Thomas J. D’Andrea; Actor, Fixture in Comedy
Longtime Thousand Oaks resident Thomas J. D’Andrea, a fixture in the Hollywood movie, radio and stand-up comedy scene for three decades, died May 14 at his home in South Port Square, Fla. He was 88.
D’Andrea was laid to rest Tuesday in a ceremony at sea, his family said.
D’Andrea had moved to Florida in April 1997 to be closer to his son, Tom M. D’Andrea, a retired marine colonel. Before relocating, D’Andrea lived in Thousand Oaks for more than 30 years, his family said.
D’Andrea, who had heart problems, died a few days after falling at a restaurant. The day before his 89th birthday, D’Andrea went to sleep and never woke up, said his son.
“He had been very active,” Tom D’Andrea said. “He would show up at our door any time of day. He would come in and watch some television and then we would take him home.”
D’Andrea loved restaurants, dining out for brunch and dinner daily, his son said.
D’Andrea was born May 15, 1909, in Chicago. His first job was at the Chicago Public Library. He also worked at the famous Sherman Hotel in the Loop, a frequent Windy City lodging choice of big bands of the day.
The connections paid off and in 1934, D’Andrea moved to Hollywood to become a publicist for Betty Grable, Gene Autry, Jackie Coogan and Mae Clark. His debut as a performer came when he replaced his friend, Wilkie Mahoney, on a radio show. The pair later teamed up for a comedy stage act that lasted two years.
In 1937, D’Andrea began writing radio scripts for Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor and the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson.
D’Andrea was drafted during World War II and served in the Army Air Corps. He went to Camp Roberts, Calif., where he was assigned to write a radio program for British singer-comedienne Gracie Fields and to read lines. A host of military radio shows followed.
D’Andrea’s big break came at Ciro’s Restaurant on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, where he caught the attention of a Warner Bros. executive, who cast him in “This Is the Army,” starring Ronald Reagan. D’Andrea also wrote much of the film’s dialogue.
D’Andrea went on to act in 35 films, including “Pride of the Marines” with John Garfield; “Never Say Goodbye” and “Silver River,” both starring Errol Flynn; “Dark Passage” with Humphrey Bogart, and “Night and Day” with Cary Grant. His last movie was “A House Is Not a Home” with Shelly Winters in 1964.
Tom D’Andrea said his father’s favorite role was the taxi driver in 1947’s “Dark Passage,” who takes Bogart, portraying an escaped convict, to get plastic surgery.
D’Andrea was under contract with Warner Bros. from 1945 to 1952, when he joined Hal March to do a television show about the Army titled “The Soldiers.” He later paired with William Bendix to play the part of Gillis in the television series “The Life of Riley.”
“The character he played in the ‘Life of Riley’ was most in tune with his personality,” Tom D’Andrea said. “He was a character actor and a comedian.”
D’Andrea also performed at the Sands in Las Vegas with the late Frank Sinatra. He was a Catholic and member of the Friar’s Club and Screen Actors Guild.
In addition to his son, D’Andrea is survived by his wife, Helen, who is living in a nursing home in Fort Myers, Fla.; another son, Bobby, also of Fort Myers; a brother, Bobby of Oklahoma City, Okla.; two sisters, Lois Atherton of Chicago and Maddy Olson of Hendersonville, N.C., and four grandchildren.
D’Andrea was preceded in death by a son, Michael.
Memorial contributions can be made to any local hospice.