Copyright © 2016 by Janelle Dietrick
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Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dietrick, Janelle.
Excerpts from The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché translated by Roberta and Simone Blaché, edited by Anthony Slide, copyright 1996, used by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Includes biographical references.
15 • DIJON
31 • NADAR
44 • PARIS 1900
72 • FIRE
73 • WAR
  Cover: Alice Guy, circa 1900, courtesy National Film Board of Canada.
  1. Frontispiece, Alice, circa 1895, courtesy Gaumont Pathé Archives.
  2. Smugglers crossing the Alps, reprinted from The Aldine, Volume 4, 1872.
  3. Valparaiso Bay, 1863, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
  4. Prosper Guion, Les Rubans de Mariette, 1847, author’s collection.
  5. Alice’s mother circa 1864, courtesy Société Amis d’Alice Guy.
  6. Drawing of ship deck, reprinted from A Visit to Chile and the Nitrate Fields of Tarapaca, 1890.
  7. Alice at two or three years old, circa 1876, courtesy MOMA collection.
  8. Alice’s maternal grandmother, circa 1885, courtesy MOMA collection.
  9. Pier at Valparaiso, courtesy Album Vistas de Valparaiso, LeBlanc 1881.
10. Postcard of convent and railway station, circa 1900.
11. Alice at school age, courtesy National Film Board of Canada.
12. Little girls in front of convent circa 1890, courtesy Maison Bois de Saleve.
13. Paper print from A Gift from Santa Claus (1909) courtesy Library of Congress.
14. Postcard of Chateau Ferney-Voltaire circa 1900.
15. Portrait of Emile Guy circa 1873, courtesy National Film Board of Canada.
16. Woman at bookstall on Quai Malaquais, circa 1895.
17. Drawing of Anglo-American bar, reprinted from Exposition chez soi (1889)
18. Eiffel en garde circa 1889, courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
19. Seating chart reprinted from Memoirs De Blowitz, 1905.
20. Eiffel with telescope circa 1891, courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
21. Medal for Marmite, reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Medalists, 1904.
22. Postcard of boardwalk at Trouville-sur-Mer, circa 1900.
23. Eiffel’s beach house at Trouville-sur-Mer (center) from a postcard circa 1900.
24. Young woman in Trouville-sur-Mer circa 1897, courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
25. Thumbnail of Alice.
26. Eiffel, grandchildren, and two young women, circa 1895, courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
27. Two photographs on Eiffel’s yacht circa 1897, courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
28. Storefront at 26, boulevard Poissonnière circa 1896.
29. Adolfo Hohenstein poster, Couveuses d’Enfant, circa 1896.
30. Scenes from L’Ami Fritz, reprinted from L’Illlustration, 1877.
31. A.Vallgren’s cover for Vie Notre-Seigneur Jesus-Christ, reprinted from L’Art dans la Decoration extérieure des Livres en France et l’Étranger by Octave Uzanne, 1898.
32. Thumbnail of Alice’s wedding picture, 1907.
33. New York skyline 1907, courtesy Library of Congress.
34. Map of Grandvaux, reprinted from Histoire de Grandvaux, map by Dom Paul Benoit.
35. Three paper prints from Lost in the Alps (1907) courtesy Library of Congress.
36. Alice in Switzerland with young man, 1911, courtesy MOMA collection.
37. Alice in Switzerland with Eiffel’s grandchildren, 1911, courtesy MOMA collection.
38. Thumbnails of Alice and Eiffel’s relatives courtesy Musée d’Orsay.
39. Scene of four gamblers from 1911 Solax film, The Old Excuse.
40. Hotel Hollywood lobby, reprinted from The Story of Hollywood, 1905.
41. Thumbnails of Eiffel’s signature, 1862, and initials 1887; Alice circa 1897.
La vie explique l’oeuvre. The life explains the work.
On top of the Eiffel Tower, a thousand feet above Paris, is an apartment the world’s most famous engineer built for himself. He had a house in nearby Sevres and a mansion on rue Rabelais, but Gustave Eiffel turned them both over to his daughters who were raising young families. He lived at his rue Prony apartment near his workshops in Levallois-Perret, but when he entertained the leading scientists, musicians and artists of his time, he served champagne and petit fours at the top of the tower far into the night.
Twelve years before the tower was completed, his wife had died, leaving him with five children, ages four to fourteen. Still, there is no record of his having a relationship with a woman for the remaining forty-seven years of his life. In 2009, an exhibit of the Musée d’Orsay’s collection of Eiffel memorabilia was held in the Hotel de Ville. A journalist reviewing the exhibit commented on the lack of knowledge about Eiffel:
Besides portraits, photographs, a bust, we do not know much about what he was thinking or feeling, no secrets. In all his portraits, young or old, this is the same face that always appears, expressionless, decorous, but satisfied without vanity…he fences, he swims, he dances, leaving no trace of sin, even venal, according to the current knowledge of the museum’s archives.1
Late in his life, Eiffel wrote his Biographie Industrielle et Scientifique documenting his engineering achievements and his pursuit of aeronautic science. He made five copies of it, one for each of his children. He left out any mention of his work at L. Gaumont et Cie, one of the world’s oldest motion picture studios, where he was president for its first eleven years. The accepted view for more than a century has been that Eiffel was merely a silent partner in the Gaumont company, contributing start-up capital and little else. This book will show that, although Eiffel kept a low profile, he guided the company, contributed to its inventions, and was absorbed by the new technologies and decisions the company made in its first eleven years.
It comes as a surprise to most people that the cinema started in Paris in 1895, fifteen years before the first studio was built in Hollywood, and that the first film director was a young woman named Alice Guy who worked at Gaumont. The first films were only a minute long, long enough for a vignette from real life, a novelty with little utility. Alice at age twenty-two used the motion picture camera to stage a scene, a story showing babies growing in a garden of enormous cabbages. It was the first of hundreds of short films Alice wrote and directed. For eleven years, Alice made films in Paris and then in 1907 she came to the United States, where she wrote and directed hundreds of longer films in New York and Fort Lee, New Jersey, before Hollywood became the center of the film industry.
Alice’s memoirs were published posthumously in France in 1976 and translated into English ten years later. Her relationship with Eiffel is alluded to but well camouflaged. By the time Alice’s memoirs were published, many biographies of Eiffel had firmly established the accepted facts of his life. For almost a century, biographers have noted that he never remarried after his wife died in 1877 and that he was very close to his oldest daughter.
Eiffel’s biographers all respectfully took as their starting point Eiffel’s brief autobiography that describes in detail his education and career up until just after he built the Eiffel Tower. After that, there is a decade-long gap. There is an emptiness to this period of Eiffel’s life that is inconsistent with everything we know about this man. He loved opera and photography and had many friends. He simultaneously conceived the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal, two of the world’s greatest feats of engineering, and then, according to the current state of the knowledge, he had nothing to do for the next ten years.
There is a corresponding gap in Alice’s memoirs. After falling in love in 1891 at eighteen with a mysterious older man she calls P.B., she makes no reference to any romantic liaison until her marriage at age thirty-three in 1907. There have been two biographies of Alice, one in English and one in French. Both focus on Alice’s career as a film pioneer and director. More recent research is dedicated to locating the lost treasures of Alice’s films, unidentified and unrestored in archives all over the world.
The brevity of Alice’s memoirs, little more than a hundred pages, has flummoxed researchers for decades. It has been called tangential and incomplete,2 tantalizing in what it leaves out.3 This book is about what Alice’s memoirs leave out—the people introduced but not described, the difficulties alluded to but minimized, the losses and triumphs barely mentioned, and the love story she felt compelled to keep secret.
Ironically, without Alice’s words, this study would not be possible. Although she never identified the man she fell in love with by name, if she had not written, “I was literally in love with him,” or if she had not said in an interview, “I would gladly have married him—I adored the man,” no amount of research could discover the nature of her feelings.
Alice fell in love with Eiffel when she was eighteen and he was fifty-eight, and they both had good reasons for keeping it a secret for the rest of their lives. Alice and Eiffel continued their relationship for more than fifteen years. He was the love of her life. He was brilliant and meticulous, handsome and physically fit, generous and kind-hearted.
While Eiffel is fascinating, Alice is endlessly intriguing. What began as a double biography about a man and a woman, both of them extraordinary, turned out to be more about her. She is reserved, but her feelings are plainly declared on her face. She looks happy in some pictures, in others, sad, resigned or wistful. The problem for researchers has been that there is a dearth of personal information on either Alice or Eiffel, but when you put them together, there is more information on both of them. Alice’s memoirs are like a treasure map cluttered with seemingly meaningless details that on examination become clues to her core of experience.
Alice’s story is usually told in terms of her career in film directing. She has become a feminist icon, an example of a woman doing work she loves, becoming an entrepreneur, and getting rich quick. The problem is that’s not really her story. The icon, a sacred image to be revered, obscures her.
Alice’s childhood and youth provide an essential background to the rest of her biography. Her early years in Switzerland, Chile, and France yield insight into her character and artistic expression. Before this study, almost nothing was known of Alice’s father, a poignant figure in Alice’s life. This book explores Alice’s early life, and her father’s, in detail.
Eiffel’s hidden years can be traced through Alice. The search for Alice’s first love and her years at Quai Malaquais unexpectedly turned up Eiffel’s social life, previously unknown. Research into Eiffel’s early involvement in the Gaumont company turned up his participation in the nascent motion picture industry. Events that have been tangled for over a century take on new meaning in an accurate chronology. Leon Gaumont’s image as sole founder of the Gaumont company is deservedly diminished by both Alice and Eiffel.
The contexts Alice and Eiffel were born into, the circumstances that move people from place to place, the technical and artistic innovations they each contributed, are part of the drama of their unique stories. The backdrops of Paris, Geneva, Valparaiso, New York, San Francisco, Fort Lee, Mexico, and Hollywood enrich and complicate the plot. The historical events, the politics of business, and the most rudimentary of circumstances—logistics—constantly surprise the researcher.
Alice told her own story in the restrained voice ingrained in a woman born in the nineteenth century. She began her memoirs with metaphors and similes, introducing the cinema as her Prince Charming, “the one who has filled my life entirely.” Then she writes he is “an older gentleman as you shall see.” Less than twenty-five pages later, she introduces an older gentleman, an actual person, with whom she was “literally in love.” She will not tell us much about him, but she was still talking about him when she was ninety.
Alice could not tell the story of her life in her memoirs without including, between the lines, the story of her first love. “My destiny was no doubt traced before my birth, and I have followed a will whose name I do not know. Strange fate!”4 We want to know what happened before Alice was born that made her feel so fatalistic. Alice will meet her first love through friends of her parents, but she will not tell us who they were. We want to know more about these friends of her parents. We want to know more about her parents.
Alice sketches her family’s history in intriguing, but cryptic, fashion. “In 1847 or 1848, an uncle and aunt of my mother immigrated to South America, in order to rebuild a fortune much shaken by the revolution.” We want to know more about the fortune shaken by revolution and why Alice’s family went to South America, but Alice left out those very interesting details.
“Having succeeded beyond their hopes,” she writes, “they wished to see again their family and their country.” We want to know how they succeeded beyond their hopes, but Alice won’t tell us that either.
Alice has stories in her mind that she leaves out of her memoirs. Some of her stories are stories her mother and father told her that became pivotal events in her own life. The details of these stories remained with her as elements and scenes in her imagination, elements and scenes she would later use in her scenarios for film.
In a memoir that is both entrancing and mysterious, leaving a vast sea of unanswered questions, Alice tells the tale of her childhood and her life, a tale of adventure and entrepreneurship, romance and loss, and the earliest years of cinema in Paris and the United States.
There is in the department of Meurthe, in France, a busy little town called Baccarat famous for its manufacture of cut glass. A workman of this factory, who had invented a new process of glass-blowing was rewarded in 1823 with a prize “for virtue.” Such a guerdon, I fancy, would scarcely have been claimed by the inventor of baccarat, the gambling game. Whence it came is a mystery.
Sydney Morning Herald, 1891
Alice’s maternal great-grandfather, Dominique Aubert, was a maître tailleur de verres et cristaux, a master of glass and crystal, who lived in a town called Baccarat, 250 miles north of Geneva, named after its factory, the famous manufacturer of high-end crystal. Alice’s maternal grandfather, Nicolas Alphonse Aubert, was a graveur sur cristaux, a crystal engraver. The products of the crystal works are glamourous; the work, with its proximity to blast furnaces and risk of lead poisoning, is not.
The Baccarat crystal works was built for Louis XV and named after the high-stakes card game which only the aristocracy was allowed to play. Louis XV inherited from his predecessor the palace of Versailles, the envy of all Europe’s royalty, and asked the Baccarat crystal works to create the seventeen chandeliers holding a total of one-thousand candles for the Hall of Mirrors. In Alice’s great-grandfather’s time, Baccarat employed three thousand workers. Its products had the royal stamp of approval, always good for business, but for everything Baccarat sold, it would pay a “royalty” to the monarch.
Baccarat did not make the 357 mirrors for Versailles. Mirrors, lined with an amalgam of tin and mercury, were the most expensive of luxury items in Louis XIV’s time, created by a process held secret by the Republic of Venice which had a monopoly on mirrors for a hundred and fifty years. The law in Murano was that if a worker possessing the secret of mirror manufacturing took his knowledge to another country, his family would be put in prison until the defecting worker could be tracked down and killed.
Louis XIV asked his Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to entice some artisans away from Murano so they could teach the French how to make mirrors. The Venetian artisans were deliberately poisoned, an example of the lengths to which a monopolist will go to protect its monopoly.5 More than a hundred years later, the methods of a monopolist will play an important role in Alice’s life.
The French Revolution meant that Baccarat lost its best customer, the king. The Baccarat factory was sold a few times in the early 1800s. During the economic depression of 1848 to 1852, the Baccarat factory had only one furnace running. Later in the nineteenth century the tsars of Russia kept the crystal business producing at a high level because the tsar’s family smashed their crystal glasses after only one use. This expensive habit alone was probably not enough to bring down the tsars, but it brought Baccarat back from the brink of bankruptcy.
During Baccarat’s decline in the early 1800s, Alice’s great-grandfather found work in Thorens, France, a town which revolved around its glass factory. Alice’s grandfather, Nicholas Alphonse Aubert, married Catherine Stephanie Pujoux. Their first child was Alice’s mother, Marie Clotilde Franceline Aubert, born August 1, 1847. When Marie was a baby, her uncle Louis Pujoux, Catherine’s brother, went to Chile where he founded several businesses including a savonnerie, a soap and candle factory. Alice’s grandmother did not see her brother again for fifteen years.6
Louis Pujoux (later changed to Puyo) did very well in Chile because he was able to compete on price with the more expensive imported soaps and candles. He was impressed with a fine young man he knew, Emile Guy, another Frenchman in Chile, who would become Alice’s father.
Alice’s mother was the oldest of seven children, all of them born in Thorens, France, except for the seventh who was born in Carouge, Switzerland, a place Alice described as “dear to artists,” where three potteries made vessels from the clay of the riverbanks and artisans painted them at home.7 There were also numerous guilds of industrious workers: “tailors, hatters, mercers, weavers, tanners, saddle-makers, furriers, shoe-makers, painters on glass and goldsmiths.”8
When Alice was born in 1873, her grandmother still lived in Carouge. In the only surviving photograph, taken when Alice was a little girl, her grandmother appears to be loving and wise, her wispy white hair tucked under a bonnet she most likely made herself. She was a modiste, a milliner.
Working at home was widespread among both women and men in Switzerland and France. Men assembled clocks and made other useful objects. Girls were taught by their mothers and grandmothers to make lace from the time they were five. It was estimated in the second half of the nineteenth century that about 5,000 women and girls in Switzerland and 200,000 women and girls in France were engaged in the “domestic industry, that of lace-making, either by spindle or needle.”9
During the darkest nights, through the thickest woods, over the steepest escarpments, they performed their perilous journey.
Xavier Marmier, Nouveau Souvenirs de Voyages en Franche-Comte, 1845
It’s the domaine of the ices and the snows, the winter palace of the kingdom of death.
Alexandre Dumas
High in the chain of the Alps known as the Jura Mountains, a plateau of rolling meadows and pastures is called the Grandvaux. In the early 1800s, the road through Grandvaux was populated by a few dozen extended families who had been there for more than a century.
Life was hard and, with scarce resources, large families had to be fed. Alice’s paternal grandparents, Marc François Guy and his wife Marie, assembled clocks at home, tended cows or sheep, and made cheese, in a little hamlet in the Grandvaux called les Guys next to another little hamlet called les Guillons. Each hamlet was known by its family name.10
Just up the road leading to Saint-Claude and Morez were the Chauvins who adopted the name Maillet de Guy or Maillet-Guy. Half a mile from the Guys’ and Guillons hamlet is the Abbey de Grandvaux on the edge of a small lake.
In 1833 facilities for six dairy hamlets were constructed: a milking house, a ripening room and a cheese room open eight months of the year.11 The Guys and Guillons shared in the communal cheese-making and animal husbandry with the other families in the Grandvaux.12 “All the inhabitants,” writes a nineteenth century observer, “know each other well, they have more or less closely spaced alliances.”13 A review of their family trees reveals many marriages between the families. As the families grew, their last names changed slightly to differentiate the extensions.
Emile Guy was born in 1837 the second of six children, the only boy. Alice writes that her father was of “good Franche-Comtois stock,”14 vaguely suggesting that he took pride in his forbears, passing on the stories of his youth to his youngest daughter.
“My father was a bookseller,” Alice writes, “and I loved books.” We wonder how Emile Guy became a bookseller and how he went from a small, Alpine village all the way to Chile where he met Louis Puyo. Clues to Emile Guy’s early life are found in the landscape of the place where he was born, France’s steep border with Switzerland.
Trade was restrained in Switzerland by its landlocked position among its neighbors and their protectionist policies. A belt of thick pine surrounds and isolates the mountains. Narrow paths on the border were used by smugglers, “those who cheat Customs on a daily basis,” to import forbidden books and playing cards along with heavily-taxed consumer goods such as cloth, matches, pepper, spices, tea, and tobacco.
With the petite contrebande hidden inside their clothing and the forbidden books in packs made of muslin on their backs, the smugglers crossed frozen lakes by the light of the moon and warehoused their goods in caves and friendly farmhouses. The doors of the farmhouses were open all night and the smugglers were welcome to bread, cheese, and a bottle of cheap wine on the table. An 1836 observer was informed that “there was not a single inhabitant who was not either a smuggler or a customs house officer.”
The Valserine flows north to south, cutting deep gorges in the limestone, and the roads wind over bridges that cross the river. The customs officers were on the French side of the bridges. Using a relay system to the last villages of the mountains, the smugglers crossed the border by precipitous mountain tracks or secret passages under the bridges. They knew every inch of the terrain and found cover in the thousands of caves in the limestone rock of the Jura Mountains.
These “bold and reckless spirits” were always preceded by an éclaireur, a scout, “never having on his person the smallest quantity of contraband,” who warned the smugglers of any danger by whistling or other signs:
As the smuggler chooses the darkest nights, the most appropriate spots, and takes invariably the precaution of sending onwards a forerunner to ascertain that the way is clear, the number of captures is inconsiderable; added to which the smugglers are, as they assured me, “the bravest men,” and seldom engage in the profession unless distinguished by patience to endure and boldness to confront dangers and difficulties.15
If caught, the smugglers went to jail, sometimes for many years. “More than one unfortunate customs officer,” an 1845 observer writes, “paid dearly out of the desire to do his duty. The smuggler put the cartridge in his gun or pulled his knife.” Sometimes, he cut the straps on his pack and fled, but if he did not want to lose his merchandise, he fought, hand-to-hand, but this was to be avoided if at all possible. “The art is rather to evade than overpower the customs house officers.”16
A few miles north of Grandvaux is a steep gorge, rising rugged and precipitous, three hundred feet. At the bottom of the gorge there are a few pine trees growing next to the wall of rock. The smugglers were known to climb the trees in order to ascend the mountain. The place is called L’Echelle de Mort, the Ladder of Death.
“Their rough habits,” writes the 1845 observer, “all framed in those long lines of picturesque mountains, where they slipped into darkness like shadows, form a curiously romantic image.”17
Alice was captivated by her father’s stories about his adventures in smuggling. In a scenario called The Smuggler’s Child (1913), Alice wrote a story for film based on an “age when smuggling was much more romantic,” featuring a “little fellow’s adventures among the rough freebooters” and “unique situations created by introducing a child” into a “crude and violent atmosphere.”18
Smugglers hiking over the Alps during the winter months in their attempt to evade customs officers had as much to fear from the unpredictable storms. The abbé trained Saint Bernards to rescue those lost in the snow by sending the dogs out in pairs, one to stay with the hapless traveler, keeping him warm and barking continuously, while the other Saint Bernard ran back to the abbé for help. Stories of desperate people on the edge of extinction became a favored subject in Alice’s scenarios. In at least two of her films, Saint Bernards appear as beloved rescue dogs.
Since nothing grows at high altitude except barley and oats, oat bread and cheese were the staples of the mountain. Other more desirable things to eat had to come from somewhere else.
Every fall, the strong and resourceful inhabitants of Grandvaux, known as the Grandvalliers, harnessed their horses and gathered the valuable smuggled items together with the products of the mountain: comté cheese, hand-made toys, pipes, clocks, and musical instruments. These cottage industries occupied the entire community, but the products lacked market outlets in their place of manufacture. In convoys of fifteen or twenty horse-drawn wagons, the men left after sowing but before the frosts, walking from fair to fair and town to town, all over France, filling orders they had from the year before on cash, credit, or trade. The Grandvalliers were known for their blue shirts and felt hats, carrying comté cheese in fir barrels to every city in France.19
The fairs were ready to receive the smuggled goods and popular for their low prices. Entertainers—roving singers and performers—lent an air of festivity to the marketplace. Later, the earliest films will be exhibited as novelties at the fairs.
The Grandvalliers kept up this delivery system until the railroads came to the mountains in the late 1880s. Abbé Luc Maillet-Guy, born in 1864, wrote in his history of the Grandvalliers that “they retailed their wares and also cleaned or mended clocks they had sold in previous years.”20 Alice’s grandfather, Marc François Guy, was an horlogeur, one of the clock-makers who in some years traveled with the Grandvalliers. In those days, clocks did not leave the house. The very knowledgeable fellow who knew how to fix clocks, no ordinary mechanic, was held in high regard, and traveled with a pack of tools and replacement parts on his back.
One of the Grandvalliers’ specialties was transporting mature pines in one piece from the mountains to the ocean where French vessels needed tall pines for masts. Some of the logs were hollowed out and used to hide the petite contrebande. Every year, the Grandvalliers walked all the way to Marseille and other ports.
For the return trip to the mountain, the Grandvalliers loaded their wagons with goods to sell to their compatriots, desirable things to eat or drink, such as flour, wine, coffee and sugar. These migrant merchants—gens du voyage—had family and business networks in towns and ports over a large geographic area and apprenticed their sons from an early age in the migrant merchant business.
Each Grandvallier returned to his hamlet “where he related, with the money he earned, a load of stories. He recounted his voyage, described the routes he followed, and if he had imagination, portrayed marvels of all sorts to the wide-opened eyes and mouths of his attentive listeners.”21
Printers and booksellers in France were required to obtain, not only a license, but approval from the government for everything they published. This did not change after the Revolution of 1789.22 Since smuggling books by boat was risky, most of the clandestine book trade came through the Alps where the smugglers, stocked by publishing centers in Switzerland, constantly breached the border. They worked in tandem with the legal book trade. Forbidden books were tucked under false bottoms in crates of licensed books, or shipped as loose sheets, unbound but married, so to speak, with less objectionable printed material.23
A likely ancestor or relative of Emile Guy, Louis-Auguste Guion, was part of the booksellers’ network. Louis-Auguste Guion had a brevet, or patent, a license to print and sell books, and a print shop in Marseille. The Maillet family had a print shop in Lyon, France’s second largest city, where the clandestine book trade brazenly competed with the booksellers’ guilds in Paris.24 Lyon was known for its helpful inspectors who turned a blind eye to smuggled books.25
Playing cards—those produced legally—were the subject of a royal monopoly, limited to a few favored manufacturers. The taxes on playing cards alone were enough to pay for the École Militaire. The illegal playing cards were sometimes obscene, casting aspersions on the royals in humorous face cards. Printed matter was expensive—a luxury item—but highly desirable and lucrative. The legal printed matter was heavily taxed and tightly controlled by patents and censorship; the illegal printed matter was subject to confiscation and criminal penalties.26
When Louis-Auguste Guion died in 1814, his brother, François Maillet de Guion, applied to have the brevet transferred to Antoine, Prosper and Camille Guion.27 François Maillet de Guion’s request was denied on the grounds that François and his brother had supported “the usurper,” Napoleon I.28
Prosper Guion was a composer and, after the application for transfer of the Guion family brevet was denied, he found other printers to publish his chansons.
After another revolution in 1848, the rush to gold in California drew thirty thousand hopefuls from all parts of France. One-third of foreign emigrants to California in 1849 and 1850 were French. News of gold in California reached Valparaiso, Chile in August 1848 and a stream of immigration from there immediately started. News of the gold reached France in November 1848. The local government of Franche-Comte recorded that, in the course of the next two years, eleven families left the Grandvaux for California.29
Emile Guy’s immediate family was in Paris by early 1849 when Emile’s youngest sister, Amélie, was born in January. Emile Guy’s father died in April 1849 at the age of forty-one, there in Paris, where a cholera epidemic was taking a heavy toll.
Emile Guy was only twelve years old when his father died, the only boy in his family. We lose his trail in 1849 and don’t pick it up again until 1865, but there are several circumstances, some that we will see later, that indicate he went to California. Prosper Guion is noted to have traveled to the other side of the world in 1849, and Alice said in an interview that her family, “the paternal side, immigrated very early to Chile.” Emile Guy could have traveled with other family members or he could have joined the merchant marine, even at age twelve, obtaining free passage in exchange for working on a ship. In families of limited means, a boy of twelve was expected to work as an apprentice, to learn a trade, and support himself.
It would have taken almost six months for Emile Guy to sail from France to San Francisco. By the end of 1849, San Francisco Bay was littered with 119 ships, 92 of them registered to Chilean ports, abandoned by both sailors and passengers for el dorado.30
Future generations will see California a rich and prosperous country independently altogether of her mineral wealth; but in those early days it was the placers alone…that made it what it is….Gambling was a peculiar feature of San Francisco at this time.
Soule, Gihon & Nisbet, Annals of San Francisco, 1855
The French founded many towns in the California gold country: Frenchtown, French Creek, French Gulch, French Hill, and French Bar were all founded in 1849 or 1850. French Corral was founded by a Frenchman who sold mules to prospectors. There was also a Chili Mill, Chilicamp, Chilitown, and Chili Gulch.31 The Chileans already knew how to mine gold and taught the other prospectors how to locate the veins, dig shafts, make pans for picking up gold and curved knives to dig between cracks in the rock. Both French and Chileans worked at Mokelumne Hill, a hundred miles due east of San Francisco.
The French were called Keskydees by uncomprehending English speakers for constantly saying to one another: Qu’est qu’il dit? What did he say? Americans resented the foreigners mining all the gold and imposed restrictions on foreigners. Before long the Chileans and French were expelled from the gold fields. Some of the disappointed prospectors went to Mexico where there was reputed to be more gold and also rich veins of silver. Many of the French and Chileans went back to San Francisco where a thriving community was being built.
By 1850, Emile Guy would have found San Francisco still a tent city, but with more than twenty-five thousand inhabitants. In the first half of 1849 “nearly ten thousand came by sea, and landed at San Francisco. Only about two hundred of these were females.”32 A similar pattern was observed in the second half of 1849: twenty-four thousand immigrants of which only about five hundred were females. An 1855 history of San Francisco, written by first-hand observers, explained that “this circumstance naturally tended to give a peculiar character to the aspect of the place and habits of the people.” Young men from many countries “broke through the ties of home, friends and country, and perhaps of civilization itself, and embarked for California, to seize fortune in a bound with one eager clutch or to perish in the attempt:”
These astonishing circumstances soon gathered into California a mixed population of nearly a quarter of a million of the wildest, bravest, most intelligent, yet most reckless and perhaps dangerous beings ever before collected into one small district of country.33
Gambling was the life and soul of San Francisco where the miners returned to play games of chance. “Numberless blazing lamps gave animation and a feeling of joyous rapture to the scene.” Most of the men had passed the boring months on board ship playing cards from sunrise until bedtime.34 And most of the games were French: “Monté, faro, roulette, rondo, rouge-et-noir and vingt-un were the games chiefly played.35 Of these, only rondo is not French.
Few places in early San Francisco save the gambling saloons were comfortable. Wood was forty dollars a cord and the expatriates went where there was “at least heat, into the gambling saloon…for society, for comfort, for heat.”36 If the miners lost their gold dust, they slept sadly, but peacefully. If they won, they were well-advised to watch their backs. “Fatal affrays were of very frequent occurrence.”37
Alice will write several scenarios for film about gold miners, one about a man who came to the gold rush as a boy, called Memories of ’49 (1912). Its scenes depict “the struggles of an early manhood, his tender love affair, his marriage, his growing family.”38 In another scenario Alice writes that little Toots is “the baby girl of a prospector,” who “inherits her father’s energy.” Toots discovers bags of gold and her father christens the place of her discovery The Little Kiddie Mine (1911).
Food was a point of interest in early California. There was rich soil around San Francisco Bay that had never been cultivated before. Potatoes grew to be seven or eight pounds. Carrots grew to “a yard in length and of corresponding girth,” and cabbages were “absolute monsters in size, often from fifteen to twenty inches in diameter.”39 Although the soil was exceedingly productive, “agriculture was just beginning to be followed,” and there wasn’t enough food to feed all the newcomers.
By 1853, Chile was the largest exporter of food to a “rapidly peopled” California.40 Chile became the hub of trade on the coasts of the Pacific, holding out the promise of employment and freedom to anyone willing to make the long voyage. Prosper Guion, along with other Maillet, Guillon, and Guion family members, settled near Valparaiso, Chile’s liveliest city, where business was good and the foreigners were welcome.41
Valparaiso, 1863
At the foot of a deeply-indented and rugged-looking bright red mountain range, some twelve to sixteen hundred feet high, which comes quite close to the shore as if threatening to squeeze it into the sea, there is a long semicircular curve of white buildings, church spires, warehouses, and public edifices bordering the bay behind a forest of masts.
William Howard Russell, A Visit to Chile and the Nitrate Fields of Tarapaca, 1890
Valparaiso—the vale of paradise. Known as the jewel of the Pacific, the cosmopolitan port became the subject of many French mariners’ songs, and the imaginary destination of armchair travelers. Jules Verne used it as a stopping place in his novels, loading his adventurers’ vessels with wine from Chile and gold ingots from California.
Charles Darwin wrote about it in A Naturalist’s Voyage Round the World:
The Beagle anchored late at night in the Bay of Valparaiso….When morning came, everything appeared delightful—the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life.42
In the 1860s, Valparaiso consisted of two streets running along the edge of the sea at the foot of steep mountains. Horse-drawn trams on tracks served the length of the city and thousands of stairs led the residents to their homes in the hills. Vivid descriptions can be found in nineteenth-century travelogues:
“Houses are built, tier above tier, thrown up, as it were, in clusters, from the long main street, which extends for miles along the shore.”43
Foreigners flocked to Valparaiso on their way to San Francisco. Half the world’s sailors enjoyed the charms of gas lighting, daily newspapers, French cafés, and drinking dens on the quay.44
“The mornings here are glorious and the sunsets gorgeous,” writes an American traveler circa 1863. “As most persons breakfast late, it is the custom to walk in the early morning before the wind rises. The hill promenades are then thronged with people inhaling the healthful breeze.”45
The matchless climate never escaped comment by the nineteenth-century traveler: “No rain or wind, a warm sun, a clear sky and mild air. Day after day the sun sailed in its course seawards, through the rainless blue, and next morning found us as it left us.”46
The favorable climate induced a French scientist named Claude Gay to transport 40,000 vines from France to Chile to encourage the cultivation of grapes. The hills around Santiago were soon covered with grapevines, causing newspapers to predict that Chile was destined to become “the Champagne of South America.”
The expatriate populations in order of size, large to small, were British, then German, then French. Visitors were surprised to hear people on the street speaking other languages and wearing the latest fashions. An English traveler looking out on the bay wrote: “The port is the resort of ships of all nations.”47
“The hotels here are all conducted on the French plan,” writes a female traveler in 1863, “breakfast from eight to twelve and dinner at five. Whether you have coffee, tea or chocolate for breakfast it is made for you alone, and brought in a small pot, with a pitcher of hot milk and a dish of sugar.”48
There was an air of prosperity. Visitors could buy hats, boots, and clothes from Paris. “The city is adorned with magnificent stores, constantly importing from Europe, and furnishing every article of use or luxury that can be required.”49
Between 1850 and 1890, the mining of Chile’s natural resources supported the general prosperity. A Frenchman, Antoine Bordes, recognizing the growing export economy, built a fleet of sailing ships, five-sail Cape Horners, which carried coal from France to Valparaiso, then sailed back to France with cargos of silver, copper, saltpeter, and bat guano.
“Annually,” writes an 1862 historian, “ships from Le Havre and Bordeaux carry to Valparaiso traders, doctors, pharmacists, foremen and milliners, who soon elevate their humble beginnings with ease….These classes are happier in Chile which always needs workers.”50
The Panama Canal was still just an idea. A railroad had been built across the Isthmus in the 1850s as a result of the 1849 gold rush. A skeptical El Mercurio, the oldest newspaper in Valparaiso, predicted that the canal would never be built because the climate of the Isthmus was unhealthy.51
Although the cost of living was high in Chile because most of the consumer goods were imported, many expatriates were able to return to their native country in better financial shape. The exploitation of silver and copper mines and the construction of railways provided difficult but lucrative work to a large number of workers.
Due to the generous credit available to merchants, inexpensive storage facilities, and government policies tailored to increase trade, there were fortunes to be made especially in mining.52
Emile Guy as a young man, possibly with his gold rush experience, may have found work in the silver or copper mines of Chile. Alice wrote many scenarios about miners. When making one of her early films in France, Entrée et Sortie de la Mine (1899), Entrance and Exit of the Mine, she allowed herself to be lowered on a bucket into an old mine shaft, down into the dark earth, eighteen hundred feet! What motivated her to do that? She came up relieved to find herself once again in the fresh air, “but happy for this new experience, this enrichment.”
Miners were brave and adventurous men, gambling men. “Gambling is a national vice,” writes our 1863 traveler in Chile, “but the miners carry it on more extensively than any other class.”
Prosper Guion made a place for himself in Chile’s French community as a composer and intellectual. He “knew the genius of French comic opera,” and became the conductor of an orchestra in Santiago. He was also in charge of a ballet troupe, the first romantic ballet in Chile.53 One of Prosper Guion’s songs was called Les Rubans de Mariette, The Ribbons of Mariette. The young girl on the front of the sheet music wears blue ribbons and a crucifix. Published in 1847, the same year Alice’s mother was born, it was advertised as “a delicious little romance.”54
Alice’s mother
Light and graceful, blue ribbons, she was born laughing, Mariette.
Prosper Guion, Les Rubans de Mariette
Before photography, there was portrait painting, but only royalty and the very wealthy could afford it. Because the camera was pitiless, the wealthy patron looked down on photography. What the wealthy patron wanted most of all was for the portrait to be flattering. For the less well-heeled, portraits became smaller and smaller, leading to the very miniature portrait. From the time photographic images were made by Louis Daguerre in 1839, photography proved to be quicker and less expensive than sitting for even the smallest portrait. The photograph of a prospective bride could be encased in a decorative compact, taken on a long voyage, and shown to the eligible groom.
When Louis Puyo and his wife came back to France from Chile in the spring of 1864, they were impressed with Marie Aubert’s charm and beauty. She had been a student of the austere Daughters of the Visitation, only sixteen years old. Marie’s parents sent her photograph with her aunt and uncle back to Chile to show to Emile Guy, ten years older than Marie.
A year later, in the summer of 1865, Marie Aubert married Emile Guy at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris. Her in-laws called her Mariette—she reminded them of the picture on the sheet music by Prosper Guion.55
“I do not know if love had a part in the arrangement,” Alice writes. “At that period, a family decided the future of its daughters.” Marie had only known Emile Guy for three weeks. After the wedding, the couple sailed for Chile. Alice called her parents’ crossing of the ocean an adventure but did not know why they went: “Seven weeks in a comfortless boat! What motive could have made my parents exile themselves in that way?”56
When Marie arrived in Valparaiso in the fall of 1865, her Uncle Louis gave her a fine house as a wedding gift and then presented her to the French community of Valparaiso who were all eager to meet her.
At the time Emile Guy was married in 1865, his bookstore and publishing company, Librería Universal, was close to the port at 13 Calle de Esmeralda, then the main street of Valparaiso, known for its luxury shopping.57 Two doors down from Emile Guy, at No. 9, was El Mercurio, the newspaper.58 Between them, at No. 11, was an English bookstore, Gordon & Henderson. At No. 17 was a German bookstore.
Valparaiso also had an English, a French, and a German hospital. The French hospital, where Marie Guy would charitably donate her time, was located on Jardin de Polanco. It was run by Dr. Augustin Coignard and had about twenty beds. Dr. Coignard founded the hospital in 1861, four years before Marie Guy arrived. He would later be awarded a medal from the Legion of Honor for treating French sailors on a naval expedition in the Pacific.59