Birthday Wishes to Fort Lee’s Alice Guy Blaché
The world's first woman film director to be honored on her birthday and on the centennial of the building of her Solax Studio in Fort Lee, NJ studio.
Solax Studio, built and opened 100 years ago in 1912 on Lemoine Avenue in Fort Lee at the present day site of the A&P adjacent to Fort Lee High School, was owned and operated by the first woman director in cinema history, Madame Alice Guy Blaché.
Born in France, Madame Blaché was one of the first three filmmakers in her native country working for Gaumont. In 1910 she came to America with her husband Herbert Blaché, and in 1912 she arrived in the then motion picture center of the United States, Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Fort Lee in 1912 was a very diverse town, as it is today. Many French filmmakers lived and worked in Fort Lee. Éclair Studio, a French-owned studio, opened its American studio in Fort Lee in 1912 on Linwood Avenue at the present day site of Constitution Park. The French population of Fort Lee was so large at the time that there was a French language newspaper published for these residents.
This is the community Madame Blaché entered in 1912, one in which women did not yet have the right to vote. This makes it all the more amazing that she was able to build and operate a studio and display her great talent as a filmmaker. She directed, wrote and produced films, some of which still survive today.
Several years ago we met Alison McMahan, Madame Blaché’s biographer. Alison encouraged us to do what no other community in America had yet done: dedicate an historic marker to this film pioneer.
A year later we had Alison join us as we unveiled the marker, which is at the entrance to the A&P on Lemoine Avenue at the site of Madame Blaché’s Solax Studio. Madame Blaché operated the studio until World War I. Later it became the home of other studios, and eventually it became a film storage facility until 1964, when it was sold and demolished for the A&P.
One of the most interesting elements to this story is that Madame Blaché left Fort Lee for Hollywood at the end of World War I, but finding no real work, she returned with her children to her native France. There too she was unable to continue her work in film, and she became a writer to support her children.
Decades later she would move back to New Jersey to be near her daughter, who was a diplomat. Here in New Jersey she died at the age of 95 in 1968. The marker on her grave at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah in Bergen County is a simple one listing only her name and the dates of her birth and death. Nothing on the marker hints at the role she played as a film pioneer.
That is until now.
On her birthday, this July 1 at noon, the Fort Lee Film Commission will unveil and dedicate a new marker on Madame Blaché’s grave. The marker will include her Solax Studio logo and will read as follows:
Alice Guy Blaché
The First Woman Director in Cinema History
Solax Studio, Fort Lee, N.J.
The Fort Lee Film Commission thanks all our sponsors and donors, the family of Madame Blaché, the New Jersey Education Association and all those who made our work on this project successful.
Please join us on July 1 at 12 p.m. at Maryrest Cemetery in Mahwah to celebrate Madame Blaché’s life and work by dedicating this marker.