Inventing The Movies
In 1894 a young woman named Alice Guy was hired as a secretary at a still-photography company in Paris. Unknowingly, she had just stepped into the vortex from which cinema would be born. Just twenty-one, schooled in convents and trained as a secretary, she would go on to shape the greatest art form of the twentieth century.
Guy persuaded her boss, Léon Gaumont, to let her direct a story film. The result, the one-minute La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy) started off her twenty-eight year career in the movie business. In the first half of her career, as head of film production for the Gaumont Company, she would almost single-handedly develop the art of cinematic narrative. On one of her film sets she met and fell in love with Gaumont sales manager Herbert Blaché, nine years her junior. Their marriage in March of 1907 meant that Alice Guy had to resign her position with Gaumont; at that moment she thought her film career was over. Gaumont sent Blaché to manage the Gaumont studio in Flushing, NY. Guy Blaché had given birth to her daughter, Simone, in 1908, but this new commitment did not stop her from forming the Solax company, using the Flushing Studio during Solax’s first year of operation. Business was so good that Guy Blaché, though pregnant with her second child, went from directing one film a week to three and was able to build a $100,000 glass-roof studio in Fort Lee in 1912. This made her the first woman to own her own studio and studio plant. In 1913 she directed her American masterpiece, Dick Whittington and His Cat, for which she blew up a ship off the Jersey Shore.
In June of 1914 Blaché’s contract with Gaumont ended and his wife made him president of Solax so that she could concentrate on writing and directing. After three months, Blaché resigned and started his own film company, Blaché Features, partly out of a need to raise capital and partly because he was tired of living in his wife’s shadow. By 1914 Solax was virtually defunct. For the next two years, Blaché and Guy Blaché had a successful personal and business partnership, as they alternated producing and directing longer films for Blaché Features and then Popular Plays and Players, but it was harder to turn a profit. They became directors for hire. Guy Blaché directed Olga Petrova, Doris Kenyon, Bessie Love, among others.
In 1918 Blaché abandoned his wife and children and went to Hollywood with one of his actresses. Guy Blaché directed her last film in 1919 and almost died after contracting the Spanish influenza. Blaché brought his family to Hollywood, where they maintained separate households, though Guy Blaché worked as his assistant on several films starring Alla Nazimova. By 1922 the couple was divorced and Guy Blaché had auctioned off her film studio as part of bankruptcy proceedings. She returned to France in 1922 and never made another film.