A frail, soft-spoken man of 87, Clarence Brown was frustrated by occasional lapses of memory when I chatted with him in Palm Springs in 1977. But he did seem pleased to remember the details of a secret romance between Norma Shearer and a post-adolescent Mickey Rooney--a racy little story that I did not include in my New York Times piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the talkies. --GUY FLATLEY


Clarence Brown, who directed Garbo and Valentino in silents and went on to turn out such appealing talkies as "Anna Karenina," "The Human Comedy," "National Velvet" and "The Yearling," struggles to sort out his wealth of memories. "Rudy Valentino was a great actor, almost my favorite, and we got along fine together because we were both crazy about automobiles. But he was very ill when he worked with me. Garbo and I were made for each other. Nobody around us on the set ever knew what we were talking about, because I spoke to her in a whisper. For her first talkie, we chose a story where the dialogue wouldn't hurt her--'Give me a visky, ginger ale on the side, and don't be stingy, baby.' Garbo is the greatest screen actress of all time.

"Jack Gilbert [shown here with Garbo in Brown's "Flesh and the Devil"] was great, too, and it was a terrible thing that happened on his first talkie. He came out sounding like a damned fairy, his voice was way up there. The guy in the sound department said to me, 'Clarence, it wasn't Jack's fault; it was our fault.' They put him in another picture, where he was rough and tough, but the damage had already been done. I don't know, it's so hard to remember all these things. I'm losing my buttons, you know, and I'm never going to get them back. I'm a weak old bastard, and I can't see any more. I'm ready to die. If I go tomorrow, it'll suit me fine."


To read Guy Flatley's "The Sound That Shook Hollywood" in its entirety--including interviews with Frank Capra, Myrna Loy, Raoul Walsh, Allan Dwan, Anita Loos, King Vidor and Buddy Rogers--click here.