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Charles Albert Browning Jr.
July 12, 1880
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||October 6, 1962 82) (aged|
Malibu, California, U.S.
Tod Browning (born Charles Albert Browning Jr.; July 12, 1880 – October 6, 1962) was an American film actor, film director, screenwriter and vaudeville performer.Browning's career spanned the silent film and sound film eras. Best known as the director of Dracula (1931), Freaks (1932), and silent film collaborations with Lon Chaney and Priscilla Dean, Browning directed many movies in a wide range of genres, between 1915 and 1939.
Browning was born as Charles Albert Browning, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, the second son of Charles Albert and Lydia Browning, and the nephew of baseball star Pete Browning. As a young boy, he put on amateur plays in his backyard. He was fascinated by the circus and carnival life, and at the age of 16 he ran away from his well-to-do family to become a performer.
Changing his name to "Tod", he traveled extensively with sideshows, carnivals, and circuses. His jobs included working as a talker for the Wild Man of Borneo, performing a live burial act in which he was billed as "The Living Corpse", and performing as a clown with the Ringling Brothers Circus. He drew on this experience as inspiration for some of his film work.
He performed in vaudeville as an actor, magician's assistant, blackface comedian (in an act called The Lizard and the Coon with comedian Roy C. jones) and dancer. He appeared in the Mutt and Jeff sketch in the 1912 burlesque revue The Wheel of Mirth with comedian Charles Murray.
Later, while Browning was working as director of a variety theater in New York City, he met D.W. Griffith, who was also from Louisville. He began acting with Murray on single-reel nickelodeon comedies for Griffith and the Biograph Company.
In 1913 Griffith split from Biograph and moved to California. Browning followed and continued to act in Griffith's films, now for Reliance-Majestic Studios, including a stint as an extra in the epic Intolerance . Around that time he began directing, eventually directing 11 short films for Reliance-Majestic. Between 1913 and 1919, Browning appeared as an actor in approximately 50 motion pictures.
On June 16, 1915, Browning's career almost ended when he crashed his car at full speed into another vehicle described as a "street work car loaded with iron rails".He reportedly did not see the work vehicle's "rear lamp". Two fellow film actors, Elmer Booth and George Siegmann, were passengers in his car. Booth was killed instantly, and Siegmann suffered broken ribs, a deeply lacerated thigh, and internal injuries; but he recovered. . Browning was badly injured as well, including a shattered right leg and the loss of his front teeth. During his lengthy convalescence, he wrote scripts, and did not return to active film work until 1917. Elmer Booth's sister, Margaret, who later became a prominent editor for MGM, never forgave Browning for the loss of her brother.
Browning's feature film debut was Jim Bludso (1917), about a riverboat captain who sacrifices himself to save his passengers from a fire. It was well received.
Browning moved back to New York in 1917. He directed two films for Metro Studios, Peggy, the Will O' the Wisp and The Jury of Fate . Both starred Mabel Taliaferro, the latter in a dual role achieved with double exposure techniques that were groundbreaking for the time. He moved back to California in 1918 and produced two more films for Metro, The Eyes of Mystery and Revenge .
In the spring of 1918, he left Metro and joined Bluebird Productions, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, where he met Irving Thalberg. Thalberg paired Browning with Lon Chaney for the first time for the film The Wicked Darling (1919), a melodrama in which Chaney played a thief who forces a poor girl (Priscilla Dean) from the slums into a life of crime and possibly prostitution. Browning and Chaney ultimately made 10 films together over the next decade.
The death of his father sent Browning into a depression that led to alcoholism. He was laid off by Universal and his wife left him. However, he recovered, reconciled with his wife, and got a one-picture contract with Goldwyn Pictures. The film he produced for Goldwyn, The Day of Faith , was a moderate success, putting his career back on track.
Thalberg reunited Browning with Lon Chaney for The Unholy Three (1925), the story of three circus performers who concoct a scheme to use disguises to con and steal jewels from rich people. Browning's circus experience shows in his sympathetic portrayal of the antiheroes. The film was a resounding success, so much so that it was later remade in 1930 as Lon Chaney's first (and only) talkie shortly before his death later that same year. Browning and Chaney embarked on a series of popular collaborations, including The Blackbird and The Road to Mandalay . The Unknown (1927), featuring Chaney as an armless knife thrower and Joan Crawford as his scantily clad carnival girl obsession, originally was titled Alonzo the Armless and could be considered a precursor to Freaks in that it concerns a love triangle involving a circus freak, a beauty, and a strongman. London After Midnight (1927) was Browning's first foray into the vampire genre and is a highly sought-after lost film which starred Chaney, Conrad Nagel, and Marceline Day. The last known print of London After Midnight was destroyed in an MGM studio fire in 1965. In 2002, a photographic reconstruction of London After Midnight was produced by Rick Schmidlin for Turner Classic Movies. Browning and Chaney's final collaboration was Where East Is East (1929), of which only incomplete prints have survived. Browning's first talkie was The Thirteenth Chair (1929), which was also released as a silent and featured Bela Lugosi, who had a leading part as the uncanny inspector, Delzante, solving the mystery with the aid of the spirit medium. This film was directed shortly after Browning's vacation trip to Germany (arriving in the Port of New York, November 12, 1929).
After Chaney's death in 1930, Browning was hired by his old employer Universal Pictures to direct Dracula (1931).Although Browning wanted to hire an unknown European actor for the title role and have him be mostly offscreen as a sinister presence, budget constraints and studio interference necessitated the casting of Bela Lugosi and a more straightforward approach.
After directing the boxing melodrama Iron Man (1931), Browning began work on Freaks (1932).Based on the short story "Spurs" by Clarence Aaron "Tod" Robbins, the screenwriter of The Unholy Three, the film concerns a love triangle among a wealthy dwarf, a gold-digging aerialist, and a strongman; a murder plot; and the vengeance dealt out by the dwarf and his fellow circus freaks. The film was highly controversial, even after heavy editing to remove many disturbing scenes, and was a commercial failure and banned in the United Kingdom for 30 years.
His career derailed, Browning found himself unable to get his requested projects greenlighted. After directing the drama Fast Workers (1933) starring John Gilbert, who was also not in good standing with the studio, he was allowed to direct a remake of London After Midnight, originally titled Vampires of Prague but later retitled Mark of the Vampire (1935). In the remake, the roles played by Lon Chaney in the original were split between Lionel Barrymore and Béla Lugosi (spoofing his Dracula image).
After that, Browning directed The Devil-Doll (1936), originally titled The Witch of Timbuctoo, from his own story.The picture starred Lionel Barrymore as an escapee from an island prison who avenges himself on the people who imprisoned him using living "dolls" who are actually people shrunk to doll-size and magically placed under Barrymore's hypnotic control. Browning's final film was the murder mystery Miracles for Sale (1939).
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó, known professionally as Bela Lugosi, was a Hungarian-American actor best remembered for portraying Count Dracula in the 1931 film and for his roles in other horror films.
Freaks is a 1932 American pre-Code horror film produced and directed by Tod Browning, and starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova and Roscoe Ates. It follows a trapeze artist who joins a group of carnival sideshow performers with a plan to seduce and murder a dwarf in the troupe to gain his inheritance, but her plot proves to have dangerous consequences. The film is based on elements from the short story "Spurs" by Tod Robbins.
Leonidas Frank "Lon" Chaney was an American stage and film actor, make-up artist, director and screenwriter. He is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of cinema, renowned for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup. Chaney was known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques he developed earned him the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Faces".
Mark of the Vampire is a 1935 horror film, starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, and Jean Hersholt, and directed by Tod Browning. It has been described as a talkie remake of Browning's silent London After Midnight (1927), though it does not credit the older film or its writers.
London After Midnight is a 1927 American silent mystery film with horror overtones directed and co-produced by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney, with Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall, and Polly Moran. The film was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was based on the scenario "The Hypnotist", also written by Browning.
Dracula is a 1931 American pre-Code supernatural horror film directed and co-produced by Tod Browning from a screenplay written by Garrett Fort. It is based on the 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is adapted from the 1897 novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. The film stars Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, a vampire who emigrates from Transylvania to England and preys upon the blood of living victims, including a young man's fiancée.
Bela Lugosi (1882–1956), best known for the original screen portrayal of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1931, was in many movies during the course of his career. The following list is believed complete.
Vampire films have been a staple since the era of silent films, so much so that the depiction of vampires in popular culture is strongly based upon their depiction in films throughout the years. The most popular cinematic adaptation of vampire fiction has been from Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, with over 170 versions to date. Running a distant second are adaptations of the 1872 novel Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. By 2005, Dracula had been the subject of more films than any other fictional character, save for Sherlock Holmes.
George William Hill was an American film director and cinematographer.
Son of Dracula is a 1943 American horror film directed by Robert Siodmak – his first film for Universal Pictures – with a screenplay based on an original story by his brother Curt. The film stars Lon Chaney, Jr. and his frequent co-star Evelyn Ankers. Notably it is the first film where a vampire is actually shown physically transforming into a bat on screen. It is the third Dracula film from Universal's Classic Monster series, preceded by Dracula and Dracula's Daughter, though Count Dracula himself does not return to the series until the fourth installment, 1944's House of Frankenstein.
The Unknown is a 1927 American silent horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney as carnival knife thrower Alonzo the Armless and Joan Crawford as the scantily clad carnival girl he hopes to marry.
William Stowell was an American silent film actor.
Waldemar Young was an American screenwriter. He wrote for 81 films between 1917 and 1938.
Angelo Salvatore Rossitto was an American actor and voice artist. He had dwarfism and was 2'11" (89 cm) tall, and was often billed as Little Angie or Moe. Angelo first appeared in silent films opposite Lon Chaney and John Barrymore. On screen he portrayed everything from dwarfs, midgets, gnomes and pygmies as well as monsters, villains and aliens, with appearances in more than 70 films.
The Unholy Three is a 1925 American silent film involving a crime spree, directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney. The supporting cast features Mae Busch, Matt Moore, Victor McLaglen and Harry Earles.
The Mystic is a 1925 American MGM silent drama film directed by Tod Browning, who later directed MGM's Freaks (1932). It was co-written by Browning and Waldemar Young, writing a similar storyline to their earlier 1925 hit film The Unholy Three. Browning was unable however to hire his favorite star Lon Chaney this time around, and The Mystic wound up a little-known film with a cast of now-forgotten names. Aileen Pringle's gowns in the film were by already famous Romain de Tirtoff. A print of the film exists.
David John Skal is an American cultural historian, critic, writer, and on-camera commentator known for his research and analysis of horror films and horror literature.
Elias Savada is an American film historian and critic. Since 1977, he has owned and operated the Motion Picture Information Service, which has provided customized copyright research reports to over 1,200 clients.
Errol Taggart was a Canadian film director and film editor who worked in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s. He was the editor of four movies directed by Tod Browning and starring Lon Chaney: The Unknown (uncredited) with Joan Crawford, The Road to Mandalay, The Blackbird, and the lost film London After Midnight (uncredited). He also edited Browning's film Drifting featuring Wallace Beery and Anna May Wong in supporting roles, and was Browning's first assistant director on Freaks (uncredited) featuring Olga Baclanova and a cast of actual carnival sideshow freaks. Taggart also directed seven films, including Sinner Take All, Song of the City, and The Women Men Marry.
Frankenstein is the title of several horror-adventure film series loosely based on the 1818 novel of the same name by Mary Shelley, centered on a monster created by one Dr. Henry Frankenstein.