Known for his two main movies in horror, his take on Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932). It was the latter of the two that gave Tod Browning a notorious name in the horror film industry.
But before we go any further here are a few honorable mentions of his work…
Born in Louisville, Kentucky 1880, Browning started young with his talent for the dramatic, starting like previous directors I’ve blogged about, with amateur plays in his backyard which he performed for family and friends.
When he turned to the young age of 16 however, his life would change dramatically. As a child he was obsessed with the circus in particularly the carnival which would parade through the towns of the time. Showcasing those with disabilities as “freakshows” and entertaining the masses. When he left home it was here he would find his early career within the circus taking the persona of “The Living Corpse”. It would involve him dressed in makeup and pretending to be dead until awoken within his coffin. He also dabbled in other aspects being a contortionist, magicians assistant etc.
Now it would seem that a job like this would entail a thick skin and almost a love for the macabre and the dark. Well given my research on Mr Browning I would say that that’s exactly who he was. Described by those who knew him or lived close as a “sadist” and conversations on how as a film director he reveled in disturbing and provoking his audience. It’s clear that with his background, his love of horror had foundations in what was classed as strange or macabare to most people of the time.
Throughout his life he was seen as a quiet man who had no interest for interviews or articles about himself and this was probably strategic for the director as his life held many dark secrets and tragedies of their own. He perhaps wanted to encapsulate his pain through film and expression. Which one could argue he executed very well.
His film “Freaks” was so shocking and odd during the film era that it was offensive to most and pulled from almost all theaters. I would argue that he was merely holding a mirror up to the public to display how utterly closed minded and judgmental they were to people who were severely disabled. and for that I say Bravo Browning.
Based on the carnival circus itself and the real human undertone of the film could be seen now as more of an insight into their lives. However because of its strangeness and setting became a cult classic for those in horror. In fact American Horror story picked up the baton for their Season Freakshow which still gave people the creeps.
Browning although having worked himself in the circus had found himself displaying affects from working with his actors too long.
He remarked that he had experienced nightmares about those acting during production. The film was found as so grotesque that the UK yet again as the boring people they are banned it for 30 years!
Now apart from his horror genre collection he did have many other works however it was reported that during the 60s a fire broke out and destroyed half of them and only some b reels have been found.
With his films came objections to his work and personal attacks on his character which would explain his retirement to public life with media outlets. In his later years his father passed away and this took a large effect on the Horror director, driving him to drink and alcoholism. He had also early in his career caused a car accident whilst being intoxicated killing a young actor at the time which remained imprinted throughout his life.
Battling with his dark scars and secrets it eventually led to his demise within the film industry and subsequent divorce.
Facing his final act himself rather than lay down and die Tod decided to pick himself up and regain what he had lost. He managed to gain control by working for Goldwyn pictures and after treatment for his alcohol addiction managed to reconcile with his with…(see not all doom and gloom)
To me this proves that perhaps the public and media got him all wrong. What I have gathered so far is that he was a strong person at heart and very open. Open to expressing how he felt about things that should have been normal. And also not a quitter.
There were many rumours also pushed during his ‘Freak’ years which included people at viewings having miscarriages or fainting. Apparent sue cases being thrown at his direction. But if you ask me…looking back on his history this was a man who knew how to market and advertise. He knew how to shock and awe people and how to grab people’s attention by both fascination and scandal . I mean let’s face it the general public to this day still have a fascination with the grotesque or strange. A small example of this would be people’s obsession with Dr. Pimple popper….which I loathe btw 🤢
Tod Browning died at the age of 82 years after suffering from throat cancer and had a operation removing his tongue which had complications. His life like his films were both dark, moody and suppressive but also enlightening and provoking, making people face things that normally they would ignore. Today this is prevalent in our film industry forcing movements , protests and people equal rights. Maybe Tod Browning was just a man ahead of his time looking to turn the conformities on their heads.
Or maybe …He just wanted to tease people I mean his real name was actually Charles…
And get this, Tod meant ‘Fox’ or ‘Trixster’ in old English. Further than this though if we translate that to German it means ‘Death’.
Maybe the last laugh is at our expense.
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