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 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…

More of the Paean to George

Although presenting himself as a non-physical man George was actually a natural athlete. When in college he was an inter-scholastic heavyweight boxing champion. He was so physically fit he was made a PT (Personal Trainer) in the Officers Training Corps in college.  George was also very good in the water, winning many diving and swimming competitions. This was a gift which he put to good use when he dove into the Thames and saved a man’s life. For this he was given a medal by the British Humane Society.
In addition to being blessed with all of these physical gifts,  he was a natural actor and an amazingly versatile one. He was equally effective as a sweet cad (“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, 1947) or an unscrupulous one (“Rebecca”, 1940), as a hero (“Appointment In Berlin”, 1943, and “They Came to Blow Up America”, 1943), as a “nice chap” (“Rage In Heaven”, 1941, and “Foreign Correspondent”, 1940) and, my favorite, as a “hen-pecked” brother and lover in “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry”, 1945. Although he finally received some of  the recognition he deserved for his role as Addison DeWitt in “All About Eve” (1950), receiving an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor”, he was equally as good in all his movies–for example “The Moon and Sixpence”(1942).  It is a pity that he was not featured as the leading man in more pictures for he was a splendid one. After seeing George in “Rage In Heaven” (1941) and “Her Cardboard Lover”, 1942.  Louie B. Mayer wanted to make him into a romantic leading man, a role for which he was incredibly fitted.  This was of no interest to George who claimed he didn’t want to worry about eternally maintaining his looks.

As you might expect, there will be more about George soon.

A PAEAN TO GEORGE SANDERS, A TRUE RENAISSANCE MAN

It is difficult to find enough superlatives to describe George Sanders. He was tall (6′ 3 1/2″), handsome, sexy, brilliant, talented, artistic and blessed with the most marvelous deep seductive voice and a gorgeous English accent.  He was incredibly gifted–able to speak five languages, played at least four musical instruments, composed music for the piano as well as at least two beautiful love songs. One of these “Such Is My Love” was included on the album of love songs he released in 1958. He could build anything and drew up the blue prints for his first house as well as building the furniture. His friends were amazed at his mechanical abilities and he held several patents at the US Patent Office. When he bought a car he would often take the engine apart to arrange the steering to suit his needs. He was a noted amateur astronomer and built several telescopes, including the large 9″ one that Universal Pictures bought from him and used in the 1945 movie “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” in which Sanders starred.

Tune in tomorrow for more information about George.

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