Gaumont, Léon Ernest

(1864-1946)
   Film pioneer, producer, and studio head. Léon Gaumont came from a modest family, and he started his professional life in 1881, working at the atelier of Jules Carpentier, who would later build the cinématographe for Louis Lumière. Quite apart from his experience with optical equipment, Gaumont had an avid interest in cameras and photography. This led Gaumont, in 1893, to leave Carpentier to work for Félix Richard, a manufacturer of optical and photographic equipment. When Richard became entangled in a nasty lawsuit with his brother in 1895, he offered to sell his shop to the ambitious Gaumont, who convinced Richard's clients Gustave Eiffel and Joseph Vallot, the director of the Mont Blanc Observatory, to back him. The company L. Gaumont et Cie. was founded.
   At first, Gaumont, like Lumière, was interested primarily in marketing photographic and film equipment. He obtained the rights to manufacture and distribute the Chronophonographe, an early film camera invented by Georges Demeny that was capable of synchronized sound recording, and the accompanying projection device, the Phonoscope. That same year, Gaumont's secretary, Alice Guy, had the idea of using the camera to film several short story films to use to market the equipment, and the idea of the Gaumont Studios was born. While acting as head of Gaumont, Léon Gaumont was able to ride out a number of financial crises and even the emerging American monopoly on the film industry. The firm remained largely intact until Gaumont's retirement in 1930, although it was heavily subsidized by foreign investors at that point.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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