Tod Browning

As much as Dawnamtarix is proud of our personal history with Japanese culture, we are just as happy to have contributed our latex fashions to fantasy-based movies, television shows, runways, modeling shoots and video. There is no denying the close connection of latex and alt. fashion in general to the gothic, the fun, the weird and ‘way out’ and very often, horror imagery…naughty and not. It’s all stuff we are certainly fans of.

Given this, we felt it appropriate to pay tribute to Tod Browning on his birthday today, July 12th. 

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on this day in 1880, Browning literally “ran away to join the circus” at the age of 16. Forst working as a clown, contortionist, and magician’s assistant, like most of the talented early film people, Browning found his way into vaudeville and then to Hollywood. He first worked as an actor and then director at the Biograph Film Company, under star director D.W. Griffith then moved to direct features across a few of the early studios, finally landing at the latter part of the decade at the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. Here he directed a slew of films with actress Priscilla Dean, including The Wicked Darling, where he first worked with Lon Chaney.

Connecting with Chaney would be a critical step in both men’s careers.

The jump that would make Browning came in 1925 when he moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and directed a bunch of disturbing yet iconic silents with master-of-disguise Chaney (talk about a man adept at make-up and costumes changes!). The Unholy Three, in which Chaney played a ventriloquist who teams with dwarf Harry Earles (another actor soon to make his mark with Browning), London After Midnight and West of Zanzibar, are just a few of these classics where Chaney with Browning explored the more macabre of the human condition.

Chaney, London After Midnight

Chaney’s sudden death in 1930 forced Browning to find a substitute in Bela Lugosi for the lead role in the film version of Universal’s Dracula, still the success of Browning directing this Universal horror classic set his career. Back at MGM, he delivered his coup de grâce, 1932’s Freaks. This twisted morality-play-of-a-movie, starring Earles and a bunch of other circus “freaks,” leaves a truly lasting mark on all who see it. It certainly did so on Louis B. Mayer, who was appalled by the movie, the general public and critics who panned it, and the UK that banned the film for three decades.

It is now considered a compassionate true read on the life of circus performers of the period and a classic.

Browning made only four films after Freaks, retiring to his Malibu home and all but secluding himself from the public in 1944 when his second wife died. A surely ‘unfashionable’ talent as much as he sometimes was popular, Tod Browning was surely a looming talent in fantastic field.

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