|Intro||English film and television actor|
|Was||Musician Actor Songwriter Writer Composer Autobiographer|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature Music|
|Birth||3 July 1906, Saint Petersburg, Russia|
|Death||25 April 1972, Barcelona, Barcelonès, Àmbit metropolità de Barcelona, Barcelona Province (aged 65 years)|
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), for which he won an Academy Award, 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 (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 Russian noblewoman of the Czar’s court and a prince of the House of Oldenburg, married to a sister of the Czar. 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 (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 Conway's 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.
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:
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's 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 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 has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for films at 1636 Vine Street and for television at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.
He is mentioned in the song "Celluloid Heroes" by the Kinks: "If you covered him with garbage/George Sanders would still have style."
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) as Singer in Public Bar (uncredited)
- Things to Come (1936) as Pilot (uncredited) (extra)
- Strange Cargo (1936) as Roddy Burch
- Find the Lady (1936) as Curly Randall
- The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) as Indifference
- Dishonour Bright (1936) as Lisle
- Lloyd's of London (1936) as Lord Everett Stacy
- Love Is News (1937) as Count Andre de Guyon
- Slave Ship (1937) as Lefty
- The Lady Escapes (1937) as Rene Blanchard
- Lancer Spy (1937) as Baron Kurt von Rohback / Lt. Michael Bruce
- International Settlement (1938) as Del Forbes
- Four Men and a Prayer (1938) as Wyatt Leigh
- Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939) as Eric Norvel
- The Outsider (1939) as Anton Ragatzy
- So This Is London (1939) as Dr. de Reseke
- The Saint Strikes Back (1939) as The Saint
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) as Schlager
- The Saint in London (1939) as Simon Templar / The Saint
- Nurse Edith Cavell (1939) as Capt. Heinrichs
- Allegheny Uprising (1939) as Capt. Swanson
- The Saint's Double Trouble (1940) as Simon Templar aka The Saint / 'Boss' Duke Bates
- Green Hell (1940) as Forrester
- The House of the Seven Gables (1940) as Jaffrey Pyncheon
- Rebecca (1940) as Jack Favell
- The Saint Takes Over (1940) as Simon Templar / The Saint
- Foreign Correspondent (1940) as Scott Ffolliott
- Bitter Sweet (1940) as Baron von Tranisch
- The Son of Monte Cristo (1940) as Gen. Gurko Lanen
- The Saint in Palm Springs (1941) as Simon Templar / The Saint
- Rage in Heaven (1941) as Ward Andrews
- Man Hunt (1941) as Major Quive-Smith
- Sundown (1941) as Coombes
- The Gay Falcon (1941) as Gay Laurence / The Falcon
- A Date with the Falcon (1942) as Gay Laurence / The Falcon
- Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942) as Sir Arthur Blake
- The Falcon Takes Over (1942) as Gay Lawrence
- Her Cardboard Lover (1942) as Tony Barling
- Tales of Manhattan (1942) as Williams
- The Falcon's Brother (1942) as Gay Lawrence
- The Moon and Sixpence (1942) as Charles Strickland
- The Black Swan (1942) as Capt. Billy Leech
- Quiet Please, Murder (1942) as Jim Fleg
- They Came to Blow Up America (1943) as Carl Steelman / Ernst Reiter
- This Land Is Mine (1943) as George Lambert
- Appointment in Berlin (1943) as Wing Cmdr. Keith Wilson
- Paris After Dark (1943) as Dr. Andre Marbel
- The Lodger (1944) as Inspector John Warwick
- Action in Arabia (1944) as Michael Gordon
- Summer Storm (1944) as Fedor Mikhailovich Petroff
- Hangover Square (1945) as Dr. Allan Middleton
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) as Lord Henry Wotton
- The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) as Harry Melville Quincey
- A Scandal in Paris (1946) as Eugéne François Vidocq
- The Strange Woman (1946) as John Evered
- The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) as Georges Duroy
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) as Miles Fairley
- Lured (1947) as Robert Fleming
- Forever Amber (1947) as King Charles II
- The Fan (1949) as Lord Robert Darlington
- Samson and Delilah (1949) as The Saran of Gaza
- All About Eve (1950) as Addison DeWitt
- Black Jack (1950) as Mike Alexander
- I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951) as J.F. Noble
- The Light Touch (1951) as Felix Guignol
- Ivanhoe (1952) as De Bois-Guilbert
- Assignment – Paris! (1952) as Nicholas Strang
- Call Me Madam (1953) as General Cosmo Constantine
- Witness to Murder (1954) as Albert Richter
- King Richard and the Crusaders (1954) as King Richard I
- Journey to Italy (Viaggio in Italia) (1954) as Alexander 'Alex' Joyce
- Jupiter's Darling (1955) as Fabius Maximus
- Moonfleet (1955) as Lord Ashwood
- The Scarlet Coat (1955) as Dr. Jonathan Odell
- The King's Thief (1955) as Charles II
- Never Say Goodbye (1956) as Victor
- While the City Sleeps (1956) as Mark Loving
- That Certain Feeling (1956) as Larry Larkin
- Death of a Scoundrel (1956) as Clementi Sabourin
- The Seventh Sin (1957) as Tim Waddington
- Rock-A-Bye Baby (1958) as Danny Poole (scenes deleted)
- The Whole Truth (1958) as Carliss
- From the Earth to the Moon (1958) as Stuyvesant Nicholl
- That Kind of Woman (1959) as A.L.
- Solomon and Sheba (1959) as Adonijah
- A Touch of Larceny (1960) as Sir Charles Holland
- The Last Voyage (1960) as Captain Robert Adams
- Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons (1960) as Henri Landru
- Cone of Silence (1960) as Sir Arnold Hobbes
- Village of the Damned (1960) as Gordon Zellaby
- Five Golden Hours (1961) as Mr. Bing
- Gli Invasori (1961)
- The Rebel (aka, Call Me Genius, 1961) as Sir Charles Brewer
- Le Rendez-vous (1961) as J.K. / Kellermann
- Operation Snatch (1962) as Maj. Hobson
- In Search of the Castaways (1962) as Thomas Ayerton
- Cairo (1963) as The Major
- The Cracksman (1963) as Guv'nor
- Dark Purpose (1964) as Raymond Fontaine
- The Golden Head (1964) as Basil Palmer
- A Shot in the Dark (1964) as Benjamin Ballon
- Last Plane to Baalbeck (1965) as Prince Makowski
- Trunk to Cairo (1965) as Professor Schlieben
- The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders (1965) as The Banker
- The Billionaire (1965)
- The Quiller Memorandum (1966) as Gibbs
- Warning Shot (1967) as Calvin York
- Good Times (1967) as Mordicus / Knife McBlade / White hunter / Zarubian
- The Jungle Book (1967) as Shere Khan, the Tiger (voice)
- King of Africa (1968) as Captain Walter Phillips
- The Candy Man (1969) as Sidney Carter
- The Body Stealers (1969) as General Armstrong
- The Girl from Rio (1969) as Masius
- The Best House in London (1969) as Sir Francis Leybourne
- The Kremlin Letter (1970) as Warlock
- Rendezvous with Dishonour (1970) as General Downes
- Doomwatch (1972) as The Admiral - Sir Geoffrey
- Endless Night (1972) as Andrew Lippincott
- Psychomania (1972) as Shadwell (final film role)
- Screen Directors Playhouse (1956) as Charles Ferris / Baron
- 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
- The Rogues (1965) as Leonard Carvel
- Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea "The Traitor" (1965) as Fenton
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Gazebo in the Maze Affair" and "The Yukon Affair" (1965) as G. Emory Partridge
- Daniel Boone (1966) as Col. Roger Barr
- Batman (1966) as Mr. Freeze
- Mission: Impossible: The Merchant (1971) as Armand Anderssarian
- Conversation Piece, at the 44th Street Theatre, 1934
^ 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.