This short biography of actor Dana Andrews will help you enjoy the November 19, 2010 “Meet Me at the Movies” screening of Laura (1944). Andrews’s role as detective Mark McPherson was the prototype for the 1940s fedora-wearing hard-boiled detective. Director Martin Scorsese screened Laura for Leonard DiCaprio and the cast of Shutter Island to help them understand the look and feel he was after.
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 are still with us today.
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 role in 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).
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 as 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).
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.
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.
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