Clarence Brown, film producer and director, was born May 10, 1890, in Clinton, Massachusetts. Brown took a double degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1910 and began his career as an automobile dealer in Alabama. Fascinated with the movies, Brown went to the Peerless Studios at Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1915. There he met French director Maurice Tourneur and became his apprentice for the next six years.
In 1920 Brown codirected with Tourneur The Last of the Mohicans, starring Wallace Beery, and over the next six years Brown directed five more movies including The Eagle (1925) with Rudolph Valentino. In 1926 Brown signed with MGM Studios, which remained his film home for the rest of his career. Brown’s work in the late 1920s and 1930s with star Greta Garbo was especially notable and included the films Anna Christie (1930) and Anna Karenina (1935). Other popular stars who worked with Brown were Norma Shearer (A Free Soul, 1931), Joan Crawford (Chained, 1934), Spencer Tracy (Edison the Man, 1940), Elizabeth Taylor (National Velvet, 1945), and Gregory Peck (The Yearling, 1947). After the latter film, Brown directed only five more features before retiring in 1952; the last film he produced was Never Let Me Go, starring Clark Gable, in 1953. In all, Brown was nominated for the Academy Award for best director six times, and his films won eight Oscars out of thirty-eight total nominations.
Despite the long, productive career in Hollywood, Brown never forgot his years at the University of Tennessee. In 1987, at his death, Brown left a twelve-million-dollar bequest to the university, contingent upon the death of his wife. Added to a previous donation of one million dollars, Brown became the largest donor in the university’s history. The funds support the Clarence Brown Theatre Company, fund renovations to the Clarence Brown Theatre, and provide scholarships and faculty salary supplements. Brown’s papers and professional memorabilia are housed in the Special Collections of the University of Tennessee Library.
Kevin Brownlow, The Parades Gone By (1968); Diane MacIntyre, The Silents Majority, On-Line Journal of Silent Film, at [email protected]