I have just learned that a majority of the people who become abnormal  drinkers are superior in intelligence and are almost always introverts.  — Dana Andrews,  1951

In this quote from author Carl Rollyson’s biography,  Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, the actor is describing himself in a  letter to his beloved and somewhat long-suffering wife, Mary.

Both intelligent and an introvert, Andrews, one of our favorite classic movie actors, suffered savagely from alcoholism — quietly at first but glaringly so late in a long career begun in 1940 and stretching over four decades.

Andrews’ off-screen drinking did not diminish his extraordinary, stellar performances in his best known films: 1944’s Laura, costarring Gene Tierney and directed by Otto Preminger;  producer Samuel Goldwyn’s The Best Years of our Lives, directed in 1946 by William Wyler and costarring Frederic March and Myrna Loy; and our favorite, A Walk In The Sun, made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Lewis Milestone (nee Lev Milstein, a Russian) and released in January 1945.

But by 1954 when he made Elephant Walk, a Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) tea-plantation drama costarring Peter Finch and Elizabeth Taylor, he couldn’t hide his condition in front of the cameras.

The sudden death of an adoring younger brother the year before left him inconsolable, writes Rollyson. He began to drink heavily, perhaps for the first time allowing his malady to show in his work…Some scenes are shot with Dana’s back facing the camera supposedly to cover up his ravaged appearance…Dana had to do considerable special pleading before Paramount agreed to employ him again. 

Andrew flourished in an age when Hollywood heroes and tough guys were two-fisted drinkers.

I was born on January 1, 1909 in the village of Don’t, which is now part of Collins, Mississippi. I was the third of thirteen children, five of whom are dead. My father was a Baptist minister…My first name was Carver .. but I dropped it in college, the actor told Lillian Ross in her 1962 collection of interviews, The Player: A Profile of an Art.

Dana’s youngest brother, William (“Billy), also changed his name.  Younger than Andrews by 15 years, Billy became Steve Forrest, and so billed carved out a lengthy movie and tv career of his own. He died in 2013 at age 87.

The Andrews clan was raised and moored in Texas, but Dana left for Hollywood in 1929. He scuffled for quite some time while developing his talent as a singer (a talent he later played down to avoid being typecast in movie musicals) and as an actor in repertory theater at the Pasadena Playhouse. He was nearly 30 by the time he finally landed a movie contract at producer Goldwyn’s studio.

Dana (like his preacher father) held personal reservations about acting and Hollywood, which he maintained for most of his life. He was one of those actors who harbored suspicions that movie acting was really not a job for a grownup.  At the same time, of course, he was highly ambitious and relished his eventual role as a Hollywood star of the Forties and Fifties.

Author Rollyson doesn’t venture at much speculation on the psychological reasons of Andrews’ alcoholism, but doesn’t shy away from documenting its consequences in concrete detail.

There were embarrassing police arrests for drunken driving and disorderly behavior. There was the time the actor was rolled in back alley next to a bar. There was the spectacle of the actor inebriated in front of family members. Sometimes my friends would come over when my father was drunk, even passed out,  recalled his daughter Susan, the youngest of the actor’s four children.

And, there was a Rollyson’s curious reference to an incident at Hollywood’s famous Chasen’s restaurant — It was there that Orson Welles  punched Dana and later wrote an apologetic note.

Dana proclaimed himself an ex-alcoholic in a government service commercial he made in the Seventies. He was also the subject of This Is Your Life, TV’s  longtime biographical surprise party hosted by Ralph Edwards featuring unaware guests subjected to their pasts. Andrews told of his doctor’s warning that his continued drinking would  kill him. I knew he meant every world he said.

Andrews died Dec. 17, 1992, at the John Douglas French Center in Los Alamito, California, one of the country’s first freestanding facilities dealing with Alzheimer’s symptoms.

 

 

 

 

 

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