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Industry Profiles: Gene Gauntier

Gene Gauntier

Every other month we will be focusing on the unsung heroes of the film world. The individuals selected have all played a vital role in shaping the industry with their ground-breaking work. Despite this, these figures are often overlooked in the history of film and we, at Closely Observed Frames will be celebrating their commitment to the craft.

Responsible for the first film to be shot on two continents, Gene Gauntier was a trailblazer who left a remarkable legacy despite retiring from the film business in 1920 at the age of 35.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri on 26th August 1885, Gauntier attended the Kansas City School of Oratory before making the switch to New York City in 1904 to pursue a career on stage. After a few years performing with stock company tours, Gauntier auditioned for director Sidney Olcott at the Biograph Studios in 1906 where she worked as an actor and producer. While at Biograph, Gauntier gave relatively unknown actor, D.W. Griffith his first directing opportunity.

In 1907, Gauntier left Biograph and once again teamed up with Olcott at the Kalem Company. There, she would enjoy a successful career, working across the board as a writer, producer, director and actor. She was known as the first “Kalem Girl” and was also one of the production company’s leading screenwriters. One of her many strengths was her ability to adapt famous stories into short silents, and in 1907 wrote the scenario for Ben Hur.

Ben Hur (1907)

In 1910, Gauntier wrote and starred in the The Lad From Old Ireland, which was directed by frequent collaborator, Sidney Oldcott. The film was shot in Ireland and the United States and became known as the first film made by an American production company outside of the USA. In 1912, Gauntier and Olcott collaborated on what is arguably their most renowned film, the biblical epic, From the Manger to the Cross, which was shot on location in Bethlehem.

The Lad From Old Ireland (1910)

Later in 1912 Gauntier left the Kalem Company and formed the Gene Gauntier Feature Players Company, alongside Olcott and her husband, the actor Jack Clark. The trio collaborated on films such as When Men Hate (1913), In the Power of a Hypnotist (1913) and The Little Rebel (1914). Olcott would however leave the company in 1914 to start his own production company.

Despite walking away from the film business in 1920 after starring in Witch’s Lure, Gauntier remains one of the early film pioneers. After leaving the industry, Gauntier continued to write and published two novels and a memoir aptly entitled, Blazing the Trail.

Witch's Lure (1920)

You can watch The Lad From Old Ireland here:

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