Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews
"With countless others, I have always admired Dana Andrews; now, Carl Rollyson has shown, in this scholarly and immensely readable book, why our admiration is not misplaced." -- Donald Spoto, author of biographies of Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn
"The fierce ambitions of Carver Dana Andrews, son of a Baptist preacher, might well have been imagined by Horatio Alger, Jr.-- or Samuel Goldwyn-- but not the hidden costs behind those achievements. Carl Rollyson compassionately captures the man behind the movie star." --Marion Meade, author of biographies of Buster Keaton and Woody Allen
"Always understated and all too underrated, Dana Andrews now has a definitive biography of his own."--David Stenn, author of Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild
Wall Street Journal
Dana Andrews had a long career as a leading man in motion pictures, a business in which longevity is not easily maintained. Over the course of 45 years, he worked with top-ranked directors (John Ford, Elia Kazan, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Otto Preminger, William Wyler) and played opposite a who's who of glamorous women (Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Maureen O'Hara, Susan Hayward, Gene Tierney). Despite these platinum credentials, Andrews is seldom listed among the legendary male stars of the studio system, the Grants and the Gables, the Cagneys and the Coopers. Even considering the high wattage of the stars he worked amid, how can Dana Andrews be considered second-tier?
At his best, Andrews embodied an era, the contemporary audience's concept of a 1940s man. There is an ambiguity to the image, the required mask of a confident male. (He has been cited as a possible prototype for Jon Hamm's Don Draper character in the television hit "Mad Men.") Andrews's eyes are alert, his lips pulled tight, his suit buttoned up, his overall demeanor calm, possibly indifferent, but he nevertheless suggests inner turmoil, reflecting the contained violence of midcentury America. Carl Rollyson understands the appeal of Andrews and the relevance of his image and explores both in his insightful biography "Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews."
Carver Dana Andrews (1909-92) was born in a small Mississippi town and, after age 5, grew up in Texas. His father was a "charismatic" Elmer-Gantry-ish preacher, Mr. Rollyson reports, and his mother a homemaker with a "forgiving nature." Andrews was the third of 13 children. (His younger brother Billy became "Steve Forrest," appearing in such movies as "Flaming Star" with Elvis Presley.) In high school, Andrews began acting in school plays, and, after the family relocated to California, he was hired by the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse.
It was inevitable that Hollywood would notice him: The young Dana Andrews was ruggedly handsome and possessed a rich, seductive baritone voice. (Not wishing to be stuck in musicals, Andrews kept his excellent singing a secret for many years.) He signed a movie contract with Samuel Goldwyn on Nov. 28, 1938, and in 1940 made his official debut in a Gary Cooper hit, "The Westerner." By 1943, Andrews secured star status with a memorable performance as an innocent lynch-mob victim in William Wellman's "The Ox-Bow Incident."
As World War II began, Andrews was in the right place at the right time. He was a married man with two dependent children and thus exempt from military service. He was available to play two basic masculine types of the era: the tough guys of film noir (Preminger's "Laura," and "Fallen Angel") and the heroic soldiers of the war ("Crash Dive," " A Walk in the Sun"). In 1946 Andrews reached his peak with William Wyler's postwar hit, "The Best Years of Our Lives." His portrait of the decorated bombardier who returns home to a job as a soda clerk and a cheap wife he married after knowing her for only 20 days is the definitive picture of a veteran trying to adjust to civilian life.
In writing "Hollywood Enigma," Mr. Rollyson had the cooperation of the Andrews family, especially the children of his second wife, Mary. (Andrews's first wife, Janet, died from pneumonia following childbirth in 1935; their son David would die at age 30 of complications from brain surgery.) Mr. Rollyson quotes from interviews, letters and Andrews's own diaries, which allow the author to discuss tactfully a major issue: For a great deal of his life and career, Dana Andrews was a serious alcoholic.
Andrews documented his feelings of self-doubt. ("Fear—fear—fear, I'm all tied up inside," he wrote in 1938.) His drinking problem was well-known in the business and apparently did not render him incapable of working. Don Ameche, a co-star on "Wing and a Prayer," marveled at his professionalism. "Drunk or sober . . . he never misses a word."
Despite his personal ordeals, Andrews worked not only in film but also in radio ("I Was a Communist for the FBI," 1952-53) and television (the soap opera "Bright Promise," 1969-72 as well as episodes of "General Electric Theatre" and "The Twilight Zone"). When movie work dried up later in his life, he returned to the stage, appearing on Broadway in a two-year run of William Gibson's hit play "Two for the Seesaw." Mr. Rollyson also details Andrews's involvement with the Screen Actors Guild. Elected president in 1963, he achieved the first affirmative-action agreement with producers and the first foreign-residuals agreements.
It was 1969 before Andrews became fully sober, an achievement that Mr. Rollyson credits to Mary's firm guidance, the actor's almost ruthless ability to self-evaluate and his sense of "mission and accomplishment." The original psychological motivations for drinking, as he explained to an interviewer in 1972, eventually became moot. "You can start for psychological reasons, but it's the alcohol that's the fly in the ointment," he said. "Ask my friends . . . they all ask the psychiatrist the same question. Well, now we've got all the psychological turmoil over, can I then drink? . . . And the answer is, 'no you can't.' "
"Hollywood Enigma" teaches us to appreciate an actor whose standing in the Hollywood pantheon should clearly be reassessed. As Mr. Rollyson clearly understands, Dana Andrews has nowhere to go but up.
—Ms. Basinger is chairwoman of the department of film studies at Wesleyan University. Her latest book is "The Star Machine."
Dana Andrews (1909–92) was an overlooked, underrated actor, despite performances in classic 1940s films such as The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, The Ox-Bow Incident, and Elia Kazan's Boomerang! Rollyson (journalist, Baruch Coll., CUNY; Biography: A User's Guide) describes Andrews as a master at portraying "conflicted emotion," whose adoption of a "male mask" made him ideally suited to film noir. Unfortunately, this mask also concealed his addiction to alcohol, which increasingly limited his career, ultimately leading to parts in shoddy B-films, dinner theater, and even a role in a television soap opera. Rollyson tells a sympathetic account of a decent, hardworking actor who championed liberal causes (though his minister father supported the Ku Klux Klan), fought Hollywood's blacklist, and brought reforms in his stint as president of the Screen Actors Guild. Finally, with great effort, Andrews overcame alcoholism and served as an advocate and public face for education and understanding of this debilitating illness.
Verdict Drawing on access to Andrews's family and his extensive personal archives, this biography provides an admiring but unflinching look at Andrews's life and career. Recommended for fans of Hollywood's Golden Age. [This is the Turner Classic Movie channel's September Book of the Month.—Ed.]—Stephen Rees, formerly with Levittown Lib., PA