George, the traveller…

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George did a good bit of travelling in his life. As a young boy in St. Petersburg he traveled with his family on trips to Italy, Finland, the family summer home in Estonia, and, of course, England. As you may have seen, I devoted an entire post to his travels in South America.  Naturally, in his career as an actor he made many movies in foreign locations such as   Italy (Journey To Italy (1954)), Spain ( Solomon and Sheba(1959)) and even Japan (The Last Voyage (1960)). I thought it might be fun to show a few photographs of him on his travels.  And, of course, after the dreadful girlfriend Helga persuaded him to sell his home in Majorca in 1971, he was virtually a gypsy until his death the next year.

George being German

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George played the role of a German, and at times  a Nazi, in several films during the late thirties and early forties. The 1937 film, Lancer Spy,  was designed by Fox as a starring vehicle for George. I quote from Tony Thomas’ annotated filmography in the 1992 re-issue of George’s book Memoirs of a Professional Cad ”  [George] came across with a fine performance as a British naval officer involved in World War I espionage. As Lieutenant Michael Bruce, he proceeds to Germany in the guise of a captured German officer for whom he is an exact look-alike. Feted as a hero by the German public, he nonetheless is viewed with suspicion by the German secret service, which places an operative (Del Rio) in his path. But she falls in love with him [naturally] and helps him escape with plans for the 1917 campaign. A taut and interesting coverge of its material, Lancer Spy won Sanders critical and public approval, and set him up as an actor with a future in the picture business.”

George’s next role as a Nazi was in the 1941 Fritz Lang movie Man Hunt
in which George gave probably his best Nazi performance.  He plays Major Quive-Smith, a particularly nasty Nazi, responsible for the imprisonment and torture of the Englishman played by Walter Pidgeon . Much as I hate it when George dies in a movie the character he played here deserved it.

 In 1943 George made  four WWII movies. All were good, of course, but two are particular favorites of mine. In the first,  They Came To Blow Up America,
  George plays the role of Carl Steelmann, a secret FBI agent of German descent, who is assigned by his chief to infiltrate the German-American Bund. He assumes the identity of a Nazi agent who is about to return to Germany to attend a school for saboteurs but who is shot by the police. Once in the school he excels and is sent to lead a ring of Nazis to blow up important American war industries. Of course he has informed the FBI of all this and the plot is foiled. Naturally there is a love interest .   A very good synopsis  can be found on the IMDb.  The second, Appointment In Berlin, is sad because George dies in the end, but he dies a hero. I quote here from Tony Thomas’ annotated filmography in the 1992 re-issue of George’s book Memoirs of a Professional Cad  “One of the more unusual of Hollywood’s wartime Nazi yarns, this one has Sanders as an RAF officer named Keith Wilson, who is cashiered after bitterly criticizing the British peace pact with Hitler in 1938. He becomes a member of the British secret service and ends up in Berlin as an apparent traitor willing to give propaganda broadcasts for the Germans. However, his talks, though seemingly anti-British, actually contain coded messages for his own people.  The Germans eventually catch on and he tries to escape in a stolen plane but dies in the attempt. In one of the few films to tackle wartime propaganda broadcasting, Sanders gives  a good [excellent] performance, probably because he was attracted to the nature of the man he was playing. With Sanders that factor was always of importance.”   Thomas doesn’t mention that George was trying to get the message to the British that the Germans were about to invade England and that he flys the plane into  a large gasoline storage tank so that the British planes in the area (Holland) can see the flames and know where the attack will originate. Also, Thomas does not mention the love interest, played by Marguerite Chapman , who is the sister of the Nazi director of communications and who falls in love with George. She is killed escaping with George.

I am going on vacation and won’t be publishing any posts for about two weeks.  I hope everyone enjoys this one.

Funny photos of George

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The idea came to me that it might be amusing to post some funny photos of George instead of just the  ones of him being incredibly handsome.  Some are from movie scenes and some are candid shots of him goofing around on the set…

George’s portrayal of “Uncle Harry”

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Last night I was watching The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) for the hundredeth time and it occurred to me that it might be fun to post a slideshow of scenes from the movie. George starred in the title role with Geraldine Fitzgerald co-starring as one of his sisters and lucky Ella Raines as his love interest.  One of the scenes in the slideshow features  the telescope he built from scratch, even grinding the lenses, and which he sold to Universal Pictures for “Uncle Harry”.  If you haven’t seen the movie you have missed some superb acting by George.  As one critic put it “Chief among its [the movie’s] assets is a superb change-of-pace performance by George Sanders in the title role.  The supercilious air of disdain is banished, replaced with a shyness and a self-effacement that are both surprising and appealing.  Yet there’s still a fire within Sanders, and the ways in which he lets it erupt in Harry are fun to witness.”  You can see this review at http://www.answers.com/topic/the-strange-affair-of-uncle-harry-1.  George is at his most handsome in this movie…

George loved women, really.

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George got a reputation as a “woman hater” because of some lines he spoke in The Moon and Sixpence (and they were Somerset Maugham’s words, not George’s)  The words were something to the effect that the more you beat women the better they are for it.  Well, when the film was released women were up in arms against him about it. As he says in his memoirs “In the course of several newspaper interviews, I facetiously embroidered on this theme. I said I approved of the oriental idea of keeping women in harems. I also said that you could treat women like dogs and they would still love you. Personally I always treat dogs with infinite courtesy…” George also wrote “…the two [feminine attributes] which have caused me the greatest exasperation and anguish are, one, that they [women] are irresistible, and two, that they are irreplaceable.”

Indeed, he did find women irresistible, as they did him, as shown by all the affairs he had with his leading ladies (and other ladies such as Doris Duke). Just to name a few, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Tierney , Dolores del Rio, Lucille Ball, and Debra Paget.

George married four times. His first wife, whose professional name was Susan Larson, he met on a set at Twentieth Century Fox in 1938 when he was making Mr Moto’s Last Warning , which was released in January 1939.  They were married on October 27, 1940 in a Methodist Church but the marriage was kept secret. Susan gave up acting and stayed at home. The marriage was revealed late in 1942. Richard VanDerBeets discusses the marriage in depth and gives a penetrating analysis on pages 65-71 of his book George Sanders: An Exhausted Life.   The marriage lasted until 1947.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, who upon seeing George in “The Moon and Sixpence”
told her mother “There is my next husband”, was wife number two. She finally met George at a cocktail party. As VanDerBeets writes on page 99 of his book about George, Zsa Zsa saw him across the room “Tanned and fit, elegantly attired in formal black silk dinner clothes and surrounded by admiring women George sat ‘like a pasha’ and she found him ‘as irresistible in person’ as she had found him on the screen. ‘Take me to him. I must meet him,’ she begged her host–and then gushed, ‘Mr. Sanders, I’m madly in love with you.’ With a condescending smile George replied, ‘How well I understand, my dear'”.On April 1,1949 (appropriately on Aprils Fools Day) George married her and on April 1, 1954 they divorced. However, they remained friends for life.

On February 10, 1959 George married Benita Hume or as I call her “the Good Wife”.  He had know her off and on for more than 20 years.  On page 158 of his book about George, VanDerBeets quotes Benita  as having written to a friend  that “George is the kind of man who makes it a joy to wake up in the morning and find he is there.”  And to another friend she wrote “George has been the kindest and most gentle man who brought me out of the depths of despair and helped me to start living again.”  Indeed, George and Benita made each other very happy until her death in 1967.

After Benita’s death, George was devastated and although he  tried to get on with his life he was never the same again. He had several girlfriends over the last five years of his life.  Zsa Zsa persuaded him to marry her sister Magda, but this fourth marriage only lasted  a month.  He could never replace Benita and his health declined seriously. We all know what tragedy happened in the end…

Happy Birthday, George!!

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George would be celebrating his 105th birthday on Sunday, July 3rd. I just wanted to celebrate this occasion by posting a slide show of photos from the different decades of his life.

I suggest celebrating his birthday by watching his movies and having a dry martini as I am planning to do…

George Sanders loved the sea…

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George’s love of the sea is beautifully written about on page 7 of Richard VanDerBeets authorized biography of George entitled George Sanders: An Exhausted Life (Lanham : Madison Books, c 1990). To quote the passage

“George’s life-long love of the sea, especially evident during his early Hollywood years, began in childhood.  At age five he and Tom were invited to play with the children of Grand Duke Michael; during tea the Grand Duke talked to the children and asked George what he was going to be when he grew up.  According to his mother, George replied, ” ‘A naval officer.’  The Grand Duke asked: ‘English or Russian?’  Promptly came George’s reply, with a strong accent on the last word: ‘English, of course.'”  Three decades later, asked by a Hollywood interviewer what he would be if not an actor, he replied, “I’d be a seaman. I’ve spent my thirty-six years changing my mind, but I’ll never change my mind about the sea. I’ve had a boat of my own for weekends and spend many happy hours aboard it scraping and polishing…I’d do the same on someone else’s deck.” He had named his boat Frustration.”

He may have had his boat at the time he had a house in Laguna Beach, California.

George did make several movies set at sea: Strange Cargo (1936), Slave Ship (1937), The Black Swan (1942), Captain Black Jack (1950), and  The Last Voyage (1960).

As I mentioned in an earlier post, George’s ashes were scattered in the English Channel…

George Sander’s jaunt to South America.

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At the age of nineteen George took himself off to Argentina to work as a manufacturer’s representative for the British and American Tobacco Company in South America.  This was to be an interesting four years for him, perhaps the happiest, most carefree years in his life.  George fell in love with the country, its music, its people and the language. He  developed a fluency in Spanish and spoke it, as mentioned by several Latin American actors,  without a trace of an accent.

While in Argentina, and later Chile, George, as he put it, “engaged in a lot of youthful high jinks”. On one occassion he swam across a lake while dressed in a tuxedo. Indeed, it was one of these “youthful high jinks” that forced him to leave the continent. To describe the incident I will quote from George’s account of it in his book Memoirs of a Professional Cad. He writes:

“I had decided to celebrate this happy turn of events [a succesful advertising idea] in the manner prescribed by mankind since the dawn of history–namely by imbibing an excessive amount of intoxicating liquor, or in other words getting swacked.

It was in a highly inebriated state and rather late at night that I decided to go home.  I had been living for some time in a chalet on the outskirts of town [Temuco, Chile] as the house guest of a very charming widow, who was engaged to be married to a lawyer in Temuco.

I would have been very happy with this woman but for the nocturnal visits of her fiance, who would remonstrate with her by banging on the shutters of our bedroom window and shouting what I felt to be totally irrelevant accusations of infidelity.  He took a thoroughly middle-class attitude toward the hospitality his fiancee was showing to me. I found it extremely irksome to be awakened in the middle of the night by loud bangings on the window shutters, but the villa was  more comfortable than the hotel and so I put up with it.

On the night of my triumph, however, I did not feel disposed to pursue this craven attitude, and in response to our nocturnal visitor’s knocking I threw the window open wide and faced him in defiance, revolver in hand.  He must have been at least as drunk, if not drunker, than I.  He promptly challenged me to a duel, and I just as promptly accepted.

I climbed out of the window and dropped to the ground.  I could not see him because it was pitch dark outside, but our bodies touched.  We maneuvered ourselves into a back-to-back position.  ‘Ten paces,’ he said. ‘All right,’ I answered, and we started to stagger away from one another.  I had the advantage. I was barefoot.  I could hear the crunch of his shoes on the gravel path.  I turned and pressed my trigger in the direction of the last crunch.  I stood my ground but there was no answering shot.  I walked back in his direction and stumbled over him as he lay on the ground.  I picked him up, fireman’s-lift style, and carried him into the house.  He was all right.  The bullet had entered his neck but he wasn’t bleeding much.  Later they told me that if it had been a fraction of inch to the left he would have died.  As it was he was perfectly all right four days later….

I have not owned a gun since then and never will….

Somebody in the house, in trying to get hold of a doctor, had described the situation too fully over the telephone and the operator had called the police.  I was carted off  to jail….

I did not remain in prison for more than a few hours …before my company sent a man down to do whatever was necessary to set me free.  When I say they set me free–I mean they set me free.  I was not only thrown out of the company, I was thrown out of South America.”

George was twenty-three at the time…

Well, George Sanders could be difficult…

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George was not difficult  with his fellow actors.  Although George always knew his lines and his timing was perfect, he never lost patience with those actors who forgot or misspoke their lines or whose timing was off. He was always very generous with his fellow actors, never trying to upstage them.

On the other hand,  George could be difficult for his employers.  He made no efforts to please them.  Early in his stint at Twentieth-Century Fox he asked that his dressing room be redecorated. One of the Fox executives visited George in his dressing room and said they would be glad to do so if he would stop making  vulgar comments about the management.  George thought  for a minute and then replied “No, it isn’t worth it.”     This little anecdote can be found in Tony Thomas’ introduction to the re-release of  Memoirs of a Professional Cad (Filmakers series no. 32, 1992)

And then there was the time when, resentful about being cast in a trivial role in the 1939 movie “Mr Moto’s Last Warning” after his successes in “Lloyd’s of London” (1936) and “Lancer Spy”(1937), George arrived drunk to film one of his scenes. Ah, well…

George Sanders, so handsome to the end.

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The fact that George ended his own life is tragic. Much has been made of the suicide note that he left saying he “was bored”.  This note was George’s way of keeping up the facade of world-weary superciliousness which had served him so well for decades.  His note to his sister telling her not to be sad that he “was only anticipating the inevitable by a few years” is more accurate.

In actual fact, he was ill, having had several strokes,  suffered from vertigo, and was unsteady on his feet. He now needed to use a cane.  He could no longer do the things that gave him pleasure. When he became unable to  play the piano he had it dragged into the yard where he chopped it to pieces with an axe. George had witnessed his mother’s dementia and dependency and had a horror of this. As he once put it he “didn’t want someone to have to wipe his bum”.

George’s body was found in his hotel room in the Hotel Don Jaime Castelldefels  just outside of Barcelona, Spain on April 25, 1972. He had taken 5 vials of Nembutal and vodka.  In his pocket was a note to the hotel staff asking them to contact his sister and leaving $1500 to cover the expenses of sending his body to England. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the English Channel. George had always loved the sea…

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