Best Years of His (Young) Life
Author discusses his best seller on actor Dana Andrews
By MIKE BROWN - Reporter Editor
Rockdale Reporter - September 20, 2012
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. 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
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 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
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 nd 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
He pointed out that Andrews overcame his alcoholism, using his family’s famous
“He quit drinking the same way he quit smoking,” Dr. Rollyson said. “He just flat
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.