A photograph of Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972
|Born||George Henry Sanders
3 July 1906
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Died||25 April 1972
Castelldefels, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
|Cause of death||Suicide|
|Education||Bedales School, Brighton College|
|Alma mater||Manchester Technical College|
|Occupation||Actor, author, singer-songwriter, music composer|
(1968–72; his death)
|Family||Tom Conway (brother)|
George Henry Sanders (3 July 1906 – 25 April 1972) was an English film and television actor, singer-songwriter, music composer, and author. His career as an actor spanned more than 40 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), 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 (1883–1967) née Kolbe, born in Saint Petersburg, of mostly German, but also Estonian and Scottish ancestry. A biography published in 1990 claimed that Sanders's 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.a[›]. The actor Tom Conway (1904–1967) was George Sanders's elder brother. Their younger sister, Margaret Sanders, was born in 1912.
George Sanders was 11 when, in 1917, at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, the 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 graduating 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 made his British film debut in 1929. Seven years later, after a series of British films, he took his first role in an American production in Lloyd's of London (1936) as Lord Everett Stacy. His 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. He gravitated to supporting roles in A-pictures, often with all-British casts, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), in which he and Judith Anderson played cruel foils to Joan Fontaine's character, and in the same director's Foreign Correspondent, later that year, where he played one of his few heroic parts in a Europe threatened by Fascism.
His early leading roles were in B-pictures and adventure serials; in his first American job as a leading man, the rarely-seen International Settlement, (1938) with Dolores Del Rio he rose above material to play a sophisticated British man of danger; it did so well that it led to the title role in two popular wartime film series with similar characters, one based on The Falcon and the other on The Saint. He played a smooth American Nazi in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) with Edward G. Robinson. Rage in Heaven (1941), an early film noir, cast him as the trustworthy good guy whose best friend, Robert Montgomery, goes murderously insane and sets him up for the rap, but such forays were seldom. By 1942, Sanders handed the role of the Falcon 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 was the third lead in the elegiacThe Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in the leads. Sanders starred with Angela Lansbury in Albert Lewin's The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (also 1947), based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant. Sanders and Lansbury also featured in Cecil B. deMille's biblical epic Samson and Delilah (1949).
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. He then starred as Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), dying in a duel with Robert Taylor after professing his love for the 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 Sellers's character Hercules Grytpype-Thynne in the BBC radio comedy series The Goon Show (1951–60).
Sanders went into television with the series The George Sanders Mystery Theater (1957). 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. 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 gay bar in San Francisco. One of his last 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 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 actually 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 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. 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 Conway's drinking problem. Sanders endured a further blow in the same year with the death of their sister, Margaret Sanders.
Sanders's 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.
Later years and suicide
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 was found dead two days later, having gone into cardiac arrest after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal. He left behind three suicide notes, one of which read:
His signature appeared under the message.
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 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.
Honours and references in popular culture
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, George 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.
- Love, Life and Laughter (1934)
- Dishonour Bright (1936)
- Find the Lady (1936)
- Lloyd's of London (1936)
- Strange Cargo (1936)
- The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)
- Things to Come (1936) (extra)
- Lancer Spy (1937)
- Love Is News (1937)
- Slave Ship (1937)
- The Lady Escapes (1937)
- Four Men and a Prayer (1938)
- International Settlement (1938)
- Allegheny Uprising (1939)
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)
- Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)
- Nurse Edith Cavell (1939)
- So This Is London (1939)
- The Outsider (1939)
- The Saint Strikes Back (1939)
- The Saint in London (1939)
- Bitter Sweet (1940)
- Foreign Correspondent (1940)
- Green Hell (1940)
- Rebecca (1940)
- The House of the Seven Gables (1940)
- The Saint Takes Over (1940)
- The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)
- A Date with the Falcon (1941)
- Man Hunt (1941)
- Rage in Heaven (1941)
- Sundown (1941)
- The Gay Falcon (1941)
- The Saint in Palm Springs (1941)
- The Son of Monte Cristo (1941)
- Her Cardboard Lover (1942)
- Quiet Please, Murder (1942)
- Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942)
- Tales of Manhattan (1942)
- The Moon and Sixpence (1942)
- The Black Swan (1942)
- The Falcon Takes Over (1942)
- The Falcon's Brother (1942)
- Appointment in Berlin (1943)
- Paris After Dark (1943)
- They Came to Blow Up America (1943)
- This Land Is Mine (1943)
- Action in Arabia (1944)
- Summer Storm (1944)
- The Lodger (1944)
- Hangover Square (1945)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
- The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)
- A Scandal in Paris (1946)
- The Strange Woman (1946)
- Forever Amber (1947)
- Lured (1947)
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
- The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947)
- Samson and Delilah (1949)
- The Fan (1949)
- All About Eve (1950)
- I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951)
- The Light Touch (1951)
- Assignment – Paris! (1952)
- Hold That Line (1952)
- Ivanhoe (1952)
- Call Me Madam (1953)
- Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia) (1954)
- King Richard and the Crusaders (1954)
- Witness to Murder (1954)
- Jupiter's Darling (1955)
- Moonfleet (1955)
- The King's Thief (1955)
- The Scarlet Coat (1955)
- Death of a Scoundrel (1956)
- Never Say Goodbye (1956)
- That Certain Feeling (1956)
- While the City Sleeps (1956)
- The Seventh Sin (1957)
- From the Earth to the Moon (1958)
- Outcasts of the City (1958)
- The Whole Truth (1958)
- Solomon and Sheba (1959)
- That Kind of Woman (1959)
- A Touch of Larceny (1960)
- Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons (1960)
- Cone of Silence (1960)
- The Last Voyage (1960)
- Village of the Damned (1960)
- Five Golden Hours (1961)
- Gli Invasori (1961)
- The Rebel (aka, Call Me Genius, 1961)
- In Search of the Castaways (1962)
- Operation Snatch (1962)
- Cairo (1963)
- The Cracksman (1963)
- A Shot in the Dark (1964)
- Dark Purpose (1964)
- Last Plane to Baalbeck (1965)
- The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965)
- The Billionaire (1965)
- The Golden Head (1965)
- The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
- Trunk to Cairo (1966)
- Good Times (1967)
- The Jungle Book (1967) as Shere Khan, the Tiger (voice)
- Warning Shot (1967)
- The Girl from Rio (1968)
- The Best House in London (1969)
- The Body Stealers (1969)
- The Kremlin Letter (1970) as General Downes
- Doomwatch (1972) as The Admiral - Sir Geoffrey
- Endless Night (1972) as Andrew Lippincott
- Psychomania (1972) as Shadwell
- Screen Directors Playhouse (1956)
- Ford Star Jubilee "You're the Top" (1956)
- The George Sanders Mystery Theater (1957)
- What's My Line? 15 September 1957 (Episode No. 380) (Season 9, Ep 3) Mystery Guest
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Traitor" (1965)
- The Rogues (1965)
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair" and "The Yukon Affair" (1965)
- Daniel Boone (1966)
- Batman "Mr. Freeze" (1966)
- Mission: Impossible: The Merchant (1971)
- Conversation Piece, at the 44th Street Theatre, 1934
- freebmd.org.uk (deaths)
- Sanders, George (1960). Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Hamish Hamilton. p. 8.
- VanDerBeets, Richard (1990). George Sanders: An Exhausted Life. Madison Books. ISBN 0819178063.
- Sanders 1960, pp. 9–10, 13.
- Sanders 1960, p. 17.
- Sanders 1960, p. 54.
- Sanders 1960, p.117
- Sanders 1960, pp. 199–200, 202
- McNally 2008, p. 33.
- Wilmut, Roger and Jimmy Grafton (1976). The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography. Robson Books Ltd. p. 90. ISBN 0903895641.
- Sherman, Richard. The Jungle Book audio commentary, Platinum Edition, Disc 1. 2007.
- Sanders 1960, pp. 106, 110.
- VanDerBeets 1990, p. xiii.
- VanDerBeets 1990, pp. 116, 119.
- Aherne 1979, pp. 183, 190.
- Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. "Bored to Death." Entertainment Weekly, 8 May 1992. Retrieved: 30 April 2009.
- "George Sanders (July 3, 1906 – April 25, 1972)." George Sanders: Official Site. Retrieved: 8 December 2011. Archived 22 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to George Sanders.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: George Sanders|
- George Sanders at the Internet Movie Database
- George Sanders at the Internet Broadway Database
- George Sanders at the TCM Movie Database
- George Sanders at Find a Grave
|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