Clarence Brown

Clarence Leon Brown (May 10, 1890 – August 17, 1987) was an American film director. Born in Clinton, Massachusetts, to Larkin Harry Brown, a cotton manufacturer, and Katherine Ann Brown, Brown moved to Tennessee when he was 11 years old. He attended Knoxville High School and the University of Tennessee, both in Knoxville, Tennessee, graduating from the university at the age of 19 with two degrees in engineering. An early fascination in automobiles led Brown to a job with the Stevens-Duryea Company, then to his own Brown Motor Car Company in Alabama. He later abandoned the car dealership after developing an interest in motion pictures around 1913. He was hired by the Peerless Studio at Fort Lee, New Jersey, and became an assistant to the French-born director Maurice Tourneur.

After serving in World War I, Brown was given his first co-directing credit (with Tourneur) for The Great Redeemer (1920). Later that year, he directed a major portion of The Last of the Mohicans after Tourneur was injured in a fall.

Brown moved to Universal in 1924, and then to MGM, where he stayed until the mid-1950s. At MGM he was one of the main directors of their female stars; he directed Joan Crawford six times and Greta Garbo seven.

He was nominated five times for the Academy Award as a director and once as a producer, but he never received an Oscar. However, he won Best Foreign Film for Anna Karenina, starring Garbo at the 1935 Venice International Film Festival.

Brown’s films gained a total of 38 Academy Award nominations and earned nine Oscars. Brown himself received six Academy Award nominations and in 1949, he won the British Academy Award for the film version of William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust.

In 1957, Brown was awarded The George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film. Brown retired a wealthy man due to his real estate investments, but refused to watch new movies, as he feared they might cause him to restart his career.

Clarence Brown with the MGM lion
Clarence Brown with the MGM lion

The Clarence Brown Theatre, on the campus of the University of Tennessee, is named in his honor. He holds the record for most nominations for the Academy Award for Best Director without a win, with six.

Films directed by Clarence Brown

The Great Redeemer (1920), The Last of the Mohicans (1920), The Foolish Matrons (1921), The Light in the Dark (1922), Don’t Marry for Money (1923), The Acquittal (1923), The Signal Tower (1924), Butterfly (1924), The Eagle (1925), The Goose Woman (1925), Smouldering Fires (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1926), Kiki (1926), The Trail of ’98 (1928), The Cossacks (1928), A Woman of Affairs (1928), Navy Blues (1929), Wonder of Women (1929), Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930), Inspiration (1931), Possessed (1931), A Free Soul (1931), Emma (1932), Letty Lynton (1932), The Son-Daughter (1932), Looking Forward (1933), Night Flight (1933), Sadie McKee (1934), Chained (1934), Ah, Wilderness! (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), Wife vs. Secretary (1936), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Conquest (1937), Of Human Hearts (1938), Idiot’s Delight (1939), The Rains Came (1939), Edison, the Man (1940), Come Live with Me (1941), They Met in Bombay (1941), The Human Comedy (1943), The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), National Velvet (1944), The Yearling (1946), Song of Love (1947), Intruder in the Dust (1949), To Please a Lady (1950), Angels in the Outfield (1951), When in Rome (1952), and Plymouth Adventure (1952)

A Roustabout Career: The Forgotten Celebrity of Clarence Brown – Read Torchbearer article