Andrews, (Carver) Dana

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Andrews, (Carver) Dana

(b. 1 January 1909 in Collins, Mississippi; d 17 December 1992 in Los Angeles, California), actor and star of some of the most memorable Hollywood films of the 1940s.

Andrews was born Carver Dana, but as an actor he was known by his middle name. He was the third of nine children born to the Reverend Charles Forrest Andrews, a Baptist minister, and Annis Speed, a homemaker. When Andrews was a young child, the family moved from Collins to Louisville, Kentucky, and later to Huntsville, Texas, where he attended Huntsville High School, graduating in 1926.

At Sam Houston State Teachers College in Huntsville, Andrews studied business administration. Andrews quit college in 1929 to work as an accounts clerk for Gulf Oil in Austin, Texas. Two years later, he left his job and hitchhiked to Los Angeles to try to break into the movies. He was followed years later by a younger brother, the actor Steve Forrest. While working odd jobs, he studied acting and performed in repertory at the Pasadena Playhouse, making his stage debut in 1935. At the Pasadena Playhouse he met an aspiring actress, Janet Murray, whom he married in 1932; they had one child before she died in 1935. That year, he was spotted by a scout for the independent movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, who signed Andrews to a contract for $150 per week. The contract allowed him to continue his Pasadena studies, and the salary financed his marriage in 1939 to the actress Mary Todd, with whom he had three children. They were divorced in 1968.

For several years, Andrews shared the fate of Goldwyn contract players, who waited for roles and were often loaned out to other studios. He debuted as a supporting actor in The Westerner (1940), directed by William Wyler, and was cast in minor roles in several B movies. After Goldwyn split Andrews’s contract with Twentieth Century–Fox, the producer Darryl F. Zanuck cast him as Captain Tim in John Ford’s Tobacco Road (1941). When the war depleted the ranks of male stars at Fox and Goldwyn, Andrews, who was over draft age and had four children, received choice roles. He was the personification of despair as the innocent victim of a lynch mob in William Wellman’s powerful film The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). He also won the lead in The Purple Heart (1944), playing a pilot shot down during the 1942 Doolittle air raid on Tokyo and facing torture and death at the hands of the Japanese.

For a brief time in the mid-1940s, Andrews dominated the high-gloss Hollywood film. He played the intense, cynical police detective in Laura (1944), Otto Preminger’s stylish murder mystery costarring Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, and Andrews’s offscreen friend Vincent Price. In Lewis Milestone’s A Wall in the Sun (1945), among the best of American war movies, he portrayed Sergeant Tyne, who was suddenly put in charge of an infantry company that had to storm German machine gunners in an Italian farmhouse. In the decade’s most emblematic movie, William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), he played the “fallen angel” Captain Fred Derry, the decorated B-17 bombardier who went back to his job as a soda jerk after the war, who asked, “Have you had any trouble getting readjusted?” The Best Years of Our Lives was a box-office smash, and Andrews spent early 1947 on Goldwyn publicity tours and giving radio interviews. In Boomerang (1947), which the director Elia Kazan shot in the style of a documentary in a Connecticut town, Andrews starred as a district attorney defying public opinion to exonerate an accused murderer.

Andrews’s career then waned, as Samuel Goldwyn grew exasperated by his star’s excessive drinking. Andrews appeared in the syrupy movie My Foolish Heart (1949) opposite Susan Hayward and with Farley Granger in Edge of Doom (1950), a cheap melodrama. I Want You (1952) was his last picture under the Goldwyn contract. Andrews then freelanced and formed his own production company, but aside from a supporting role with Elizabeth Taylor in Elephant Walk (1954), his stardom was over. “They want top box office names for blockbusters,” Andrews remarked. “And I’m not in that category.” In 1957 he pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge and was later sued by a producer for delays on the set caused by his alcoholism. Andrews did summer stock with his wife and took over Henry Fonda’s part in Two for the Seasaw on Broadway in 1958. He helped lead the Screen Actors Guild, serving as vice president from 1957 to 1963 and as president from 1964 to 1965, using his position to attack a system that forced actresses to do nude scenes.

Turning to real estate in Orange County in the early 1960s, he built apartment houses and hotels and made, he claimed, more money than he ever did with Goldwyn. He had a couple of walk-on roles, unveiling his Southern drawl to play military officers in Otto Preminger’s In Harm’s Way (1965) and The Battle of the Bulge (1965). Television audiences saw him as the president of Bancroft College in the daytime soap opera Bright Promise, which ran from 1969 until 1972. He talked about his drinking problem on public service spots for the U.S. Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the National Council on Alcoholism, in 1972. Andrews lived in an Alzheimer’s disease treatment center for several years before his death from congestive heart failure and pneumonia at Los Alamitos Medical Center in Los Angeles in 1992.

Andrews was never nominated for a major acting award. He was tied to Samuel Goldwyn. As he later acknowledged, “Mr. Goldwyn made a lotta bad pictures. I was in a couple of ’em.” But for a while he made decent money and, in fact, remained with Goldwyn for twelve years, a record at the studio. His courageous, slightly broken demeanor carried some of the most riveting Hollywood films of the 1940s, and he vied with Henry Fonda in providing audiences with examples of quiet integrity in an embattled decade. At the end of The Best Years of Our Lives, Andrews embraced his costar Teresa Wright, telling her: “You know what it’ll be, don’t you, Peggy? It may take us years to get anywhere. We’ll have no money, no decent place to live. We’ll have to work, get kicked around.” The words were those of screenwriter Robert Sherwood, but Dana Andrews gave them an unforgettable conviction.

Andrews was never the subject of a Hollywood biography. Carol Easton included a brief interview with Andrews in her Search for Sam Goldwyn: A Biography (1976), and there is anecdotal material in A. Scott Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography (1989), and Elia Kazan, A Life (1988). Cynthia Brown wrote a fine biographical appreciation in Amy L. Unterburger, ed., Actors and Actresses, vol. 3 of International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, (3d ed., 1997). Obituaries are in the Los Angeles Times (18 Dec. 1992) and the New York (Times (19 Dec. 1992).

Joel Schwartz