Monday, January 23, 2006

Gerald Robitaille - The Indiscrete Secretary

"You, you'll never be satisfied until you've destroyed Henry Miller, you'll never rest until you've ridiculed him in some way or another. I know all you young folks, you're all the same".
--- Anne Bartlett (wife of Alfred Perles) to Gerald Robitaille [from Le Pere Miller.]

During the late 1960's, Quebec native Gerald Robitaille acted as Henry Miller's live-in secretary. It's hard to find flattering information about him. He began his relationship with Miller by writing fan letters, assisted Miller in France, devoted himself to Miller in California, then published an "indiscreet" book about Miller, which effectively ended their relationship.

75% of the information I present here, I draw from Huub Koch's translation of Henk van Gelre's profile of Gerald Robitaille (the flow of English is a little bumpy, but it's a very engaging little drama and character portrait). In it, van Gelre summarizes Robitaille like this: "Was Robitaille a friend? I do not believe he had one true friend in his lifetime. Therefore he was keeping himself too much at a distance, was being too arrogant, unable to give himself, being too much the profiteer. All qualities that do not make somebody beloved. But one can't choose for the person one is. In essence he was a lone wolfe. "

Some of his biographical info can be found at the National Library of Quebec.

His timeline goes somthing like this:

1923 (May 27) - Robitaille is born in Outrement, Quebec;

1941 - Gerald drops out of school after the death of his father, and works for the federal government. He lives in Montreal and New York;

1951 - 28-year old Robitaille begins a correspondence with Miller, receiving one response for every ten letters he sends him;

1953 - Inspired by Miller's work, by this time Robitaille has relocated himself to Paris. He lives meagerly with his wife, sometimes on the good graces of Miller's Paris friends;

1953 - Robitaille reads in the papers that Miller is in Paris. He proceeds to send his wife out on a guilt-trip mission to make sure Henry visits him, even hitting Miller up for cash;

1959 - Miller returns to Paris. During this stay, he visits Denmark and has Robitaille act as his "governess" (quoting Miller, including his quotation marks), looking after Henry's kids;

1962 - Robitaille's Cher Maitre appears in the November issue of the International Henry Miller Letter; it's a chapter from a book called The Story Of Myself: A Book About A Book (Tropic Of Cancer) [which will remain unpublished];

1964 - In November, Robitaille's Book Of Knowledge (Le Livre de la Connaisance) is published;

1966 - Robitaille becomes Miller's live-in secretary in California, along with his wife Diane (though she'd left him about a year before). Gerald's existance completely revolves around Miller, acting as his office worker, driver, nurse, and, in his translated words: "a relentless Cerberus (bouncer), who will drive away all those who importune him with a kick in the ass". This last role bothered Lawrence Durrel in particular. In Le Pere Miller, Robitaille will also mention that the job involved humiliations like clipping Henry's toe-nails.

1969 - Gerald has had enough with living Henry's California lifestyle: "I'd rather perish covered with lice in Paris then living with starletts, misei, hippies, pingpong and Hollywood swimming-pools". Miller supports his return to Paris, and even offers to advance him the $10,000 from his will, which he'd intended to pass on to him after his death. [Dearborn's Happiest Man Alive claims that Robitaille never received this money].

1971 - Le Pere Miller is published, sub-titled "an indiscrete essay on Henry Miller." Miller is offended: "Malicious, yes even hateful, don't you think? Full of lies. And this man I'd given my friendship and trust... The friend became an enemy. With my money he wrote this malicious book about me... Ha, ha, ha, Henry Miller who invests in Papa Miller! What a fool am I!" (conversation with Brassai, 1973; see Van Gelre's piece for ref). He writes Robitaille a final letter, announcing the end of their friendship.

1972 - Robitialle becomes an English professor for France's Atomic Energy Commission in Saclay. By 1980, he is living in Orsay;

1992 - Robitialle dies.

In the Anais Nin Diaries 1966-1974, she makes a couple of statements about Robitaille:

* "Gerald Robitaille betrays all of us and writes a cruel book about Henry." (p.149)

* "Gerald Robitaille writes a vicious book about Henry. Why did Henry trust him for four years? As a parting gift he gave Gerald $5,000 so he could get started in France." (p. 190)

The National Library of Quebec also contains this bibliography of Robitaille's works, as well as a description of the Gerald Robitialle Fonds. This collection covers 1943-1984 and contains his books, essays and memoirs, as well as his correspondences with Henry Miller.

Thanks again to Pierre from Montreal for some of the graphics.


Blogger andresboultontakra said...

Hi R.C.: I met Gérald Robitaille between 1963-1965 in Paris and we became good friends. I have with me many letters he wrote me. I also met Henry Miller at his home in Pacific Palisades in 1966. I have a weblog: I live in Caracas, Venezuela. I enjoyed very much meeting Gérald and Henry showed me the way to Light. Your blog is fascinating, very rich, lively and brilliant. Thank you for the memoirs.

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