Friday, 2 March 2018

Touched by the Hand of George

A rogue, a cad… immortalised on the silver screen in countless iconic roles, including the brilliant Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (for which he won an Academy Award), married to a Gabor, the voice of Shere Khan, Batman’s Mr. Freeze… George Sanders was a true star.

Russian-born but raised in Britain and of aristocratic stock, Sanders and his family fled to Britain in 1917. He began his career on the stage in musicals, after his friend Greer Garson suggested he take up acting. Prior to that he had run a tobacco plantation and worked in advertising. His first recording, Regency Rakes, was from the 1934 production of Noel Coward’s Conversation Piece.

He appeared in several British movies during the 30s, but it was when 20th Century Fox cast him as the villain in Lloyds of London that sanders started to attract attention. Lloyds of London was a big hit and Fox put Sanders under a seven-year contract. His first leading role came the next year, in Lancer Spy. Next he was cast as The Saint in a series of movies, and began a successful association with Alfred Hitchcock, appearing in both Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. When RKO, the producers of The Saint series fell out with author Leslie Charteris, they created the role of The Falcon for Sanders.

He bore a striking resemblance to his elder brother, Tom Conway (real name Thomas Charles Sanders), and the latter was often cast in Sanders-esque roles. Conway took over the role of The Falcon from his George, the two of them appearing together in that film. The only other time they appeared together on screen was in Death of a Scoundrel (1956), in which they also played brothers. Tom Conway died, of alcoholism, in 1967. His career never reached the same heights as his brother, but like him he had also worked for Disney, voicing two minor characters in 101 Dalmatians.

Released in 1958, The George Sanders Touch is not the worst singing actor album you’ll hear, but it is still awful. The lush orchestrations – by Nick Perito (who was closely associated with Perry Como for much of his career) and Don Costa (best known for his work with Sinatra and Paul Anka) – are gorgeous, but Georgie boy is out of his depth. His bass-baritone croon is ok, and he just about gets away with it on Try A Little Tenderness, but his range is severely limited, as you can hear for yourself on the dreadfully out-of-tune As Time Goes By. It’s all downhill from there. He murders September Song, one of my favourite songs, with a ridiculous (and, frankly, obscene) spoken word intro that lifts him in to the stratosphere that will later be occupied by Barbara Cartland. Rather appositely he performs If You Were the Only Girl In The World, massacred by Dame Babs herself on her Album of Love Songs. The song Such Is My Love, was composed by Sanders himself. 

In later life Saunders suffered from dementia. He became deeply depressed and, when he found that he could no longer play his grand piano, he dragged it outside and smashed it with an axe. On 23 April 1972, he checked into a hotel in , a coastal town near Barcelona. He was found dead two days later, having gone into cardiac arrest after swallowing the contents of five bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal. He left behind three 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.

Sanders’ last role was in the low-budget British horror movie Psychomania (released in the US as The Death Wheelers), which hit cinemas in 1973.

Here’s George crooning a couple of tunes. Enjoy!

Download September HERE

  Download Time HERE

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