Thursday, 27 October 2011

George Sanders: a proposal for a film season

April 2012 is the 40th anniversary of the death of George Sanders. The actor featured in more than 100 movies and would make the ideal subject of a commemorative season, I think.

He's famous for his caddish attitude and acerbic tongue - he won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role as theatre critic Addison DeWitt opposite Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950). He had further supporting roles in Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca (both 1940), and joined Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney for The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947).

Sanders starred in Douglas Sirk's A Scandal in Paris (1946); Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), with Edward G Robinson; a 1945 adaptation of Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square, as well as a couple of other favourites to which I hope to return. He took the Gauguin-inspired lead in The Moon and Sixpence (1942), from the novel by Somerset Maugham, and featured in a few films directed by Fritz Lang: Man Hunt (1941), Moonfleet (1955) and While the City Sleeps (1956).

Any tribute would have something for children: in an age when actors were cast in cartoons for their characterful voices, his insouciant drawl is inextricably linked with the tiger Shere Khan in Disney's musical version of The Jungle Book (1967). He also played Simon Templar in a couple of films in 1939 based on Leslie Charteris's character, the Saint, as well as three films as the Falcon (he was replaced in the role by his brother, Tom Conway).

Born in St Petersburg in 1906, Sanders was dismissive of the acting world and as caddish in real life as in many of his roles - he was married four times, including to Zsa Zsa Gabor and one of her sisters, Magda. He married the woman who was apparently the love of his life, actress Benita Hume, soon after the death of her first husband, Ronald Colman.

Sanders is famously said to have told David Niven that he intended to kill himself, supposedly at the age of 65. Sure enough, in 1972, he checked into a hotel near Barcelona and took an overdose of sleeping pills. He left behind a note: '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.'

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