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The First Female Film Director

May 20, 2019

 

Alice Guy was born on July 1,  1873, to Emile Guy and Marie Clotilde Franceline Augert.  Emile owned a bookstore and publishing company.  They lived in Santiago, Chile, but Alice was actually born in France.  At the age of six, her father brought her back to France to attend school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart which was on the French side of the Swiss border, to join her sisters who were already enrolled there. 

 

In January of 1891, Alices father died suddenly.  Following his death she trained as a stenographer ad typist to support herself and her widowed mother.  Her first assignment was at a warning factory and then in March of 1894 she began work at the Comptoir General de la photography, owned by Felix Max-Richard.  It was a company that manufactured cameras and supplied photographic essentials.  The company was eventually acquired by a consortium and named after Leon Gaumont. Leon was a major force in the new motion picture industry in France. In 1896, she asked Gaumont could direct a film. Gaumont said yes, and in short order she directed her first film and became the head of production at the studio.  After that film she directed, produced or supervised over one hundred and fifty synchronized sound films.  Her silent films were notable for their energy and risk taking.  Her preference fo real locations gives an example of how these films has a contemporary feel.  Her influence in the field was described by Alan Williams; “she created and nurtured the mood of excitement and sheer aesthetic pleasure that one senses in so many pre-war Gaumont films, including the ones made after her departure from the Paris Studio.”  One notable film of Alice’s was the Life of Christ that featured twenty five sets and many exterior locations over the three years it took to make.  While Alice worked for Gaumont and led to a brilliant filmmaking career that spanned more than twenty five years.  She directed, produced, wrote for and oversaw more than 700 films. 

 

In 1907 Alice married Herbert Blache, who was appointed the production manager for the Gaumon’s operations in the United States. The couple worked together for a while in the Gaumont operation but in 1910 struck out on their own. She formed the Solax Company which was the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America. For the two years that it was successful, the Solax Company jump-started the careers of several actors and made stars out of performers such as Darwin Karr and Blanche Cornwall, who starred in a series of melodramas that critiqued the social system, such as A Man’s a Man(1912), The Roads That Lead Home(1913), The Girl in the Armchair (1913), and The Making of an American Citizen(1911) as well as action films like The Detective and His Dog (1912) and the multi-reeler The Pit and the Pendulum(1913). Karr and Cornwall also starred in comedies like A Comedy of Errors (1912), Canned Harmony (1912), His Double(1912), and Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case(1913). But the actors that really brought Guy’s comic genius to life were Marion Swayne and Fraunie Fraunholz. They starred in A House Divided (1913) and Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913), two typical examples of Alice Guy’s emphasis on marriage as an equal partnership and the reason these two extant films still appeal to audiences today.  Guy also made numerous action films with female characters as heroes, many of them starring Vinnie Burns. Guy first cast Burns when she was an unknown teenager, then trained her to do her own stunts in actions films such as Two Little Rangers (1912), Greater Love Hath No Man (1913), and Guy’s masterpiece at Solax, the three-reeler Dick Whittington and His Cat (1913), for which the director had a real boat detonated. Guy also gave Romaine Fielding his start as an actor; he appeared in numerous Solax films, including Mixed Pets (1911), Across The Mexican Line (1911), and Greater Love Hath No Man.  Two years later, Alice was the first woman to run her own studio, Solax, where she completed one to three films a week. She was also the mother of two children, a daughter and a son. In order to focus more on writing and directing she made her husband president of Solax, in 1913.

 

For the two years that it was successful, the Solax Company jump-started the careers of several actors and made stars out of performers such as Darwin Karr and Blanche Cornwall, who starred in a series of melodramas that critiqued the social system, such as A Man’s a Man(1912), The Roads That Lead Home(1913), The Girl in the Armchair (1913), and The Making of an American Citizen(1911) as well as action films like The Detective and His Dog (1912) and the multi-reeler The Pit and the Pendulum(1913). Karr and Cornwall also starred in comedies like A Comedy of Errors (1912), Canned Harmony (1912), His Double(1912), and Burstop Holmes’ Murder Case(1913). But the actors that really brought Guy’s comic genius to life were Marion Swayne and Fraunie Fraunholz. They starred in A House Divided (1913) and Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913), two typical examples of Alice Guy’s emphasis on marriage as an equal partnership and the reason these two extant films still appeal to audiences today.  Guy also made numerous action films with female characters as heroes, many of them starring Vinnie Burns. Guy first cast Burns when she was an unknown teenager, then trained her to do her own stunts in actions films such as Two Little Rangers (1912), Greater Love Hath No Man (1913), and Guy’s masterpiece at Solax, the three-reeler Dick Whittington and His Cat (1913), for which the director had a real boat detonated. Guy also gave Romaine Fielding his start as an actor; he appeared in numerous Solax films, including Mixed Pets (1911), Across The Mexican Line (1911), and Greater Love Hath No Man. 

 

The couple divorced in 1920. Herbert remained in Hollywood and continued to direct features, including The Saphead (1920), starring Buster Keaton, until 1927. He remarried and became a furniture merchant. 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. She never remarried, nor did she make another film.  She was generally considered to be the world's first female director.

                 

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