George Sanders (1906-1972)

George Sanders
George Sanders

George Sanders was an English actor, particularly prominent in the 1940's and 1950's. He had a distinctive rich baritone voice, and is best known for his portrayal of Addison DeWitt in 'All About Eve' in 1950, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

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George Sanders was born on July 3, 1906 in Saint Petersburg, Russia to British parents. He had an elder brother, who became the actor Tom Conway, and a younger sister. His life was that of a priviliged upper class child until at the age of 11 in 1917, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, he and his family had to return to England.

He was educated at a private school in Brighton, then went on to Manchester Technical College. He worked in the textile and tobacco industries before becoming an advertising copywriter. His distinctive baritone voice got him noticed and he took up a colleague's suggestion to switch careers to acting. That colleague was aspiring actress Greer Garson.

After starting out as a chorus boy in London's West End, he went on to cabaret, radio, and theatrical understudy. His first movie was in 1929 and after a series of minor roles he finally made an impact in the film 'Find the Lady' in 1936.

Sanders then went to Hollywood and his first role in America was as Lord Everett Stacy in 'Lloyd's of London' in 1936. His distinctive voice and smooth English accent gained him instant recognition in America and he was in demand for the rest of his career, mainly as a supporting actor. He specialized in cads such a Jack Favell in 'Rebecca' in 1940, playing the cruel foil to Joan Fontaine, and he had starring roles in lower budget pictures such as 'Rage in Heaven'.

He is creepiy good as a bibliopohile in the tiny 'Quiet Please; Murder' in 1942, a rare Sanders star vehicle. He used his cutivated tones to good effect as the star of the thriller sleuth series 'The Saint' and 'The Falcon' and also showed it well suited to Wildean epigrams as Lord Henry Wotton in 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' in 1945.

Director Albert Lewin, who cast Sanders in 'Dorian Gray', combed literature to find him perfect roles such as the caddish journalist in 'The Private Affairs of Bel Ami' in 1947, co-starring Angela Lansbury, one of his most crically well received roles. Also in 1947 he co-starred with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir'.

1947 saw one of Sanders' finest achievements in 'Forever Amber', directed by Otto Preminger. In it his portrayal of Charles II captures the essence of an utterly disillusioned man but who still possesses the self-knowledge to understand his own emptiness.

Sander's career high point came as the acidic critic Addison DeWitt in 'All About Eve' in 1950, starring Bette Davis, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In the 1950's Sanders made the transition to television with the successful series 'The George Sanders Mystery Theater' and he played an upper class English villain in a 1965 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' episode. He also played Mr. Freeze in two episodes of the 1960s 'Batman' TV series.

He was offered less choice roles later in his career. In 1964 he appeared with Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther sequel 'A Shot in the Dark'. In 1967 he was the voice of the malevolent Shere Khan in Walt Disney's 'The Jungle Book' and in 1969 he notoriously had a small role in 'The Kremlin Letter', in which he was dressed in drag in a San Francisco gay bar. One of Sanders' final screen roles was in 1972 in a movie version of 'Doomwatch'.

Off screen, Sanders also liked to cultivate a caddish image and was married four times. He first married Susan Larson in 1940 and divorced in 1949. Then Zsa Zsa Gabor from 1949 to a 1957 divorce, then Ronald Colman's widow Benita Hume from 1959 until her death in 1967. His last marriage was in December 1970 to Magda Gabor, the older sister of his second wife. This marriage lasted only six weeks, after which he began to rely more and more on drink.

His health was failing and it is possible he had had a minor stroke. He became deeply depressed and on 23 April, 1972 he checked into an hotel room in Barcelona, and took five bottles of Nembutal. His body was found two days later. He was 65 years old. He left behind a suicide note which has become famous: "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."

George Sanders Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actor ... All About Eve (1950)
No Unsuccessful Nominations: