Ernest Gébler (1915-98)

b. Dublin; son of Adolf Gebler, a Jewish Czech or Russian descent who lived in Bohemia before moving to Dublin, where he worked backstage at Gate in 1930s; he married a woman from Tipperary who worked as a cinema usherette and had children, Ernest and Olive - the latter being the mother of Stan Gebler Davies [see infra]; the children lived for a time with their mother in Canada;

his novels include He Had My Heart Scalded (1945), on a Dublin childhood; issued The Plymouth Adventure (1949) [and] The Voyage of the Mayflower (US 1950) - selling 5 million copies and filmed in the US with Spencer Tracy in the lead; contrib. to Envoy in 1949; bought Lake Park, Roundwood, a demesne in Wicklow, later sold to Richard Murphy, 1955; married and divorced Edna O’Brien [q.v.];

his plays incls. She Sits Smiling, Call Me Daddy, Cry for Help, and Eileen O’Roon; remarried to Edna O’Brien, 1954; his claim to having writing much of her early novels in a mentoring capacity has been strenuously contested by O’Brien; Gébler is the subject of an autobiographical account by Carlo Gébler, which reveals a bullying and unfeeling attitude as husband and father (Father and I, 2001); died of Alazheimer’s disease, in Dublin; there was a a memorial service at Westminster Abbey attended by a large number of his journalist-peers; Carlo Gebler is a son with O’Brien. DIW

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Novels, A Week in the Country; The Love Investigator; The Old Man and the Girl; Hoffmann (published in England as Shall I Eat You?); Not the End of the World [1987?].

Plays, She Sits Smiling; The Spaniard in Galway; Eileen O’Roon (on BBC TV as Why Aren’t you Famous?); A Cry for Help; Call Me Daddy. Screenplays, Hoffman; The Girl with Green Eyes (The Lonely Girl, Edna O’Brien); television drama, Call Me Daddy; Women Can Be Monsters; Why Aren’t You Famous; Where Will I Find What Will Change My Life?; A Little Milk of Human Kindnesss.

Autobiography: Gebler’s autobiographical notes have been issued by his son Carlo as The Projectionist: The Story of Ernest Gebler (New Island 2019) - evincing the fact that ‘his desire, bordering on the fanatical, to replace facts with poisonous fantasies was the mainspring of his Autobiog project.’ (See Tanya Sweeney, review in Irish Independent, 20 Sept. 2015 - online.),

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Carlo Gébler, Father and I (London: Little, Brown 2000); Brendan Lynch, Prodigals of Genis: The Writers and Artists of Dublin’s Baggotonia (Dublin: Liffey Press 2011) [chap. on Gébler]; see also ‘The Poison from the Past: Shirley Kelly interviews Carlo Gébler’, in Books Ireland (2000 Sept.), pp.211-12.

Tanya Sweeney, ‘The ugly side of Mr Gentleman’ [review of The Projectionist: The Story of Ernest Gebler], in Irish Independent (20 Sept. 2015) [Books].

In the first author’s note of The Projectionist lies the most ominous of starts: “Readers should bear in mind that had the subject been given a choice he would never have allowed the writer to tell his story.”
 Further compounding the intrigue, it transpires that the subject and writer are father and son. Ernest Gébler, the Emmy award-winning writer and husband to writer Edna O’Brien, was one branch on a knotted, sprawling and highly complicated family tree. Though as the memoir/biography by his son Carlo attests, being described as ‘husband to Edna O’Brien’ would likely have incensed the man.
 Carlo Gébler has already written of his tumultuous relationship with his father in 2001’s Father & I. Happening across Ernest’s Autobiog - ‘hundreds of pages of notes and letters that has to be assembled and burnished and turned into the book he has worked out in his head’ - Carlo set about pulling it into a cohesive shape, albeit with one caveat: the truth would out. As such, chaos and drama is entwined both in the history of Ernest Gébler and Edna O’Brien’s marriage, and Carlo’s retelling of it.
 “His desire, bordering on the fanatical, to replace facts with poisonous fantasies was the mainspring of his Autobiog project,” writes Carlo.
 At the beginning of The Projectionist, there is an infograph of the Gébler family tree, and rarely has one been needed more. Born in Bohemia to a Czech father and a Tipperary mother, Ernest’s father, Adolf, went on to helm one of Ireland’s best-known literary families. But behind the suburban front doors of Cabra, Rathgar and Putney lay complexity, drama and elusiveness to rival a Greek tragedy.
 “His (Ernest’s) story had many elements but one primary, overarching theme: the damage mothers and wives did to their sons by separating them from their fathers,” writes Carlo.
 Of all the chapters in Ernest’s life, his marriage to O’Brien has proven to be the most enduring and compelling.
 “The trouble with (his version of events) was that he did not write my mother’s books, and my brother and I weren’t lured away - we wanted to leave,” writes Carlo. Even the retelling of how Edna O’Brien and Ernest Gébler met is under contention: Ernest’s version notes how, as a trainee chemist on Cabra Road, O’Brien dispensed medicine for his ailing father, Adolf, and drove the sick man mad with requests to meet his son, the great author.
 Carlo’s understanding of the event is different: by 1952, O’Brien was already working as a columnist and trainee chemist, and met Ernest in a bar on Henry Street though a mutual friend, the Radio Éireann presenter Rudy Jones.
 The pair married in Blanchardstown two years later, much against her parents’ wishes. And as O’Brien’s stature as a writer grew slowly but inexorably, Ernest Gébler is reported to have said: “You can write and I will never forgive you.” As Edna hit a creative purple patch after writing her first and second novels The Country Girls and The Lonely Girl, Ernest grew even more resentful. Further aiding and abetting the tension, it was believed that Edna based the deceitful character, Mr Gentleman, in The Country Girls on her husband.
 “Smart girls like Edna marry older, kind men because they get more of everything that way: more spoiling, more care, more indulgence. They know what they are doing,” Ernest wrote in his 1962 desk diary.
 It was one thing to simmer within the pages of a personal journal, quite another to meddle in his wife’s professional successes. Referring to his father’s actions as a ‘piece of epistolary mischief-making’, Carlo recalls how his father responded to a letter that Edna received from Howard B Gottlieb at Boston University, requesting manuscript material for a special collections library. Unbeknownst to her, Ernest wrote back, declining on the grounds that ‘she is too modest to contribute’. Writing as Edna, he recommended his own works for the library.
 The Machiavellian antics didn’t end here: elsewhere, Ernest intercepted a letter from a London theatre producer who indicated interest in turning The Lonely Girl into a musical. “He wrote back, regretting that the novel was unavailable, but suggesting that Ernest Gébler’s novel The Love Investigator would make a much better musical,” recalls Carlo. Later, he made false claiims to industry figureheads that he had in fact written Edna’s early novels. “He felt in some way the acclaim should be pointed towards him and that he was the person who helped her to become the writer she became. Later on he came to believe that he had himself actually written the books,” Carlo recounted in the RTÉ documentary, Flesh and Blood.
 O’Brien went on to have her own say in her own memoir, 2012’s Country Girl and recounted the marriage as pockmarked with bitterness and oppression. Isolated in suburban London and stuck in what had become a mostly loveless, imbalanced marriage, writing became her all.
 Ultimately, The Projectionist recounts a man depressed over his own sense of failure in life. Withholding affection from his own sons, the pain and suffering and misery from generations past loomed large in his life.
 Ernest died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1998: “The atrophy of his brain was one long, unceasing terrible process,” says Carlo. He sent dozens of letters to Edna before his death: “As the time draws near I get more impatient to be with you,” he wrote in 1989. “I am looking forward to taking you out and about this splendid coast.”
 “He had left the world he knew and gone to an alternative world where everything that had gone wrong could now be put right,” writes Carlo.
 All in all, a poignant endnote to a complicated and compelling life.

Available online; accessed 21.09.2019.

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Namesake?: Not to be confused with Stan Gébler Davies, author of James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist (London: Davis-Poynter 1975), which gives a damaging account of the novelist’s domestic life.

Lake Park: For an account of Lake Park, the house and estate which Gébler sold to Richard Murphy, see Murphy, The Kick (London: Granta 2002), p.164.

Kith & kin: Stan Gebler Davies (1943-1994), author of James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist (London: Davis-Poynter 1975) and a notably high-spirited, and occasionally dyspeptic, Irish and London journalist, shares the same Czech and Irish pedigree as Ernest Gébler and was in fact his nephew having a common forebear in Adoph Gébler who came to Ireland in the 1900s and married an Irish girl. His father was a furniture manufacturer who married Adolph’s daughter Olive Gébler. SGD was born in Wales. John Calder - who employed him as a publicity agent - supplied an obituary for The Independent (23 June 1994), writing that he ‘belonged to a breed that one no longer encounters, a rake-hell, rumbustious [sic], very Irish, journalist of great charm, who loved to shock, but who was held in almost equally high affection by those he aggravated as by his friends. [...’] (Available online; accessed 26.11.2021).

Further (Stan Gebler Davies): His antipathy to Irish nationalism and especially the Provisional IRA and the government of Charles Haughey, together with his stand as a Unionist candidate in Cork, gave him a eccentric Irish profile. He lived in Castletownwest after his London soujourn and eventually settled in Dalkey, where he died suddenly of a heart-attack after Bloomsday in 1994 having suffered from cancer and undergone successful surgery some time before. He was a famously heavy drinker. From 1988 onwards he wrote 188 diaries columns for the Independent and previously wrote a column for the Express where his freedom with names lost him friends and editorial support. There is a lively obituary notice by Richard West in The Spectator (8 May 2004) under the pretext of a review of a topographical guide to the Dublin in Ulysses by Ian Gunn and Clive Hart. (Available online; accessed 26.11.2021.)

Dictionary of Irish Biography: An entry on Bridget Hourican and Pauric Dempsey in the DIB on Stan Gebler Davies to him be a nephew of Ernest Gébler through his mother, Gebler’s sister Olive. Of father and son the authors write this: ‘Adolf Gébler, was a Jewish Czech musician, who chose to live in Dublin after falling in love with an Irish cinema usherette in 1910; he later joined the Radio Éireann Orchestra as a clarinettist. Stan was baptised in the catholic church in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. His mixed heritage led to his being bullied in his schooldays by catholics for being a protestant, by protestants for being a catholic, and by both for being a Jew. In adulthood he tried to honour all three heritages, but eventually settled on catholicism.’ He is also said to have written on Edna O’Brien and alienated her son, the novelist Carlo Gébler. (Available online; accessed 26.11.2021.)

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