[Tod] Browning spent a lot of time at the ballpark and racetrack in the early thirties, and veteran Hollywood writer Budd Schulberg (author of The Disenchanted and What Makes Sammy Run? ??) had a memory of another Browning pastime. “The marathon dance was in vogue then and we went a few times to the Santa Monica Pier to watch the young unemployed zombies drag themselves around the floor in a slow motion dance macabre,” Schulberg wrote in his 1981 memoir ??Moving Pictures. “Even more appalling than the victims on the dance floor were the regulars, affluent sadists in the same front-row seats every night, cheering on their favorites who kept fainting and occasionally throwing up from exhaustion. One of the most dedicated of the regulars was Tod Browning, who never missed a night and who got that same manic gleam in his eyes as when he was directing Freaks.”
The rediscovery and rehabilitation of Freaks became almost a cause celebre in the film journals beginning in the early sixties. Once considered crass and tasteless, the film was now “compassionate” and “sensitive.” In a way, the appreciation of Freaks became a politically correct means to indulge a morbid curiosity about thalidomide deformities, while still being able to feel self-righteous and progressive.