Happy Birthday, Alice Guy!

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Alice Guy, later Madame Blaché, and after her divorce Alice Guy Blaché, was born on July 1, 1873, in a suburb of Paris. We can credit her with inventing film narrative language as we know it today.

From 1896 to 1906 Alice Guy was probably the only woman film director in the world. She had begun as a secretary for Léon Gaumont and made her first film in 1896. After that first film she directed and produced or supervised almost six hundred silent films ranging in length from one minute to thirty minutes, the majority of which were of the single-reel length. In addition, she also directed and produced or supervised one hundred and fifty synchronized sound films for the Gaumont Chronophone. Her Gaumont silent films are notable for their energy and risk-taking; her preference for real locations gives the extant examples of these Gaumont films a contemporary feel.

In early 1907, Guy resigned her position as head of Gaumont’s film production arm in Paris although she did not end her business relationship with Gaumont. This resignation was due to her marriage to Herbert Blaché, another Gaumont company employee. In 1910 Guy decided to take advantage of the under-used Flushing plant. She started her own company, Solax, and made silent films using the Gaumont studio. The Solax films were then distributed by Gaumont through George Kleine’s distribution company. By 1911 Solax was making enough money for the Blachés to move into their own large house. Guy built a $100,000 studio plant for Solax in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1912, the same year her second child, Reginald, was born, sister to Simone, born in 1908. Once Gaumont, no longer part of the MPPC monopoly, joined the ranks of the independents, Solax had to negotiate for distribution on a state-by-state basis.

By 1913 the distribution difficulties began to make themselves felt. Herbert made various very creative efforts to make lucrative distribution deals for both Gaumont and Solax films. Solax moved from producing shorts to features the same year, while still producing shorts, but by 1914 it was clear that the day of the short film was over. Léon Gaumont, after his multiple business setbacks and the outbreak of the war in France, pulled out of the US market as did other French companies, with the exception of Pathé. The Blachés remained, but Solax had to borrow money from the Seligmans, the bankers who then owned the majority share in the company.

By the late teens, both Guy and Herbert were directing feature films for hire.  The couple divorced in 1920. Herbert remained in Hollywood and continued to direct features, including The Saphead, starring Buster Keaton, until 1927. He remarried and became a furniture merchant. He died in 1953. In 1922 Guy chose to return to France, where for the next thirty years she lectured widely on film and wrote magazine fiction and novelizations of film scripts, but she never remarried, nor did she make another film. She died in New Jersey in 1968 and is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Mahwah, New Jersey.