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Clarence Brown: Hollywood's Forgotten Master

by Gwenda Young foreword by Kevin Brownlow

Availablecloth$60.00s 978-0-8131-7595-9
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Screen Classics
448 pages  Pubdate: 11/23/2018  6 x 9  74 b/w photos

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Greta Garbo proclaimed him as her favorite director. Actors, actresses, and even child stars were so at ease under his direction that they were able to deliver inspired and powerful performances. Academy–Award–nominated director Clarence Brown (1890–1987) worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars, such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Mickey Rooney, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy. Known as the “star maker,” he helped guide the acting career of child sensation Elizabeth Taylor (of whom he once said, “she has a face that is an act of God”) and discovered Academy–Award–winning child star Claude Jarman Jr. for The Yearling (1946). He directed more than fifty films, including Possessed (1931), Anna Karenina (1935), National Velvet (1944), and Intruder in the Dust (1949), winning his audiences over with glamorous star vehicles, tales of families, communities, and slices of Americana, as well as hard-hitting dramas. Although Brown was admired by peers like Jean Renoir, Frank Capra, and John Ford, his illuminating work and contributions to classic cinema are rarely mentioned in the same breath as those of Hollywood’s great directors.

In this first full-length account of the life and career of the pioneering filmmaker, Gwenda Young discusses Brown’s background to show how his hardworking parents and resilient grandparents inspired his entrepreneurial spirit. She reveals how the one–time engineer and World War I aviator established a thriving car dealership, the Brown Motor Car Company, in Alabama—only to give it all up to follow his dream of making movies. He would not only become a brilliant director but also a craftsman who was known for his innovative use of lighting and composition.

In a career spanning five decades, Brown was nominated for five Academy Awards and directed ten different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Despite his achievements and influence, however, Brown has been largely overlooked by film scholars. Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master explores the forces that shaped a complex man—part–dreamer, part–pragmatist—who left an indelible mark on cinema.

Gwenda Young is a professor of film history and lecturer in film studies at University College, Cork, Ireland. She is the author of numerous articles about film history, including three articles about Clarence Brown, and co-editor of two books of critical essays. In 2003, along with Kevin Brownlow, she curated a retrospective of Brown’s films at the National Film Theatre, London.

A sweeping and elegantly written biography. It is as gracefully told, as delicate and memorable, as the best work of its subject. Young's book effortlessly portrays a man who never let the Hollywood system interfere with his filmmaking instincts. -- Wall Street Journal

A well-annotated, comprehensive, academic biography. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of early American cinema, star power in early Hollywood, or Clarence Brown. -- Library Journal

Gwenda Young's research for her study of the films directed by Clarence Brown is beyond excellent. It is extraordinary. -- Emily Leider, author of Myrna Loy: The Only Good Girl in Hollywood

Gwenda Young’s extremely significant and impressive work provides a comprehensive historical overview of the life and career of an important Hollywood director of the 'Classical Era'—Clarence Brown. -- Lucy Fischer, author of Body Double: The Author Incarnate in Cinema and Art Direction and Production Design

This definitive study of the life and work of prolific MGM contract director Clarence Brown, whose career extended from the early silent era into the age of television, is exhaustively researched and skillfully written. It does not claim that Brown was a filmmaking genius, but rather a great visual stylist with an intense devotion to the artful logistics of production and direction who also had a poetic vision grounded in personal experience. It offers a vivid account of the industrial system in which he practiced, with special attention to the vexations of production code censorship and internal studio politics. Anyone who cares deeply about the history of American cinema should read this book. -- David A. Cook, author of A History of Narrative Film (Fifth Edition)

This is a pioneering study of an important but neglected American filmmaker. Gwenda Young has marshaled an astonishing range of resources in telling the story of Clarence Brown’s life and work from his days as an apprentice in the silent era through his rise as a major director in the classical Hollywood studio system up to World War II and beyond. It is an epic tale, and Young gives it the scope and momentum of a great novel even as she brings to bear a wealth of scholarly research. A truly impressive accomplishment. -- James Morrison, author of Auteur Theory and My Son John