George Sanders – Professional Cad

george sanders

Today marks the 108th birthday of George Sanders, the debonair actor who called his autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Professional Cad’…

Born on this day in 1906 – in St Petersburg, whence his family wisely returned to England in 1917 – was the actor George Sanders. With his good looks and crisp, sonorous upper-crust voice, he became the man for playing debonair, louche, more or less depraved English aristo types – most memorably Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Jack Favell in Rebecca [above] and Addison deWitt in All About Eve. He was a commanding presence on screen, even if he was mostly doing little more than playing himself (though he can hardly be accused of that in his classic voicing of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book).

The tenor of Sanders’s personal life may be judged from the fact that he called his autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad, and suggested the title A Dreadful Man for his biography (written by his friend Brian Aherne). He managed to marry not only the ineffable Zsa Zsa Gabor but also, some years later, her sister Magda – a marriage that lasted just six weeks and drove Sanders even further into drink.

His end was sad. Threatened by dementia and failing health, Sanders decided to give up the unequal struggle, finally killing himself with a massive overdose of Nembutal in a hotel room in a small coastal town near Barcelona. He left behind a message addressed to ‘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.’

He was 65 – the precise age at which, according to his pal David Niven, he predicted that he would kill himself.

But what of the real George Sanders? As ever, we turn to the authoritative Me Cheeta, where the index entries are not promising, all listed under ‘Sanders, George, caddishness of’. However, Cheeta’s few encounters with Sanders seem to have left a reasonably favourable impression. The two were introduced at a notably starry private screening of Tarzan and His Mate (the one in which Maureen O’Sullivan takes a very saucy swim). ‘Cheetah, my deah,’ says George. ‘If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it absolutely excruciating to watch yourself on screen. I should leave before those terrible monstahs turn against you and skin you alive. It’s not going to shit on me, is it, Maureen?’

Hmm. On a more exalted level, it’s an intriguing thought that the boy Sanders would have been walking the streets of St Petersburg at the same time as the teenage Nabokov. I wonder if their paths ever crossed – either then or later, when both lived in Switzerland. Sanders might have made rather a good job of Clare Quilty in the Lolita film…

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

8 thoughts on “George Sanders – Professional Cad

    July 3, 2014 at 09:51

    One of life’s great if’s….Sanders as the voice of Moriarty or Hercules Grytpype-Thynne. Brilliant though Milligan and Dyall were, Sanders voice would have iced the cake. His acting style was effortless, appearing to be elsewhere whilst fulfilling the role. Sanders, cravats and cigarette holders were made for one another, can’t remember if he used them, Nige darlink?

    July 3, 2014 at 10:41

    That voice. Was it learned or natural? Whatever, it would come in handy for dealing with the obstacles in human form that scatter our daily paths.

    July 3, 2014 at 13:01

    Oddly I’ve never found a picture of Sanders in a cravat.
    I think, by the way, he’s 108 today, rather than 114…

    • Brit
      July 3, 2014 at 13:43

      Sack the sub-ed!

      July 3, 2014 at 14:00

      Sums Nige, it’s all in the sums, let’s say that he is 111, give or take, it’s his eleventy first birthday.

    July 3, 2014 at 17:19

    Children of the village of the damned, he also had a satchel full of dynamite, just the job for bothersome sprogs.

    July 4, 2014 at 00:04

    If you can find Roy Blount’s compilation of southern humor–worthwhile for many other items–you might enjoy somebody’s story of George Sanders getting some of his own back on Zsa Zsa Gabor when she attempted to raise the cost of the divorce.

    As for playing himself, that is much the best compensated end of the acting business in Hollywood. It can lead to governorships and for all I know presidencies. (I only ever saw a little of one of Reagan’s movies.)

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