Dana Andrews was born Carver Dana Andrews on a farmstead outside Collins, Covington County, Mississippi, the third of nine children of Charles Forrest Andrews, a Baptist minister, and his wife Annis (née Speed). The family subsequently moved to Huntsville, Texas, where his younger siblings (including the late actor Steve Forrest) were born.
Andrews attended college at Sam Houston State University and also studied business administration in Houston, Texas, working briefly as an accountant for Gulf+Western . In 1931, he travelled to Los Angeles, California seeking opportunities as a singer. He worked at various jobs to earn a living, including pumping gas at a filling station in Van Nuys. One of his employers believed in him and paid for his studies in opera and also at the Pasadena Playhouse, a theater and acting school.
Andrews signed a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and nine years after arriving in Los Angeles was offered his first movie role in William Wyler's The Westerner (1940), starring Gary Cooper. He was also memorable as the gangster in the 1941 comedy Ball of Fire. In the 1943 movie adaptation of The Ox-Bow Incident with Henry Fonda, often cited as one of his best films, he played alynching victim. His signature roles came as an obsessed detective in Laura (1944) opposite Gene Tierney, and as a U.S. Army Air Force officer returning home from the war in the Oscar-winning 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives. Both films became classics. In 1947 he was voted the 23rd most popular star in the US.
He played a crooked cop in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), also with Gene Tierney. Around this time, alcoholism began to derail Andrews' career, and on a couple of occasions it nearly cost him his life on the highway. By the middle 1950s, Andrews was acting almost exclusively in B-movies. A handful of films he starred in during the late 1950s, however, contain memorable work. Two movies for Fritz Lang in 1956, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, and two for Jacques Tourneur, Night of the Demon (1957) and The Fearmakers (1958), are well regarded. From 1952 to 1954, Andrews starred in the radio series I Was a Communist for the FBI about the experiences of Matt Cvetic, an FBI informer who infiltrated the Communist Party. In 1963, he was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild. Between 1969 and 1970, he appeared in a leading role as college president Tom Boswell on the NBC daytime soap opera Bright Promise. In 1960 he and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. starred in The Crowded Sky; fifteen years later, Andrews and Zimbalist appeared in Airport 1975 in which Andrews plays a businessman pilot who has a heart attack and crashes his plane into a 747 that Zimbalist is flying.
Andrews married Janet Murray on New Year's Eve, 1932. Their son David, born in 1933, was a musician and composer who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1964. Janet died in 1935 of pneumonia, not long after giving birth to a second child. On November 17, 1939, he married actress Mary Todd. They had three children, Katharine (born in 1942), Stephen (born in 1944), and Susan (born in 1948). For 20 years the Andrews family lived in Toluca Lake. After his children were grown, Andrews lived out his later years with his wife Mary in the Studio City home bought from Jacques Tourneur (the director of Canyon Passage and Night of the Demon, in which Andrews had appeared).
Andrews eventually brought his alcoholism under control. In 1972, he appeared in a television public service advertisement on the subject. In the early 1980s, after former movie star Ronald Reagan had become president, Andrews told a magazine interviewer that Reagan's disciplined attitude toward alcohol (which Andrews had witnessed first-hand) was a big factor in his success.
In the last years of his life, Andrews suffered from Alzheimer's disease. In 1992, at the age of 83, he died of congestive heart failure and pneumonia.