Friday, September 15, 2017

Born Today September 15: Louis J. Gasnier


French born director Louis Joseph Gasnier was born on this day in Paris.  Accounts vary greatly as to when he began his film career.  Gasnier himself claimed that his association with Pathé Frères went all the way back to 1899 (and he may well have been telling the truth--Pathé Frères was notorious for not giving credit space on it's early films.  The earliest film that he can be associated with is First Night Out in 1905.  The film is thought to also be the first film of  Max Linder--himself a very important comedian of the silent era.  The writing credits go to Gasnier.  He would not make another film (that anyone knows of) that year, and in fact, did not receive steady work from the company until 1908 (he did make a handful of Linder films in the interim time period).  By 1910, Gasnier had made a career of directing "Max" movies.  1911 brought the establishment of a Pathé studio in Fort Lee, NJ and Gasnier managed to get attached to it.  His first directing job came on a real hit, the serial The Perils Of Pauline, which was co-directed with Donald MacKenzie, was a raging success worldwide.  This propelled him into the executive vice-president position of the studio, but he resigned in 1916.  Not before putting Pearl White in another successful serial The Exploits Of Elaine; a serial co-directed, with one of the directors being George B. Seitz.  There are some sources that claim that between 1905 and 1914 Gasnier made more than 200 films.  The number of record is no where near this number; which suggests that it is likely a mixture of embellishment and truth--with some of his films (mostly French, but likely many Italian) that have gone uncredited and, indeed, uncounted.  Even the rest of Gasnier's silent catalog is unfortunately filled with lost films (some fortunately have been recovered in the last decade).  

At work directing

He next teamed up with George Seitz to form Astra Films (which used Pathé as their distributor).  The first film known to have been produced by the company was The Shielding Shadow in 1916 (a film which also featured direction from MacKenzie).  By 1919 the company had dropped Pathé as it's distributor and by 1920, Seitz was gone and the company was re-branded Louis J. Gasnier Productions--it was hopelessly short-lived.  It's first film(one of three) was the Lew Cody vehicle The Butterfly Man (1920), co-directed by Ida May Park.  Gasnier was then picked up by to direct for Preferred Pictures by B. P. Schulberg, his time with the production company were his most productive and memorable.  His name received headline status on posters and other promotional materials.  He stayed with the company, often bringing in people he had worked for in the 1910's, such a Pearl White, until the company went bankrupt in 1925.  In his time with the company, he worked with many up and coming actors (Clara Bow starred in Parisian Love, a film that was lost until a copy turned up in the 1990's). The only work that he could find after the bankruptcy was at the second rate Tiffany Pictures. His first film there was Pleasures of the Rich in 1926 (like so many of his films, this is not surprisingly lost).  He was then plucked from relative obscurity (possibly by Schulberg) to go to work for Paramount, making one film--Fashion Madness (1928)--for Columbia along with way.  His first major film for Paramount, Darkened Rooms (1929), hit a big snag when star Gary Cooper--who really didn't like Gasnier--had to be replaced by Neil Hamilton.  The film also marked Gasnier first sound film--with full sound by MovieTone. He continued to work for Paramount into the 1930's.  His contract, though was not renewed, so he found work with film producer George A Hirliman.  The produced a film called Tell Your Children (probably in 1936) that later became infamous under the title Reefer Madness (it was basically not screened until 1938).  Hirliman was able to launch his fledgling production venture into a full operating studio and Gasnier, nearing his retirement age, elected to stay on.  The last film that he directed before he retired at age 65 was Stolen Paradise.  He retired in his adopted California, but did not find life easy.  Nearly destitute by the 1950's, he took to taking bit, uncredited acting roles as an elderly Frenchman in big productions to make money.  They last of these appearances was in Hell Is For Heroes, a 1962 Steve McQueen war film.  Gasnier died on the 15th of February 1963 in Hollywood at the age of 87.  There is no information as to his burial or cremation.

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