Emil Goldmann was born in Swoikowitz, Moravia, in 1872 as the oldest of nine children of the tenant farmer Jakob Goldmann and his wife Amalie. After completing his secondary schooling in Znaim (Znojmo), he moved to Vienna to study and became a doctor of law in 1895. He then went to Berlin to study economics but stopped after just one semester to devote himself to the theatre, working initially above all as an actor. In these early years, he met Max Reinhardt, who became a lifelong friend. After converting from Judaism to Protestantism, Goldmann is documented at least from 1902 as performing under the name Geyer. After working at the Schauspielhaus in Dusseldorf as director and dramaturge, and in the Märkisches Wandertheater in Berlin, Emil Geyer returned to Vienna in 1912 with his wife, the Berlin actress Ellen Neustädter (1885–1926), and their daughter Eva Maria (1907–1975), where he became director of the Neue Wiener Bühne in Harmoniegasse in Vienna's 9th district. Probably as a result of the separation from his wife, who left for Hamburg with the actor Leo Reuss, he moved again to Berlin in 1921 to take up the position of chief director and deputy manager at the Robert-Bühnen belonging to Eugen Robert. After Ellen Neustädter's suicide in 1926, Geyer, who had now been appointed deputy director of Theater in der Josefstadt by Max Reinhardt and in 1930 also authorized director of the Max Reinhardt Seminar, returned to Vienna. In this theatre, which had considerable financial difficulties as a result of the general theatre crisis, he was replaced by his former deputy, the future Hollywood director Otto Preminger, but he continued as a director there and at the Deutsches Volkstheater. Thanks to his various engagements, he had many contacts in the German-speaking art and culture world, including Arthur Schnitzler, Richard Beer-Hofmann, Egon Friedell, Franz Theodor Csokor, Else Lasker-Schüler, Lina Loos, Salka Viertel, Attila Hörbiger and Paula Wessely.
There are numerous letters from the time after the annexation of Austria to the German Reich describing Geyer's increasing despair at the successive deprivations of his rights. His daughter Eva Geyer, also an actress, managed to escape to the USA with her husband, the gynaecologist and art collector Paul Singer (1904–1997), but Emil Geyer, who was now obliged to use his former name Goldmann, was no longer able to escape from Austria. After his dismissal from the Reinhardt Seminar he was forced of necessity, as he told his former student Judith Holzmeister, to sell some of his art collection. It is not possible today to reconstruct exactly what it consisted of. On the advice of the writer and art historian George Saiko, whom Geyer had supported financially, he had acquired works by Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, whose patron Arthur Roessler he also knew personally, Gustav Klimt, Theodor Allesch-Alescha, Franz Pechstein and also Wassili Kandinsky. The many letters by Geyer, among others to his friends Richard Beer-Hofmann or Max Reinhardt's secretary Gusti Adler in US exile and to Erhard Buschbeck at the Vienna Burgtheater, asking them to intervene were in vain. He was forced to move from Siebensterngasse (renamed Straße der Julikämpfer to commemorate the failed July putsch by the Austrian National Socialists in 1934) to collective housing at Krugerstraße 5 in the 1st district. After being captured by the Gestapo following a failed attempt to escape with his sister Jeanette and her husband Otto Richard Hermann, he was deported on 31 July 1942 to Mauthausen concentration camp and shot a few days later "while attempting to escape". There is no documentary evidence to support the claims made after the war that Paula Wessely and other fellow actors attempted to have Geyer released from Gestapo detention. It is unclear whether and in what way Joseph Gregor, director of the Österreichisches Theatermuseum, shared responsibility for Geyer's fate, as his future wife Maria Kotera attempted to disclaim in 1947. That same year George Saiko's partner Gabriele Gross informed the Federal Monuments Authority that he had acquired from Emil Geyer a watercolour by Josef Kriehuber, which she had brought to the Dorotheum in 1943 and sold for the Linzer Kunstmuseum. Research subsequently revealed, however, that this watercolour had been part of the art collection of the Viennese lawyer Josef Blauhorn, who fled to London. The picture was returned to his legal successors in May 2013. The whereabouts of Emil Geyer's art collection and extensive library are not known.