Alice Guy Blaché

Alice Guy Blache

Entertainment | Fort Lee — Mahwah, New Jersey (1873-1968)

Alice Guy spent her early childhood living with her parents in Chile and her grandmother in Switzerland before attending a boarding school in France. In 1894, she was hired by Léon Gaumont to work as a secretary for a still photography company. The company soon went out of business, but Gaumont bought the inventory and started Gaumont Film Company to work in France’s fledgling motion picture industry. Guy served as head of production from 1896 to 1906. Today, she is considered to be the first filmmaker to develop narrative filmmaking. In 1906, she made The Life of Christ, a big-budget production that included 300 actors. By the early 1900s she was directing films in color and synchronized sound.

In 1907, she married Herbert Blaché, who became production manager for Gaumont’s U.S. operations in Fort Lee, the epicenter of the growing film industry. The husband-and-wife team left Gaumont in 1910, partnering with George A. Magie to build The Solax Company. Before U.S. women had the right to vote, she wrote, directed, and produced more than 350 films through World War I. She experimented with sound syncing, color tinting, interracial casting, and special effects long before other filmmakers. Years later, when the film business moved to California, she and her husband divorced. Guy Blaché went to work for William Randolph Hearst’s International Film Service, and she returned to France in 1922. Although she never made another film, she spent the next 30 years lecturing to film students and writing novels from film scripts. In 1953, she was awarded France’s Legion of Honor for her work. In 1965, she returned to Mahwah with her daughter, Simone. She died there on March 24, 1968. After Guy Blaché’s death, Simone found an unpublished manuscript of her mother’s memoirs; she translated the work and printed The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché in 1996. Film scholar Alison McMahan published Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema.

The Fort Lee Film Commission created one of the only existing historic markers for Guy Blaché, on Lemoine Avenue adjacent to the Fort Lee High School and on the site of Solax Studio. The commission also is trying to get Guy Blaché entered into the Directors Guild of America and to have her star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1995, a National Film Board of Canada aired a documentary, The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché.

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