Portrait of Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972
George Henry Sanders
3 July 1906
|Died||25 April 1972 (aged 65)|
Castelldefels, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
|Cause of death||Cardiac arrest caused by barbiturate overdose|
|Education||Bedales School, Brighton College|
|Alma mater||Manchester Technical College|
|Occupation||Actor, author, singer-songwriter, music composer|
(m. 1940; div. 1949)
Zsa Zsa Gabor
(m. 1949; div. 1954)
(m. 1959; died 1967)
|Lorraine Chanel |
(1968-72; his death)
|Family||Tom Conway (brother)|
George Henry Sanders (3 July 1906 - 25 April 1972) was a British film and television actor, singer-songwriter, music composer, and author. His career as an actor spanned over forty years. His upper-class English accent and bass voice often led him to be cast as sophisticated but villainous characters. He is perhaps best known as Jack Favell in Rebecca (1940), Scott ffolliott in Foreign Correspondent (1940, a rare heroic part), Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950, for which he won an Oscar), Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), Mr. Freeze in a two-parter episode of Batman (1966), the voice of the malevolent man-hating tiger Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), and as Simon Templar, The Saint, in five films made in the 1930s and 1940s.
Sanders was born in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, at number 6 Petrovski Ostrov. His parents were Henry Peter Ernest Sanders (1868-1960), and Margarethe Jenny Bertha Sanders (née Kolbe; 1883-1967), who was born in Saint Petersburg, of mostly German, but also Estonian and Scottish, ancestry. A biography published in 1990 claimed that Sanders' father was the illegitimate son of a prince of the House of Oldenburg and a Russian noblewoman of the Czar's court, married to a sister of the Czar.[a] The actor Tom Conway (1904-1967) was George Sanders's elder brother. Their younger sister, Margaret Sanders, was born in 1912.
In 1917, at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Sanders and his family moved to England. Like his brother, he attended Bedales School and Brighton College, a boys' independent school in Brighton, then went on to Manchester Technical College after which he worked in textile research.
Sanders travelled to South America where he managed a tobacco plantation. The Depression sent him back to England. He worked at an advertising agency, where the company secretary, the aspiring actress Greer Garson, suggested that he take up a career in acting.
Sanders learned how to sing and got a role on stage in Ballyhoo, which only had a short run but helped establish him as an actor.
He began to work regularly on the British stage, appearing several times with Edna Best. He co-starred with Dennis King in The Command Performance. He appeared in a British film, Love, Life and Laughter (1934).
Some of these British films were distributed by 20th Century Fox who were looking for an actor to play a villain in their Hollywood-shot film Lloyd's of London (1936). Sanders was duly cast as Lord Everett Stacy, opposite Tyrone Power, in one of his first leads, as the hero; Sanders' smooth upper-class English accent, his sleek manner and his suave, superior and somewhat threatening air made him in demand for American films for years to come.
Lloyds of London was a big hit and in November 1936 Fox put Sanders under a seven-year contract (though he would frequently be loaned to other studios, notably RKO).
Public response to Sanders had been strong, so Fox gave him his first heroic lead, in the B picture Lancer Spy (1937) with Dolores del Rio. He and del Rio were promptly reteamed in International Settlement (1938).
Sanders returned to Hollywood where RKO wanted him to play the hero in a series of B-movies, The Saint. The Saint in New York (1938) had already been made starring Louis Hayward in the title role, but when he decided not to return to the role Sanders took over for The Saint Strikes Back (1939).
After playing an American Nazi in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) for Warners, Sanders was The Saint in London (1939). Also for RKO he was a villain in Nurse Edith Cavell (1939), as German, with Anna Neagle and Allegheny Uprising (1939), with John Wayne.
MGM used him as a villain in Bitter Sweet (1940) and he performed a similar function for Edward Small in The Son of Monte Cristo (1940). Sanders made his last appearance as Simon Templar in The Saint in Palm Springs (1941), then MGM called him back for Rage in Heaven (1941), an early film noir, playing the trustworthy good guy whose best friend, Robert Montgomery, goes murderously insane and sets him up for the rap.
RKO had been fighting with Leslie Charteris, creator of The Saint, so they stopped the series and put Sanders in a new B picture series about a suave crime fighter, The Falcon. The first entry was The Gay Falcon (1941). It was popular and quickly followed by A Date with the Falcon (1942).
Sanders was tiring of The Falcon, so he handed the role to his brother Tom Conway, in The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which both appeared (and Sanders was killed off). The only other film in which the two siblings appeared together was Death of a Scoundrel (1956), in which they also played brothers.
In July 1942 Fox suspended him for refusing the lead in The Undying Monster (1942). "I like to be seen in pictures that at least seem to be slightly worthwhile." In September they suspended him again for refusing an "unsympathetic role" in The Immortal Sergeant (he was replaced by Morton Lowry). In November Fox and Sanders came to terms, with the studio offering him a raise in pay and the lead in a film, School for Saboteurs, which became They Came to Blow Up America.
Sanders played Lord Henry Wotton in the film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) at MGM and had the lead in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1946) at Universal. He did three for United Artists: A Scandal in Paris (1946), The Strange Woman (1946), and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947).
After playing the lead in Lured (1947) Fox cast him as Charles II in their expensive blockbuster Forever Amber (1949). The same studio used him in The Fan (1949). He was a villain in Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949), the most popular film of the year.
He was a leading man in Black Jack (1950) but back to supporting/villain roles in I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951). He signed a three picture deal with MGM for whom he did The Light Touch (1951) and Ivanhoe (1952), playing Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and dying in a duel with Robert Taylor after professing his love for the Jewish maiden Rebecca, played by Elizabeth Taylor. It was a huge success.
He followed it with Assignment - Paris! (1952), a thriller; Call Me Madam (1953), a rare musical role for Sanders; and Witness to Murder (1954). He starred as King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954).
Sanders went to Italy to appear opposite Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy (1954). Back in Hollywood he made several for MGM: Jupiter's Darling (1955), Moonfleet (1955), The Scarlet Coat (1955), and The King's Thief (1955) (again as Charles II).
In 1955 it was announced he would host and occasionally appear in The Ringmaster, a TV series about the circus. The series was never made. Instead Sanders was in "A Portrait of a Murderer" on The 20th Century-Fox Hour, a remake of Laura (1944), playing the role of Waldo Lydecker, made famous by Clifton Webb.
Sanders was now usually a supporting actor: Never Say Goodbye (1956), While the City Sleeps (1956), That Certain Feeling (1956). On television Sanders appeared with his wife Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Ford Television Theatre ("Autumn Fever") and he had roles in Screen Directors Playhouse.
Sanders was in A Touch of Larceny (1960) and The Last Voyage (1960). He had a rare lead in Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons (1960) then after Cone of Silence (1960) had the star part in Village of the Damned (1960), a surprise hit.
Then it was back to supporting parts: Five Golden Hours (1961), Erik the Conqueror (1961), The Rebel (1961), Operation Snatch (1962), In Search of the Castaways (1962). On TV he guest starred on Goodyear Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, General Electric Theater, and Checkmate.
Sanders was top billed in Cairo (1963) then appeared in The Cracksman (1963), Dark Purpose (1964), and The Golden Head (1964). Peter Sellers and Sanders appeared together in the Pink Panther sequel A Shot in the Dark (1964). Sanders had earlier inspired Sellers's character Hercules Grytpype-Thynne in the BBC radio comedy series The Goon Show (1951-60).
Sanders guest starred in The Rogues, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and Daniel Boone. He played an upper-crust English villain, G. Emory Partridge, in two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 1965, "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair" and "The Yukon Affair". He also portrayed Mr. Freeze in two episodes of the live-action TV series Batman, both shown in February 1966.
In films he was in Last Plane to Baalbek (1965), Trunk to Cairo (1965), The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), Warning Shot (1967), and Good Times (1967) with Sonny and Cher.
Sanders declared bankruptcy in 1966 due to some poor investments.
After being top billed in The Body Stealers (1967), Sanders was in One Step to Hell (1968), another version of Laura (1968) (again as Waldo), The Girl from Rio (1968), The Candy Man (1969), and The Best House in London (1969).
He had a supporting role in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter (1969), in which his first scene showed him dressed in drag and playing the piano in a "gay" bar in San Francisco. In 1969 he announced he was leaving show business.
However, he continued to act. His final roles were "Fade Out" with Stanley Baker on ITV Sunday Night, The Night of the Assassin (1970), Mission: Impossible ("The Merchant"), Rendezvous with Dishonour (1971); Doomwatch (1972), a feature film version of a contemporary BBC television series; Endless Night (1972), and Psychomania (1973).
Two ghostwritten crime novels were published under his name to cash in on his fame at the height of his wartime film series. The first was Crime on My Hands (1944), written in the first person, and mentioning his Saint and Falcon films. This was followed by Stranger at Home in 1946. Both were written by female authors: the former was by Craig Rice, and the latter by Leigh Brackett.
In 1958 Sanders recorded an album called The George Sanders Touch: Songs for the Lovely Lady. The album, released by ABC-Paramount Records, featured lush string arrangements of romantic ballads, crooned by Sanders in a fit baritone/bass (spanning from low to middle C), including "Such is My Love", a song he had himself composed. After going to great lengths to get the role, he appeared in the Broadway cast of South Pacific, but was overwhelmed with anxiety over the singing and quickly dropped out. His singing voice can be heard in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry and in Call Me Madam (1953). He also signed on for the role of Sheridan Whiteside in the stage musical Sherry! (1967), based on Kaufman and Hart's play The Man Who Came to Dinner, but he found the stage production demanding and quit after his wife Benita Hume discovered that she had terminal bone cancer.
During the production of The Jungle Book, Sanders refused to provide the singing voice for his character Shere Khan during the final recording of the song, "That's What Friends Are For". According to Richard Sherman, Bill Lee, a member of The Mellomen, was called in to substitute for Sanders.
On 27 October 1940 Sanders married Susan Larson (real name Elsie Poole). The couple divorced in 1949. From later that year until 1954 Sanders was married to Zsa Zsa Gabor, with whom he starred in the film Death of a Scoundrel (1956) after their divorce. On 10 February 1959 Sanders married Benita Hume, widow of Ronald Colman. She died in 1967, the same year Sanders's brother Tom Conway died of liver failure; Sanders had become distant from his brother because of his drinking problem. Sanders endured a further blow in the same year with the death of their mother, Margarethe.
Sanders' autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad, was published in 1960 and gathered critical praise for its wit. Sanders suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography, which was later written by his friend Brian Aherne and published in 1979. Sanders's last marriage, on 4 December 1970, was to Magda Gabor, the elder sister of his second wife. This marriage lasted only 32 days, after which he began drinking heavily.
Sanders suffered from dementia, worsened by waning health, and visibly teetered in his last films, owing to a loss of balance. According to Aherne's biography, he also had a minor stroke. Sanders could not bear the prospect of losing his health or needing help to carry out everyday tasks and became deeply depressed. At about this time he found that he could no longer play his grand piano, so he dragged it outside and smashed it with an axe. His last girlfriend persuaded him to sell his beloved house in Majorca, Spain, which he later bitterly regretted. From then on he drifted.
On 23 April 1972, Sanders checked into a hotel in Castelldefels, a coastal town near Barcelona. He died of a cardiac arrest two days later, after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal. He left behind three suicide notes, one of which read:
Sanders's body was returned to Britain for funeral services. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the English Channel.
David Niven wrote in Bring on the Empty Horses (1975), the second volume of his memoirs, that in 1937 his friend George Sanders had predicted that he would commit suicide from a barbiturate overdose when he was 65 and that in his 50s he had appeared to be depressed since his marriages had failed and several tragedies had befallen him.
Sanders' ghost makes an appearance in Clive Barker's novel Coldheart Canyon (2001), as well as in the animated feature film Dante's Inferno (2007). In 2005, Charles Dennis played Sanders in his own play High Class Heel at the National Arts Club in New York City.
In the "House Arrest" episode of The Sopranos, Tony tells Doctor Melfi of his boredom and states "I'm ready for the George Sanders long walk here."
In the 2000 film Wonder Boys, Sanders is one of the people Tobey Maguire's character mentions when he is naming high-profile suicides that have taken place in distant memory.
|Husband of a Gabor Sister|
| Zsa Zsa - Third
April 2, 1949 - April 2, 1954
| Magda - Fifth
December 5, 1970 - January 6, 1971
| Simon Templar Actor
1939 - 1941
| Charles II Actor
|New title|| Mr. Freeze Actor