Tod Browning


Director
Tod Browning

About

Also Known As
Charles Albert Browning Jr.
Birth Place
Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Born
July 12, 1880
Died
October 06, 1962
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

A pioneering director who helped create the horror film genre, Tod Browning made his mark on cinema via his 10-film collaboration with actor Lon Chaney, the first sound version of "Dracula" (1931), starring Bela Lugosi, and most particularly his master work, "Freaks" (1932). So grotesque and frightful was "Freaks," that some 20 minutes were cut from the U.S. version, while Great Britain ...

Photos & Videos

Freaks - Reissue Lobby Cards
Freaks - Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Dracula (1931) - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Alice L Browning
Wife
Actor. Born in 1887; married in June 1917; separated in the early 1920s; reconciled; died in 1944.

Bibliography

"Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macbre"
David J Skal and Elias Savada, Anchor Books (1995)

Notes

"When I quit a thing, I quit. I wouldn't walk across the street now to see a movie." --quote attributed to Tod Browning at the time of his "retirement" from movie making in the early 1940s.

Biography

A pioneering director who helped create the horror film genre, Tod Browning made his mark on cinema via his 10-film collaboration with actor Lon Chaney, the first sound version of "Dracula" (1931), starring Bela Lugosi, and most particularly his master work, "Freaks" (1932). So grotesque and frightful was "Freaks," that some 20 minutes were cut from the U.S. version, while Great Britain banned the film for three decades. But it was his work with Chaney during the silent era that stood the test of time, which started with "The Wicked Darling" (1919) and ended with "Where East is East" (1929). In between, he had Chaney portray a transvestite in "The Unholy Three" (1925), a cripple in "The Black Bird" (1926) and a vampire in "London After Midnight" (1927). He had slated "Dracula" to star Chaney, but the actor fell ill and died of cancer, leaving Browning to reluctantly hire Lugosi. Meanwhile, after "Freaks," he helmed "Mark of the Vampire" (1935), a remake of "London After Midnight," "The Devil Doll" (1936) and "Miracles for Sale" (1939), before calling it a career. Following his death in 1962, film historians re-evaluated his career and helped rehabilitate him with contemporary audiences, elevating his status as a trailblazing horror director.

Born on Oct. 6, 1962 in Louisville, KY, Browning was raised by his father, Charles, and his mother, Lydia; he was also the nephew of Pete Browning, a star in the early days of Major League Baseball and the inspiration for the famed Louisville Slugger bats. Though he displayed some interest in sports as a youth, Browning found deeper inspiration producing and performing theatricals in his back yard. An accomplished singer, he ran away from home at 16 years old and joined the circus, working in various capacities from carnival barker to contortionist to headliner; one of his more popular acts was "The Living Corpse," in which he was buried alive for up to two days at a time. Browning later turned to vaudeville as a singer, dancer and comedian, earning attention for playing the popular comic strip character Mutt of "Mutt and Jeff" fame in the burlesque show "The Whirl of Myth" (1913). After a brief billing as a clown with the Ringling Brothers Circus, Browning was introduced to director D.W. Griffith, who was working for Biograph, and began appearing in a number of bit roles, including his film debut as an undertaker in "Scenting a Terrible Crime" (1913).

Browning's versatility and physical prowess made him ideal for demanding comic roles. When Griffith decided to head West, Browning followed. Once in Hollywood, he began to work behind the cameras helming a series of one- and two-reel comedies. His career was nearly ended in 1915, however, when he was in an automobile accident in which he was driving while intoxicated and smashed full speed into a moving train. One passenger, comic actor Elmer Booth, was killed and another, George A. Seigmann, was seriously injured. Browning had suffered massive injuries and spent a long convalescence, during which he penned screenplays. When he had recovered sufficiently, Griffith put him to work as one of the many assistant directors on the epic, "Intolerance" (1916). The following year, in tandem with star Wilfred Lucas, he co-directed the Civil War drama "Jim Bludso" (1917), his first feature. Over the next seven years, Browning directed a string of now-lost films for MGM and Universal, many of which starred Edith Storey and were described as routine melodramas, doing little to advance his career. It was a fortuitous collaboration with actor Lon Chaney, beginning with "The Wicked Darling" (1919), that pulled him from the rank and file into a position as one of Hollywood's bankable directors.

Much of Browning's reputation as one of the top directors of horror films rested largely on the silent pictures he made with Chaney, however most remained largely inaccessible or completely lost to contemporary audiences. "The Unholy Three" (1925), made under the seal of approval of MGM production boss Irving Thalberg, was built around a trio of criminals - a transvestite ventriloquist (Chaney), a dwarf (Harry Earles) and a strongman (Victor McLaglen) - and was perhaps the best and most successful of this partnership. Still, film historians were divided over whether it was the brilliance of Chaney that made the films with Browning so stunning or the direction itself. For his part, the director sensed a kindred spirit in the actor and the duo crafted fascinating character studies of damaged men filled with emotional anguish. "The Black Bird" (1926) gave Chaney an opportunity to transform himself into a cripple merely by contorting his body, while "London After Midnight" (1927) was Browning's first flirtation with the vampire myth. Meanwhile, "The Unknown" (1927) was a truly disturbing tale of a circus knife-thrower who pretends to have no arms and undergoes an amputation to avoid detection as a murderer. Browning's mastery was in the idea that physical mutilation of his characters often mirrored a similar mental or spiritual mutation that led to their eventual destruction.

Without Chaney, Browning directed "The Show" (1927), an upsetting tale of carnival performers (Renee Adoree and John Gilbert) who nightly re-enact the story of Salome and John the Baptist while a jealous rival (Lionel Barrymore) plots to win the woman. Browning's use of camera angles and shifts in perspective heightened the tension and prefigured many techniques later commonplace in suspense films. Contemporary audiences, however, failed to respond and it flopped. He went over to Universal Pictures to make "Outside the Law" (1930), the studio chose him to helm "Dracula" (1931), which was intended as a starring vehicle for Lon Chaney. But the actor died from throat cancer that year and left Browning without his favored actor. Their final film together was the silent adventure "Where East is East" (1929). Browning clashed with Universal over hiring Bela Lugosi to recreate his popular stage role and his vision for the story. The resulting film played as slightly plodding, with Lugosi's distant, stylized portrayal of the vampire lending a particular elegance. But Browning's camera remained static, as if waiting for the actors to bring the piece alive, clearly demonstrating his discomfort with the new technology of sound; the infusion of that element seemed to confound his technique. Regardless, the film became an instant classic for generations to follow.

In undertaking "Freaks" (1932), Browning achieved notoriety and later cult status. The film, which employed and even celebrated real circus performers via voyeuristic appeal, unfortunately suffered from the amateurism of its cast. With the exception of the leading lady (Olga Baclanova), few were trained actors, while its limited camera angles and woodenly-delivered dialogue made "Freaks" look like a later 1950s B-grade horror movie. With the film, Browning was making a statement: his collaborations with Chaney portrayed a normal man who becomes mutilated and turns into a monster, with "Freaks," the process was reversed and the grotesque are not monsters. Some critics argued that the film exploited its subjects, while others thought they were humanized. Though quaint and dated by contemporary standards, "Freaks" was an agitating film that caused quite a stir, from patrons running screaming down the aisles, to Great Britain banning it for three decades. As punishment, the studio assigned Browning to the routine "Fast Workers" (1933), a romance drama starring John Gilbert.

Browning's later work in sound horror films was often obscured by the reputations of "Dracula" and "Freaks." His "Mark of the Vampire" (1935), a remake of "London After Midnight," maintained a consistently eerie atmosphere and had several understated scenes of chilling beauty featuring Lugosi and Carol Borland as a vampire couple. Despite the fact that the film's supernatural elements gave way to a standard mystery story by the end, Browning nonetheless displayed more control and visual polish than in his previous work. He next directed "The Devil Doll" (1936), in many ways a standard revenge melodrama, which starred Lionel Barrymore as a Devil's Island escapee who shrinks the partners that framed him for embezzlement to the size of toys. But the director makes inventive use of a wide variety of cinematic tools - a moving camera, montages - to enhance the suspense. With tastes in the movie business changing rapidly, Browning intuited that his era had passed and after making his last film, "Miracles for Sale" (1939), announced his retirement in the early 1940s. Although he received screen credit for the story to "Inside Job" (1946), he spent his remaining years as a recluse. When his wife died in 1944, it was erroneously reported that he also had passed. Browning developed throat cancer in the 1950s and underwent an operation on his tongue, but died on Oct. 6, 1962 at age 82.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Miracles for Sale (1939)
Director
The Devil-Doll (1936)
Director
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Director
Lazy River (1934)
Director of background Photographer
Fast Workers (1933)
Director
Freaks (1932)
Director
Dracula (1931)
Director
Iron Man (1931)
Director
Outside the Law (1930)
Director
Where East Is East (1929)
Director
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
Director
West of Zanzibar (1928)
Director
The Big City (1928)
Director
The Unknown (1927)
Director
The Show (1927)
Director
London After Midnight (1927)
Director
London After Midnight (Reconstruction) (1927)
Director
The Blackbird (1926)
Director
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
Director
The Mystic (1925)
Director
Dollar Down (1925)
Director
The Unholy Three (1925)
Director
The Dangerous Flirt (1924)
Director
Silk Stocking Sal (1924)
Director
White Tiger (1923)
Director
The Day of Faith (1923)
Director
Drifting (1923)
Director
The Man Under Cover (1922)
Director
Under Two Flags (1922)
Director
The Wise Kid (1922)
Director
No Woman Knows (1921)
Director
Outside the Law (1920)
Director
The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)
Director
The Exquisite Thief (1919)
Director
The Petal on the Current (1919)
Director
Bonnie, Bonnie Lassie (1919)
Director
The Unpainted Woman (1919)
Director
The Wicked Darling (1919)
Director
Which Woman? (1918)
Director
The Legion of Death (1918)
Director
Revenge (1918)
Director
The Deciding Kiss (1918)
Director
The Eyes of Mystery (1918)
Director
The Brazen Beauty (1918)
Director
Set Free (1918)
Director
Hands Up! (1917)
Director
Jim Bludso (1917)
Director
A Love Sublime (1917)
Director
Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp (1917)
Director
The Jury of Fate (1917)
Director
The Deadly Glass of Beer (1916)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Mother and the Law (1919)
Owner of Racing Car
Intolerance (1916)
Owner of Racing Car

Writer (Feature Film)

Inside Job (1946)
Original Story
The Devil-Doll (1936)
Story
Outside the Law (1930)
Screenwriter
Where East Is East (1929)
Story
The Big City (1928)
Writer
London After Midnight (1927)
Original Story
The Unknown (1927)
Story
The Blackbird (1926)
Writer
The Road to Mandalay (1926)
Story
The Mystic (1925)
Story
White Tiger (1923)
Scen
Drifting (1923)
Scen
White Tiger (1923)
Story
Under Two Flags (1922)
Adaptation
No Woman Knows (1921)
Scen
The Virgin of Stamboul (1920)
Scen
Outside the Law (1920)
Story and scen
Bonnie, Bonnie Lassie (1919)
Scen
Set Free (1918)
Scen
Which Woman? (1918)
Scen
Jim Bludso (1917)
Scen
A Love Sublime (1917)
Scen
Atta Boy's Last Race (1916)
Scen
Atta Boy's Last Race (1916)
Story
Sunshine Dad (1916)
Scen
Sunshine Dad (1916)
Story

Producer (Feature Film)

Outside the Law (1920)
Producer
The Pointing Finger (1919)
Supervisor

Production Companies (Feature Film)

The Devil-Doll (1936)
Company
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Company
Fast Workers (1933)
Company
Iron Man (1931)
Company
Dracula (1931)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

In Search of Dracula (1975)
Other

Cast (Short)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1925 Studio Tour (1925)
Himself

Life Events

1896

At age 16, joined the Manhattan Fair and Carnival Company; changed first name to Tod

1913

Introduced to D W Griffith by former partner Charles Murray; joined Biograph Studios as a performer

1913

Feature acting debut, had bit role as an undertaker in "Scenting a Terrible Crime", directed by Griffith

1915

Began directing career, helming two-reel shorts like "The Living Death" and "The Lucky Transfer"

1915

Involved in an automobile accident while driving drunk that resulted in the death of comic Elmer Booth, a passenger in the car (June 17)

1916

Was an assistant director to D.W. Griffith on "Intolerance"; also acted in the film

1916

Wrote and directed the comedy short, "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish"

1917

Feature film directing debut, the Civil War romance "Jim Bludso"; co-directed with star Wilfred Lucas

1917

Helmed several films for Metro, many with Edith Storey as star

1918

Began directing for Bluebird Photoplays; later joined Universal by year's end

1918

Initiated collaboration with actress Priscilla Dean with "Which Woman" and "The Brazen Beauty"

1918

Received screenplay credit for "Set Free"; also directed

1919

First collaboration with Lon Chaney, "The Wicked Darling", starring Priscilla Dean

1924

Last film under Universal contract, "White Tiger"

1925

Career turned around after directing "The Unholy Three" for MGM; film starred Chaney, Victor McLaglen and Harry Earles

1926

Helmed "The Black Bird", starring Chaney

1927

Clashed with studio heads over "The Show", featuring John Gilbert and Chaney; dark subject matter (a circus sideshow) offended many critics

1929

Last collaboration with Chaney, "Where East Is East"; also last silent film

1929

First sound film, "The Thirteenth Chair"; also released as a silent; first film with Bela Lugosi

1931

Directed, "Dracula" (for Universal), director's first choice for part was Chaney who was too ill to work; title role eventually played by Bela Lugosi who had originated it on Broadway

1932

Status at MGM lessened after the box-office failure of "Freaks"; studio cut 20 minutes after a disastrous preview; contemporary critics and audiences dismissed film; banned from screenings in Great Britain until 1962

1933

Reteamed with John Gilbert on "Fast Workers", a drama about construction workers that proved a flop

1936

Directed the intriguing "The Devil Doll"

1939

Last film, "Miracles for Sale"

1942

Formally retired from filmmaking

1946

Received screen credit for the story for "Inside Job"

Photo Collections

Freaks - Reissue Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Freaks (1932). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. These cards are from the 1949 reissue of the film, through independent distributor Dwain Esper.
Freaks - Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Here are a few behind-the-scenes photos taken during the making of MGM's Freaks (1932), directed by Tod Browning.
Dracula (1931) - Lobby Cards
Dracula (1931) - Lobby Cards
Mark of the Vampire - Publicity Stills
Here are several Publicity Stills from Mark of the Vampire (1935). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Unholy Three (1925) - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken during production of The Unholy Three (1925), featuring director Tod Browning and his cast.
West of Zanzibar - Publicity Art
Here are a few pieces of advertizing art prepared by MGM to publicize Tod Browning's West of Zanzibar (1928) in newspapers and magazines.
West of Zanzibar - Scene Photos
Here are several scene stills from MGM's West of Zanzibar (1928), Tod Browning's silent melodrama starring Lon Chaney.
The Devil Doll - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Devil Doll (1936), starring Lionel Barrymore and directed by Tod Browning.
The Unholy Three (1925) - Scene Photos
Here are several Scene Stills from Tod Browning's The Unholy Three (1925), starring Lon Chaney, Victor McLaglen, and Harry Earles.
The Unholy Three (1925) - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Unholy Three (1925). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Mark of the Vampire - Ad Art
Here is some advertising art from Tod Browning's Mark of the Vampire (1935), including an original Herald, and black-and-white renditions of American movie posters. (Very few actual posters for this title are known to exist).
Freaks - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from MGM's Freaks (1932), directed by Tod Browning.
London After Midnight - Movie Posters
Here are a few Movie Posters from the lost silent film London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney.
The Unknown - Movie Posters
Here are a few American movie posters for Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford.
The Unknown - Lobby Cards
Here are a few American Lobby Cards for Tod Browning's The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford.
Freaks - Lobby Cards
Here are several original Lobby Cards from Freaks (1932). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8.
Freaks - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Freaks (1932). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Mark of the Vampire - Behind-the-Scenes Photo
Here is a photo taken behind-the-scenes during production of Mark of the Vampire (1935), directed by Tod Browning.
London After Midnight - Behind-theScenes Photo
Here is a Behind-the-Scenes Photo from the lost silent film London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney.

Videos

Movie Clip

Mark Of The Vampire (1935) - They Will Take Their Revenge Director Tod Browning opens big with gypsies, bats, an owl, smoke and more before jumping to the frightened innkeeper (Michael Visaroff) and wife (Rosemary Glosz) and timid doctor (Donald Meek), in his MGM Dracula spinoff, Mark Of The Vampire, 1935, starring Bela Lugosi.
Mark Of The Vampire (1935) - A Certain Thorny Weed Lionel Barrymore (Professor Zelin) taking over treatment of vampire-bitten Irena (Elizabeth Allen), while her guardian the Baron (Jean Hersholt) tells the inspector (Lionel Atwill) that her dad may not be dead, then ensuing chatter, in director Tod Browning's Mark Of The Vampire, 1935.
Mark Of The Vampire (1935) - This Is No Time For Levity Servants (Leila Bennett, Ivan Simpson) bat-proofing, the count (Bela Lugosi) undeterred, inspector (Lionel Atwill) doubtful, professor (Lionel Barrymore) advises the baron (Jean Hersholt), Elizabeth Allen under guard, her dad (Holmes Herbert) confirmed un-dead, in Mark Of The Vampire, 1935.
Unholy Three, The (1925) - God's Gifted Genius Early scenes introducing two of the titular three, Hercules (Victor McLaglen) and Echo (Lon Chaney), at the carnival, their pickpocket friend Rosie (Mae Busch) working the crowd, in Tod Browning's original The Unholy Three, 1925.
Dracula (1931) -- The Coach From Count Dracula? Director Tod Browning’s camera plunges into Transylvania and the first appearance of Bela Lugosi, though not his first Hollywood picture, in the title role, and Dwight Frye as English realtor Renfield, not as yet worried about his client having sent the coach to meet him at midnight, in Dracula, 1931.
Dracula (1931) -- There Are Far Worse Things Bela Lugosi (title character) on the loose now in London, has consumed a street waif and made his way to the symphony, where we meet his neighbor Seward (Herbert Bunston), his daughter Mina (Helen Chandler) and her friend Lucy (Frances Dade), in Dracula, 1931, from Universal Pictures and director Tod Browning.
Dracula (1931) -- It Is Walpurgis Night Director Tod Browning’s opening, Dwight Frye is Renfield the unbowed Englishman in the coach, Carla Laemmle, niece of the producer Carl, the bespectacled tourist, Michael Visaroff the innkeeper and Barbara Bozoky his wife, in Universal’s Dracula, 1931, with Bela Lugosi in the title role.
Dracula (1931) -- I Never Drink... Wine Conducting business in his castle in Transylvania, Bela Lugosi (title character) is the gracious host to his London property agent Renfield (Dwight Frye), who still hasn’t the sense to be frightened, with quasi-comic dialogue and provocative activity ensuing, early in Tod Browning’s Dracula, 1931.
Dracula (1931) -- Is There Anything The Matter With You Throat? First in bat-form then in person, Bela Lugosi (title character) pays his first nocturnal visit to Mina (Helen Chandler), who the next day consults with Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan), called in from Germany to assist her father Seward (Herbert Bunston) and worried fiancè (David Manners), in director Tod Browning’s Dracula, 1931.
Freaks (1932) - Living Breathing Monstrosities In the sometimes forgotten prologue, the barker (Murray Kinnell) lures spectators, then director Tod Browning introduces Hans and Freida (Harry and Daisy Earles) and the already evil-seeming "Cleopatra" (Olga Balaclova), in the eventually influential box-office flop Freaks, 1932.
Freaks (1932) - Wedding Feast Director Tod Browning's famous scene, "Half Boy" Johnny Eck leading cohorts, mocking Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) at her sham wedding to clueless Hans (Harry Earles), his jilted Daisy (Earles) dejected, her real boyfriend, strong-man Hercules (Henry Victor) being dumb, in Freaks, 1932.
Devil-Doll, The (1936) - Jewels Lavond (Lionel Barrymore, in his "Madame Mandelip" get-up) has mind-control over the doll who awakens in the arms of Marguerite (Juanita Quigley) for thievery, in Tod Browning's The Devil-Doll, 1936.

Trailer

Family

Charles Albert Browning
Father
Lydia Browing
Mother
Peter Browning
Uncle
Baseball player. Reportedly the player for whom the "Louisville Slugger" baseball bat was created.
Avery Browning
Brother
Coal merchant. Older; died in 1959.

Companions

Alice L Browning
Wife
Actor. Born in 1887; married in June 1917; separated in the early 1920s; reconciled; died in 1944.

Bibliography

"Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macbre"
David J Skal and Elias Savada, Anchor Books (1995)

Notes

"When I quit a thing, I quit. I wouldn't walk across the street now to see a movie." --quote attributed to Tod Browning at the time of his "retirement" from movie making in the early 1940s.