George Sanders
Portrait of Sanders by Allan Warren, 1972
Born(1906-07-03)3 July 1906
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died25 April 1972(1972-04-25) (aged 65)
Castelldefels, Barcelona, Spain
Alma materManchester Technical College
  • Actor
  • singer
Years active1929–1972
Susan Larson
(m. 1940; div. 1949)
(m. 1949; div. 1954)
(m. 1959; died 1967)
(m. 1970; ann. 1971)
PartnerLorraine Chanel (1968–1972)
RelativesTom Conway (brother)
AwardsHollywood Walk of Fame

George Henry Sanders (3 July 1906 – 25 April 1972) was a British actor and singer whose career spanned over 40 years. His heavy, upper-class English accent and smooth, baritone voice often led him to be cast as sophisticated but villainous characters. He is remembered for his roles as wicked Jack Favell in Rebecca (1940), Scott ffolliott in Foreign Correspondent (1940, a rare heroic part), The Saran of Gaza in Samson and Delilah (1949, the most popular film of the year), theater critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950, for which he won an Oscar), Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), Mr. Freeze in a two-part episode of Batman (1966), and the voice of Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967). He also starred as Simon Templar, in 5 of the 8 films in The Saint series (1939–41),[1] and as a suave Saint-like crimefighter in the first 4 of the 16 The Falcon films (1941–42).

Early life

Sanders was born on 3 July 1906 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, at number 6 Petrovski Ostrov, to rope manufacturer Henry Sanders and horticulturist Margaret (née Kolbe),[2] who was also born in Saint Petersburg, of mostly German, but also Estonian and Scottish ancestry. (Sanders wrote of his mother's descent from "the Thomas Clayhills of Dundee, who went to Estonia in 1626 to establish a business there".) Sanders referred to his parents as "well-off" and noted his mother's "forebears of solid social position and impeccable respectability", stating that "to the best of (his) knowledge, (his) father came in the mail".[3]

A biography published in 1990 alleged that family members' "recent disclosures... indicate" that Sanders' father was the out-of-wedlock son of a Russian noblewoman of the Tsar's court, and a prince of the House of Oldenburg who was married to a sister of the Tsar.[4] At the time of Henry Sanders's birth, the Anglo-Russian Sanders family were living at Saint Petersburg; the mother, Dagmar, was a lady-in-waiting to the Dowager Empress, and it was said to be through this connection Henry came to be adopted by the Sanders family.[5]

In 1917, at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Sanders and his family moved to Great Britain.[6][7] 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.[8][9]

Sanders travelled to South America, where he managed a tobacco plantation. The Depression sent him back to Britain. He worked at an advertising agency, where the company secretary, aspiring actress Greer Garson, suggested that he take up a career in acting.[10]


In the trailer for Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Early British work

Sanders learned how to sing and got a role on stage in Ballyhoo, which had only a short run, but helped establish him as an actor.[9]

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.[11]

Sanders travelled to New York to appear on Broadway in a production of Noël Coward's Conversation Piece (1934), directed by Coward, which ran for only 55 performances.[9]

Hollywood and 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox was looking for an actor to play a villain in its 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.[12] Lloyd's of London was a big hit, and in November 1936, Fox placed Sanders under a seven-year contract.[13]

Character roles

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).[14][15] In 1940, Sanders played Jack Favell in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, opposite Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

A-picture leading man

(L-R): George Sanders, Linda Darnell and Richard Haydn in Forever Amber (1947)

Sanders was borrowed by United Artists to play the lead in an A film, The Moon and Sixpence (1942), based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham.[16]

RKO had canceled its Saint series and replaced it with The Falcon in 1941. George Sanders was assigned the leading role of Gay Laurence, debonair man about town always involved in murder cases. Saint author Leslie Charteris thought the resemblance between the Falcon and the Saint was obvious, and sued the studio for unfair competition. Sanders himself was also unhappy about playing still another screen sleuth in still more "B" pictures, and bowed out of the series in 1942 after only four films. (He was replaced by his elder brother, Tom Conway.)

In July 1942, Fox suspended Sanders for refusing the lead in The Undying Monster (1942). "I like to be seen in pictures that at least seem to be slightly worthwhile."[9] In September, they suspended him again for refusing an "unsympathetic role" in The Immortal Sergeant (he was replaced by Morton Lowry).[17] In November, Fox and Sanders came to terms, with the studio offering him a raise in pay and the lead in a film, School for Saboteurs, which became They Came to Blow Up America.[18]

RKO called him back for This Land Is Mine (1943). They bought an original story for him, Nine Lives, but it does not appear to have been made.[19] He was lent to Columbia for Appointment in Berlin (1943).[20]

In February 1943, Fox announced it was developing three film projects for Sanders – The Porcelain Lady, a murder mystery, plus biopics of Charles Howard, 20th Earl of Suffolk and a hero of World War II, and Canadian physician Norman Bethune.[21] Fox originally announced that he would play the detective in Laura (1944) alongside Laird Cregar, but neither ended up being in the final film.[22] In 1947, Sanders portrayed King Charles II in Fox's lavish production of the scandalous historical bodice-ripper, Forever Amber.

Sanders signed a new three-film contract with RKO, starting with Action in Arabia (1944).[23] The film superficially looked expensive but it was actually a low-budget feature, embellished by spectacular location footage filmed in 1933 for an unfinished production about Lawrence of Arabia.

All About Eve and beyond

As Addison DeWitt in the trailer for All About Eve (1950)

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.[24]

He was a leading man in Black Jack (1950), but was back to supporting-villain roles in I Can Get It for You Wholesale (1951). He signed a three-picture deal with MGM, for which he did The Light Touch (1951) and Ivanhoe (1952), playing Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, dying in a duel with Robert Taylor after professing his love for Jewish maiden Rebecca, played by Elizabeth Taylor. It was a huge success.[25]

Sanders went to Italy to appear opposite Ingrid Bergman in Journey to Italy (1954). Back in Hollywood, he made several movies for MGM: Jupiter's Darling (1955), Moonfleet (1955), The Scarlet Coat (1955), and The King's Thief (1955) (again as Charles II).[26]

In 1955, he was announced as hosting and occasionally appearing in The Ringmaster, a TV series about the circus.[27]

Sanders played the lead in Death of a Scoundrel (1956) and the TV series The George Sanders Mystery Theater (1957).[28]

He worked one last time with Power on Solomon and Sheba (1959); Power died during filming and was replaced by Yul Brynner.[29]

Sanders as guest star on NBC series Daniel Boone, with Fess Parker (1966)

In 1961, he appeared in The Rebel with Tony Hancock before being 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).[30]

Sanders declared bankruptcy in 1966 due to some poor investments.[31]

Sanders was cast in the musical comedy, Sherry!, but withdrew from the show while it was out-of-town. He was replaced by Clive Revill for Broadway.[32]

Final films

Sanders appeared briefly in the espionage thriller, The Quiller Memorandum (1966), and crime-thriller, Warning Shot (1967). He followed those up by voicing the bengal tiger, Shere Khan, in Disney's animated hit film, The Jungle Book (1967). (The penultimate film Walt Disney was personally involved with; released posthumously.) He was featured in a quadruple role in the Sonny & Cher vehicle, Good Times (1967), William Friedkin's debut film; followed by an eclectic variety of low-budget films, such as The Candy Man (1969) and the campy The Girl from Rio (1969).

In 1969, Sanders announced he would be leaving show business.[33] He had a major supporting role in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter (1970), in which his first scene showed him dressed in drag and playing the piano in a gay bar in San Francisco. He also obtained supporting roles in Doomwatch (1972) and Endless Night (1972), the latter being an adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel of the same name. His final performance was in Psychomania (1973), in which he was top-billed–and the film released posthumously.


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.[34]


As Lord Henry Wotton in the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

During the production of The Jungle Book, Sanders was unavailable 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.[35]

Personal life

On 27 October 1940, Sanders married Susan Larson (born 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). On 10 February 1959, Sanders married Benita Hume, widow of Ronald Colman. She died of bone cancer in 1967, aged 60, the same year that Sanders's brother Tom Conway died of liver failure. Sanders had become distant from his brother because of Conway's drinking problem.[36]

Sanders' autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad was published in 1960 and gained critical praise for its wit. Sanders suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography, later written by his friend Brian Aherne and published in 1979.[37] Sanders' fourth and final marriage on 4 December 1970 was to Magda Gabor, the elder sister of his second wife. This marriage lasted 32 days ending in an annulment.[38][39][40]

Final years and death

Sanders as Captain Billy Leech in The Black Swan (1942)

Even before his dementia, Sanders had grown increasingly reclusive and depressed due to a string of tragedies, including the deaths of his third wife, his mother and his brother Tom, all within the span of a year. This was followed by a failed investment, which cost him millions. Before his dementia diagnosis, his fourth marriage of 32 days, to Magda Gabor, was annulled. 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. 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, Lorraine Chanel, with whom he had an on-off relationship in the last four years of his life, persuaded him to sell his beloved house in Majorca, Spain, which he later bitterly regretted. From then on, he drifted.[41]

On 23 April 1972, Sanders checked into a hotel in Castelldefels, a coastal town near Barcelona, where he phoned his friend George Mikell. Two days after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal, he died from cardiac arrest.[42][43] He left behind two 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.[44][45][46][47]

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 because his marriages had failed and several tragedies had befallen him.[48]

Sanders has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for films at 1636 Vine Street and television at 7007 Hollywood Boulevard.[49]

Complete filmography




  1. ^ The Guardian 26 Apr 1972: 5.
  2. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/47189. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Sanders, George (1960). Memoirs of a Professional Cad. Hamish Hamilton. p. 8.
  4. ^ Although Nicholas II's sister Olga Alexandrovna married Duke Peter Alexandrovich of Oldenburg, he was born in 1868, and therefore could not have been the father of Henry Sanders, born circa 1870-
  5. ^ VanDerBeets, Richard (1990). George Sanders: An Exhausted Life. Madison Books. ISBN 978-0819178060.
  6. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 9–10, 13.
  7. ^ "George Sanders". The World's News. No. 2004. New South Wales, Australia. 4 May 1940. p. 13. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 17.
  9. ^ a b c d GEORGE SANDERS, OR FROM SINNER TO SAINT By THEODORE STRAUSS. New York Times 27 Sep 1942: X3.
  10. ^ Sanders 1960, p. 54.
  11. ^ "George Sanders". The Advocate (Tasmania). Tasmania, Australia. 25 July 1941. p. 8. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  12. ^ Sanders 1960, p.117
  13. ^ MISSES LOMBARD AND RUSSELL DEBATED FOR "IDIOT'S DELIGHT" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 2 December 1936: 8.
  14. ^ ""Saint" George Sanders". The Mail (Adelaide). Vol. 27, no. 1, 397. South Australia. 4 March 1939. p. 11. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  15. ^ George Sanders to Play 'Saint' Role Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Nov 1938: A15.
  16. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: George Sanders to Be Seen in Strickland Role in Maugham's 'Moon and Sixpence' New York Times 21 Feb 1942: 15.
  17. ^ George Sanders Suspended by Fox for Withdrawing From 'The Immortal Sargeant' New York Times 11 Sep 1942: 24.
  18. ^ Fox Ends Differences With Sanders, Giving Him a Leading Part in 'School for Saboteurs' New York Times 18 Nov 1942: 31.
  19. ^ RKO Will Star George Sanders in 'Nine Lives' New York Times 15 July 1943: 25.
  20. ^ George Sanders Gets Lead Role in 'Appointment in Berlin' New York Times 6 Feb 1943: 8.
  21. ^ "TimesMachine: Tuesday February 23, 1943 -". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  22. ^ SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOODNew York Times 11 June 1943: 23.
  23. ^ Star Profit by His Reputation for 'Cussedness' Parsons, Louella O. The Washington Post 25 Aug 1943: 16.
  24. ^ McNally 2008, p. 33.
  25. ^ George Sanders Slated in Trio of MGM Films Los Angeles Times 27 May 1951: D9
  26. ^ MGM Reports Schedule of 27 Feature Movies Los Angeles Times 4 Aug 1954: 18.
  27. ^ GEORGE SANDERS TO BE VIDEO HOST: Cast as Narrator of Filmed Series, 'The Ringmaster.' Built on Circus Stories New York Times 1 Sep 1955: 46.
  28. ^ Drama: MGM and Japan Daiei in Deal for Star, Studio: Zsa Zsa May Face 'Ex' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 25 Nov 1955: B7.
  29. ^ RKO Has New Lease on Life: Teleradio Financing Indies; Newsiest Newsmen Recalled Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 11 Apr 1958: 21.
  30. ^ Wilmut, Roger and Jimmy Grafton (1976). The Goon Show Companion: A History and Goonography. Robson Books Ltd. p. 90. ISBN 978-0903895644.
  31. ^ George Sanders The Guardian 26 Apr 1972: 5
  32. ^ Stubblebine, Donald J., Broadway Sheet Music, McFarland & Company, 1996, p. 252 (#2065)
  33. ^ George Sanders's Sneer Mellows Flynn, Betty. Los Angeles Times 6 Sep 1969: a6
  34. ^ "Hollywood Authors". The Sydney Morning Herald. No. 33, 361. New South Wales, Australia. 25 November 1944. p. 8. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  35. ^ Sherman, Richard. The Jungle Book audio commentary, Platinum Edition, Disc 1. 2007.
  36. ^ Sanders 1960, pp. 106, 110.
  37. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, p. xiii.
  38. ^ Dyke, Michelle Broder Van (19 December 2016). "A Look Back At Zsa Zsa Gabor's Nine Marriages". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 10 December 2023.
  39. ^ VanDerBeets 1990, pp. 116, 119.
  40. ^ "George Sanders Dies in Spain of Drug Overdose, Leaves Note", Los Angeles Times, 25 Apr 1972: 2.
  41. ^ Aherne 1979, pp. 183, 190.
  42. ^ Ascher-Walsh, Rebecca. "Bored to Death." Archived 5 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine Entertainment Weekly, 8 May 1992. Retrieved: 30 April 2009.
  43. ^ "George Sanders (July 3, 1906 – April 25, 1972)." George Sanders: Official Site. Retrieved: 8 December 2011. Archived 22 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ "George Sanders Quotes".
  45. ^ "GEORGE SANDERS — Bored to Death? – – The Golden Era of Hollywood".
  46. ^ "famous suicide notes – dying words of famous people".
  47. ^ "George Sanders dead". The Canberra Times. Vol. 46, no. 13, 109. Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 27 April 1972. p. 5. Retrieved 1 September 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  48. ^ Niven, David (1975). Bring on the Empty Horses. Coronet Books/Hodder and Stoughton. p. 304. ISBN 978-0340209158.
  49. ^ "George Sanders". Hollywood Walk of Fame. 25 October 2019. Archived from the original on 26 June 2021. Retrieved 26 June 2021.


  • 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.

Further reading

Husband of a Gabor Sister Preceded byConrad Hilton Zsa Zsa – Third 2 April 1949 – 2 April 1954 Divorced Succeeded byHerbert Hutner Preceded byTony Gallucci Magda – Fifth 5 December 1970 – 6 January 1971 Annulled Succeeded byTibor Heltai Acting roles Preceded byLouis Hayward Simon Templar Actor 1939–1941 Succeeded byHugh Sinclair Preceded byDavid Farrar Charles II Actor 1955 Succeeded byGary Raymond New title Mr. Freeze Actor 1966 Succeeded byOtto Preminger