George Sanders

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For other people named George Sanders, see George Sanders (disambiguation).
George Sanders
George Sanders Allan Warren.jpg
A photograph of Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972
Born George Henry Sanders
(1906-07-03)3 July 1906
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 25 April 1972(1972-04-25) (aged 65)
Castelldefels, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Cause of death
Education Bedales School, Brighton College
Alma mater Manchester Technical College
Occupation Actor, author, singer-songwriter, music composer
Years active 1929–1972
Spouse(s) Susan Larson
(m.1940–1949; divorced)
Zsa Zsa Gabor
(m.1949–1954; divorced)
Benita Hume
(m.1959–1967; her death)
Magda Gabor
(m.1970–1971; divorced)
Partner(s) Lorraine Chanel
(1968–1972; his death)
Family Tom Conway (brother)

George Henry Sanders (3 July 1906 – 25 April 1972) was a Russian-born English film and television actor, singer-songwriter, music composer, and author. His heavy 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), Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950), King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), the voice of the malevolent man-hating tiger Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), and his five-film tenure playing crimefighter Simon Templar (a.k.a. The Saint) in the 1930s and '40s. His career spanned more than 40 years.

Early life[edit]

Sanders was born in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, at number 6 Petrovski Ostrov. His parents were Henry Peter Ernest Sanders [1](1868–1960),[2] and Margarethe Jenny Bertha Sanders (1883–1967) née Kolbe, born in Saint Petersburg, of mostly German, but also Estonian & Scottish heritage.[3][4] A 1990 biography claimed his father was the illegitimate son of a Russian noblewoman of the Czar’s court and a prince of the House of Oldenburg, married to a sister of the Czar.[5]a[›]. Actor Tom Conway (1904–1967) was his elder brother. His younger sister, Margaret Sanders, was born in 1912. The future actor was 11 when, in 1917, at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the family moved to England.[6] Like his brother, he attended Bedales School, Brighton College, a boys' independent school in Brighton, Sussex, then went on to Manchester Technical College.[7] After graduation, he worked at an advertising agency, where the company secretary, aspiring actress Greer Garson, suggested he take up a career in acting.[8]


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

Sanders made his British film debut in 1929, Seven years later, after a series of British films, his first role in an American production was Lloyd's of London (1936) as Lord Everett Stacy. His smooth, upper-class English accent and sleek British manner, along with a suave, superior and somewhat threatening air, put him in demand for American films throughout the following decade.[9] He played supporting roles in A-pictures productions such as Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), in which he and Judith Anderson played cruel foils to Joan Fontaine's character, and in the director's Foreign Correspondent, later that year, he played one of his career's few heroic parts. He had leading roles in lower-budget pictures such as Rage in Heaven (1941), and in both The Falcon and The Saint film series.[10] In 1942, Sanders handed the Falcon role to his brother Tom, in The Falcon's Brother. The only other film in which the two acting siblings appeared together was Death of a Scoundrel (1956), in which they also played brothers.

Sanders played Lord Henry Wotton in the film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and he was the third lead in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in the leads. Sanders gave one of his most well received performances, starring with Angela Lansbury in director Albert Lewin's The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (also 1947) taken from an 1885 novel by Guy de Maupassant. He and Lansbury also featured in Cecil B. deMille's biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949).

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

For perhaps his best role as the acerbic, cold-blooded theatre critic Addison DeWitt, in All About Eve (1950), Sanders won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.[11] He then starred as Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), dying in a duel with Robert Taylor after professing his love for Jewish maiden Rebecca, played by Elizabeth Taylor. Sanders starred as King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954). Peter Sellers and Sanders appeared together in the Pink Panther sequel A Shot in the Dark (1964). Sanders had earlier inspired Peter Sellers' character Hercules Grytpype-Thynne in the BBC radio comedy series The Goon Show (1951–60).[12]

Sanders went into television with the series The George Sanders Mystery Theater (1957). He played an upper-crust English villain, G. Emory Partridge, in the The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair" (1965) and reprised the role later in that same year in "The Yukon Affair". He also portrayed Mr. Freeze in two episodes of the live-action Batman TV series which were shown in February 1966. Sanders voiced the malevolent Shere Khan in the Walt Disney production of The Jungle Book (1967). 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 piano in a San Francisco gay bar. One of Sanders' final screen roles was in Doomwatch (1972), a feature film version of a contemporary BBC television series .


Two ghostwritten crime novels were published under his name to cash in on his fame. 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 actually written by female authors: the former by Craig Rice, and the latter by Leigh Brackett.


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

In 1958, Sanders recorded an album called The George Sanders Touch: Songs for the Lovely Lady. The album was released by ABC-Paramount Records, and carried 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 of Sanders' own composition. After going to great lengths, he got himself signed to sing in South Pacific but was overwhelmed with anxiety over the role and quickly dropped out. Sanders' singing voice can be heard in Call Me Madam (1953). He also signed on for the role of Sheridan Whiteside in the stage musical Sherry! (1967), based on the KaufmanHart play The Man Who Came to Dinner, but he found the ongoing stage production highly demanding. He quit when his wife Benita Hume discovered she had terminal bone cancer.

During the production of The Jungle Book, Sanders, who voiced Shere Khan, refused to provide the singing voice for his character during the finalized recording of the song, "That's What Friends Are For". According to Richard Sherman, Mellomen member Bill Lee was called in to substitute for Sanders.[13]

Personal life[edit]

On 27 October 1940, Sanders married Susan Larson; the couple divorced in 1949. From later that year until 1954, Sanders was married to Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, with whom he starred in the film Death of a Scoundrel (1956) after their divorce. On 10 February 1959, Sanders married actress Benita Hume, widow of actor Ronald Colman. She died in 1967, the same year Sanders' brother Tom Conway died of liver failure. Sanders had become distant from his brother a decade before due to Conway's drinking problem.[14] Sanders endured a further blow in the same year with the death of his mother Margaret Sanders.

His 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 Sanders' friend Brian Aherne and published in 1979.[15] Sanders' last marriage was on 4 December 1970, to Magda Gabor, the elder sister of his second wife. This marriage lasted only 32 days, after which he began drinking heavily.[16]

Later years and death[edit]

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

Sanders suffered from dementia, worsened by waning health. He teeters 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 notion of losing his health or needing help from someone else, and he became deeply depressed. At about this time, Sanders found he could no longer play his grand piano, which he dragged outside and smashed with an axe. His last girlfriend, who was Mexican and much younger than he, persuaded Sanders to sell his beloved house in Majorca, Spain, which he later bitterly regretted. From then on, he drifted.[17]

On 23 April 1972, Sanders checked into a hotel in Castelldefels, a coastal town near Barcelona. He was found dead two days later, having gone into a cardiac arrest, after taking five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal.[18][19] His death was officially a suicide since he left behind three suicide notes, 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. (His signature appeared under the message.)

Sanders' body was returned to Britain for funeral services, after which it was cremated and the ashes were scattered in the English Channel. David Niven wrote in his second autobiography, Bring on the Empty Horses (1975), that in 1937 his friend George Sanders had predicted he would commit suicide when he was 65, and in his 50s, he appeared depressed since his marriages had failed and several tragedies had befallen him.[20]


Sanders garnered two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for films at 1636 Vine Street and for television at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard. This fact is mentioned in the song Celluloid Heroes by the Kinks: "If you covered him with garbage/ George Sanders would still have style." His ghost makes an appearance in Clive Barker's novel Coldheart Canyon (2001) as well as in the animated feature 2007 animated film Dante's Inferno. In 2005, Charles Dennis wrote and played Sanders in his play High Class Heel at the National Arts Club in New York City.





^ a: Nicholas II's sister Olga Alexandrovna married Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg, but he was born in 1868, and therefore could not have been the father of Henry Sanders.


  1. ^
  2. ^ (deaths)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Sanders, George (1960). Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Hamish Hamilton. p. 8. 
  5. ^ VanDerBeets, Richard (1990). George Sanders: An Exhausted Life. Madison Books. ISBN 0819178063. 
  6. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 9–10, 13.
  7. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 17.
  8. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 54.
  9. ^ Sanders 1960, p.117
  10. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 199–200, 202
  11. ^ McNally 2008, p. 33.
  12. ^ Wilmut, Roger and Jimmy Grafton (1976). The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography. Robson Books Ltd. p. 90. ISBN 0903895641. 
  13. ^ Sherman, Richard. The Jungle Book audio commentary, Platinum Edition, Disc 1. 2007.
  14. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 106, 110.
  15. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, p. xiii.
  16. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, pp. 116, 119.
  17. ^ Aherne 1979, pp. 183, 190.
  18. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. "Bored to Death." Entertainment Weekly, 8 May 1992. Retrieved: 30 April 2009.
  19. ^ "George Sanders (July 3, 1906 – April 25, 1972)." George Sanders: Official Site. Retrieved: 8 December 2011.[dead link]
  20. ^ Niven, David (1975). Bring on the Empty Horses. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. p. 304. ISBN 0340209151. 


  • 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.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
New title
Mr. Freeze Actor
Succeeded by
Otto Preminger