George Sanders (1906-1972)
- John Loder, Scotland Yard, 1939. By early June 1940, Sanders had the lead(s). Then, he read the script and objected to “one part of the dual role.” (Oh really!). Result: Fox suspended him.
- Francis Lederer, The Man I Married, 1939. The Man is Lederer and he is a Nazi. His wife, Joan Bennett, tries to get her son back to the US. A 40s’ Not Without My Daughter. Kinda.
- Walter Slezak, Once Upon A Honeymoon, 1942. Sanders was first thought for the evil Baron Von Luber, a rising Nazi star - wed to, of all people. Ginger Rogers. “My husband is a jinx. Every time we go to a new country it falls.” So does she. For Cary Grant. It figures.
- George Coulouris, Watch on the Rhine, 1942. One George for another and a big leg up for the future busy UK character star. Like leading man, Paul Lukas, Coulouris had been in the Broadway production of the Lillian Hellman play, scripted for Warner Bros by her lover, Dashiell Hammett.
- Clifton Webb, Laura, 1944. People say Webb was a shoo-in as the waspish (what else?) Waldo Lydecker. His rivals.for his first film since 1924 included Sanders, Laird Cregar, John Sutton and Monty Woolley.
- Claude Rains, Notorious, 1945. Alfred Hitchcock wanted Sanders - or Ezio Pinza, the Italian opera star of Broadway’s South Pacific. His producer, the mighty David O Selznick, wanted Clifton Webb (!). They compromised with Rains. “Casting,” Hitchcock assured me in London on April 21, 1966, “is the first compromise.”
- Orson Welles, Black Magic, 1948. The Welles version of Cagliostro, “directed” by Gregory Ratoff (only worthy of being Orson’s toilet) was made in Rome. The Sanders version, due to be helmed by Douglas Sirk (!), was set for Hollywood. Either way, it remained a Small production. An Edward Small production.
- Robert Douglas, Kim, 1950. An on/off MGM project since 1935. Seven years later, Sanders was Colonel Creighton, supporting Mickey Rooney as Kimball O’Hara.. Once again, the expense - and politics - of even token shooting in India shelved the project. For a further eight years.
- Maurice Evans, Androcles and Lion, 1951. During the three years of bizarre casting of the George Bernard Shaw playlet - everyone from the sublime Chaplin (and Harpo Marx) to the ridiculous Eddie Bracken was imagined for the lead! GBS’s favourite UK producer-director Gabriel Pascal first wanted Sanders as Emperor Antoninus Caesar. A few days after HC Potter started directing on February 9, co-producer Howard Hughes shut everything down. For seven months! Then Pascal took over again.
- Stanley Baker, Knights of the Round Table, 1953. Sanders fell ill and Richard Thorpe checked all potential substitutes in the UK where he was directing the film. The Welsh Baker (22 years Sanders’ junior) helped wake up Robert Taylor (who’d already been Ivanhoe) and saved the colourful, if turgid, movie as the traitorous Modred.
- Edward G Robinson, The Ten Commandments, 1956. Not even producer-director-god Cecil B DeMille could get all his first choices.
- Stewart Granger, The Little Hut, 1956. Seven months before the Broadway opening, UK producer Alexander Korda won the rights for the real-life married couple, Sanders and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Plus David Niven, who stayed aboard for the MGM version opposite Ava Gardnder, Stewart Granger. All three are marooned on a desert island. Pause for sniggers. (Sanders was the third of Zsa Zsa’s nine husbands).
- Eric Pohlmann, John Paul Jones, 1959. Director John Farrow (Mia’s dad) replaced Sanders with the much bulkier Pohlmann as King George III.
- Donald Houston, Maniac, 1962. Not often Hammer made mistakes. This was a biggie. Using Houston and Kerwin Matthew as the villain and the hero instead of Sanders and Peter Cushing. Director (and Hammer boss) James Carreras even wasted his locations. Difficult to do that in… spectacular Provence.
- David Tomlinson, Mary Poppins, 1963. Sanders, Richard Harris, James Mason, Donald Sutherland and Terry-Thomas were in the mix for Mr Banks in Walt Disney’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious version of PL Travers’ books - an eight-Oscar triumph for Uncle Walt! Three years later Sanders voiced the tiger, Shere Khan, in Disney’s final film, The Jungle Book, 1966.
- Christopher Lee, Eugenie, Spain-West Germany, 1969. Sanders backed out for “personal reasons.” And despite this being Jess Franco’s take on De Sade (with Swedish sexpot Marie Liljedahl, mind you!), Lee said he had no idea it was soft porn until he saw the movie. Yeah, sure, whatever.
- Christopher Lee, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1970. “You’re playing my part,” was George’s greeting to Lee as they met by chance at Heathrow Airport. Lee didn’t know what to say. “How lucky can you be? Because playing Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, is what really turned my career around.”