We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Tod Browning (1880- 1962) directed some 60 films, including the infamous Freaks and the 1931 classic, Dracula. Chronicling Browning’s life has been a 25-year mission for Bethesda copyright- and movie-researcher Elias Savada. “In 1969, I saw Freaks and I wanted to find out more about this director,” Savada recalls, and in the early ’70s he made a pilgrimage to California to meet and interview Browning’s friends, family, and colleagues. But the research languished in Savada’s basement for the next 20 years while he worked on the American Film Institute’s feature-film catalogs. Then, four years ago, Savada was introduced to David J. Skal, another film historian and Browning fanatic. Together they collaborated on Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood’s Master of the Macabre (Anchor Books), which is supplemented by production stills from Savada’s private archives. Researching Browning’s past, Savada concedes, “was a difficult [task] due to the lack of personal information available”: Some of Browning’s silent films were destroyed in the ’30s, and the auteur had refused to be interviewed or to write about his colorful past as a turn-of-the- century sideshow barker, carnival performer (he was “buried alive” on Fridays and resurrected on Sundays), actor, and movie director. However, Carnival manages to turn up plenty of peculiar details about Browning and his forebears, and includes a comprehensive filmography. Considering recent interest in Ed Wood, it’s possible that Browning’s creepy story could also be worthy of a film. “If they could make one of Wood, they could make one on Tod,” responds Savada. “But I’m not going to hold my breath.”