Remembered for the diffident and handsome average-Joe characters he often played, Dana Andrews was one of Hollywood’s leading men during the 1940s. Born in Collins on New Year’s Day 1909, he was one of thirteen children of a Baptist minister. During his youth, Andrews and his family moved several times before finally settling down in Texas, where he attended Sam Houston State Teachers College.
In 1931 he left his job as an accountant in Austin and hitchhiked to Los Angeles, hoping to find work as an actor or singer in Hollywood. He got a job at a filling station in the suburb of Van Nuys, making enough money to pay for acting and singing lessons. He soon began performing at the small but prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, and he met Janet Murray and married her in 1932. Before her unexpected death in 1935, the couple had one son, David.
In 1938 a talent scout noticed Andrews, leading Samuel Goldwyn Productions to offer him a small contract and several bit parts over the next few years, including a supporting role in William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940). In 1941, Twentieth Century Fox took notice of the promising supporting actor and bought half of Andrews’s contract and cast him in small roles in Tobacco Road (1941) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943).
He began to take on leading parts in a slew of war pictures and romance films, almost always playing the same signature character: a laconic and brooding yet sensitive figure trying to ignore some unspoken internal hardship. One of his most memorable roles was as brusque detective Mark McPherson in the film noir masterpiece Laura (1944).
Andrews was fairly successful and well known during the war era, starring in some of the decade’s most celebrated films, among them A Walk in the Sun (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (Best Picture of 1946), and Boomerang (1947). During this time, Andrews met and married Mary Todd; they had three children before their divorce in 1968.
Andrews’s success, however, was short-lived. While he appeared in many more movies and a handful of TV shows, none measured up to his earlier films. Heavy drinking contributed to his problems, and following a brief theater run in the 1950s, he retired from acting in the 1960s. He worked in real estate and toured the country, giving lectures for Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1963 Andrews was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, focusing his efforts on combating the degradation of the acting profession, particularly the way in which actresses were forced to do nude scenes to get roles. In 1972 he became one the first actors to do public service announcements on the dangers of alcoholism.
He lived the latter half of his life in a modest house in Studio City, California. In his last years, Andrews suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and he died of pneumonia on 17 December 1992.
- Jim Beaver, Internet Movie Database website, www.imdb.com
- Tom and Sara Pendergast, eds., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, vol. 3, Actors and Actresses (2000)
- Reel Classics: The Classic Movie Site website, http://www.reelclassics.com (2006)