Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Remarkable Andrews

Dana Andrews arrived in Hollywood at the height of its golden age. One of the best and most dependable leading men during the 1940s, he created several iconic roles that still live on today.

The role that made him a star, Mark McPherson in Laura costarring Gene Tierney
Andrews was born Carver Dana Andrews in Mississippi, the third of thirteen children born to Charles Forrest Andrews and his wife Annis. The family eventually moved to Huntsville, Texas, where his younger siblings (including actor Steve Forrest) were born.

After moving to California as an adult and after a few odd jobs, Andrews studied opera, planning to become a singer. He also began studying acting and performing at the famed Pasadena Playhouse where he was one of its most popular performers. Andrews signed a contract with producer Samuel Goldwyn and appeared in his first movie, The Westerner (1940) starring Gary Cooper. The film was directed by the legendary William Wyler, who would later cast Andrews in one of his most famous roles as returning World War II veteran, Fred Derry, in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac in Ball of Fire
Early in his movie career, Andrews was cast in a variety of roles, most of which he pulled off quite well, including that of Barbara Stanwyck’s gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac, in the Howard Hawks classic Ball of Fire (1941). More important roles came his way throughout the early forties and by 1944, Andrews was receiving star billing, working alongside major stars like Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda.

In 1944, Andrews became a major star in his own right as detective Mark McPherson in Otto Preminger’s Laura. The film cast him opposite Gene Tierney who portrayed the mysterious Laura Hunt. The role made Andrews a hot property, and Tierney a film icon. Andrews’s work in Laura began an interesting, if not always successful, collaboration with director Otto Preminger. After Laura, Andrews would be directed by Preminger in Fallen Angel (1945), Daisy Kenyon (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), and In Harm’s Way (1965).

Cinematographer, Gregg Toland, Andrews, and director William Wyler
on the set of The Best Years of Our Lives
In the mid- to late 1940s, Andrews costarred with some of Hollywood’s great beauties including Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain, Merle Oberon, Maureen O’Hara, Joan Crawford, Lili Palmer, Susan Hayward, as well as the aforementioned Tierney. Andrews and Tierney starred opposite each other in five films, with Where the Sidewalk Ends being their last. In addition to some of his legendary leading ladies, Andrews worked with directors like John Ford, Elia Kazan, Lewis Milestone, Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Mark Robson, William Dieterle, and Tony Richardson.

At the beginning of his film career, Andrews was often compared to Spencer Tracy. Both actors had a naturalistic, honest style of acting that, in the case of Andrews, was often overlooked, especially by modern critics and film fans. This lack of appreciation is revealed in the fact that Andrews was never once nominated for an Academy Award. It is hard to believe that his peers overlooked his roles in Laura and The Best Years of Our Lives come Oscar time.
1940s star power: Joan Crawford, Andrews, and Henry Fonda
In spite of the lack of acting awards, Andrews left us with a body of film work that most actors dream of having. Anyone who could read the line “for a charming intelligent girl, you’ve certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes” from Laura and make it sound like real speech, deserved at least a nomination in our books.


  1. Dana Andrews was a natural, perhaps too natural to be truly appreciated by Hollywood experts.

  2. Good article. I never knew that Dana Andrews could sing, let alone that he'd studied opera.
    You forgot to mention that he's very cool and very good looking.

  3. Good post, about one of my favorite actors. It's only been in the last 5 years or so that I finally learned to appreciate his talent. Now I seek out his films whenever I get the chance. Laura, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Best Years of Our Lives, Boomerang, Ball of Fire, While The City Sleeps, ...even State Fair and Zero Hour -- he is always so eminently watchable, and he could convey more with just a look and a tone of voice than many others could with a fullblown Shakespearean soliloquy.
    He should have won the Oscar for Best Years of Our Lives, and yet wasn't even nominated -- one of the most horrendous slights in film history! Thanks for an insightful look at a terrific actor & his career. :)

  4. I appreciated your heartfelt biography of Dana Andrews. He kept a diary that details his life from the day he came to Hollywood in 1930 to the time he signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn. That diary and his letters were part of the priceless evidence I was able to draw on for my biography, HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA: DANA ANDREWS, which University Press of Mississippi will published in September 2012. I've posed a trailer for my book on facebook, vimeo, and youtube:

    1. I can't wait to bead your biography of Dana Andrews. It's long overdue. You sound like a true fan too!

  5. Like Tracy, he was also a raging alcololic, and even did a PSA in the 60's about drunk driving. Did not know that about his singing talents-might need to finally watch STATE FAIR.

    1. He didn't sing in State Fair. He didn't want to be typed as a musical star so he didn't let on that he was a trained singer.


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