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See Article History Alternative Title: But the impact of those films—especially Dracula , starring Bela Lugosi , and Freaks —still lingers. After working in vaudeville as a blackface comedian, he was hired for the long-running burlesque revue The Whirl of Mirth, in which he appeared in sketches based on popular comic-strip characters of the period.
In he was signed by the Biograph Company , where under the supervision of D.
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Griffith he was featured in a series of knockabout comedies. In he made his directorial debut with the one-reel silent The Lucky Transfer. In June of that year, while driving drunk, he collided at high speed with a moving train. Browning and actor George A. Siegmann were seriously injured; actor Elmer Booth was killed. He then moved to the Fine Arts Film Company in , where he codirected three pictures with Wilfred Lucas, including his first full-length feature, Jim Bludso There he made nine films with leading actress Priscilla Dean, including the hit The Virgin of Stamboul The MGM and Universal years In Browning moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer MGM , where he wrote and directed a series of bizarre, almost surrealistic melodramas starring Chaney, who showed his versatility and facility with makeup by playing often physically disfigured characters in those films.
Their first project was the shocking for the time circus tale The Unholy Three , with Chaney as a transvestite ventriloquist who teams with a dwarf Harry Earles , a strongman Victor McLaglen , and a pickpocket Mae Busch to go on a crime spree that culminates in murder.
In The Road to Mandalay a shady sea captain Chaney tries to stop his daughter from marrying his partner in crime. The Big City ; now lost was something of a departure for Browning and Chaney since it was a simple, straightforward gangster story. In the macabre Where East Is East , Chaney played an animal trapper in French Indochina who kills his wife and then himself by letting loose a wild gorilla.
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Chaney was not yet open to the notion of making a sound picture, so Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was recruited to play the police inspector investigating a murder at a seance. Chaney finally made one sound film, a remake of The Unholy Three, before his sudden death from bronchial cancer in , but Jack Conway directed it instead of Browning, who had jumped to Universal and could not take the property with him. Lugosi had already played the part onstage for three years, and that version was the primary basis for the film.
The success of Dracula enabled Browning to flourish throughout the early s. Iron Man was based on a W.
Burnett novel and starred Lew Ayres as the prizefighter and Jean Harlow as his disloyal girlfriend. Tod Browning with the cast of Freaks The Kobal Collection Back at MGM, Browning delivered a surprise with Freaks , a truly shocking morality play that boldly cast a number of actual sideshow performers.
However, studio head Louis B. Mayer was reportedly appalled when he saw it, and he curtailed its distribution. Final films Fast Workers was a drama about the men who erect skyscrapers, with John Gilbert. Mark of the Vampire was a lively remake of London After Midnight; Lugosi starred as a vampire who might be responsible for murder, and Lionel Barrymore played a professor of demonology. After that came only Miracles for Sale , a B-film mystery with Henry Hull as an escapologist and Robert Young as a stage magician trying to expose a fake spiritualist.
The heavy-drinking Browning then retired, for reasons that have never been fully explained. Exiling himself to his home in Malibu, he went into virtual seclusion after the death of his second wife, actress Alice Wilson, in But he left a void in the cinema where once eeriness had spread like graveyard mist.