Clarence Brown Film Festival, August 16–20, Salutes Famed Hollywood Director from Knoxville
August 10, 2023
Clarence Brown directing Greta Garbo in "Romance"
Clarence Brown directing Greta Garbo in “Romance” (Clarence Brown Papers, Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

The Clarence Brown Film Festival, August 16–20, will explore the work and legacy of the renowned Hollywood director who grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Festival activities, organized by the Knox County Public Library, include film screenings, talks, and tours. Events will take place in or near downtown Knoxville, and are free and open to the public. Both the University of Tennessee Libraries and UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre are sponsors and participants in the film festival.

The UT Libraries holds the Clarence Brown Papers — close to 150 linear feet of materials that include shooting scripts for 40 films, hundreds of still photos from Brown’s movies, scrapbooks, correspondence, and memorabilia from the director’s career. Notable mementoes in the collection include an ornate walking cane inscribed with Brown’s signature and the Mussolini Cup for best foreign film awarded at the 1935 Venice Film Festival for the film Anna Karenina. The collection is available to the public for reference and research.*

Stills from Clarence Brown films — "National Velvet," "Intruder in the Dust," "The Eagle"
Left to right: Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet”; Juano Hernandez and David Brian in “Intruder in the Dust”; Vilma Banky and Rudolph Valentino in “The Eagle.” (Clarence Brown Papers, UT Special Collections)
Clarence Brown's cane
Ornate walking cane inscribed with Clarence Brown’s signature. (Clarence Brown Papers, UT Special Collections)

Clarence Leon Brown (1890–1987) grew up in Knoxville, enrolled in UT at age 15, and by age 19 had earned degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering. The young engineer’s career path quickly veered from the automobile industry to the burgeoning film industry. After an apprenticeship under silent film director Maurice Tourneur, Brown moved to Hollywood, where he directed some of the biggest stars of the silver screen, including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Not only is Clarence Brown one of UT’s most illustrious alumni, he is also one of its most generous donors. His gift to the UT Libraries, which now resides in the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, comprised his entire collection of scripts, production notes, papers, and keepsakes. And his $12 million bequest — at the time the largest gift ever received by the university — built UT’s Clarence Brown Theatre for the Performing Arts and endowed the theatre company.

UT Libraries will host the festival’s keynote address by cinema scholar Gwenda Young on Friday, August 18, 4–5 p.m. in the John C. Hodges Library auditorium. Young will lead the audience on an audiovisual journey through Clarence Brown’s films, from the silent era through Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Following the keynote address on Friday, the Clarence Brown Theatre will host behind-the-scenes tours of the theatre (6:30–7:45 p.m.) and an outdoor screening of National Velvet (8–9:30 p.m.), Elizabeth Taylor’s breakthrough performance, in 1944, as a young girl who defies expectations to pursue her dream of becoming a jockey.

UT Libraries also loaned materials from the Clarence Brown Papers and from other cinema collections to Lights! Camera! East Tennessee!, the current exhibition at the East Tennessee History Center on Knoxville’s many ties to the filmmaking world.

Screenings of other Brown productions will be held at Central Cinema in Happy Holler — Smouldering Fires (1925) — and in the Historic Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville — The Signal Tower (1924); The Eagle (1925); Anna Karenina (1935); The Yearling (1946); and Intruder in the Dust (1949). Showings of Smouldering Fires, The Signal Tower and The Eagle, films from Hollywood’s silent era, will feature live musical accompaniment.

* Visit for information on using materials from the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives. For assistance, contact Special Collections (865-974-4480,