In 1973, Knoxville had an opportunity to meet the real Clarence Brown, the man behind the newly built theatre in the middle of UT’s campus. The University honored the 83-year-old Mr. Brown in the theatre he had endowed by presenting the Clarence Brown Film Festival, showcasing his remarkable career as a major Hollywood director. His prolific body of work spanned the silent era into the 1950s. Beloved by the biggest stars of the silver screen, he directed Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor and racked up a slew of Oscar nominations.
Since that time, many people are familiar with the Clarence Brown Theatre, but few know the man behind the name. This August, Knox County Public Library and partners are pleased to re-introduce Clarence Brown and his work to modern audiences with a new Clarence Brown Film Festival. The 5-day event includes screenings of his most iconic films, talks, tours and more.
Born in Clinton, Massachusetts, in 1890, a young Clarence Brown moved to Knoxville as a child when his father got a job to manage Brookside Mills. Happy Holler resident, Knoxville High and UT engineering graduate, Mr. Brown never lost his affection for his hometown.
As a sneak peek to the Clarence Brown Film Festival, the Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS) will partner with the Knoxville History Project (KHP) in a rare showing of the movie version of Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy, Ah Wilderness!
Opening with a shot of a banner from director Clarence Brown’s alma mater, Knoxville High School, the movie turns out to have several connections to Knoxville, as KHP’s Jack Neely will explain in a brief talk before the screening of the film at Central Cinema (1205 Central Street).
What’s more, the film will be shown right in the middle of Clarence Brown’s old neighborhood, Happy Holler, in a nearly century-old space that once housed the old Joy movie house. Part of TAMIS’s monthly series at this unique venue, the free program starts today (6/14/23) at 7:15 p.m.
Mary Pom Claiborne is assistant director for marketing, communications and development for Knox County Public Library