George Sanders

George Henry Sanders (3 July 1906 – 25 April 1972) was a British actor and singer whose career spanned over 40 years. His heavy, upper-class English accent and smooth, bass voice often led him to be cast as sophisticated but villainous characters. He is remembered for his roles as Jack Favell in Rebecca (1940), Scott ffolliott in Foreign Correspondent (1940, a rare heroic part), The Saran of Gaza in Samson and Delilah (1949), the most popular film of the year, 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), and the voice of Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967). Fans of detective stories know Sanders as Simon Templar, The Saint, (1939–41),[1] and the suave crimefighter The Falcon (1941–42).

George Sanders
George Sanders Allan Warren.jpg
Portrait of Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972
Born(1906-07-03)3 July 1906
Died25 April 1972(1972-04-25) (aged 65)
Alma materManchester Technical College
Occupation
  • Actor
  • singer
  • writer
Years active1929–1972
Spouse(s)
Susan Larson
(m. 1940; div. 1949)

(m. 1949; div. 1954)

(m. 1959; died 1967)

(m. 1970; div. 1971)
PartnerLorraine Chanel (1968–1972; his death)
RelativesTom Conway (brother)

Early lifeEdit

Sanders was born on 3 July 1906 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, at number 6 Petrovski Ostrov, to rope manufacturer Henry Sanders and horticulturalist Margaret (née Kolbe),[2] who was born in Saint Petersburg, of mostly German, but also Estonian and Scottish ancestry (Sanders wrote of his mother's descent from "the Thomas Clayhills of Dundee, who went to Estonia in 1626 to establish a business there") . Sanders referred to his parents as "well-off" and noted his mother's "forebears of solid social position and impeccable respectability", stating that "to the best of (his) knowledge, (his) father came in the mail".[3] A biography published in 1990 alleged that family members' "recent disclosures... indicate" that Sanders' father was the out-of-wedlock son of a Russian noblewoman of the Tsar’s court, and a prince of the House of Oldenburg who was married to a sister of the Tsar.[4] At the time of Henry Sanders's birth, the Anglo-Russian Sanders family were living at Saint Petersburg; the mother, Dagmar, was a lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Empress, and it was said to be through this connection Henry came to be adopted by the Sanders family.[5]

In 1917, at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Sanders and his family moved to Great Britain.[6][7] 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.[8][9]

Sanders travelled to South America, where he managed a tobacco plantation. The Depression sent him back to Britain. He worked at an advertising agency, where the company secretary, aspiring actress Greer Garson, suggested that he take up a career in acting.[10]

CareerEdit

 
In the trailer for Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Early British workEdit

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.[9]

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.[11]

Sanders travelled to New York to appear on Broadway in a production of Noël Coward's Conversation Piece (1934), directed by Coward, which only ran for 55 performances.[9]

Hollywood and 20th Century FoxEdit

Some of these British films were distributed by 20th Century Fox, which was looking for an actor to play a villain in its 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.[12] Lloyd's of London was a big hit, and in November 1936, Fox placed Sanders under a seven-year contract.[13]

Character rolesEdit

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).[14][15]

A-picture leading manEdit

Sanders was borrowed by United Artists to play the lead in an A film, The Moon and Sixpence (1942), based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.[16]

RKO had canceled its Saint series and replaced it with The Falcon in 1941. George Sanders was assigned the leading role of Gay Laurence, debonair man about town always involved in murder cases. Saint author Leslie Charteris thought the resemblance between the Falcon and the Saint was obvious, and sued the studio for unfair competition. Sanders himself was also unhappy about playing still another screen sleuth in still more "B" pictures, and bowed out of the series in 1942 after only four films. (He was replaced by his elder brother, Tom Conway.)

In July 1942, Fox suspended Sanders for refusing the lead in The Undying Monster (1942). "I like to be seen in pictures that at least seem to be slightly worthwhile."[9] In September, they suspended him again for refusing an "unsympathetic role" in The Immortal Sergeant (he was replaced by Morton Lowry).[17] 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.[18]

RKO called him back for This Land Is Mine (1943). They bought an original story for him, Nine Lives, but it does not appear to have been made.[19] He was lent to Columbia for Appointment in Berlin (1943).[20]

In February 1943, Fox announced it was developing three film projects for Sanders – The Porcelain Lady, a murder mystery, plus biopics of the Earl of Suffolk and Bethune.[21] Fox originally announced him to play the role of the detective in Laura (1944) alongside Laird Cregar, but neither ended up being in the final film.[22] In 1947, George Sanders portrayed King Charles II in Fox's lavish production of the scandalous historical bodice-ripper, Forever Amber.

Sanders signed a new three-film contract with RKO, starting with Action in Arabia (1944).[23] The film superficially looked expensive but it was actually a low-budget feature, embellished by spectacular location footage filmed in 1933 for an unfinished production about Lawrence of Arabia.

All About Eve and beyondEdit

 
As Addison DeWitt in the trailer for All About Eve (1950)

For his role as the acerbic, cold-blooded theatre critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), Sanders won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.[24]

He was a leading man in Black Jack (1950), but was back to supporting/villain roles in I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951). He signed a three-picture deal with MGM, for which 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 Jewish maiden Rebecca, played by Elizabeth Taylor. It was a huge success.[25]

Sanders went to Italy to appear opposite Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy (1954). Back in Hollywood, he made several movies for MGM: Jupiter's Darling (1955), Moonfleet (1955), The Scarlet Coat (1955), and The King's Thief (1955) (again as Charles II).[26]

In 1955, he was announced as hosting and occasionally appearing in The Ringmaster, a TV series about the circus.[27]

Sanders played the lead in Death of a Scoundrel (1956) and the TV series The George Sanders Mystery Theater (1957).[28]

He worked one last time with Power on Solomon and Sheba (1959); Power died during filming and was replaced by Yul Brynner.[29]

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).[30]

Sanders declared bankruptcy in 1966 due to some poor investments.[31]

Final filmsEdit

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.[32]

NovelsEdit

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.[33]

SingingEdit

 
As Lord Henry Wotton in the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

During the production of The Jungle Book, Sanders was unavailable 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.[34]

Personal lifeEdit

On 27 October 1940, Sanders married Susan Larson (born 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). On 10 February 1959, Sanders married Benita Hume, widow of Ronald Colman. She died of bone cancer in 1967, aged 60, the same year that Sanders's brother Tom Conway died of liver failure. Sanders had become distant from his brother because of Conway's drinking problem.[35]

Sanders' autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad was published in 1960 and gained critical praise for its wit. Sanders suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography, later written by his friend Brian Aherne and published in 1979.[36] Sanders's fourth and 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.[37][38]

Final years and deathEdit

 
Sanders as Captain Billy Leech in The Black Swan (1942)

Even before his dementia, Sanders had grown increasingly reclusive and depressed due to a string of tragedies including the deaths of his third wife, his mother, and his brother Tom in the space of a year, followed by a failed sausage investment, which cost him millions, dementia diagnosis, and a quick divorce from his fourth wife. 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. 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, Lorraine Chanel, with whom he had an on-off relationship in the last four years of his life, persuaded him to sell his beloved house in Majorca, Spain, which he later bitterly regretted. From then on, he drifted.[39]

On 23 April 1972, Sanders checked into a hotel in Castelldefels, a coastal town near Barcelona, where he phoned his friend George Mikell. He died from cardiac arrest two days later after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal.[40][41] He left behind two suicide notes, one of which read:

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.[42][43][44][45]

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 because his marriages had failed and several tragedies had befallen him.[46]

Sanders has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for films at 1636 Vine Street and television at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.[47]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ The Guardian 26 Apr 1972: 5.
  2. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/47189. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Sanders, George (1960). Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Hamish Hamilton. p. 8.
  4. ^ Although Nicholas II's sister Olga Alexandrovna married Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg, he was born in 1868, and therefore could not have been the father of Henry Sanders, born circa 1870- https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-47189?rskey=kfCHPc&result=4
  5. ^ VanDerBeets, Richard (1990). George Sanders: An Exhausted Life. Madison Books. ISBN 978-0819178060.
  6. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 9–10, 13.
  7. ^ "George Sanders". The World's News. No. 2004. New South Wales, Australia. 4 May 1940. p. 13. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 17.
  9. ^ a b c d GEORGE SANDERS, OR FROM SINNER TO SAINT By THEODORE STRAUSS. New York Times 27 Sep 1942: X3.
  10. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 54.
  11. ^ "George Sanders". The Advocate (Tasmania). Tasmania, Australia. 25 July 1941. p. 8. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Sanders 1960, p.117
  13. ^ MISSES LOMBARD AND RUSSELL DEBATED FOR "IDIOT'S DELIGHT" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 2 December 1936: 8.
  14. ^ ""Saint" George Sanders". The Mail (Adelaide). Vol. 27, no. 1, 397. South Australia. 4 March 1939. p. 11. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ George Sanders to Play 'Saint' Role Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Nov 1938: A15.
  16. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: George Sanders to Be Seen in Strickland Role in Maugham's 'Moon and Sixpence' New York Times 21 Feb 1942: 15.
  17. ^ George Sanders Suspended by Fox for Withdrawing From 'The Immortal Sargeant' New York Times 11 Sep 1942: 24.
  18. ^ Fox Ends Differences With Sanders, Giving Him a Leading Part in 'School for Saboteurs' New York Times 18 Nov 1942: 31.
  19. ^ RKO Will Star George Sanders in 'Nine Lives' New York Times 15 July 1943: 25.
  20. ^ George Sanders Gets Lead Role in 'Appointment in Berlin' New York Times 6 Feb 1943: 8.
  21. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD New York Times 23 Feb 1943: 25.
  22. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOODNew York Times 11 June 1943: 23.
  23. ^ Star Profit by His Reputation for 'Cussedness' Parsons, Louella O. The Washington Post 25 Aug 1943: 16.
  24. ^ McNally 2008, p. 33.
  25. ^ George Sanders Slated in Trio of MGM Films Los Angeles Times 27 May 1951: D9
  26. ^ MGM Reports Schedule of 27 Feature Movies Los Angeles Times 4 Aug 1954: 18.
  27. ^ GEORGE SANDERS TO BE VIDEO HOST: Cast as Narrator of Filmed Series, 'The Ringmaster.' Built on Circus Stories New York Times 1 Sep 1955: 46.
  28. ^ Drama: MGM and Japan Daiei in Deal for Star, Studio: Zsa Zsa May Face 'Ex' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 25 Nov 1955: B7.
  29. ^ RKO Has New Lease on Life: Teleradio Financing Indies; Newsiest Newsmen Recalled Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 11 Apr 1958: 21.
  30. ^ Wilmut, Roger and Jimmy Grafton (1976). The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography. Robson Books Ltd. p. 90. ISBN 978-0903895644.
  31. ^ George Sanders The Guardian 26 Apr 1972: 5
  32. ^ George Sanders' Sneer Mellows Flynn, Betty. Los Angeles Times 6 Sep 1969: a6
  33. ^ "Hollywood Authors". The Sydney Morning Herald. No. 33, 361. New South Wales, Australia. 25 November 1944. p. 8. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  34. ^ Sherman, Richard. The Jungle Book audio commentary, Platinum Edition, Disc 1. 2007.
  35. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 106, 110.
  36. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, p. xiii.
  37. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, pp. 116, 119.
  38. ^ "George Sanders Dies in Spain of Drug Overdose, Leaves Note", Los Angeles Times, 25 Apr 1972: 2.
  39. ^ Aherne 1979, pp. 183, 190.
  40. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. "Bored to Death." Entertainment Weekly, 8 May 1992. Retrieved: 30 April 2009.
  41. ^ "George Sanders (July 3, 1906 – April 25, 1972)." George Sanders: Official Site. Retrieved: 8 December 2011. Archived 22 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  42. ^ "George Sanders Quotes".
  43. ^ "GEORGE SANDERS — Bored to Death? – ClassicMovieChat.com – The Golden Era of Hollywood".
  44. ^ "famous suicide notes – dying words of famous people".
  45. ^ "George Sanders dead". The Canberra Times. Vol. 46, no. 13, 109. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 27 April 1972. p. 5. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  46. ^ Niven, David (1975). Bring on the Empty Horses. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. p. 304. ISBN 978-0340209158.
  47. ^ "George Sanders". Hollywood Walk of Fame. 25 October 2019. Archived from the original on 26 June 2021. Retrieved 26 June 2021.

BibliographyEdit

  • Aherne, Brian. A Dreadful Man: The Story of Hollywood's Most Original Cad, George Sanders. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979. ISBN 0-671-24797-2.
  • McNally, Peter. Bette Davis: The Performances that made her Great. Jefferson North Carolina: McFarland, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7864-3499-2.
  • Niven, David. The Moon's A Balloon. London: Dell Publishing, 1983. ISBN 978-0-440-15806-6.
  • Sanders, George. Memoirs of a Professional Cad: The Autobiography of George Sanders. London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1960. ISBN 0-8108-2579-1.
  • VanDerBeets, Richard. George Sanders: An Exhausted Life. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Madison Books, 1990. ISBN 0-8191-7806-3.

Further readingEdit

  • Alistair, Rupert (2018). "George Sanders". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 237–239. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.

External linksEdit

Husband of a Gabor Sister
Preceded by Zsa Zsa – Third
2 April 1949 – 2 April 1954
Divorced
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Tony Gallucci
Magda – Fifth
5 December 1970 – 6 January 1971
Annulled
Succeeded by
Tibor Heltai
Acting roles
Preceded by Simon Templar Actor
1939–1941
Succeeded by
Preceded by Charles II Actor
1955
Succeeded by
New title Mr. Freeze Actor
1966
Succeeded by