Chevry-Cossigny, 25 December 1863.
Exhibited the Edison phonograph in France; 1984—set up phonograph
business; 1896—formed the Pathé Frères company with
his three brothers; 1900—moved into film production;
1902—built studio at Vincennes; 1907—controlled worldwide
network of production, distribution and exhibition; 1914—business
dwindled after onset of the First World War; 1929—retired.
In Los Angeles, California, 13 September 1957.
L'Arrivée d'un train de Vincennes
Execution capitale à Berlin ; Coucher d'Yvette et Pierreuse ; Le déshabillé du modèle ; Le Pompier et la servante ; Sainte-Antoine de Padoue
Cambriolage sur les toits
L'Affaire Dreyfus ; Les Dernières Cartouches ; La Belle et le bête ; Le Muet Mélomane
Aladin ; Le Petit poucet ; La Guerre du Transvaal ; Mariage de raison
Histoire d'un crime ; Quo Vadis ; L'Enfant prodigue ; Les Sept Chateaux du diable ; La Conquête de l'air ; Assassinat de Mac Kinley ; Tempête dans une chambre à coucher ; Idylle sous un tunnel
La Passion ; Les Victimes de l'alcoolisme ; La Poule merveilleuse ; Catastrophe de la Martinique ; Assassinat du Duc de Guise ; L'Amous à tous les étages ; Samson et Delila
La Vie d'un joueur ; Suite de la passion ; Don Quichotte, le chat botté ; Guillaume Tell ; Massacre de la famille royale de Serbie ; Films comiques
Roman d'amour ; La Guerre Russo-Japonais ; La Règne de Louis XIV ; La Grève ; Peau d'âne ; Christoph Colomb ; Les Metamorphoses du Roi de Pique
Les Apaches de Paris ; Dix Femmes pour un mari ; Première sortie ; Au pays noir ; Suite de la passion ; Au bagne ; Vendetta ; L'Alcoolisme engendre la tuberculose ; L'Incendiare ; Les Petits Vagabonds ; Toto-Gâte-Sauce ; Vot'permis ; Viens l'chercher ; Le Voleur de bicyclette ; Le Petit Poucet ; La Poule aux oeufs d'or ; Rêve à la lune ; Potemkine
New version of La Passion ; Le Tour du monde d'un policier ; Voyage autour d'un étoile ; Le Billet de faveur ; Le déserteur ; Les Chiens contrebandiers ; La Fille du sonneur ; La Loi du pardon ; Le Fils du biable ; J'ai perdu mon lorgnon ; Les Invisibles ; Drame à Venise ; Aladin ; Un Monsieur qui suit les femmes ; Boireau déménage ; Le Pendu ; Le Nihiliste
Les Débuts d'un patineur ; Les Apprentissages de Boireau ; La Légende de Polichinelle ; Faust ; Monsieur et Madame veulent une bonne ; Le Roman d'un malheureux
L'Homme aux gants blancs ; Les Affichés animés ; Socialisme et nihilisme
Les Miserables ; Nick Carter ; L'Assommois
Re Lear (Lo Savio)
Il Mercante di Venezia ( The Merchant of Venice ) (Lo Savio); Max et le quinquina
Palumbo, Mario, L'uomo de Gallo , 1965.
De Pathé Frères à Pathé Cinéma , Lyon, 1970.
Lefebvre, Bernard, Les cinématographes de la Sainte Romain de Rouen 1896–1907 , Mont-Saint-Aignan, 1981.
Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1958.
Sadoul, Georges, in Conquête du cinéma , 1960.
Afterimage (London), vol. 3, no. 8–9, April 1981.
Avant-Scène (Paris), no. 334, November 1984.
Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), September 1986.
Télérama (Paris), 2 November 1992.
* * *
Like many of the moguls of the cinema, Charles Pathé began as a promoter of Edison's phonograph which he introduced in the early 1890s to the popular entertainment of the fairgrounds in Vincennes. He soon opened a shop selling phonographs, and also a recording studio where he made cylinders of famous theatre artists of the time. An association with Henry Joly got him interested in moving pictures and the purchase of an Edison Kinetoscope took him back to the fairgrounds. He also acquired a camera. In 1896, with the help of his brothers, he founded the firm of Pathé Frères and opened an establishment at 98 rue de Richelieu, Paris. He was convinced that "the cinema would be the theatre, the newspaper and the school of the future."
Attracting an infusion of 100,000 francs into his business through his association with an electrical manufacturer, Grivolas, in 1898 he founded the Compagnie Generale, marketing phonographs, cinematographs and precision instruments. He employed Ferdinand Zecca, who came from a theatrical family, to supervise the making of films. The great Paris Exhibition of 1900 provided a suitable showcase for the new invention and very soon, the establishment of a film studio at Joinville-le Pont became a necessity. Pathé was making 500 films a year. His company was expanding rapidly, with branches in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, the United States, and India. Pathé was now head of a great industrial empire.
His early films were plagiarisms of the successes of other people's films, as copyright did not exist at the time. But his director Zecca was making a name for himself with films such as Histoire d'un crime and Les Victimes de l'alcoolisme . The range of the Pathé output was considerable. His band of comics was to include Max Linder, the precursor of Chaplin, and others like Andre Deed, Rigadin, and Jean Durand. His Pathé color system was seen to good effect in many historical dramas and of course he launched the Pathé Journal, one of the finest newsreels to adorn the cinema screens. He was also associated with the more ambitious Film d'Art, and S.C.A.G.L., an organization of literary patrons of the cinema.
He spent some years in America from 1914, developing the Pathé Exchange there. On his return he found his empire beginning to crumble. The First World War had affected his distribution and the cost of filmmaking had increased enormously. America had taken over the programming of cinemas with its elaborate publicity and star system and super-productions like Griffith's Birth of a Nation and Intolerance . The French public had been weaned off the Pathé product.
Gradually, in the ensuing years Pathé lost many of his most valuable assets. Filmmaking in France no longer seemed to be profitable, with no chance of breaking into the American market. He shed his associations with S.C.A.G.L. and Film d'Art. He lost his Pathé Exchange in 1920. In 1926 Kodak took over his film-stock factory. Eventually Pathé ceded his organization to Bernard Natan, a one-time pornographic filmmaker but now a powerful figure on the French film scene. Under Natan, the organization retained the prestigious Pathé name, but only lasted a few years, from 1930 to 1934. Natan ended up in prison in both France and Germany.
Pathé was above all else a businessman but with a passionate interest in the cinema. His early life had been tough and the world of the film pioneer was beset by imitators and hostile competition. But he carried on the great tradition of Méliès and Lumière and placed French filmmaking in the spotlight in those early days. It might also be recalled that he introduced the Pathé Baby camera and projector to encourage home movies. He made it possible to see—even in very edited versions—great films of the past which no doubt inspired many a young cinéaste who went on to professional work in later years.