Gene Gauntier

Active - 1908 - 1914  |   Born - May 17, 1885 in Kansas City, MO  |   Died - Dec 18, 1966 in Cuernavaca, Mexico  |   Genres - Drama

Share on

A remarkable pioneering motion picture actress, writer, director, and producer, Gene Gauntier (born Genevieve Liggett) was literally thrown into her first screen assignment, in the summer of 1906, when she was hired by the Kalem company to be hoisted into a river in Upstate New York. At first appearing in films between stock company tours, Gauntier soon realized the enormous potential of the new medium and began adding to her meager actor's salary by writing scores of screenplays, including a one-reel version of Ben-Hur in 1907, which brought upon the burgeoning industry its first copyright infringement suit. For a short while connected with Biograph, where she reportedly suggested that actor D.W. Griffith ought to be given a directorial assignment, Gauntier quickly returned to Kalem, as leading lady and head of the nascent script department. By 1909, she was widely known as The Kalem Girl.

Along with the concern's chief director, Sidney Olcott, Gauntier traveled to Ireland in 1909, where they filmed three well-received, short-subject melodramas, the first time an American film company had ventured that far afield. Before returning to New York, the "O'Kalems," as they were soon nicknamed, made a travelogue in London and filmed another drama on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, The Little Spreewald Maiden (1910). There would be several more such trips, including a second visit to Ireland and a famous excursion to Palestine, where they filmed the six-reel From the Manger to the Cross, arguably Kalem's most noteworthy production. Sidney Olcott directed and Gaunter wrote the scenario and starred as the Virgin Mary, with her husband Jack J. Clark as John the Baptist and British actor Robert Henderson-Bland as Christ.

Gene Gauntier left Kalem to form her own production company, the Gene Gauntier Feature Players which, like Kalem, made a film-making jaunt to Ireland and released melodramas with sensationalistic titles such as In the Clutches of the Ku Klux Klan (1913) and In the Power of a Hypnotist (1913). There would be a couple of low-budget films for Bison in 1915, but like so many of her contemporaries, Gauntier saw herself eclipsed by younger, less battle-weary ingenues and she retired. She later penned her memoirs, Blazing the Trail, serialized by the Ladies Home Journal in 1928.