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 Academy Award, 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.
A photograph 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||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)
(m. 1970; ann. 1971)
|Partner(s)||Lorraine Chanel |
(1968–72; his death)
|Family||Tom Conway (brother)|
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's 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, 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 pay rise 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'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. 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
All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. It was based on the 1946 short story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr, although screen credit was not given for it.
The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but aging Broadway star. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, an ambitious young fan who insinuates herself into Channing's life, ultimately threatening Channing's career and her personal relationships. The film co-stars George Sanders, Celeste Holm, and features Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest roles, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates and Walter Hampden.
Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve received a record 14 Academy Award nominations and won six, including Best Picture. All About Eve is the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Holm and Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). All About Eve was selected in 1990 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and was among the first 50 films to be registered. All About Eve appeared at #16 on AFI's 1998 list of the 100 best American films.Appointment in Berlin
Appointment in Berlin is a 1943 American war drama film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring George Sanders, Marguerite Chapman and Onslow Stevens. The film's plot follows an R.A.F. officer who infiltrates himself into the German high command by broadcasting a series of pro-Nazi messages. The film's art direction was by Lionel Banks and Walter Holscher.Dark Purpose
Dark Purpose is a 1964 film directed by George Marshall and starring Shirley Jones, Rossano Brazzi, and George Sanders.Foreign Correspondent (film)
Foreign Correspondent (a.k.a. Imposter and Personal History) is a 1940 American spy thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It tells the story of an American reporter who tries to expose enemy spies in Britain who are involved in a fictional continent-wide conspiracy in the prelude to World War II. It stars Joel McCrea and features 19-year old Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, and Robert Benchley, along with Edmund Gwenn.
Foreign Correspondent was Hitchcock's second Hollywood production after leaving the United Kingdom in 1939 (the first was Rebecca) and had an unusually large number of writers: Robert Benchley, Charles Bennett, Harold Clurman, Joan Harrison, Ben Hecht, James Hilton, John Howard Lawson, John Lee Mahin, Richard Maibaum, and Budd Schulberg, with Bennett, Benchley, Harrison, and Hilton the only writers credited in the finished film. It was based on Vincent Sheean's political memoir Personal History (1935), the rights to which were purchased by producer Walter Wanger for $10,000.
The film was one of two Hitchcock films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1941, the other being Rebecca, which went on to win the award. Foreign Correspondent was nominated for six Academy Awards, including one for Albert Basserman for Best Supporting Actor, but did not win any Academy Awards.From the Earth to the Moon (film)
From the Earth to the Moon is a 1958 American Technicolor science fiction film, produced by Benedict Bogeaus, directed by Byron Haskin, that stars Joseph Cotten, George Sanders, and Debra Paget. Production of the film originated at RKO Pictures, but when RKO went into bankruptcy, the film was acquired and released by Warner Brothers.
From the Earth to the Moon is the only film adaptation of the Jules Verne science fiction novel of the same name.International Settlement (film)
International Settlement is a 1938 American drama film directed by Eugene Forde and starring Dolores del Rio, George Sanders and June Lang. It is set in the Shanghai International Settlement during the Sino-Japanese War. In the film, a gun runner falls in love with a beautiful French singer.King Richard and the Crusaders
King Richard and the Crusaders is a 1954 historical drama film made by Warner Bros. The film stars Rex Harrison, Virginia Mayo, George Sanders and Laurence Harvey, with Robert Douglas, Michael Pate and Paula Raymond. It was directed by David Butler and produced by Henry Blanke from a screenplay by John Twist based on Sir Walter Scott's novel The Talisman. The music score was by Max Steiner and the cinematography by J. Peverell Marley. This was Warner Bros.' first essay into CinemaScope. King Richard and the Crusaders was listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.Rage in Heaven
Rage in Heaven is a 1941 American psychological thriller film noir about the destructive power of jealousy. It was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and based on the novel by James Hilton. It features Robert Montgomery, Ingrid Bergman, and George Sanders.Slave Ship (1937 film)
Slave Ship is a 1937 film directed by Tay Garnett and starring Warner Baxter and Wallace Beery. The supporting cast features Mickey Rooney, George Sanders, Jane Darwell, and Joseph Schildkraut. It is one of very few films out of the forty-eight that Beery made during the sound era for which he did not receive top billing.The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me)
"The Best Thing for You (Would Be Me)" is a popular song written by Irving Berlin and published in 1950. It was featured in the 1950 Broadway musical play Call Me Madam, in which it was introduced by Ethel Merman in a scene with Paul Lukas. The 1953 film version also featured the song when it was sung by Ethel Merman and George Sanders.The George Sanders Mystery Theater
The George Sanders Mystery Theater is the title of a 30-minute American television mystery drama series hosted by character actor George Sanders which aired Sundays on NBC in the summer of 1957.Some of the actors who were cast in the episodes included: Lyle Talbot, June Vincent, S. John Launer, Paul Petersen, John Archer, Robert Horton, Kathryn Crosby, Elisha Cook, Mae Clarke, and Marion Ross.The Girl from Rio
The Girl from Rio (1968) is a Spy-fi film directed by Jesús Franco and starring Shirley Eaton, Richard Wyler and George Sanders. It was written and produced by Harry Alan Towers. In the film, a tribe of Amazonian women led by their queen attack wealthy men as part of a long-term plan to take over the world. A co-production between West Germany, Spain and the United States, it is also known as The Seven Secrets of Sumuru, City Without Men, Sumuru, Queen of Femina, Rio 70 and Future Women. The film is a sequel to 1967's The Million Eyes of Sumuru. It is based on Sax Rohmer's Sumuru character.The Golden Head
The Golden Head is a 1964 American-Hungarian comedy film directed by Richard Thorpe and James Hill and starring George Sanders, Buddy Hackett, Jess Conrad, Lorraine Power and Robert Coote.The King's Thief
The King's Thief is a 1955 swashbuckling CinemaScope adventure film directed by Robert Z. Leonard, who replaced Hugo Fregonese during filming. Released on August 5, 1955, the film takes place in London at the time of Charles II and stars Ann Blyth, Edmund Purdom, David Niven, George Sanders and Roger Moore.The Lodger (1944 film)
The Lodger is a 1944 horror film about Jack the Ripper, based on the novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes. It stars Merle Oberon, George Sanders, and Laird Cregar, features Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and was directed by John Brahm from a screenplay by Barré Lyndon.
Lowndes' story had previously been filmed in 1927 as a silent film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and with sound in 1932 as The Lodger. It was remade again in 1953 as Man in the Attic, starring Jack Palance, and again in 2009 by David Ondaatje.The Saint Strikes Back
The Saint Strikes Back is a 1939 American crime film directed by John Farrow. It marks the second cinematic incarnation of the antihero crimefighting character Simon Templar, alias "The Saint". George Sanders replaced Louis Hayward, who had played the Saint in The Saint in New York. The movie was produced by RKO and also featured Wendy Barrie as female gang leader Val Travers. Barrie would appear in two more Saint films, playing different roles each time, though not in the next film in the series, The Saint in London. This was the second of eight films in RKO's film series about The Saint.
In the film The Saint foils an assassination attempt by a member of Val Travers' gang, but is arrested by the police for the murder of the gang member. He persuades them to let him assist in apprehending a shadowy criminal mastermind.
The script was based on the Leslie Charteris novel She Was a Lady (Hodder and Stoughton, 1931) which was also published as Angels of Doom and The Saint Meets His Match. The screenplay was by John Twist, who set the story in San Francisco (the book is set in England). Robert Sisk produced and John Farrow directed.The Saint Takes Over
The Saint Takes Over, released in 1940 by RKO Pictures, was the fifth of eight films in RKO's film series about Simon Templar, also known as "The Saint", the Robin Hood-inspired crimefighter created by Leslie Charteris. George Sanders returned as Templar, fourth time as the Saint. Sanders did one more Saint picture the following year, then abandoned the character for good. Wendy Barrie played his latest romantic interest, in her second of three appearances in the Saint film series (playing a different role each time).The Saint in London
The Saint in London is a 1939 British crime film, the third of eight films in RKO's film series featuring the adventures of Simon Templar, alias "The Saint".
It stars George Sanders as Templar and was produced by William Sistrom. John Paddy Carstairs directed. Lynn Root and Frank Fenton wrote the screenplay based on Leslie Charteris' short story "The Million Pound Day", which was published in the 1932 collection The Holy Terror, published in the US as The Saint vs. Scotland Yard.The Son of Monte Cristo
The Son of Monte Cristo is a 1940 American black-and-white swashbuckling adventure film from United Artists, produced by Edward Small, directed by Rowland V. Lee, that stars Louis Hayward, Joan Bennett, and George Sanders. The Small production uses the same sets and many of the same cast and production crew as his previous year's production of The Man in the Iron Mask.The film takes the same name as the unofficial sequel to The Count of Monte Cristo, namely The Son of Monte Cristo, written by Jules Lermina in 1881.
Using elements from several romantic swashbucklers of the time such as The Prisoner of Zenda and The Mark of Zorro the production also mirrors the situation of Continental Europe in 1939–1940.