Anyone heard of Karl Brown?

I stumbled across him accidentally in my research. Initially, I was referred to him from Kevin Brownlow’s first book on Hollywood, one of my early acquisitions, which mentioned his Adventures with D.W. Griffith as a source. And in my first few months in Canada, completely broke and with way too much time to kill, I was tickled to run across a copy of this wonderful book in the books section of a local Edmonton Goodwill.

                Can you imagine, starting off as a young local boy in California, and getting a job with D.W. Griffith during the heady early days of film? He studied cameras and lighting, and special effects under the tutelage of Billy Bitzer, Griffith’s main camera man. The book is an inside look at Griffith’s personality, how staging worked, and numerous other invaluable details.

                Brown, completely forgotten by the 1960s, was rediscovered by Brownlow, and (among others) appeared in his 1979 Thames documentary on old Hollywood. His insights are amazing. When he described the work D.W. Griffith put into Intolerance as an anti-war picture, only to have public opinion turn against it in the 18 months it took to make, it really helped me to see the interaction between politics and film. Sharp old fellow—how I wish I’d been born a few years earlier so I could have interviewed him before he died!  

ImageKarl Brown in a scene from Brownlow’s documentary, circa 1979