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Clarence Brown Biography

  • Profession: Director, Producer
  • Born: May 10, 1890
  • Died: Aug 17, 1987

The son of a cotton manufacturer, Clarence Brown moved from Massachusetts to the South when he was eleven. He attended the University of Tennessee, graduating at the age of 19 with two degrees in engineering. An early fascination in automobiles led Brown to a mechanics-expert post with the Stevens Duryea Company, then to his own Alabama-based Brown Motor Car Company. He abandoned this concern when a new interest in motion pictures began manifesting itself circa 1913. Hired by the Peerless Studio at Fort Lee, New Jersey, Brown became assistant to the great French-born director Maurice Tourneur. Until the day he died, Brown attributed his future success in films to what he had learned under Tourneur's tutelage. After World War I service, Brown was given his first co-directing credit (with Tourneur) for 1920's The Great Redeemer; that same year, he directed a goodly portion of The Last of the Mohicans when official director Tourneur was injured in a fall. Soloing for the first time with 1923's Don't Marry for Money, Brown went on to direct some of the best dramas of the silent era, among them Smouldering Fires (1924), The Goose Woman (1925), and Valentino's The Eagle. His most felicitous screen collaboration was with Greta Garbo. He became Garbo's favorite director, guiding her through such well-received productions as Flesh and the Devil (1927), A Woman of Affairs (1928), and the actress' first talkie, Anna Christie (1930). From 1925 through 1952, Brown worked exclusively at MGM, save for a loan-out to 20th Century-Fox for The Rains Came. He functioned as both producer and director for many of his later films, notably Intruder in the Dust (1949), Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Plymouth Adventure (1952), his last effort. He retired a wealthy man due to his real estate investments, refusing to see any new films for fear of being galvanized into jump-starting his career. In the 1970s, the octogenarian Clarence Brown became a much-sought-after guest lecturer on the film-festival circuit, thanks in great part to his Garbo films and to his many excursions into Americana (Ah, Wilderness, Of Human Hearts, The Human Comedy). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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