Wade Andrews was the king of made-for-TV movies, with 18 to his name. He was best known for starring in “The Alan Ladd Story,” the 1994 biopic about the shorty actor who endeared himself to Eisenhower-era America as the heroic gunfighter Shane in the eponymous movie, but died in 1964 from overdosing on sedatives and booze.
Three years after “The Alan Ladd Story,” Andrews was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery, recovered successfully enough to sire a second daughter by his wife Jan, and urged other men in public-service announcements and Jay Leno appearances to get a PSA test. “You’ve got a lot to live for, man,” he’d say, a catch phrase his friends would throw back in his heavily eye-browed face. Even Bill Clinton quoted that line in a speech, although the words sounded ribald coming out of that particular mouth.
Andrews’ first TV movie after his recovery was “The Wade Andrews Story,” in which he played himself. Scriptwriters interviewed him to reconstruct conversations with Jan, college friends, his doctors, and fellow actors. Portraying Wade Andrews was tough, as when he rehearsed muffing a line in “The Alan Ladd Story.” Sometimes he said the line in a new wrong way. The director annoyed him, talking like a Wade Andrews expert. “How the hell would you know,” Andrews once asked him, “what I felt when I was diagnosed?”
Right when the shooting started, a young man with a neatly trimmed beard named Tony Connetti from the film program at UCLA appeared on the set and got permission to make a behind-the-scenes documentary about “The Wade Andrews Story.” So Andrews had another camera aimed at him. He told Connetti what went through his mind as he portrayed himself portraying an alcoholic Alan Ladd portraying a gunfighter in “Shane.” Sometimes a befuddled look came over the film student’s face. Andrews would respond with his lopsided grin. “I can get lost talking about myself,” he said.
One morning Connetti told Andrews that they needed to repeat yesterday’s interview because he had accidentally deleted the footage. As Andrews once again explained that self-portrayal didn’t equal self-betrayal, he saw his elfin wife Jan out of the corner of his eye, aiming a camcorder at him. “The girls will want to see this someday,” said Jan, an authentic fan. Suddenly, everything in the room fogged up for Andrews—chairs, coffee cups, Connetti, cameraman, Jan—as a strange wooziness hit him. When the room came back clear, he was reminding Connetti in slurred words that Wade Andrews was just a stage name. He was born Bradley Lammers, or rather, given that name by his adoptive parents. “I wonder who my real mom and dad were, but the state won’t tell me a damn thing.”
“The Wade Andrews Story” didn’t get the viewership the network expected. “Actor’s Actor: The Making of The Wade Andrews Story” surfaced in a second-tier film festival, but didn’t win any prize. However, the documentary put Andrews in the news. He had said that Alan Ladd “died like a loser,” which outraged Alan Ladd fans to the point of burning Andrews in effigy. It wasn’t long before a TV entertainment reporter asked for an interview. The reporter conducted it in Andrews’ living room, with the actor facing a large mirror. Andrews could see everything—the shiny blue sports jacket swathing the reporter’s back, the reporter’s cameraman, his own earnest face. He felt light-headed as they talked, but his expression didn’t show it.
That night, Andrew and Jan were sitting on bar stools at Duggan’s and sipping Irish Flags. At 10 o’clock, he asked the bartender to switch the TV to the Channel 8 news. Soon he saw himself on four screens in the room. Four perfectly synchronized Wade Andrews cocked their heads and bunched up their eyebrows as they softened the Alan Ladd slur. “Mr. Ladd had a lot to live for, man,” the four of them harmonized.
The bartender leaned forward with his wide smiling face and said, “I know that guy.” Jan lit up, too. “Wade’s everywhere!” she said, eyes flashing. But Andrews was starting to pass out, as if he were leaving his body and entering the TV screens. He heard Shane’s pistol go off. He tasted Ladd’s last whiskey. Sprawled on the parquet floor, Andrews wouldn’t come to for several minutes, but until then, Bradley Lammers was getting a break from questions of any sort.