Tom Conway

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Tom Conway
Tom Conway in Grand Central Murder trailer headcrop.jpg
from the trailer for Grand Central Murder (1942)
Thomas Charles Sanders

(1904-09-15)15 September 1904
Died22 April 1967(1967-04-22) (aged 62)
EducationBrighton College
Years active1940–1964
(m. 1958; div. 1963)

Lillian Eggers
(m. 1941; div. 1953)
FamilyGeorge Sanders (brother)

Tom Conway (born Thomas Charles Sanders, 15 September 1904 – 22 April 1967) was a British film, television, and radio actor remembered for playing private detectives (including The Falcon, Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond, and The Saint) and psychiatrists, among other roles.

Conway played "The Falcon" in 10 episodes of the series, taking over from his brother, George Sanders, in The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which they both starred. He also appeared in several Val Lewton films.

Early life[edit]

Conway was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His younger brother was fellow actor George Sanders.[1] Their younger sister, Margaret Sanders, was born in 1912. At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution (1917), the family moved to England, where Conway was educated at Bedales School and Brighton College. He travelled to Northern Rhodesia, where he worked in mining and ranching, then returned to England, appearing in several plays with the Manchester Repertory Company and performing on BBC Radio.[citation needed]



When he joined his brother in Hollywood, Conway became a contract player for MGM. During this time, he changed his last name from Sanders to Conway.[2] He had small roles in Waterloo Bridge (1940), with only his voice heard, Sky Murder (1941) with Walter Pidgeon, and The Wild Man of Borneo (1941). He had a bigger part in The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941) with Robert Young, then was back to small parts in Free and Easy (1941), The Bad Man (1941) with Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore, The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941) with Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore, and Lady Be Good (1941) with Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton.

Conway was a villain in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, Mr. and Mrs. North (1941) with Gracie Allen, and Rio Rita (1942) with Abbott and Costello. He was a murder suspect in Grand Central Murder (1942) with Van Heflin and had an uncredited bit in Mrs. Miniver (1942) with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon.

RKO: The Falcon and Val Lewton[edit]

At RKO, Conway's brother George Sanders had starred in three popular "B" movies as The Falcon. Sanders tired of the role, so Conway took over as The Falcon's Brother (1942), co-starring with Sanders (Sanders's character was killed off, leaving his brother to assume the mantle of The Falcon). Producer Maurice Geraghty later revealed that RKO executives recruited Conway so they could induce Sanders to make one more Falcon picture, after which the series would end. "So it was astonishing to them when Tom Conway caught on right away and carried the series on -- even outgrossing the pictures George had made."[3] RKO signed Tom Conway to a long-term contract.[4]

Conway followed this success with an excellent role in Cat People (1942), the first of producer Val Lewton's legendary horror cycle. He had the male lead in a second film for Lewton, I Walked with a Zombie (1942), now regarded as a horror classic.[5] Conway was top-billed in Lewton's The Seventh Victim (1943) playing the same role he did in The Cat People though his character was apparently killed in that film.

Between his Falcon and Val Lewton assignments, RKO starred Conway in B mysteries: A Night of Adventure (1944), Two O'Clock Courage (1945), and Criminal Court (1946).

Conway was borrowed by United Artists for Whistle Stop (1946), in which he supported George Raft, Ava Gardner, and Victor McLaglen. In June 1946, Conway obtained a release from his RKO contract. His next film was to be Strange Bedfellows at United Artists.[6]

Freelance actor[edit]

On radio, Conway played Sherlock Holmes during the 1946–1947 season of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, following Basil Rathbone's departure from the series.[7]: 302  In spite of a similarly refined British accent, Conway was not as well-received as Rathbone by audiences; he played Holmes for only one season.

He was a leading support actor in Lost Honeymoon (1947) and Repeat Performance (1947) for Eagle-Lion, Fun on a Weekend (1947) for United Artists, and One Touch of Venus (1948) for Universal.

Reliance Pictures, an independent company that distributed through Fox, hired Conway to play Bulldog Drummond in The Challenge (1948) and 13 Lead Soldiers (1948). Independent producer Sam Baerwitz cast Conway in low-budget crime stories released by Fox: The Checkered Coat (1948), Bungalow 13 (1948), I Cheated the Law (1949), and The Great Plane Robbery (1950).

Conway had support parts in Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951) and Bride of the Gorilla (1951). He went back to leads for Confidence Girl (1952), and was a villain in Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953).

In 1951, he replaced Vincent Price as star of the radio mystery series The Saint,[7] portrayed by Sanders on film a decade earlier.

From 1951 to 1954, Conway played debonair British police detective Mark Saber, who worked in the homicide division of a large American city, in the ABC television series entitled Inspector Mark Saber – Homicide Detective.[8] In 1957, the series resumed on NBC, renamed Saber of London, with Donald Gray in the title role.[9]

Conway went to England to star as Berkeley Gray's private detective Norman Conquest in Park Plaza 605 (released in America as Norman Conquest, 1953), and (using his own name instead of the Conquest tag) Blood Orange (1953). He had a support part in Paris Model (1953) and a minor role in Prince Valiant (1954), but leads in the British Barbados Quest (1955), Breakaway (1955), and The Last Man to Hang (1956).

In 1956, brothers Tom Conway and George Sanders appeared (as brothers) in the film Death of a Scoundrel, with the star Sanders killing supporting player Conway.

In America, Conway co-starred in The She-Creature (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957). In England, he did Operation Murder (1957). In 1956, he was briefly hospitalized for an operation.[10]

Conway performed in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Glass Eye" (1957) as Max Collodi, receiving critical praise.

Final years[edit]

Conway had supporting roles on The Betty Hutton Show television series (1959–60) and in the feature films The Atomic Submarine (1959), and 12 to the Moon (1960). He provided his voice for Disney's 101 Dalmatians (1961) as a quizmaster in What's My Crime?—a parody of the game show What's My Line?—and as a collie that offers the dalmatians shelter in a barn, later guiding them home. His wife at the time, Queenie Leonard, voiced a cow in the barn.

His final television appearance was in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Simple Simon" (1964), playing the role of Guy Penrose.

Decline and death[edit]

Despite having been financially successful during his 24-year film career, Conway later struggled to make ends meet. Failing eyesight and alcoholism took their toll on him in his last years.[citation needed]

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1953.[11] His second wife (Leonard) divorced him in 1963 because of his drinking problem. His alcoholism also cost him his relationship with his brother George Sanders, who broke off all contact with him.[citation needed]

Conway underwent cataract surgery during the winter of 1964–1965. In September 1965, he briefly returned to the headlines, having been discovered living in a $2-a-day room in a Venice, Los Angeles flophouse. Gifts, contributions, and offers of aid poured in for a time. Conway estimated he had earned $900,000 in his career, but was broke. "I don't particularly want to act," he said.[12] He said he lost his last $15,000 to swindlers in a lumber deal.[13] Lew Ayres paid his rent.[14]

His last years were marked with hospitalizations. Former sister-in-law Zsa Zsa Gabor paid Conway a visit there and gave him $200. "Tip the nurses a little bit so they'll be good to you," she told him. The following day, the hospital called her to say that Conway had left with the $200, gone to his girlfriend's house, and become gravely sick in her bed. On April 22, 1967, Tom Conway died from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 62. His funeral was held in London.[15][16][17]



  1. ^ Obituary Variety, 26 April 1967.
  2. ^ Mayer, Geoff (2012). Historical Dictionary of Crime Films. Scarecrow Press. p. 94. ISBN 9780810879003.
  3. ^ Maurice Geraghty to David Zinman, Saturday Afternoon at the Bijou, Castle Books, 1973; p. 222.
  4. ^ "Screen News Here and in Hollywood". The New York Times. 24 March 1942. ProQuest 106288290.
  5. ^ "George Montgomery is chosen for a lead role with Gene Tierney in 'China Girl'". The New York Times. 12 May 1942. ProQuest 106446031.
  6. ^ "Paulette Goddard is Signed by Korda: Will Be Seen in 'True Story of Carmen,' Based on Merimee Novel – Henry V' Due Dietrich in Paramount Film of Local Origin". The New York Times. 17 June 1946. p. 32.
  7. ^ a b Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4. p. 293.
  8. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7. p. 656.
  9. ^ Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time and Cable TV Shows, 1946 – present. New York City: Random House Publishing Co., 2003. 2010. ISBN 978-0307483157. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Tom Conway has operation". Los Angeles Times. 5 October 1956. ProQuest 166991571.
  11. ^ "Tom Conway sued by wife". Los Angeles Times. 16 June 1953. ProQuest 166481167.
  12. ^ "Offers of aid deluge actor tom Conway". Los Angeles Times. 15 September 1965. ProQuest 155289621.
  13. ^ Maldin, D. (16 September 1965). "Offers pour in for actor". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 155293842.
  14. ^ Mauldin, D. (23 September 1965). "Letters still pouring in for actor Conway". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 155298637.
  15. ^ "Actor Tom Conway of movies and TV". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. 26 April 1967. ProQuest 143266294.
  16. ^ "Tom Conway, star of nearly 300 movies, dies in hospital". Los Angeles Times. 25 April 1967. ProQuest 155633849.
  17. ^ "Tom Conway Dies; Actor, 63, Starred As Falcon in Films - The New York Times". Archived from the original on 13 June 2018.

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