Producer. Nationality: French. Born: Paris, 10 May 1864. Education: Attended College of Sainte-Barbe. Career: After military service, managed an incandescent lamp factory; 1895—formed the Gaumont Company to market cinema apparatus; marketed the Demeny Bioscope; 1896—produced the first actualité films; 1898—opened London office; 1899—first films made in England; 1903—introduced the Gaumont Chronophone and Chronomegaphone as a prelude to talking pictures; 1905—built the first great French movie studio and produced colour pictures with Chronochrome; 1912—showed popular "rural scenes" in colour; 1929—retired from movies. Award: Exhibition Prize of France for "having contributed in greatest measure to the progress of photography." Died: In Sainte-Maxime, 10 August 1946.
Films as Producer (selected list):
Une Caravane au Jardin d'Acclimatation; Les Grandes Eaux de Versailles; Le Déjeuner des oiseaux au Kursaal de Vienne; La Sortie des usines Panhard et Levessor; Défilé d'artillerie à la revue du 14 juillet 1896; L'Arrivée du Président de la République au pesage (Grand Prix de Paris 1896); Le Fardier; La Charmeuse de serpents
La Vie du Christ
Les Méfaits d'un tête de veau (Guy); Monnaie de lapin (Guy); Les Dangers de l'alcoolisme (Guy); Mauvaise soupe (Guy);Mésaventure d'un charbonnier (Guy); Le Tonnelier (Guy); Chanteurs des cours (Guy); Angélus (Guy); La Bonne Absinthe (Guy)
L'Ascension du Mont-Blanc; Cyrano de Bergerac; Précieuses ridicules
Au bal de flore (Guy); Fredaines de Pierrette (Guy); Défilé de vaches laitières; Baignades dans le torrent; Pédiluve; Laboureur; Marché a la volaille; Récolte des betteraves; Sortie d'un vapeur du port du Havre; Bataille de boules de neige
Sage-femme de première classe (La Fée aux choux) (Gallet)
Illusioniste renversant; Modelage express
L'Assassinat du courrier de Lyon (Gallet); Nos bons étudiants (Gallet); Paris la nuit (Guy); Volé par les bohemiens (Gallet); L'Assassinat de la rue du Temple (Gallet); Les Petits Coupeurs de bois verts (Gallet); Le Cake-Walk de la pendule (Guy); La Passion (Guy); Histoire d'un crime (Gallet)
La Esmérelda (Jasset); Réhabilitation; Robert Macaire; Une Noceau Lac Saint-Fargeau
Rêves d'un fumeur d'Opium (Jasset); La Vie du Christ (Jasset)
The Mikado; Vive le sabotage!; Father Buys a Ladder; La Course des belles mères; Towser and the Tramp; L'Homme aimanté; Un Facteur trop ferré; Le Lecteur distrait; L'Aveugle; L'Ordonnance; La Bataille d'oreillers; Toto aéronaute; L'Apprenti; L'Arroseur arrosé; Le Planton du colonel; Le Cocher de fiacre endormi; La Lecon de boxe comique; Zigomar serial
Un Drame chez les fantoches
Nick Carter serial (Jasset); Morgan le Pirate (Jasset); Le Vantour de la Sierra (Jasset); Meskal le contrabandier (Jasset)
Morgan le pirate serial (Jasset); Hérodiade (Jasset)
Bouquets de fleurs; Voyage à la Côte d'Azur; Carnaval à Nice; Majorca; Balao (Jasset); Zigomar peau d'anguille (Jasset); Protea I (Jasset); L'enfant de Paris (Perret); La Force de l'argent (Perret); Erreur tragique (Perret); Les Léonce (Perret)
Un Drame au château d'Acre (Gance); L'Héröisme de Paddy (Gance); Strass et cie (Gance); La Fleur des ruines (Gance);Le Périscope (Gance); La Folie du Dr. Tube (Gance); La Fiancée du diable (Perret); Les Mystères de l'ombre
Le Droit à la vie (Gance); Les Gaz mortels (Gance); Le Bluff (Feyder); L'Homme de compagnie (Feyder); L'Instinct est maître (Feyder)
Les Vieilles Femmes de l'hospice (Feyder); Le Ravin sans fond (Feyder); Mater dolorosa (Gance); Zone de mort (Gance); Barberousse (Gance)
La Haine ; La Dixième Symphonie (Gance)
J'accuse (Gance); Rose France (L'Herbier); Phantasmes (L'Herbier); La Faute d'orthographie (Feyder); Ames d'orient (Poirier)
L'Homme du large (L'Herbier)
El Dorado (L'Herbier)
Films as Producer (directed by Feuillade):
Judith et Holopherne; La Possession de l'enfant; La Légende des phares; Le Huguenot; La Mort; La Fille du cantonnier
Les Sept Pechés capitaux; Le Pater; 1814; La Fille de Jephté; La Roi de Thulé; Bienvenuto Cellini; Esther; Chef-Lieu de Canton
Aux lions les chrétiens; Les Vipères; Le Roi Lear au village; Le Poison; Le Trust; Les Souris blanches; En grève; La Tare
Les Braves Gens; Le Nain; La Hantise; L'Oubliette; Le Proscrit
L'Agonie de Byzance; S'affranchir; Série des bouts de Zari; Les Yeux ouverts; La Rose blanche; L'Angoisse; Fantômas; Juve contre Fantômas; Le Mort qui tue
Fantômas contre Fantômas; La Vie drôle; Le Faux Magistrat
Les Vampires serial (10 episodes)
Judex serial (12 episodes)
La Nouvelle Mission de Judex; Vendemiaire
Tin-minh; L'Homme sans visage; L'Engrenage; Nocturne; Enigme
On GAUMONT: books—
Établissements Gaumont 1895–1929, Paris, 1935.
Sadoul, Georges, Les Pionniers du Cinéma, Paris, 1947.
Fescourt, Henri, La Foi et les montagnes, Paris, 1959.
On GAUMONT: articles—
La Technique cinématographique (Paris), no. 128, January 1953.
Montgomery, John, "The First Comedies," in Comedy Films, 1954.
Film Français (Paris), no. 1755, 2 February 1979.
Avant-Scène (Paris), no. 334, November 1984.
Cine Cubano, no. 132, 1991.
Variety, vol. 346, 20 January 1992.
Variety, vol. 347, 20 July 1992.
Variety, vol. 351, 12 July 1993.
Film Journal, vol. 96, December 1993.
Variety (New York), 24–30 January 1994.
Turman, Suzanna, "Gaumont (Gaumont Film Company)," in Films in Review (Denville), January-February 1994.
"100 Years of Cinema (Studio History) (Gaumont 100th Anniversary," in Variety (New York), 12 December 1994.
Les Cahiers de la Cinematheque (Perpignan), December 1995.
Positif (Paris), April 1996.
* * *
After 1895, and the success of the Lumière films, France was a hive of invention and film projects. Unlike his compatriot and rival, Charles Pathé, Léon Gaumont came from a comfortable background, running a well-established photographic and optical apparatus business. He was financially well-connected, and in 1895 was able to found the Léon Gaumont company with a capital of 200,000 francs. He acquired the rights to inventions by a man called Demeny, and with the help of his partner was able to give the illusion of living portraits by marketing the chronophotograph. It was only a short step to involvement with the newly fledged cinema, and he opened his film studio, soon to be known as "Cité Elge" after his initials, at Buttes-Chaumont. This became one of the largest studios in Europe, managed by Gaumont's secretary, Alice Guy, who was to become an important figure in American cinema and is often cited as the first woman director.
Gaumont's first films were simple vaudeville sketches, comedies, moral tales, and, of course, imitations of other people's film successes. As his enterprise expanded and developed, documentaries, newsreels, scientific and educational programmes were embarked upon.
His organisation now spread to other countries, and in England, for example, Colonel Bromhead opened the first Gaumont Cinema in 1901. The first British Gaumont production was The Life of Richard Wagner, and the Gaumont Graphic soon took its place among British newsreels. Documentaries included The Ascent of Mont Blanc and the National Pilgrimage to Lourdes of 1902. In 1913, Gaumont established his Vitorine Studios in Nice, which was to form the basis of Rex Ingram's studio.
The sound-film was of special interest to Gaumont, and in 1903 he introduced the chronophone which he circulated worldwide. His technical section was constantly experimenting with improvements, and he introduced early wide-screen and elaborate amplification systems. Although talkies did not really come into their own until the end of the twenties, nevertheless Gaumont maintained his interest in the area and was associated with the first modern French sound film, Eau de nil.
Gaumont took a particular interest in the American cinema, and was a close friend of George Eastman, the raw-film manufacturer. He championed the independent filmmakers of Europe against the Edison Trust controls, but the First World War was a big blow to European cinema, particularly that of France. American films were encroaching, with technical innovation and big star names that were extremely popular with French audiences. Gaumont ruefully remarked, "We made munitions for war in our factories. They made movies, and they have conquered us."
Gaumont attracted many talented people to his studios. After Guy left, he replaced her with Victorin Jasset, the maker of the famous Zigomar serial, and following him came perhaps the most famous name in the Gaumont team—Louis Feuillade. It was he who gave the films a particular colouring, with his famous serials Fantômas, LesVampires, and Judex. The worldwide popularity of these films and their special visual richness make them today classics of a great period of French filmmaking.
As the French film developed visually and artistically, the Gaumont company found a home for such diverse and innovative talents as Léon Poirier (Jocelyn, La Brière), Marcel L'Herbier (Rose France, El Dorado), Jacques Feyder (La Faute d'orthographie), Léonce Perret (comedian, and director of L'enfant de Paris), and Abel Gance (actor, and director of La Folie du Dr. Tube).
By 1925, Gaumont had increased his capital by an arrangement with MGM, but by 1938 his financial structures began to crumble. Today, his name is still familiar, but the extent of his achievement is past history. There was little in the field of cinema that he did not tackle. He handled production and worldwide distribution, ran supercinemas, developed colour and sound, and made huge technical innovations. He was a harsh taskmaster, never less than frank if the work of one of his employees displeased him, and in the early days, so they say, this giant of the French cinema stood at the doors of his studio with watch in hand, checking the arrival of every one of his staff.