Dana Andrews was one of Hollywood's biggest stars during the 1940s and 1950s. In a career that spanned four and a half decades he appeared in more than seventy films and made numerous television appearances. Cast opposite some of the most famous actresses of his day, his striking good looks and polished manner made him a sought-after commodity during and after World War II. While playing supporting roles, romantic leads, and flawed heroes in contemporary settings, westerns, and war dramas, Andrews brought a blend of resolve and fragile sensitivity to his characters before it was popular for prominent male actors to do so.
Carver Dana Andrews was born in Collins, Mississippi, on January 1, 1909, the son of Annis and the Rev. Charles Forrest Andrews, a Baptist minister who raised thirteen children as he presided over congregations in Mississippi and Texas. While Carver was still young the Andrews family moved from Mississippi to Uvalde, Texas, and eventually settled in Huntsville, where his father was pastor of the First Baptist Church. In Huntsville Pastor Andrews knew that he could give his children a university education at Sam Houston State Teacher's College while they remained at home. Like many of his siblings, Carver was faithful to his father's intent and entered what was to become Sam Houston State University in 1925.
At Sam Houston Andrews studied business with forays into speech and education. He had enjoyed acting in plays in high school and continued to do so in college. After three years at Sam Houston financial difficulties forced him to drop out of school and seek employment. He got a job as an accountant with the Gulf and Western Oil Company in Houston. He found the work boring and later moved to Austin where he worked for a stationery firm. A former professor had suggested that he consider going into the theater, so Andrews struck out for California, hitchhiking west with twenty dollars in his pocket. Arriving in Los Angeles in the early 1930s at the beginning of the Depression, he struggled in simple jobs for nine years. He drove a school bus for ten dollars a week and pumped gas in Van Nuys. He later joked that he had actually dug ditches for a living. Going by his middle name Dana, he took opera lessons and studied acting at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, both paid for by his gas station employer who believed that investing in Dana Andrews would one day pay off.
Andrews appeared in thirty-six productions at the Playhouse before being spotted by a Samuel Goldwyn talent scout. Following a screen test he was signed to a contract for $150 a week in 1938. He started out in a small role with Gary Cooper in William Wyler's The Westerner in 1940. After he appeared in a few B-picture parts Twentieth Century Fox bought a share of his contract. He enjoyed working for both studios at the same time because it enabled him greater exposure and kept him busy. In 1941 he appeared in Swamp Water with John Huston and in John Ford's Tobacco Road. In 1943 he had a noticeable part as a victim of a lynch mob in The Ox-bow Incident with Henry Fonda and a young Anthony Quinn. One of his best-known roles was as a police detective opposite Gene Tierney in the 1944 film noir Laura. In 1946 he also had a prominent part in the Oscar-winning The Best Years of Our Lives with Frederick March, where he played a disillusioned veteran just returned from World War II. It is often considered his best work. He had begun to represent a new kind of male movie star in the realistic era of post-war America, one who could show his weaknesses and feelings without apology.
After Andrews was released from his studio contracts, he formed his own production company, Lawrence Productions, in 1952. Andrews had limited Broadway success and viewed his replacement of Henry Fonda in the hit Two for the Seesaw (1958) as a major opportunity. Instead the play is remembered more as Anne Bancroft's debut than for Andrews's work. In the late fifties and sixties Andrews received fewer choice movie roles and began to appear on television in a variety of parts. He was a regular on the soap opera Bright Promise from 1969 until 1972 and continued to act in minor roles in less memorable films through the 1970s. He last appeared in a movie in 1985.
He married Janet Murray on December 31, 1932. He was a widower with a baby son three years later. He married the actress Mary Todd on November 17, 1939, with whom he had another son and two daughters. Andrews spent his life with her, although alcoholism in the 1950s strained the relationship and affected his career. He beat the disease in 1969 and became a spokesman for alcohol recovery programs.
Andrews was the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1963 to 1965 and was a Hollywood fixture during some of its classic years. He had a successful career on the screen but said that he made more money in real estate than in movies. Late in life he developed Alzheimer's disease and resided in a rest home. Andrews died of pneumonia in Orange County, California, on December 17, 1992, two weeks before his eighty-fourth birthday.
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Fain, Nathan, "Houston Visit Like Homecoming," Sam Houston Alumnus (Sam Houston State University), vol. xlv, no. 1, (February 1970): 8. Griggs, J. Wright, "Famous Alumni," Horizon (Sam Houston State Teacher's College), vol. 4, no. 2 (May 1951): 8. Huntsville Item, October 15, 1978, June 1, 1986, December 19, 1992. Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1992. Barry Monush, ed., Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors (New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2003). Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, eds., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers (Detroit: St. James Press, 2000).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Steven P. Salyer,
“Andrews, Carver Dana,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
September 11, 2007
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 28, 2018