(Courtesy of Bob Tomko)
Autographed photo of Brown, circa 1941.
|Click HERE for the filmography on Johnny Mack Brown which includes the directors, leading ladies and sidekicks.|
|In 2003-2004, there were several awards given to Johnny Mack Brown and family, including the Golden Boot Award from the Motion Picture & Television Fund. Click HERE for info and photos.|
John Mack Brown was a real southerner, born in Dothan, Alabama on September 1, 1904 to John Henry Brown and Hattie (McGillivray) Brown. They had nine children: Harry was the first, JMB was the second, Tolbert was third, fourth was William Wallace (Billy), and then came Fred, Louise, Elsa, Doris and
At an early age, he became interested in hunting and fishing as well as playing high school sports. Brown graduated from Dothan High School in 1922. He was an All-American running back on the University of Alabama football team, and scored two of their three touchdowns in a winning effort against the favored Washington Huskies in the 1926 Rose Bowl. After graduation, he tried his hand at coaching for a short time. He went to Hollywood and began doing bit parts around 1927 in silents. A good looking gent, Brown became a fairly successful leading man at MGM for nearly five years, appearing opposite such famous actresses as Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Brown's first major cowboy role was portraying the titled gunslinger in MGM's BILLY THE KID (1930), which was directed by King Vidor, and included Wallace Beery as Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Above, a young Johnny Mack Brown romances Joan Crawford in OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS (MGM, 1929). Most of Brown's work at MGM was in melodramas and romance features, not sagebrush adventures.
Apparently Brown's slow, southern drawl caused some problems when talkies arrived, and MGM opted not to renew his contract. Having been a star at MGM, he was able to land some roles at other studios during the next four or five years.
His first starring cliffhanger was for producer Nat Levine and his Mascot serial factory in FIGHTING WITH KIT CARSON (Mascot, 1933). However, his other filmwork during this period was generally in non-cowboy roles such as BELLE OF THE NINETIES (Paramount, 1934), starring Mae West. By the mid 1930s, Johnny Mack Brown needed some help, and it would arrive in the form of A. William Hackel, the Poverty Row producer and owner of little Supreme Pictures.
Johnny Mack Brown and his wife Connie became part of 'Hollywood society'. They purchased a home in Beverly Hills which included a pool and tennis court; a very good horseman, Johnny played polo on the weekends; and their friends included many of Tinseltown's biggest names such as Jeannette MacDonald, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Spencer Tracy, more.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
The Hollywood Celebrity Lifestyle - the above newspaper photo is of the June 16, 1937 wedding party for Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond. Basil Rathbone is on the far right, and next to Rathbone are Cornelia (nicknamed Connie) and Johnny Mack Brown. Standing next to Connie is Ginger Rogers, and next to Ginger Rogers is KING KONG heroine Fay Wray. The caption also has Brown's name spelled as John Mack Brown (no "ny" at the end of John). There's a B&W photo of the wedding party at the Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy website. Click HERE.
Bob Steele began his lengthy working relationship with A. W. Hackel and his Supreme Pictures company in a group of eight inexpensive oaters which were released in 1934-1935. For the 1935-1936 release season, the Steele series continued ... and Hackel also signed Johnny Mack Brown for eight.
A bit of good luck occurred for Steele, Brown and Hackel. Republic Pictures had been formed in 1935 with the merger/consolidation of Mascot Pictures, Monogram Pictures, Consolidated Film Laboratories, and more. The new startup company needed some westerns to distribute, and they reached agreement with Hackel for new Brown and Steele adventures which would carry the Republic Pictures logo. This gave a career boost to both Brown and Steele.
In summary, the Brown/Hackel relationship totaled 16 films --- 8 under Supreme Pictures for 1935-1936 and 8 for Republic during 1936-1937. Want more info on these films --- click HERE for the JMB Filmography.
In the Acknowledgment/Thanks page on the Old Corral, I do mention and credit Jack Mathis for several books, including his REPUBLIC CONFIDENTIAL, VOLUME 1, THE STUDIO (Jack Mathis Advertising, 1999). For those of you with a copy, page 106 is devoted to Republic's contract arrangement with Hackel for the Steele and Johnny Mack Brown films. For those without the book, following are the key points:
In the mid 1930s, Universal and their serial production unit began a long association with Johnny Mack. His first chapterplay for the studio was RUSTLERS OF RED DOG (12 chapters, Universal, 1935). There were three more: WILD WEST DAYS (13 chapters, Universal, 1937), FLAMING FRONTIERS (15 chapters, Universal, 1938), and THE OREGON TRAIL (15 chapters, Universal, 1939).
JMB also worked at various small and large production outfits, and some of his other films from this period include BORN TO THE WEST (aka HELL TOWN) (Paramount, 1937), with John Wayne, and WELLS FARGO (Paramount, 1937) with Joel McCrea.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
Above, portrait shot of Brown around the time of his Paramount work in the mid 1930s.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above, Brown during WILD WEST DAYS (Universal, 1937).
(Courtesy of Les Adams)
Brown did 16 westerns for A. W. Hackel: the first group of 8 were under Hackel's Supreme Pictures, and the second batch of 8 carried the Republic Pictures brand.