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Best years of his (young) life

Author discusses his best seller on actor Dana Andrews
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor

Dana Andrews, who resided briefly in Rockdale as a child, would go on to star in The Best Years of Our Lives, an iconic film of the World War II generation.

It’s ironic that he always looked back on his brief time in Rockdale as the best years of his young life.

That’s just one of the stories related by Dr. Carl Rollyson, of City University of New York and author of a new biography on the prolific actor, at a Friends of the Library reception Sunday afternoon at the Patterson Civic Center.

“That’s what he always told people,” Dr. Rollyson said. “The best days of his childhood were spent in Rockdale.”

‘ENIGMA’—The book, “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews,” has been a surprise best seller in its category.

“It’s been No. 1 to No. 3 in the movies category,” Dr. Rollyson said. “And that’s having to compete with a new Kirk Douglas book.”


Dr. Carl Rollyson discussed his new book on former Rockdalian Dana Andrews. Bottom (L-R), Sam McKinney, Shelby Thomason, Kevin Cooke performed a play about George Sessions Perry. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Dr. Carl Rollyson discussed his new book on former Rockdalian Dana Andrews. Bottom (L-R), Sam McKinney, Shelby Thomason, Kevin Cooke performed a play about George Sessions Perry. Reporter/Mike Brown Dr. Rollyson researched part of his book in Rockdale, mostly at the city library where he immersed himself in microfilm files of The Rockdale Reporter between 1916 and 1918, the years when the future film star’s father, Rev. C. F. Andrews, was pastor of First Baptist Church.

And Dr. Rollyson hit a research gold mine.

The Reporter, published and edited in those years by John Esten Cooke, covered extensively Rev. C. F. Andrews’ crusades against drinking and the “sinful influence of the movies.”

The newspaper went so far as to reprint, in its entirety, one of Rev. Andrews’ sermons.

Ironically, as Dr. Rollyson pointed out, Dana Andrews became an alcoholic and a movie star.

FORCED OUT—Some in Sunday’s audience wanted to know the details behind a whispered-about scandal that led Rev. C. F. Andrews to leave Rockdale. Dr. Rollyson read the relevant passage in his book and it turned out to be mostly about church politics.

Dr. Rollyson noted Rev. Andrews’ perpetual crusades and campaigns resulted in a small-but-powerful faction of the congregation—about 40 in number— becoming passionately opposed to the pastor.

While the majority, about 300, supported Andrews, the church eventually thought the schism serious enough that it attempted to reconcile the two factions.

When that failed, Rev. Andrews submitted his resignation and moved on.

Dr. Rollyson did drop a hint that Rev. Andrews “was rather susceptible to women in his congregation” but let it go at that.

REDEMPTION—Dr. Rollyson obviously admires his famous subject, both as an actor and a human being.

He pointed out that Andrews overcame his alcoholism, using his family’s famous willpower.

“He quit drinking the same way he quit smoking,” Dr. Rollyson said. “He just flat stopped.”

The author hopes his book will introduce a new generation to Andrews’ considerable talents and cause some critics to take a second look at the actor who enjoyed a successful half-century career but was somehow “under the radar” of superstardom.

“He was a star who refused to be anything other than himself, and paid a rather heavy price for his refusal, but still managed to remain his own man,” Dr. Rollyson said.

PLAY—Three young actors, Sam McKinney, Shelby Thomason and Kevin Cooke, read a short play based on Rockdale author George Sessions Perry.

The play, set in 1937 on Perry’s Rockdale front porch, was written by Dr. Robert Cowser of The University of Tennessee at Martin.


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