Edward Gingle in Ernest Gann’s Autobiography

Dad, Gingles et. al 001
I was made aware of Gann’s account of his meeting with Gingle by the poster IDJ on the Gwulo website.

Gann always calls him ‘Gingles’ but the best sources have ‘Gingle’. I’ve kept Gann’s references as they are while using ‘Gingle’ in my own text.

In a previous post I brought together all I knew about restaurateur, Stanley Camp cook and friend of my father Francis Gingle (the large man at the head of the table in the photo above):

In this post I’ll give an account of the representation of Gingle in Hostage of Fortune, the autobiography of American flyer and novelist Ernest K. Gann, who visited him in his Hong Kong restaurant in the early 1950s and decided that he would make his ‘colourful’ restaurant a major locale in his next novel, the best-selling Soldier Of Fortune.

Gann got such an unpleasant reception that I suspect he also felt impelled to revenge himself in the way he portrays the Gingle character, Tweedie – that portrayal will be the subject of my next post.

Gann heard about Gingle before he got to Hong Kong. He was headed there to research the novel when he met Commander Cornell, ‘just out of Hong Kong where he had served in {American} Naval Intelligence:

‘You must see a man called Gingles,’ Cornell insisted. Gingles is the key to the Hong Kong you’re looking for.’
Would you give me a letter of introduction?’
‘To Gingles?’ A wry smile crossed his face. ‘No. You’ll be better off with Gingles if you never heard of me.’
Gingles? The name itself was to send me off at once in his general direction.

A Hostage To Fortune, Ballantine, 1980 (originally 1978), 478. Hereafter Hostage.

The novel Gann was incubating concerned an American photographer who had entered China illegally in search of exciting pictures but found himself arrested and in need of rescue.

Once in Hong Kong, Gann asks his cicerone René Lim – daughter of a pioneer Chinese aviator and ‘the unofficial Empress of the Peninsula Hotel Lobby – about Gingle:

I’ll take you to Gingles’s place, but he probably won’t be there, since he’s been ill recently and he rarely comes to town. He has a nice house in the country….
That evening we went to Gingles’s Place, a checkered tablecloth restaurant and bar with a boisterous international clientele. René knew many of them, particularly the pilots, who acted cheerfully as her multiple liaison with people throughout the Far East and who seemed to have made Gingles’s Place a second home.

Hostage, 481

Gingle’s arthritis, his relationship with the pilots and his home (or at least farm) in the country are all confirmed by other sources (see https://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/edward-gingle-at-war/).

Gann notes two bartenders, one doubling as a rather nonchalant maitre d’ – both men were middle-aged, tattooed about their powerful forearms, and of formidable appearance’ (Hostage, 481-2)

Gingle himself proves ‘elusive’ but after two weeks he sends word from his ‘country retreat’ that he will meet Gann at noon of the next day at his ‘Place’. But Gann must come alone:

I asked René why she had not been invited. She only said that Gingles was known for his eccentricities.
Hostage, 484

Gann arrives for his twelve o’clock appointment. He’s the only customer there – he eventually remembers the restaurant’s evenings only – and he has to wait:

I smoothed the red-checkered tablecloth at the small table for two I had taken, and in my little sketchbook made a small drawing of the salt and pepper shakers and
glass of toothpicks clustered with the sugar bowl.
Hostage, 485

Gann gets a chance to observe Gingle approaching without being seen himself:

For approaching me, head bent until the brim of his straw hat covered his face, wearing a rumpled white suit and leaning heavily on a Malacca cane, was the composite of all the devious and dangerous characters who populated Grade B melodramas – ‘Surely,’ I whispered to myself, ‘Sydney Greenstreet in the flesh’.
Hostage, 486

There is indeed some resemblance to Greenstreet:

Gann continues:

I watched his slow progress along the passageway and saw that he must indeed have been ill, for there was considerable hesitancy in his step, and once when he raised his head slightly I saw he was wearing very dark glasses. For a moment I thought he might be going blind, yet he used the cane more as a physical support than as an aid to sight. He had obviously been a big man, but now the white suit hung loosely upon him as if he had lost considerable weight.
Hostage, 486

A little is added to the description later – ‘a rather large nose protruding from heavy jowls…big liver-spot mottled hands’.

When Gann asks for a coke – he wants to keep his head clear and enjoys building up a thirst to be quenched at sundown – Gingle acts in ‘B Movie Villain’ character:

‘For Christ’s sake, what kind of man is Rene sending round here? I thought she had better judgment. What do you drink at sundown?’
‘Rum…if I can get it.’
Gingles turned his head approximately one quarter inch in the direction of the bartender. ‘Bring him a rum.’
Hostage, 487

Gann asks if Gingle can help him find a junk, and when asked what for he raises suspicions by hesitating and comes up with an unconvincing story about wanting to paint things that can’t be seen properly from land – he doesn’t feel he can tell a man like Gingle that he’s ‘feeling my way toward a book’. Gingle’s tough-guy response is right in the character he’s by now established or been given:

The orbs of black glass remained fixed on me, the lips pressed tighter. ‘Bullshit,’ Gingles said flatly. ‘You work for the U. S. government.’
‘I do not. What gives you that idea?’
‘What gives any of the U. S. government agencies the idea they can send some guy like you over here to check up on Gingles? This is British territory and you people can’t do a goddamned thing about anything. Now you go back to Washington or wherever in the hell you came from and tell them that. Tell them they can goddamn well leave Gingles alone.’
Hostage, 488

Gann soon comes up with a theory as to what’s behind this rather frosty reception:

Now I remembered when Rudy Webber’s friend had told me Gingles was the most valuable contact Naval Intelligence had in Hong Kong, he had not told me why. Obviously someone had offended Gingles and I had run into the recoil.
Hostage 488

Gann is expelled from his ‘Place’, but when he tells René of his experience she has a different explanatio:

‘I know Gingles could have fixed things if he wanted to,’ she said unhappily. ‘I think his illness has made him a little senile.’
Hostage, 489

A few days later Gann receives a phone call:

Without so much as a please the voice demanded raspily for my name. I gave it.
‘This is Gingles.’
I caught my breath. Bless his gruffness, he was going to come through after all….

‘I thought I told you to get out of town….You’ve had three days. That’s enough. There’s a Pan American flight leaving for Manila at two o’clock this afternoon. You’d better be on it. There’s a ticket in the airport in your name. I say again if you like your good health be on the airplane.’
Hostage, 490

Gann starts to protest, but of course Gingle puts down the phone.

This suggests that either Gingle or Gann has been watching too many gangster films. But the author takes the threats seriously and gets the invaluable René to take him to a friend in the Water Police. Surprisingly, to me at least, Gann is provided with two body guards; the English officer is, in the finest traditions of our police service at the time, unarmed, but please don’t worry his Chinese sidekick (known only by his number One-Three-0-Three) has a gun for each of them. And Inspector Debbs takes the threat seriously too:

Of course we’ve known Gingles for years, although generally he keeps shy of us and we have no reason for direct contact.’
‘Do you think he means what he said?’
Hostage, 491

It is fashionable to stress the ways in which ‘real’ interactions are structured by fictional conventions and Gann is upfront about ‘seeing’ Gingle as a B Movie villain. I think B movie is unfair – I’ve heard worse dialogue in perfectly respectable gangster films, and Greenstreet’s most famous roles were in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, A List movies in anyone’s book. But Gingle’s phone call, which Gann describes as the only ‘very real’ thing about the interactions, is pure Hollywood, right down to the ticket out of town waiting at the airport (through which the tough guy shows he’s rich, reasonable and Means What He Says). But my point at the moment isn’t the way in which fictional conventions are active in real life – both in conversation speech and autobiographical writing. Instead I want to follow up the implications of Gann’s being told, by seemingly reliable sources, that Gingle was in possession of an excellent information-gathering network, and that he had contacts with the American Naval Intelligence, which probably ended in tears in the early 1950s.

Although I didn’t have a copy of Hostage to Fortune when I wrote my first post on Gingle I used IDJ’s account (acknowledged above) to suggest that this post-war activity was one of the ‘straws’ that hinted at Gingle’s involvement with the war-time resistance in the period between his being guaranteed out from Stanley Camp (August 5, 1942) and his re-internment in Ma-Tau-Chung (date unknown but probably after August, 1944). I found another ‘straw’ in Tony Banham’s fine book on the tragic sinking of the Lisbon Maru (with loss of hundreds of POW lives). Banham tells us that James Patrick Mulligan of the Royal asrtillery walked out of North Point Camp in the chaotic early days of Japanese rule and was sheltered by Chinese sisters until his eventual escape to Shanghai in 1942. Mulligan operated as an intelligence-gatherer and was told one day by a young Chinese girl that British POWs were being loaded on to a ship (the Lisbon Maru). He immediately went to a place where observation could tell him if the previously unknown informant’s story was true. Mulligan’s son takes up the story:

He then went to his contact who seemed very uninterested in this updated information. He implied to me that his contact was a ‘Yank’ and he definitely said that the ‘Yank’s ignored his information and the ship was torpedoed.
Tony Banham, The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru, 2006, Kindle Edition, Location 1051

The son provides more circumstantial detail to suggest that his father had more than occasional contacts with American intelligence, and tells us that he never mentioned the British Army Aid Group, adding that his father was disenchanted with the British army at the time and probably wouldn’t have wanted to work with them, so I need to
revise my suggestion that Gingle worked for the BAAG. American Intelligence, perhaps Naval Intelligence, is more likely.

One American who’s likely to have been living in or at least sometimes present in Kowloon at this time (late September 1942) is Edward Gingle, who’s main pre-war business was this side of the harbour. I think it likely that his ‘sidekicks’ – his former manager ‘Red’ Salmon and chiropractor Frank Molthen – were also there, or at least had a good reason to visit, so here are three possible candidates for Mulligan’s contact.

The portrait of Gingle in Gann’s autobiography, taken with the section on Mulligan in Banham’s history, has done nothing to put an end to my speculation as to Gingle’s role during the occupation! After the war he had a first-class network of ‘contacts’ on the south China coast and Gann strongly hints he was using them (no doubt for payment) on behalf of American Naval Intelligence. There was an American in Kowloon in 1942 getting information from a British soldier and passing it on to people who could have prevented the torpedoing of the Lisbon Maru….

I hope that one day a document that reveals the truth one way or the other will emerge.


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3 responses to “Edward Gingle in Ernest Gann’s Autobiography

  1. Pingback: Gingle Becomes Tweedie – Ernest Gann’s Soldier of Fortune | The Dark World's Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

  2. Ian

    Think what has been forgotten here is that Gann was a story teller.. 🙂

    • Hi, Ian, and thanks for your comment.
      True, my stress is on the fact that we are ALL story-tellers, even when we do our best to tell others the truth about what happens to us. But perhaps you’re right and Gann is particularly prone to spinning yarns – or turning his real-life encounters into ‘yarns’ – because he’s also a novelist. Sadly I don’t know any other reasonably detailed account of Gingle to compare his with, as I’m sure such a comparison would be illuminating.

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