Review of Carl Rollyson’s Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews

Note: I reviewed a galley copy of this book that was provided by University of Mississippi Press (www.upress.state.ms.us)  via Net Galley (www.netgalley.com). It is to be released on September 4, 2012. I was not required to write a review but have chosen to do so.

“Since the arc of Dana Andrews’s career peaked in the 1940’s, that period -and what it took to get there-inevitably becomes the focus of this artist’s story, with later chapters simply detailing the denouement of the whole man…A certain sadness may creep into the later stages of this book-a kind of mourning for the waning of Dana’s talent-but it is alleviated by the way he soldiered on, confronting his alcoholism and keeping his family together and thriving.”

from the introduction

Carl Rollyson, as part of the Hollywood Legend Series of which he is the general editor, has composed a sensitive and detail narrative of Dana Andrews, a film star who rose to stardom in the 1940’s and remember primarily for his roles in movies such as Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

I remember watching the opening moments of The Best Years of Our Lives several years ago, but I most remember him as the businessman/pilot Scott Freeman, whose heart attack causes him to crash into a 747 in Airport 1975. But as I read this book, I was give a fuller and deeper treatment of a Hollywood legend who was never really at home in Hollywood, nor any place it seems, except perhaps his home with his family.

And, having read Rollyson’s tome, the word “smoldering” comes to mind as a description of subject at hand – Dana Andrews.

Rollyson takes us not just on a journey of Andrews life, he takes us inside Andrews himself, disassembling him and trying to get at the reserved and uncomfortable preacher’s kid who always seemed on edge and who could act in the same manner with an almost naturalness that amazed those he worked with. Along the way, he reminds us that Hollywood was a tough place to get into as Andrews arrived in California in 1929 but did not get the roles that would bring critical acclaim until the mid-1940’s.

But, as noted in his introduction, we then follow Andrews into the 1950’s with a stop at the Red Scare, HUAC, and the collision of politics and movie making in the late 40’s and early 50’s. But it is also the long and slow descent of a one-time A list actor whose battle with alcoholism began to take its toll with the result of declining health. And Rollyson concludes with the painful final months as Andrews lost his memory and sense to a form of dementia.

Rollyson ability as a film critic comes into play as he dissects many of the many movies Andrews acted in. Two chapters of the book are titled after two of Andrewss top performances Laura and The Best Years of Our Lives and in them Rollyson goes into depth of detail regarding plot and how Andrews’ performances squared with who he was off camera.

What I liked about this book is the way the Rollyson wrote it and how it reflects on the emotional tightness of its subject. It also a wonderful look at a time in Hollywood history with the studio system was alive and well. This shows in Andrews working hard to get Samuel Goldwyn’s permission to marry Mary Todd in 1939 with whom he would stay married to until his death in 1992.

I rate this book a “great” read!

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