Whitman, however, may not have been filled with merriment; Whitman replaced Gayler as editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and 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 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).


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References & Biographical Resources

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. New York: MacMillan, 1955. [more about this work]
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]
Browne, Junius Henri. The Great Metropolis; A Mirror of New York. Hartford: American Publishing, 1869. 700 p. [more about this work]
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]
"Charles Gayler." Dictionary of American Biography. Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2006. http://www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC. [more about this work]
Figaro [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 17 Feb. 1866: 104-105. [more about this work]
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 [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 24 Feb. 1866: 120-121. [more about this work]
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 [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 10 Feb. 1866: 88-89. [more about this work]
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 [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 3 Feb. 1866: 72-73. [more about this work]
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 [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 27 Jan. 1866: 56-57. [more about this work]
Figaro mentions the upcoming production of Child Stealer at Wood's Theatre, starring Lucille Western (57). [pages: 57]
Figaro [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 20 Jan. 1866: 40-41. [more about this work]
Figaro refers to his past week's remarks about Gayler's Child Stealer (40). [pages: 40]
Figaro [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 6 Jan. 1866: 8-9. [more about this work]
Figaro mentions Gayler's The Child-Stealer set to be performed in New York; it had already run in Philadelphia (8). [pages: 8]
Ford, James L. "New York's Bohemia: A Kingdom Which Still Exists, Although Pfaff's Restaurant is No More." The Philadelphia Inquirer. 27 Nov. 1892: 14. [more about this work]
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."
"Gayler, Charles, 1820-1892." Literature Online biography. Cabridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 2003. [more about this work]
Lukens, Henry Clay. "American Literary Comedians." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. Apr. 1890: 783-797. [more about this work]
[pages: 794]
Miller, Tice L. Bohemians and Critics: American Theatre Criticism in the Nineteenth Century. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1981. [more about this work]
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]
"Mr. Gaylor's "Child Stealer"." New York Saturday Press. 17 Feb. 1866: 98-99. [more about this work]
Odell, George C.D. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VIII (1865-1870). New York:Columbia University Press, 1936. [more about this work]
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]
Odell, George Clinton. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VI (1850-1857). New York: Columbia University Press, 1931. [more about this work]
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]
Odell, George Clinton. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VII (1857-1865). New York: Columbia University Press, 1931. [more about this work]
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]
"Old 'Barry Gray' Dead." The New York World. 12 Jun. 1886: 5. [more about this work]
Gayler is mentioned as one of the "happy, careless children of Bohemia" who attended the "carnivals in Pfaff's cellar" (5). [pages: 5]
Parry, Albert. Garrets and Pretenders: A History of Bohemianism in America. New York: Covici, Friede, 1933. [more about this work]
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]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 14 May 1859: 3. [more about this work]
Mentions Gayler among his criticism of "the whole race of bluefire and patent trap writers" (3). [pages: 3]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 2 Jul. 1859: 3. [more about this work]
Personne writes about Gayler's play for the Florences, The Slip (3). [pages: 3]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 12 Nov. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
Personne reprints Gayler's letter about his remarks about Many a Slip 'Twixt the Cup and the Lip (2). [pages: 2]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 17 Dec. 1859: 3. [more about this work]
Personne thinks that the play Distant Relations is Gayler's work (3). [pages: 3]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New York Saturday Press. 28 Jan. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
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]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 5 Feb. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
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 [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 12 Feb. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
[pages: 2]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 17 Sep. 1859: 2. [more about this work]
[pages: 2]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 17 Mar. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
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 [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 24 Mar. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
Personne reviews Gayler's Poor Young Man, a bulesque of the Wallack play (3). [pages: 3]
Personne [Wilkins, Edward G. P.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 14 Apr. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
Refers to him as "Victor Sejour Gayler" (3). [pages: 3]
Rawson, A. L. "A Bygone Bohemia." Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. 1896. 96-107. [more about this work]
[pages: 103]
Sentilles, Renee M. Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2003. [more about this work]
A regular in the bohemian circle at Pfaff's. [pages: 142]
Stovall, Floyd. The Foreground of Leaves of Grass. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974. [more about this work]
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.)]
Winter, William. Old Friends; Being Literary Recollections of Other Days. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909. 407 p. [more about this work]
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]

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