American leading man of the 1940s and 1950s, Dana Andrews was born Carver Dana Andrews on New Years Day 1909 on a farmstead outside Collins, Covington County, Mississippi. One of thirteen children, including fellow actor Steve Forrest, he was a son of Annis (Speed) and Charles Forrest Andrews, a Baptist minister.
Andrews studied business administration at Sam Houston State Teachers College in Texas, but took a bookkeeping job with Gulf Oil in 1929, aged 20, prior to graduating. In 1931, he hitchhiked to California, hoping to get work as an actor. He drove a school bus, dug ditches, picked oranges, worked as a stock boy, and pumped gas while trying without luck to break into the movies. His employer at a Van Nuys gas station believed in him and agreed to invest in him, asking to be repaid if and when Andrews made it as an actor. Andrews studied opera and also entered the Pasadena Community Playhouse, the famed theatre company and drama school. He appeared in scores of plays there in the 1930s, becoming a favorite of the company. He played opposite future star Robert Preston in a play about composers Gilbert and Sullivan, and soon thereafter was offered a contract by Samuel Goldwyn.
It was two years before Goldwyn and 20th Century-Fox (to whom Goldwyn had sold half of Andrews’ contract) put him in a film, but the roles, though secondary, were mostly in top-quality pictures such as The Westerner (1940) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1942). A starring role in the hit Laura (1944), followed by one in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), made him a star, but no later film quite lived up to the quality of these. During his career, he had worked with with such directors as Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, William Wyler, William A. Wellman, Jean Renoir, and Elia Kazan.
Andrews slipped into a steady stream of unremarkable films in which he gave sturdy performances, until age and other interests resulted in fewer appearances. In addition, his increasing alcoholism caused him to lose the confidence of some producers. Andrews took steps to curb his addiction and in his later years was an outspoken member of the National Council on Alcoholism, who decried public refusal to face the problem. He was probably the first actor to do a public service announcement about alcoholism (in 1972 for the U.S. Department of Transportation), and did public speaking tours. Andrews was one of the first to speak out against the degradation of the acting profession, particularly actresses doing nude scenes just to get a role.
Andrews was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1963, serving until 1965. He retired from films in the 1960s and made, he said, more money from real estate than he ever did in movies. Yet he and his second wife, actress Mary Todd, lived quietly in a modest home in Studio City, California. Andrews suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years and spent his final days in a nursing facility. He died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia in 1992, aged 83.
A quote from Bob Greene in “Chicago Tribune”, November 3, 1993, read, “To me, Andrews . . . represented both the grand possibilities and the ultimate despair the movies can offer a man. He was a certified movie star, yet by the end of his life he enjoyed neither artistic acclaim granted a Fellini, nor the ease of getting a job taken for granted by a Phoenix.”
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