Dana Andrews: Hollywood Enigma
By Carl Rollyson
Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2012
Next to Dana Andrews...
...Don Draper is Don Knotts.
Known for his quiet, understated performances, Dana Andrews seemed always to be deliberating over the next words to say (or not say) in a given scene: tightly-wound, but never too intense; never too outwardly emotional.
As a kid, I only knew Dana Andrews from a lyric in the opening song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show referencing Night of the Demon, a surprisingly good movie for its type, and as the pilot of the small plane that flies into the late Karen Black's in Airport 1975*, a fabulously crappy movie. You get the real Dana Andrews in Ball of Fire, the vaguely Snow-White-and-the-Seven-Dwarfish comic fairy tale, in which he plays Joe Lilac, the sexy, steely mobster boyfriend of Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), And I defy you, whatever your proclivities, not to fall in love with him right along with Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives, where Andrews turns in a sensitive, complicated performance as an Air Force pilot coming home to face an indifferent war bride and a changed world.
Dana Andrews was born near Collins, Mississippi on New Year's Day, 1909, the third of 13 siblings, one of whom became the late Steve Forrest. Andrews studied to be an opera singer and moved to California in the early 1930s to pursue a singing career, but look at him, for Pete's sake: he was signed by Samuel Goldwyn and became of the biggest names in Film Noir.
Sadly, Andrews's career after the 1940s was hit or miss, due in large part to full-blown alcoholism, a disease he eventually confronted and tried to help destigmatize. If you watched television at all in the 1970s and 80s, you'll have seen him in everything from Night Gallery to Falcon Crest, but try to see one of these instead:
My Favorite Five**
Happy 105th birthday, Dana Andrews.
* Dulles Airport looks exactly the same, by the way, minus the cigarette haze and ambient tumblers of scotch.
** All available streaming or on DVD.