Two weeks ago I was in Toledo, Spain, to speak at the CIBRA 4th Annual film festival, as part of an hommage to Alice Guy. Regine Blaché-Bolton was part of the hommage.
Although I've met Regine a few times over the years, the festival gaves us several days together, an unprecedented opportunity. Regine, Reginald Blaché's older daughter, is one of Alice Guy's last surviving relatives who actually knew Alice personally. Of course Marquise Lepage and I took the opportunity to ask her of her memories of her grandmother.
One of her memories is of Alice teaching her an old French song. Regine didn't know the title, but she remembered the song and sang it for us. She also wrote out the lyrics, which Marquise transcribed.
With the lyrics in hand I was able to do a search and found that the song is entitled La poitrinaire or Le secret de bébé, and was sung on the vaudeville stage by an artist named Charlus. He recorded the song in 1903. The registration is listed as:
0000001944BC, "Le secret de bébé" - Chanson (Boissière).
I haven't been able to find a recording online of Charlus performing this song, but you can hear some of his other recordings here.
Boissiere refers to Frédéric Boissière, about whom not much is known, except that he was a prolific French song writer, usually using lyrics written by others, and died in 1889.
Je connais depuis l'automne, un bébé des plus charmant,
dont la soeur, pauvre mignonne, est poitrinaire à 15 ans.
Quand je vis la blonde tête, de ce gracieux lutin,
il parcourait en cachette, les allées du grand jardin.
Ses petites mains potelées, tenaient un fil qu'il roulait,
autour des branches fanées, que parfois il atteignait.
"Que fais-tu,là, petit homme?", l'enfant surpris me toisa,
puis souriant, voici comme, à voix basse il me parla.
"Tu me plais, je vais te dire, quel est mon secret à moi,
si tu me promets sans rire, de bien le garder pour toi.
Tout d'abord, je dois t'apprendre que je m'appelle Bébé,
que j'ai, ça va te surprendre, mes cinq ans depuis l'été.
Pour jouer à la cachette, je suis tout seul maintenant,
car bien malalde est soeurette, et le docteur vient souvent.
Ce docteur est bien sévère, mais ne parait pas méchant,
cependant petite mère, toujours pleure en l'écoutant.
Alors j'ai voulu connaître ce qui la faisait pleurer,
j'étais curieux peut-être, monsieur tu vas me gronder.
Sous la table avec mystère, hier je me suis caché,
le docteur causait à mère, de là j'ai tout écouté.
Il disait:"Voyez par terre, combien de feuilles déjà,
quand tombera la dernière, le chère enfant s'en ira".
Voilà pourquoi je rattache les feuilles qui vont tomber,
c'est là une rude tâche, dis, monsieur, veux-tu m'aider
Here's my translation:
The consumptive girl or Baby's Secret
as sung by Charlus
In the fall I met a lovely baby boy
whose sister, poor darling, is consumptive at only fifteen
When I saw the blonde head, the graceful elf
he traveled in secret alleys of the large garden.
His chubby little hands held a roll wire,
and sometimes reached the withered branches.
"What are you doing there, little man?" The child stared surprised me,
then smiling, as here, in a low voice he told me.
"Because I like you, I'll tell you my secret,
if you promise not laugh, and keep it to yourself.
Firstly, I must tell you that I'm called Baby
I turned five last summer.
I have no one to play hide and seek with me now
as my sister is ill, and the doctor comes often.
This doctor is very severe, but doesn't seem bad,
But my mommy always cries when she hears him.
So I wanted to know what made her cry,
I was curious perhaps, maybe you will scold me.
I hid under the table yesterday, and when
Doctor talked to mother, then I listened to everything.
He said: "Look on the ground, how many leaves there are already
when the last leaf falls the dear child will go. "
That's why I attach the leaves that fall,
this is a tough task, saying, sir, will you help me?
What seems clear is that this song is was the inspiration for Alice Guy when she wrote and directed Falling Leaves (Solax 1912), a one-reeler with Marion Swayne as the consumptive girl, Blanche Cornwall playing her mother, Darwin Karr her father, and Magda Foy playing Baby.
Alice Guy did direct Charlus as he performed for various phonoscenes. We have a record for five such phonoscenes, but none of them is Le secret de bébé.
Charlus (prounounced Charlusse) was the stage name of Defer Louis Napoleon, born September 6, 1860 in Aumale, Seine Lower (now Seine-Maritime), and died February 21, 1951 at Verberie Oise (about fifteen miles from Compiègne), aged 90. He is buried in the Verberie cemetery. He sang for the cafe-concert and recorded over a thousand songs, for Pathé , Edison, Odeon, Zonophone and other companies. You can read his memoirs here, (in French) which are brief and were written on the occasion of Pathé's 50th anniversary, which might explain why there is no mention of Gaumont Phonoscènes. Also, in 1901 he was appointed artistic director of the production of records of caf 'conc' artists for Pathé.It is unclear how long he held that position, as he also continued to sing on the stage. From 1914 to 1925, he was branch manager at Pathé Marseille.
So, it seems clear that Alice Guy directed Charlus, and filmed him in at least five Phonoscènes. In the process she learned some of his other songs, even if they were songs she didn't end up filming. It seems likely that she was using discs Charlus had already recorded for the sound. Maybe she considered filming Le secret de bébé, and decided against it for whatever reason, but never completely let go of the idea until she had her chance at Solax six years later.
Watch the movie and see for yourself.