Johnny Mack Brown

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Johnny Mack Brown

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Not to be confused with Mack Brown.

Johnny Mack Brown
Brown in 1935
BornSeptember 1, 1904
Dothan, Alabama, U.S.
DiedNovember 14, 1974 (aged 70)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Years active1927–1966
Spouse(s)Cornelia “Connie” Foster (m.1926)
College football career
Alabama Crimson Tide – No. 17
Personal information
Height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Weight160 lb (73 kg)
Career history
CollegeAlabama (1924–1925)
Bowl gamesRose Bowl (1926)
High schoolDothan
Career highlights and awards
All-Southern (1925)2× SoCon champion (1924, 1925)Rose Bowl MVPNational champion (1925)
College Football Hall of Fame (1957)

John Brown (September 1, 1904 – November 14, 1974) was an American college football player and film actor billed as John Mack Brown at the height of his screen career.[1] He acted and starred mainly in Western films.


Early life[edit]

A depiction of a juke made by Brown, dodging a tackler in the open field without even using a stiff arm.[2]

Born and raised in Dothan, Alabama, Brown was the son of Ed and Mattie Brown, one of eight siblings. His parents were shopkeepers.[3] He was a star of the high school football team, earning a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. His little brother Tolbert “Red” Brown played with “Mack” in 1925.[4]

After he finished college, he sold insurance and later coached the freshman running backs on the University of Alabama’s football team.[5]

University of Alabama[edit]

While at the University of Alabama, Brown became an initiated member of Kappa Sigma fraternity.


Brown was a prominent halfback on his university’s Crimson Tide football team, coached by Wallace Wade. He earned the nickname “The Dothan Antelope”[6] and was inducted into the College Football Hall of FamePop Warner called him “one of the fastest football players I’ve ever seen.”[7]


“Mack” Brown in football uniform

The 1924 team lost only to Centre. Brown starred in the defeat of Georgia Tech.


Brown helped the 1925 Alabama Crimson Tide football team to a national championship. In that year’s Rose Bowl, he earned Most Valuable Player honors after scoring two of his team’s three touchdowns in an upset win over the heavily favored Washington Huskies. The 1925 Crimson Tide was the first southern team to ever win a Rose Bowl. The game is commonly referred to as “the game that changed the south.”[8] Brown was selected All-Southern.[9]

Film career[edit]

Starting at the top[edit]

Brown’s good looks and powerful physique saw him portrayed on Wheaties cereal boxes and in 1927, brought an offer for motion picture screen tests[6] that resulted in a long and successful career in Hollywood. That same year, he signed a five-year contract with Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer.[10] He played silent film star Mary Pickford‘s love interest in her first talkieCoquette (1929), for which Pickford won an Oscar.

He appeared in minor roles until 1930 when he was cast as the star in a Western entitled Billy the Kid and directed by King Vidor. An early widescreen film (along with Raoul Walsh‘s The Big Trail starring John Wayne, produced the same year), the movie also stars Wallace Beery as Pat Garrett. Brown was billed over Beery, who would become MGM‘s highest-paid actor within the next three years. Also in 1930, Brown played Joan Crawford‘s love interest in Montana Moon. Brown went on to make several more top-flight movies under the name John Mack Brown, including The Secret Six (1931) with Wallace BeeryJean Harlow, and Clark Gable, as well as the legendary Lost Generation celebration of alcohol, The Last Flight (1931), and was being groomed by MGM as a leading man until being abruptly replaced on Laughing Sinners in 1931, with all his scenes reshot, substituting rising star Clark Gable in his place. MGM and director Woody Van Dyke screen tested him for the lead role of Tarzan the Ape Man but Van Dyke didn’t feel he was tall enough.[11]

With Lois January in 1936

Steep decline[edit]

Rechristened “Johnny Mack Brown” in the wake of this extremely serious career downturn, he made low-budget westerns for independent producers and he never regained his former status. Eventually he became one of the screen’s top B-movie cowboys, and became a popular star at Universal Pictures in 1937. After starring in four serials, in 1939 he launched a series of 29 B-westerns over the next four years, all co-starring Fuzzy Knight as his comic sidekick, and the last seven teaming him with Tex Ritter. This is considered the peak of his B-western career, thanks to the studio’s superior production values; noteworthy titles include Son of Roaring DanRaiders of San Joaquin and The Lone Star Trail, the latter featuring a young Robert Mitchum as the muscle heavy. A fan of Mexican music, Brown showcased the talents of guitarist Francisco Mayorga and The Guadalajara Trio in films like Boss of Bullion City and The Masked Rider. Brown also starred in a 1933 Mascot Pictures serial Fighting with Kit Carson, and four serials for Universal (Rustlers of Red DogWild West DaysFlaming Frontiers and The Oregon Trail).

In Rogue of the Range (1936)

Brown moved to Monogram Pictures in 1943 to replace that studio’s cowboy star Buck Jones, who had died months before. Brown’s Monogram series was immediately successful and he starred in more than 60 westerns over the next 10 years, including a 20-movie series playing “Nevada Jack McKenzie” opposite Buck Jones’s (and earlier Wallace Beery’s) old sidekick Raymond Hatton, beginning with the 1943 film The Ghost Rider. Brown was also featured in two higher-budgeted dramas, Forever Yours and Flame of the West, both released by Monogram in 1945 and both billing the actor under his former “A-picture” name, John Mack Brown.

When Monogram abandoned its brand name in 1952 (in favor of its deluxe division, Allied Artists), Johnny Mack Brown retired from the screen. He returned more than 10 years later to appear in secondary roles in a few Western films. Altogether, Brown appeared in more than 160 movies between 1927 and 1966, as well as a smattering of television shows, in a career spanning almost 40 years.

Personal life[edit]

Brown was married to Cornelia “Connie” Foster from 1926[12] until his death in 1974, and they had four children.


For his contributions to the film industry, Brown was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 with a motion pictures star at 6101 Hollywood Boulevard.[13] He received a posthumous Golden Boot Award in 2004 for his contributions to the Western entertainment genre.[14] In 1969, Brown was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.[15]

Brown’s hometown holds an annual Johnny Mack Brown Western Festival because “If anyone ever brought attention to Dothan, it was Johnny Mack Brown,” a city official said.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

Brown is mentioned in the novel From Here to Eternity. In a barracks scene, soldiers discuss Western films, and one asks, “Remember Johnny Mack Brown?”, resulting in a discussion.[17]

From March 1950 to February 1959, Dell Comics published a Johnny Mack Brown series of comic books. He also was included in 21 issues of Dell’s Giant Series Western Roundup comics that began in June 1952.[6]

In 1974, The Statler Brothers, performing as the fictitious Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys, released Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School, a comedy album set at an equally fictitious school named after Brown.[18]


Brown died in Woodland Hills, California,[19] of heart failure at the age of 70. His cremated remains are interred in an outdoor Columbarium, in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Selected filmography[edit]

Poster for The Gambling Terror (1937)

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