Notes on Gil Brewer by Verlaine Morris Lee Brewer, his wife
Gil Brewer was born November 20, 1922 in Cauandaigua,
NY where he grew up. He was drafted into the Army in World War
II. He served three years, the last in Marseilles, France. During
that time, his family, (mother, father, two sisters and a brother)
made a permanent move to St. Petersburg, Florida. In 1947, he
joined them there.
Gil and his father were close. Not so, Gil and
his mother. Mrs. Brewer had no understanding of writers, even
though Gil’s father was also a writer. The home life was
not happy-especially since the father, like son, was addicted
to alcohol. His father later had a mental breakdown, was committed
to a VA hospital, where he finally died. A tragic waste of a wonderful
Note: Gil worshipped his father: and worried
through life that he’d end the same way.
Beginning of narrative:
Gil Brewer decided to become a writer at the
age of nine, while watching his father type stories for the early
pulp magazines. That drive never left him.
I met Gil later in 1947 through a mutual friend.
He was intense, sensitive, warm-a very real person. I was married,
with two teenage children. Writing drew us together. We met often
to discuss it-his place, or mine, since we lived on opposite ends
of the same block. He hadn’t sold yet.
At that time he was working on serious books-three
under way at once, turning out literature. The ideas and plots
were tremendous-unforgettable. I was amazed at his talent, recognizing
what he read to me as “best seller” material.
Money in his family was scarce. There was hardly
enough for mailing in a short story. At first, there had been
checks from the Army and when they stopped; his mother was at
him to get a job. But his writing meant more. It was vital to
him. He tried to reassure her. She couldn’t believe that
what he was doing was to any purpose. She ordered him to leave.
There was nothing else to do. Gil found a small
porch in a boarding house for $5.00 a week. He moved in with his
typewriter and a can of sweet potatoes. The tenants were four,
kindly, old ladies, each with a room and kitchen privileges. He
soon became their pet. The called him “the nice young man
who drinks”; and gave him chicken wings from their dinners.
Money being imperative, and he decided to give
up the fine writing he believed in, which would take far too much
time. He turned from the early books with their stunning titles
to what he called “pot boilers”, saying, maybe that’s
what they want.
Our affair rapidly grew serious. Gil convinced
me we should be together. He was young, handsome, and dynamic.
It seemed an impossible step, but I was under his spell. My husband
agreed to give me a divorce and take over the children. The divorce
was painfully dragged out, but when it became final, we went to
South Carolina and got married, telling no one.
Back in St. Petersburg, we took a small apartment.
Very soon after, there came a first sale-a short story for $64.00.
Gil was elated. He left with the check, almost hating to cash
it. He arrived back with several bottles of liquor, assorted wines
Since the bedroom was small, he worked behind
a screen in the kitchen, while I fried eggs on the other side.
Peeking through, I could watch his changes of expression as he
wrote. He finished “Satan is a Woman”, with a second,
“So Rich, So Dead” on the way. He wrote easily, 1st
draft, with the words flowing out faster than he could get them
A week later, he received a telegram from an
important NY agent, Joe Shaw. He’d seen Gil’s work
and wanted him as a client. Gil mailed in the two finished manuscripts.
Joe offered them to Gold Medal, Fawcett Publications, who bought
them on the spot and wished to see more.
Joe Shaw, better known as Captain Joe Shaw, considered
Gil a genius. He felt that with proper handling and guidance,
he could steer him to the top-one of the country’s best.
He began to prepare a program of certain publications, he wished
Gil to slant for. Three months later, Joe dropped dead in an elevator,
while reading one of Gil’s scripts. Gil took it hard. Joe
was not only an agent, he was a friend. Other agents followed.
Gil was most happy when he got with Scott Meredith. He used to
say, “When you have a good agent, it’s almost like
We moved to a larger apartment with a workroom.
As the books piled up, the money flowed in. Gil spent, almost
recklessly, for everything he’d never had, including cars.
If he wasn’t pleased with one, he traded it in for another.
Taking a loss was no problem for him.
Gil’s friends were a group of St. Pete
authors, with whom we got together. The topic was invariably writing
and there was much to be learned just listening, as they helped
each other with plot, endings, beginnings-ideas. There was Day
Keene, Talmage Powell, Harry Whittington, Jonathan Craig, Robert
Turner and others. Gil was always dynamic. Writing lit him up.
He became eloquent in discussions, his eyes black with excitement.
He loved writing; he lived writing. If he discovered an aptitude
in anyone, he encouraged and helped him get started. The result
was two people sold; one became full time.
As his reputation grew, Gil shunned publicity,
turning down interviews, TV appearances and such. He was a loner,
who preferred to live quietly. Between books, he wrote short stories
for the Mystery Magazines, many of which were anthologized. There
were other stories of a different type for the better men’s
magazines-400 in all.
Gil was a fitful writer. After a sale, he’d
sometimes coast, until money was again a necessity. He couldn’t
seem to save it. One morning, we discovered a can of beams on
the shelf and a handful of change to be our total wealth. Two
days later, very unexpectedly, there was a check in the mailbox
for $3,000, as an over-printing on a book.
Sometimes, he drove himself mercilessly, once
writing a book in three days - later another in five. The books
were excellent, but after each, he fell into bed in nervous exhaustion.
Only alcohol and pills helped him to sleep. For years he’d
had to take medications. It was not new to combine the two.
We traveled a lot, visiting historical places,
or a locality where he might place the next book. We drove without
plan, staying in towns or villages we liked; often finding it
necessary to visit the hospital before moving on. There’d
always been drinking. It was a part of Gil’s life. In early
years, he could handle it. Now, when it got too much, he had to
Getting back to work was always pleasant for
him; yet, he worked hard. Every finished book had sold, when a
call came from his agent in NY. He said there were five Brewer
books on the stands at once, that editors were clamoring for more
and for God’s sake to send in anything laying around, even
if it was written on toilet paper. Gil stood troubled. There were
some finished manuscripts that he’d thought needed a re-write.
I begged him to send them. His face told me the answer-no.
I think now that he couldn’t take the success.
His alternative was to turn to the bottle and let the whole thing
Gil had many talents and hobbies. He collected
rare books. He played a cornet, listened to old jazz records,
liking nothing better than to play along with them. He painted
with ability; made beautiful music on the organ; read omnivorously
– “filling up the tank”, as he called it; studied
people. He could’ve been an actor. He had the voice. He
could’ve been a comedian. He had the wit.
In the 1960s, he suffered a mental breakdown.
There was no writing for almost four years; hardly any drinking,
but other frightening developments. He seemed unaware of his condition,
or actions. As time piled up, things worsened. It was finally
imperative for my son, Ted, and I to drive him to Arcadia, Florida
and have him committed to a branch of the State Hospital. The
diagnosis was extremely bad.
Once there, he realized that something was very
wrong. He, like his father, had the ability to immediately appear
sober after weeks of drinking; or normal after weeks of insanity.
With the help of wonder drugs, good doctors and a fine psychiatrist
– plus that power of his – he pulled out of it and
was released after a minimum stay, appearing to be in a much,
improved state. Ted and I picked him up and brought him back to
St. Petersburg. The recuperation at home took very much longer.
He gradually returned to normalcy; picking up his life where he’d
left off; and very thankful to be back at home. We made a few
periodic visits to the hospital after that. He was to continue
with the medications.
A few months later, he was writing well again,
but sliding into his old ways. As assignments from Scott, Gil
ghosted several books for known authors who were unable to meet
their deadlines. The most backbreaking assignment concerned five
enormous manuscripts of an Israeli soldier, with no talent for
writing. They’d been bought for their timely and vital material.
Gil’s job was to make them readable. A secretary was needed.
With two stenorette machines, he dictated the books while she
transcribed and typed them. They were snowed under for weeks with
the enormity of the work. No matter how irksome a job, Gil was
Later, he bought something he’d always
wanted – a Porsche automobile. It was a gunmetal beauty;
and rode like a baby buggy. After carefully breaking it in, he
loved driving his Porsche down country roads with lots of turns,
seeing how fast he could take them. In 1970, he cracked it up.
His injuries were severe. The car was totaled. Because of the
high content of alcohol in his system, the doctors could not give
him the usual medication to prevent the DTs; nor could they medicate
him against pain, since it might cause the punctured lung to collapse.
He was left in a closed room to yell and curse in his agony-his
powerful voice heard throughout the hospital. The yelling, they
said, was good for the lung. At home, it was a long, slow recovery.
Alcohol and pills killed the pain, if he took enough of them.
The last seven years of his life were miserable.
He’d been warned many times of the effect of alcohol on
the brain cells. He’d invariably shrugged it off, thinking
himself invulnerable. Despite his strong constitution, his body
was changing in various ways, showing the results of drinking.
He’d tried AA several times; and though he tried hard, was
unable to really get with the program. One Hospital, entirely
devoted to alcoholism, termed him as their worse case in twenty
Most of his time was spent, painfully, in bed.
Sometimes he sat at the typewriter, waiting for the words to come,
but they didn’t make sense. Nothing he wrote was salable.
The bottle was his only solace.
In a sober period, Gil became elated with the
idea of writing his life story. The agency, equally enthusiastic,
okayed it. Knowing something of his life, they realized what a
book it would be. Gil worked hard, got 50 pages in the mail, then
waited. He felt he’d done well. The pages were rejected.
Anxiety and depression set in. He was a broken man, calling himself
There were binges, falls, broken bones and hospitals.
They told him he couldn’t keep it up. The complications
from his drinking were difficult to deal with-periodic nightmares.
Gil had always been kind and affectionate. When
mean words were flung at him, he held no resentment, but even
comforted in return, having a great awareness of the other person’s
unhappiness. Everyone loved him.
After his death on January 9, 1983, Wyoming University
wanted all his books, manuscripts, stories-everything to do with
his career. The Gil brewer Collection is on file at the American
Heritage Center at Laramie. Their program is a study of the Arts
of the Nineteenth Century. A great honor.
An added note; Scott, having seen 50 pages of
one of Gil’s early books, pronounced it “the finest
writing he’d seen of Gil's”. Another of these books
rewritten by Gil and sold in a shortened version as a “potboiler”
was “13 French Stree”, reprinted 15 times. I mention
these to show the worth of his early writing.