The John E. Allen – Triangle collection is one of the most important, in terms of special collections, of the Cinémathèque française. It represents today 95 five archive boxes, more than 1 300 hundreds photos and more than twenty films preserved and, at least for the papers and the photos, accessible. The papers go from 1909 to 1935, which exceeds largely the lifetime of Triangle. When we created the Bibliothèque du film in 1993, I asked what were the main collections to treat and the Allen – Triangle one came in first place for it had not been catalogued since its acquisition. It took from 1994 to 1996 to do so, and it was part of the public access when we opened the Bibliothèque du film in 1996. Strangely enough, I couldn’t find the time to look at it when I was at the Bibliothèque du film and no one did. It is because I settled a research program in 2007 with the Cinémathèque française that we could undertake the exploration of the Allen-Triangle collection.
Its place at the Cinémathèque française is a rare one. We know that Langlois was a fan on silent film, and was gathering material on French and especially German cinema. This is one of the reasons why the Fritz Lang papers, for the American period, are preserved at the Cinémathèque française (and not in Los Angeles or at the MOMA or in Berlin). The Lang and the Allen collections are the two big American collections, in terms of special collections, of the Cinémathèque française. We know why Lang gave his papers to Langlois. What we don’t know is how Langlois bought the Allen collection when the Wisconsin Historical Society was after it some years before.
What I am going to present is the third attempt to reconstruct, on the basis of photocopies transmitted by the Cinémathèque française from their own administrative archives, what went on, from February 1961 to October 1966, between Langlois and Allen. We know the legend: retired in New Jersey in the late fifties, John E. Allen, who worked at the George Eastman House in Rochester, discovered in an abandoned building papers from the Triangle. He shared his findings with his friends James Card (George Eastman House) and Henri Langlois, but later an arsonist set fire to the building where they were kept and everything left went into smoke. There is another story referring to an auction of the Triangle papers at some point in March or April 1957, a year after the death of Harry E. Aitken, the president of Mutual and then of Triangle.