Johnny had arrived as a B Western cowboy, and he placed consistently in the top 10 moneymakers between 1942 and 1950.
Johnny Mack Brown was born on September 1, 1904, to John Henry Brown and Hattie (McGillivray) Brown, in Dothan, Alabama. Johnny was one of nine children. Harry was the first, Johnny was the second, Tolbert was third, fourth was William Wallace (Billy), and then came Fred, Louise, Elsa, Doris and David. The Browns owned a local clothing store. Much of Johnny’s childhood was spent hunting, fishing and playing school sports. He attended Dothan public schools and was a star of his high school football team, earning a football scholarship to the University of Alabama upon graduating in 1922. Brown was an All-American halfback for the Crimson Tide. He earned the nickname “The Dothan Antelope,” and helped the team garner the 1926 NCAA Division I-A national football championship. He earned MVP status that same year in the Rose Bowl game after scoring two of three touchdowns in an upset win over the heavily favored Washington Huskies. While at the University of Alabama, Brown became an initiated member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity. Due to his gridiron success, rugged good looks and athletic build, his image graced the front of Wheaties cereal boxes. Also in 1926, he married his sweetheart, Cornelia “Connie” Foster. The two would remain together for life.
After playing a game in Birmingham, Brown had a chance meeting with actor George Fawcett, affectionately dubbed “The Grand Old Man of Films.” Fawcett, who had gained fame and stature as an accomplished Broadway and silent film actor, and had been filming on location for Men Of Steel (1926), attended the game. Brought over to meet the film actors who were present, Fawcett told Brown he should come to Hollywood and try his luck with acting. Brown was less than enthusiastic about the idea, telling Fawcett he didn’t feel he had a talent for film acting, despite having some stage experience in college theatricals. He made an impression on Fawcett for his modesty.
Brown spent some time coaching after graduation. He gave Fawcett’s words some thought, however, and looked George up when he traveled to Hollywood a few months later. Fawcett didn’t let him down; he spent many of his evenings coaching him in the art of drama. When Johnny landed one of his first bit parts in The Bugle Call (1927), Fawcett accompanied him to the set and offered support. This began a stint for Brown as a contract actor for MGM. Fawcett would also be with him a few months later when the pair privately screened Johnny’s latest role in The Fair Co-Ed (1927) in an obscure neighborhood theater.
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