Key Events in the Life of Alice Guy Blaché
by Alison McMahan
This is an updated and revised version of the Chronology that first appeared in Alison McMahan, Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema (New York and London: Continuum 2002).
Marie Clotilde Franceline Aubert (known as Mariette), the future mother of Alice Guy, finds herself removed from the strict Convent of the Visitation in Paris where she had been educated. Relatives arranged for her to be married, within three months, to Emile Guy at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris. Days later she is on a ship to South America with relatives and a husband she barely knows. Guy, ten years her senior, is a successful book publisher with a chain of bookstores in Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile.
July 1—After a seven-week sea voyage, Mariette Guy gives birth to her fifth child, Alice Ida Antoinette Guy, in Saint-Mandé, then a Parisian suburb near the Bois de Vincennes, after having insisted that her child should be "born French," unlike her first four children, who were born in Chile.
Guy is raised by her grandmother in Carouge, near Geneva, Switzerland, until she is three or four years old. A family legend says that Alice might actually be the daughter of one of the vaqueros on the hacienda in Chile, and this accounts for the unusual circumstances surrounding her birth.
Mariette comes to Switzerland to collect her daughter, Alice, and take her home to Santiago. In Santiago, Alice Guy meets her father for the first time.
Alice Guy's father brings her back to France and enrolls her in the boarding school where two of her older sisters are already studying, the Sacred Heart Convent in Veyrier, Switerzland, near the French border.
Emile Guy's Chilean bookstore chain is bankrupted by a series of violent earthquakes, fires, and thefts. He returns to France while his wife remains in Chile. Alice Guy and her next younger sister are transferred to a cheaper boarding school in Ferney, France, near the Swiss border.
Alice Guy's brother dies after a long illness, forcing her mother to return from Chile. Her father dies soon after. Her oldest sister becomes a schoolteacher, and marriages are quickly arranged for the other two sisters, leaving Alice to finish her high school studies in Paris in "a little classroom on the Rue du Cardinet." (1)
Alice's mother, who has never had gainful employment before, supports the two of them by working for the newly established Mutualité maternelle. Because of some disagreement, she would lose her job after just a few months.
A friend of the family recommends that Alice be trained as a typist and stenographer.
Alice Guy's training is complete; she gets her first job as a secretary for a company that sells varnishing products. She is now her mother's sole source of support.
Guy is hired as a secretary by Léon Gaumont, the "second-in-command" at Félix Richard's still-photography company, Le Comptoir général de photographie, located at 57, rue Saint- Roch, Paris.
January—Guy is present when Georges Demenÿ demonstrates his phonoscope and offers Richard the patent for his biographe, a 60 mm motion-picture camera. Because Richard is busy fighting a lawsuit with his brother, nothing comes of the meeting.
Spring—Richard loses the patent suit and is forced to go out of business.
July 7—Léon Gaumont takes over the office, buys the inventory, and starts his own company, the Société en commandite Léon Gaumont et Cie, retaining Alice Guy as office manager.
August 22—Gaumont signs a contract with Demenÿ for his biographe, a 60 mm motion picture camera.
March 22—Gaumont and Guy are invited by the Lumière brothers to witness a demonstration of their cinématographe, a 35 mm motion-picture camera, at the Société d'encouragement à l'industrie nationale. Their screen is a sheet nailed to the wall. They see one film, Sortie d'usine (Workers Leaving the Factory). Guy persuades Gaumont to let her use the Gaumont camera to direct a story film.
December 28 -- the Lumière family organizes a public screening for a paying audience in the Salon Indien of the Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris on December 28, 1895. Alice does not attend. The showing of a few short films lasted only twenty minutes. The films shown were: La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory), 46 seconds, La Voltige ("Horse Trick Riders"), 46 seconds, La Pêche aux poissons rouges ("Fishing for goldfish"), 42 seconds, Le Débarquement du Congrès de Photographie à Lyon ("The disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon"), 48 seconds, Les Forgerons ("Blacksmiths"), 49 seconds, Le Jardinier (l'Arroseur Arrosé) ("The Gardener," or "The Sprinkler Sprinkled"), 49 seconds, Le Repas (de bébé) ("Baby's Breakfast"), 41 seconds, Le Saut à la couverture ("Jumping Onto the Blanket"), 41 seconds, La Place des Cordeliers à Lyon ("Cordeliers Square in Lyon"--a street scene), 44 seconds, La Mer (Baignade en mer) ("the sea [bathing in the sea]"), 38 seconds See them at
Guy writes, produces, and directs La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy), sometime before May. By her own account, her first film. She learns in-camera special effects from still photographer Frédérique Dillaye.
May 4—Charity Sales Bazaar fire, started in a film projectionist's tent. Many of Gaumont's friends and clients, including the wife of photographer Frédérique Dillaye, die in the fire. The upper class turns its back on the cinema after this.
Gaumont makes Guy head of film production, a post she holds until 1907. By 1907 she will have directed and produced more than a thousand films.
Edwin Porter, who would be best known for directing films for the Edison Film Manufacturing Company, makes his first film.
Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. The Lumiéres have a huge screen set up, similar to IMAX of today. Other cinematic experiments include the Mareorama, similar to today's virtual reality rides. Gaumont shows films at the exposition. Alice Guy buys a copy of the Tissot Bible. Pathé, Gaumont's big competitor, has a big presence at the Exposition. Three separate talking film exhibits are shown at the Exposition Universelle in 1900: the Phono-Cinéma-Theatre, the Theatrescope, and the Phonorama.
Ferdinand Zecca directs his first film for Pathé.
Gaumont demonstrates his Chronophone, a synchronized-sound system. Gaumont presents his patented Chronophone to the French Photographic Society and Alice Guy begins directing films for the system.
Guy directs more than 100 phonoscènes, films made for the Chronophone.
Guy is well aware of the work of Thomas Edison, Louis Lumiére, (who is a friend of Gaumont's), Georges Méliès, and Pathé. Ferdinand Zecca is the director of films at Pathé, the closest person she knows as a counterpart to herself. One day she finds him selling soap on the street: he has been fired after an argument with Charles Pathé. She hires him as her assistant. Up until this point she has never had an assistant.
Zecca works as Alice Guy's assistant for two weeks; while doing this, she also lets him direct a couple of films (remakes of films she made earlier) and Les Méfaits d'une tête de veau, which was later incorrectly attributed to her. In the meantime she makes sure Pathé knows Zecca is working for his rival. Pathé immediately hires Zecca back.
Guy realizes she likes having assistants and hires a few more, all of whom would become great names of early French cinema: Étienne Arnaud and then Louis Feuillade, whom she trained as writers and directors, and the set designer Henri Menessier and his assistant Ben Carré, both of whom later followed her to the United States. In 1905 she hires Victorin Jasset.
The Lumiére brothers, whose earliest films served as models for Alice Guy, cease film production.
Alice Guy embarks on her most ambitious Gaumont project: La Vie du Christ [The Life of Christ] in twenty-five episodes. She uses the illustrations from the James Tissot Bible as guides. (The original Tissot paintings as well as a version of the Bible are now in the Brooklyn Museum, New York).
Alice Guy has to fire Jasset, who did second unit directing on La Vie du Christ [The Life of Christ]. Gaumont supports her decision, but Jasset begins a slander campaign against her.
Guy has another enemy at Gaumont, René Decaux, who tries to make La Vie du Christ [The Life of Christ] go over budget so that she will be fired and he will get her job. He slashes all the backdrops and later claims he needed them, it was an emergency, for pipe insulation. Her entire staff works overtime to re-create the backdrops, but there is still a budget overrun. She comes close to losing her job, only keeping it because Gustave Eiffel, head of the board, intercedes on her behalf.
She decides to make a film on location in the south of France, Mireille (based on the opera). Her usual cameraman, Anatole Thiberville, is ill, so she is assigned a new cameraman, a young man named Herbert Blaché.
The film shoot is very romantic. Alice has a bit part in addition to directing. The reigning matador at the bullfight, Machaquito, dedicates his kill to Alice. This makes Herbert jealous, which makes them realize they have feelings for each other.
On their return to Paris, they find the negative is unusable. It is not clear whether this is Herbert's poor camerawork or a problem with the camera or with the lab. Herbert is reassigned to market the Chronophone in Germany. Alice goes back to directing in Paris.
Herbert Blaché has technical problems with the Chronophone. Gaumont asks Alice Guy to go to Berlin and help him. By the end of the Berlin visit, the two are engaged.
Christmas Day—Blaché and Guy are officially engaged. Guy is thirty-three, Blaché is twenty-four.
March 6—Guy and Blaché marry. Gaumont sends Herbert Blaché to the United States to promote a Chronophone franchise. Madame Blaché resigns her position to accompany her husband to the United States just days after the wedding.
The Blachés spend nine months working with Max Faetkenheuer and George Pettengill, the purchasers of the Chronophone franchise rights for Cleveland, to promote the Chronophone franchise. They live off Guy Blaché's dowry and their savings.
December 29— The Cleveland Hippodrome opens to the public, with an auditorium for 4,500. Faetkenheuer is one of the Hippodrome's backers. The one public demonstration of the Chronophone shows that its amplification is problematic. Faetkenheuer and Pettengill lose interest in the Chronophone.
1908 Early 1908—Gaumont hires Herbert Blaché to manage his studio in Flushing, New York, for the production of phonoscènes in English. Lois Weber is among the performers hired, and she is later given the opportunity to direct phonoscènes herself.
D. W. Griffith directs his first film for Biograph.
September 6—Alice Blaché gives birth to her first child, a daughter, Simone.
1909 Edwin Porter leaves Edison to start an independent company, Rex.
1910 September—Tempted by the Gaumont studio in Flushing, New York, which is underused, Alice Blaché creates her own company, Solax, and rents the Gaumont studio space. Her first film, A Child's Sacrifice, is released in October. She will produce and direct a film weekly for the next six months.
1911 Solax moves to producing two one-reel films a week. Alice Blaché hires assistants: first Wilbert Melville, then Edgar Lewis and Edward Warren.
Lois Weber and her husband, Phillips Smalley, direct and star in their first film, A Heroine of '76. Rex/Universal. One reel. Released February 25.
1912 June 27— Alice Blaché gives birth to her second and last child, a son, Reginald.
Solax is so successful that Alice Blaché builds a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, said to cost more than $100,000, which would be over two million dollars today. Solax produces three one-reelers a week and develops a stable of stars including Billy Quirk, Marion Swayne, Vinnie Burns, Darwin Karr, Blanche Cornwall, Magda Foy ("The Solax Kid"), and Romaine Fielding. Her set designer from Paris, Henri Menessier, and his assistant, Ben Carré, follow her to Fort Lee. Alice Blaché writes and directs at least half of all Solax films and oversees all production. Her rate of production equals that of D. W. Griffith, working at Biograph just a few miles away.
Other French film manufacturers working in Fort Lee at this time: The Societé Française des Films et Cinématographes Eclair opens an American branch with a studio at Fort Lee in 1911 (their studio burnt down in 1914) with Emil Cohl, the animator who had started at Gaumont, as well as Étienne Arnaud. Maurice Tourneur comes to work for Eclair at the behest of Charles Jourjon, but ends up working for Eclair's successor studio, Peerless, and then World; Louis Gasnier directs Pearl White in The Perils of Pauline for Pathé in 1911 (even though he speaks no English).
Gaumont has a falling-out with George Kleine, a member of the Motion Picture Patents Company and his U.S. distributor. Gaumont moves over from the "licensed" side of distribution (those who were members of the Motion Pictures Patents Co., also known as the Edison Trust) to join the ranks of the independents, which represented about a quarter of the market but did not have the same access to distribution outlets as members of the MPPC did. Since Solax's films are distributed through Gaumont in both the United States and France, Solax joins the ranks of the independents along with Gaumont.
As a result Solax loses some of its key people. The designer Henri Menessier follows his assistant Ben Carré to Eclair. Edward Warren leaves Solax and goes on to make a documentary about the Boy Scouts. Wilbert Melville, Romaine Fielding, and eventually Vinnie Burns go to Lubin's film sets out west. Darwin Karr takes a trip around the country in his motorcar.
March 1—Release date of Dick Whittington and His Cat. With a length of three reels (45 minutes), a $35,000 budget and elaborate staging (including burning a boat) and costuming, it is Madame Blaché's most ambitious Solax project.
June—Herbert Blaché's contract with Gaumont expires, and Alice Blaché makes him president of Solax so that she can concentrate on writing and directing. After three months, Herbert Blaché resigns and starts his own film company, Blaché Features. Blaché Features uses Solax's plant, inventory, and actors, making the two companies hardly distinguishable for a few months. Blaché Features' production eventually supersedes Solax production, so that by 1914 Solax is virtually defunct.
August 1913–August 1914—Herbert Blaché and Alice Blaché alternate producing and directing longer films (three and four reels) for Blaché Features.
July—World War I begins in Europe. Gaumont decides to pull out of the United States. Georges Méliès ceases film production.
The market now demands feature-length films (five reels or more). The Blachés join Popular Plays and Players, a production company that produces features for distributors such as Metro, Pathé, and World Film Corporation. These films are shot in the former Solax studio in Fort Lee, which still belongs to the Blachés.
Edwin Porter directs his last film.
Germaine Dulac, the second French woman filmmaker, forms a small production company, Delia Film, with her husband, Albert Dulac.
March 15—Carl Laemmle opens the world's largest motion-picture production facility, Universal City, on a 230-acre converted farm just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood.
The Blachés are dissatisfied with their distribution arrangement and decide to part ways with Popular Plays and Players. As the U.S. Amusement Corporation, they produce feature films and make their own distribution deals with the same distributors who bought the films from Popular Plays and Players. Alice Blaché directs seven features, including The Ocean Waif.
November 2—Release of The Ocean Waif. Golden Eagle/International Film Service. Five reels. Directed by Alice Guy Blaché. Screenplay: Frederick Chapin. Photography: John G. Hass. With Carlyle Blackwell, Doris Kenyon, William Morse, Fraunie Fraunholz, Lyn Donaldson, August Bermeister, and Edgar Norton.
March 11—Release of The Empress. Popular Plays and Players/Pathé. Five reels. Directed by Alice Guy Blaché. Screenplay: Alice Guy Blaché and Holbrook Blinn, Photography: John G. Hass. With Doris Kenyon, William Morse, Holbrook Blinn, Lyn Donaldson.
April 6—The United States enters World War I.
The former Solax studio is now rented out to other companies, starting with Apollo Pictures. At age forty-four, Alice Blaché has an excellent reputation as a film director, but her last few films have not been commercially successful. Herbert Blaché, who is thirty-five, is enjoying the attention of young actresses. In the fall of 1917, Simone, age nine, and Reginald, age five, contract measles, and become seriously ill. Blaché sends his family to the healthier environment of North Carolina, where Alice Blaché cares for her children and takes part in the war effort by volunteering for the Red Cross while her husband continues to manage business in Fort Lee.
Herbert Blaché finds his wife a job directing The Great Adventure, starring Bessie Love, for Pathé Players. Released March 10, the film, a comedy, is commercially successful.
March 30—Edison sells his film manufacturing company and ceases film production.
Herbert Blaché moves to Hollywood with one of his actresses. Alice Blaché gives up her house in Fort Lee and moves into an apartment in New York City.
Léonce Perret hires Alice Blaché to write and direct Tarnished Reputations, offering her $2,000 for six weeks of work. The film takes ten weeks to make, and in the process she contracts Spanish influenza, which kills four of her colleagues. Herbert Blaché, passing through New York, is alarmed by her condition and invites her to join him in California.
Ferdinand Zecca directs his last film, Le Calvaire d'une reine.
Alice Blaché moves into a small bungalow in Los Angeles with her children. Herbert Blaché does not live with them but hires Alice Blaché as his directing assistant on The Brat and Stronger than Death, both starring Alla Nazimova.
A few months later Alice Blaché is called back to Fort Lee to oversee the auction of the Solax properties. In the middle of bankruptcy arrangements, a polio epidemic sweeps the Northeast, and Madame Blaché, imitating her friends the Capellanis (Albert Capellani had started directing for Pathé in Paris in 1905, later with World in Fort Lee), flees with her children to Canada.
March 14—Tarnished Reputations opens. It is Alice Blaché's last film.
August 26—Women get the right to vote in the United States.
Guy is invited to direct one of the sequels to the original Tarzan movie—if she can invest $50,000. She lacks both the funds and the motivation. (2)
Bankruptcy proceedings are finished, and the Blachés are divorced. Alice Blaché (now calling herself Alice Guy-Blaché) returns with her children to France.
Herbert Blaché goes on to direct such films as The Saphead starring Buster Keaton in 1920 and The Wild Party, with Esther Ralston, in 1923. His directing career ends in 1927.
Guy Blaché's efforts to work in the French film industry, including the Gaumont Victorine Studios in Nice, do not bear fruit. She returns to the United States in 1927 to try to find copies of her films to help her find work. She finds none, even at the Library of Congress where some of them were copyrighted. When the silent film era ends in 1929, it becomes clear that she will not make films again. She becomes financially dependent on her children, especially her daughter, Simone.
Louis Feuillade directs his last film, Lucette.
Lois Weber directs her last silent film, White Heat.
Dorothy Arzner directs her first feature, Fashions for Women. In 1929 Arzner directs Paramount's first sound film, The Wild Party, and is the first woman to join the newly formed Directors Guild of America.
Léon Gaumont publishes a history of the Gaumont company, which does not mention any of the film production before 1907. Guy Blaché embarks on a deferential letter-writing campaign to correct his omissions. Gaumont agrees to add to his document and corrects the manuscript himself, but it remains unpublished at his death in 1946.
D. W. Griffith directs his last feature film, The Struggle (he would direct a segment of Footlight Varieties in 1951).
Lois Weber directs a sound film, White Heat, her last film.
Guy Blaché's son, Reginald, returns to the United States. Simone and Guy Blaché move to Paris, where Simone’s work prospects are better. Guy supplements her daughter's meager income by writing children's stories and novelizations of films for women's magazines.
Simone Blaché begins her career working for U.S. embassies in Europe. Guy Blaché follows her daughter on various assignments, first in Vichy (1940) then Geneva (1941–47).
Women win the right to vote in France.
Léon Gaumont dies.
Guy Blaché makes guest speaker appearances at high schools and women's clubs in Switzerland. The success of these informal appearances leads her to write her Memoirs.
Simone and Guy Blaché live in Washington, D.C. In Georgetown, Guy Blaché begins to seriously work on her memoirs and filmography and renews the search for her films. She begins a correspondence with Louis Gaumont, Léon Gaumont's son.
October 23—Herbert Blaché dies.
December 8—Louis Gaumont gives a speech in Paris on "Madame Alice Guy Blaché, the First Woman Filmmaker," who, he says, "has been unjustly forgotten."
Film historians such as Jean Mitry, Georges Sadoul, René Jeanne, and Charles Ford begin to take notice of her.
Guy Blaché is recognized with the Légion d'honneur, France's highest honor.
March 16—Guy is honored in a Cinémathèque française ceremony.
April 25—Emission Cinépanorama, a television show, features Guy Blaché
Simone Blaché is transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Brussels.
Victor Bachy, the professor who initiated the academic study of cinema in Belgium, meets Guy Baché by accident and begins researching her work.
July 1—Alice Guy. A 15-minute interview filmed by Paul Seban for the television show Hieroglyphes by I.N.A. Paris, introduced by Charles Ford. Most of this footage is included in the 1995 documentary The Lost Garden: The Life and Work of Alice Guy Blaché, The World's First Woman Filmmaker.
Guy Blaché and her daughter move to New Jersey.
March 24—Guy Blaché dies in a nursing home in New Jersey, at the age of ninety-five.
Nicole-Lise Bernheim produces the documentary Qui est Alice Guy?
Publication by Denöel/Gonthier, Paris, of the French edition of her memoirs: Alice Guy, Autobiographie d'une pionnière du cinema (1873–1968), presented by l'Association Musidora, edited by Nicole-Lise Bernheim and Claire Clouzot.
The Women's Independent Film Exchange, directed by Cecile Starr, organizes a retrospective of films by women filmmakers, screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other venues. The retrospective is entitled "75th Anniversary of Women Filmmakers in the U.S.," using the founding of Solax in 1910 as the beginning.
Publication of The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press), edited by Anthony Slide, translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché. Filmography of French films by Francis Lacassin. Filmography of American films by Anthony Slide.
June 10—"A Tribute to Alice Guy-Blaché." Women's Independent Film Exchange. Thomas A. Edison National Historic Site, West Orange, New Jersey. Cosponsored by the Thomas A. Edison Black Maria Film Festival and Competition and the Women's Independent Film Exchange.
The Silent Feminists: America's First Women Directors, documentary produced, directed, and written by Anthony Slide and Jeffrey Goodman, including a segment on Alice Guy. Producers Library Service.
Publication of Victor Bachy's Alice Guy-Blaché (1873–1968): La première femme cinéaste du monde, Perpignan: Institut Jean Vigo, 1993. Bachy updated the filmographies by Lacassin and Slide published in the Memoirs.
Alice Guy honored at "Films des Femmes": 16e Festival International de Créteil et du Val du Marne (March 18–27). The Silent Feminists by Anthony Slide and Jeffrey Goodman, a documentary of women filmmakers during the silent era, including Alice Guy, is screened at the festival. Slide conducts a conference.
"Gaumont Presents: A Century of French Cinema." A showcase of Gaumont films throughout its long history, including numerous films by Alice Guy, is premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in January. It then travels to the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Film Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Cinematheque at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles, the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Cinémathèque Quebeçoise in Montreal, the George Eastman House in Rochester, the Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto, and the Library of Congress, the National Gallery, and the Maison Française of the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.
March 30—ArtTable screening of the films of Alice Guy Blaché, Paris.
Release date of The Lost Garden: The Life and Work of Alice Guy Blaché, The World's First Woman Filmmaker, documentary directed by Marquise Lepage, 60 mins. National Film Board of Canada. First aired on Turner Movie Network August 2000. Distributed by Women Make Movies:
Release date of Alice Guy ou l'enfance du cinema, documentary by Florida Sadki, 30 mins. Cine-Cinefil/Centre Georges Pompidou/Les Films de la Passarelle/Triangle Productions/Lobster Films/Zeaux Production. With the collaboration de R.T.B.F.
May—Reel Models: The First Women of Film; Alice Guy, Lois Weber, Frances Marion, Dorothy Arzner with a twenty-minute segment on Alice Guy. Aired on AMC Channel in the United States on May 30, 2000, and August 1, 2000.
Publication of the first English-language book-length scholarly study on Alice Guy's work, Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, Continuum, by Alison McMahan.
Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, documentary produced by Tom Hanlon released on DVD. Includes segment on the Solax studio.
March—UNESCO art exhibition: "Alice in 'Cinemaland'" organized in collaboration with Thierry Peeters and the association Les amis d'Alice Guy-Blaché.
Release of Looking for Alice, documentary directed by Claudia Collao. Esperanza production (Sonia Medina). 52 mins.
November 6, 2009–January 24, 2010— "Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer," retrospective curated by Joan Simon, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
In progress—Fort Lee Film Commission's documentary, The First Woman Filmmaker: Alice Guy Blaché (working title).
1. Guy Blaché, The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché, trans. Roberta and Simone Blaché, ed. Anthony Slide (Metuchen, N.J. and London: Scarecrow Press, 1986), 10.
2. Guy Blaché, Memoirs, 10.