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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Forgotten Star of the 1940s, Dana Andrews.

Hollywood Enigma by Carl Rollyson

Anyone who is interested in Dana Andrews or the history of old Hollywood should read this enjoyable and comprehensive biography. This is a real American story of rags to riches, reinvention, fall, and redemption.  It is also a great love story, unusual even in the Hollywood of the 1940s.  It can be rather depressing at times because of Andrews’s sad descent into alcoholism, however.

Dana Andrews is the forgotten star of the 1940s, an actor who never achieved his true dues.  However, he was an “actor’s actor”, the master of film noir. He is remembered mainly for his mysterious role in Laura, a great classic which is recommended for all film-lovers. Someone once wrote that Vivien Leigh would have walked over broken glass in bare feet if she thought that this would make her a better actress.  Dana Andrews would have done that too.

When Dana Andrews met President Johnson, he remarked that they had both been “poor boys from Texas” once.  Andrews had a somewhat troubled upbringing.  His father was an Elmer Gantry-type character, a Baptist minister who couldn’t resist women.  He was strict and didn’t believe in movies or dancing.  His mother was clever and hard-working.  She once invited one of her husband’s girlfriends to stay the night and see the family.  That was the end of that affair!
The couple had several children.  Two siblings died when Andrews was young and he found it difficult to get over their deaths.

Although they were a close family, Andrews had a love/ hate relationship with his strict father and he left the family to stay in California, determined to make it as an actor.  He studied accountancy but after trying acting and singing and being told that he had talent he focused on getting ahead in Hollywood.  It was a long road to the top and he didn’t achieve major success until he was over 30.  Two businessmen, impressed with his determination, backed his career with money.  Andrews really put his heart into it.

His happy marriage with Mary Todd, who willingly gave up her bright career to be a wife and mother, gave Andrews a solid base from which to work.  He even refused the attentions of other actresses! He loved to be at home with his wife and children.

Unfortunately, Andrews’s troubled background, thwarted ambitions, and the rigors of the studio system inclined him to drink. This finally affected his career and his marriage but he was able to give it up in the end.

Hollywood Enigma is easy to read and simply written.  Rollyson had access to Andrews’s and Mary’s letters, extracts from Andrews’s diaries, and interviews with Andrews’s children, extended family, and friends.  These make the biography more intimate. The biography includes lots of interesting or amusing anecdotes.  It’s a worthy tribute to this elegant, charismatic, and apparently extremely nice man.

Hollywood Enigma does include lengthy analyses of all of Andrews’s films.  This is probably to be expected in a Hollywood biography.  However, I found it a bit wearisome.


Tasha B. said...

I love Dana Andrews! I haven't seen all his movies, but he's fab in Laura as well as Ball of Fire and The Best Years of Our Lives.

Carl Rollyson said...

I'm delighted you took the time to review my book. I deeply appreciate it.

Viola said...

Hello Tasha B.,
Thank you so much for commenting!

My mother was a fan of Dana Andrews and pointed him out to me.

Unfortunately, I only knew that he was a great actor who became an alcoholic until I read this fascinating biography. I wanted to watch some of his movies again before I wrote my review but I will have to watch them now! I saw Laura a long time ago.

Viola said...

Hello Carl,
Thank you so much for reading my review so quickly and commenting!

I enjoyed the book very much. I also liked looking at the photos.

I looked at your website and many of your subjects are after my own heart, especially Sylvia Plath. I read a biography of Ted Hughes's third wife recently and I've often seen programs about Sylvia and Ted on TV. Her poetry is wonderful and much easier to understand than Ted's! I'm certainly looking forward to reading your biography.

Carl Rollyson said...

Viola, Dana Andrews and Sylvia Plath are two of my favorite subjects and there is actually a connection, if a very tenuous one. In the summer of 1952 Plath went to see a performance of The Glass Menagerie starring Dana Andrews. Plath mentions the outing in her journal. I wish, though, she had said more about it. I can't tell whether she liked Dana or not. I was very pleased, by the way, that University Press of Mississippi wanted to include so many photographs in my biography of Dana Andrews, and I was very fortunate that his family had so many they could share with me and the readers of my book.

Carl Rollyson said...

Viola and Tasha B: If you haven't seen it already, get the dvd of Fallen Angel, starring Dana, Linda Darnell, and Alice Faye. Darnell looks fabulous in this picture, and Faye gives one of her best performances--as does Dana, although he never liked the film, a curious case of an actor doing absolutely wonderful work and not seeing just how good it was. Susan Andrews, one of Dana's daughters, also comments on the film in the special features section of the dvd, which is part of the Fox film noir series. Don't miss it.

Carl Rollyson said...

More Dana Andrews recommendtions: He is at his charming best in State Fair and in Daisy Kenyon with Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda. Those two films give the lie to the idea that he had a very narrow range as a leading man. And to see him opposite Susan Hayward in Canyon Passage, a western that should get more attention, is a treat. He did a wonderful sentimental film with her, My Foolish Heart. Critics despise it but for a lover of his acting it's also a don't miss.

Dana Brinkmeier said...

I am so pleased that Carl Rollyson has written this work on Dana Andrews.I have been a fan of his since I was old enough to understand what the word meant.[I am 65]I have seen most,but not all of his work, and am a favorite fan of the thirties and forties movie decades. My mother,who was born in 1925, was a very great fan of Dana's and,in fact named me after him ! Yes my first name is Dana!I have not read your book Carl but soon will! And I thank you for writing it. Dana Brinkmeier.

Carl Rollyson said...

Dana, I appreciate your response. Please let me know what you think of my book after you've read it.