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The browser: A weekly look at recent releases

  • September 30, 2012 - 5:17 PM
HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA: Dana andrews

By Carl Rollyson. (University Press of Mississippi, 352 pages, $35.)

Fans of film noir know actor Dana Andrews for his role in "Laura," the 1944 classic where he played hard-boiled detective Mark MacPherson. Later, Andrews starred in another 1940s classic, "The Best Years of Our Lives," playing a returning veteran haunted by wartime traumas. Andrews became a star for his brooding, handsome looks with dark secrets behind his All-American facade. In his new biography, "Hollywood Enigma," Carl Rollyson rightly compares Andrews to the enigmatic Don Draper from HBO's hit TV series "Mad Men."

Rollyson gained access to a trove of personal and family archives to tell the story. Born in Mississippi as the son of an evangelical minister, Andrews wanted to be famous but never liked the pretensions and shark-like business practices of Hollywood. Rollyson relates how Andrews ran afoul of producer Sam Goldwyn by breaking his contract, leading an incensed Goldwyn to warn him, "I'm through with you, and when I'm through with you, you're through!"

Andrews fought alcoholism for much of his career, getting himself into hot water with directors Otto Preminger, William Wyler and Elia Kazan. Kazan, who disliked Andrews' style, once played a trick on him, making wholesale changes to the script on the final day. Rollyson explains how Andrews took the new script back to his trailer, memorized his lines, and then delivered a stunning performance.

The Dana Andrews whom Rollyson presents is a hard-working, down-to-earth common man. Although Andrews wasn't a volcanic performer, his restrained acting style would help define American film noir.

CHUCK LEDDY, FREELANCE WRITER

ALL WE KNOW: THREE LIVES

By Lisa Cohen (Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 448 pages, $30)

They were once well-known, or even famous. Today Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta and Madge Garland are ... who? These women cut a swath through literary, style and sexual circles in the 1920s and '30s before sinking into obscurity. Author Lisa Cohen resurrects them in a trio of telling and fairly compelling mini-biographies. Murphy was a confidante of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a writer in her own right. But the biography she talked about endlessly never got written. De Acosta was a writer of plays and poetry, but more famously a collector of celebrities, most notably and painfully Greta Garbo. Garland fled her strict Victorian family and found herself the fashion editor of British Vogue. Along the way they took lovers, married and divorced men, and represented the Roaring Twenties in all of its storied excess. Cohen's research makes for a deep and sometimes dense read, but this work succeeds in bringing these women the attention they deserve.

MAUREEN MCCARTHY, METRO TEAM LEADER

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