Today is the birthday of Alice Guy-Blaché (Alice Guy 1873-1968). Hers is a name that ought to be taught to every schoolchild: she was not only the first female film-maker, but one of the first film-makers period.
Born and raised in Paris (with a brief interlude in Chile), she trained as a secretary when her father’s chain of bookstores went bankrupt. One of her first jobs in 1894 was at Leon Gaumont’s photo studio, soon to become the Gaumont Film Company. There is something to be said for getting in on the ground floor. From her original position as secretary, by 1896 Guy had become head of production, a position she held for a decade, overseeing every aspect of the creation of hundreds of film, and contributing substantially to the evolution of narrative storytelling in cinema.
In 1907, she married Herbert Blaché and for the next three years the two oversaw Gaumont’s operations in the U.S. In 1910, they opened their own company Solax, in Flushing, Queens, making Guy not only the first female director and producer in the United States, but the only female to run and own her own movie studio to this day. Amongst other successes, Solax released the comedies of Billy Quirk.
The company flourished for a couple of years, but by the middle of the decade the competition from the newer Hollywood-based companies was too intense. Blaché left Guy and their children and moved to Hollywood with another woman in 1918. By 1920, Guy had directed her last film and dissolved Solax. She moved back to France in 1922, then came back to the States five years later.
Now here’s a 1912 Billy Quirk comedy for Solax, Algie the Miner:
Here’s another post on Alice Guy, by the indomitable Duchess:
To learn more about silent film, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc