George Sanders


  1. Victor McLaglen, We’re Going To Be Rich 1937.     If you can’t obtain suave Sanders for a role, you naturally rush to the bellicose McLaglen – like George Clooney subbed by Adam Sandler! Still the guy was important. The headliner was the UK icon, singer-comic-actress Gracie Fields, the highest paid movie star that year.
  2. 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.
  3. Ian Hunter, Tower of London, 1939.     Infamous Hollywood gossip hen Louella Parsons didn’t always get it right.  On August 3, she announced in her column that Sanders would be Edward IV.  Wrong! ’Twas another Brit – if born in South Africa.   Hunter was something of a Brian Aherne Mk 2.  They both played English kings. Hunter was Edward IV,  Aherne was (twice) King Arthur).  Hunter started in UK silents, including three for Hitchcock during 1926-1927: The Ring, Downhill and Easy Virtue   – which featured Hitch’s first walk-on: carrying a walking stick as he strolled by a tennis court.
  4. Lynn Bari,Secret Agent of Japan, 1941.  Preston Foster was the US expat running the Dixie Bar in Casa… er, Shangahi  and gettng involed with Sanders as a Brit spy. Except Lynn had become Foster’s usual partner, so bye-bye George.. Head Fox Darryl F Zanuck started shooting the film one day after the Pearl Harbour attack and had it in cinemas by April 3, 1942. How so? Because earlier that year, exec-producer Sol M Wurtzel put  John Francis Larkin to work on a script called Agent of…“After  December 7,” explained the New York Times, “all that remained to be done was to fill in the blank and choose appropriate character names.” Oh, they don’t make ‘em like they usta!
  5. Cary Grant, Suspicion, 1941.  RKO had the Before the Fact book since 1935. Somewhere amid the ever changing titles – Last Lover, Love in Irons, Men  Make Poor Husbands (too comedic), Search for Tomorrow,Suspicious Lady –  it was due as a B-movie programmer starring George Sanders  as the, maybe, killer of his wife,  Anne Shirley.  One of the first A-movie plans was Laurence Olivier-Frances Dee – before Alfred Hitchcock found perfection. Cary Grant-Joan Fontaine.
  6. Walter Slezak,  Once Upon A Honeymoon, 1942. Cary Grant thought  the script was rubbish, but it was an opportunity to work with Ginger Rogers –  an ex-stripper married to the evil Baron Von Luber, a rising Nazi star. George Sanders preferred not to play a Nazi passed him over to Vienna’s Walter Slezak, in his Hollywood debut… while Cary took time of to become an US  citizen and marry Woolworth  heiress Barbara Hutton – second  of his five wives, during 1942-1945.
  7. 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.
  8. Cedric Hardwicke, The Moon Is Down, 1942.   All the major studios fought for John Steinbeck’s praised/vilified novel/play about the Nazi occupation of Norway. (It was, in fact, superb propaganda for anti-Nazi resistance). Fox chief Darryl F Zanuck won because of how well he had made Steinbeck’s previous book, The Grapes of Wrath. (The then highest price of $300,000 helped, too). There were eight possibilities for Colonel Lanser: Sanders, Fritz Kortner, Charles Laughton, Paul Lukas, Broadway’s Alfred Lunt, Otto Preminger, Conrad Veidt, Orson Welles.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.
  9. Tom Conway, The Falcon’s Brother, 1942.   Conway was the sibling and new Falcon – when younger brother, George Sanders, got bored with Falconing. Tom made nine more. He was also played The Saint (like Sanders, but on radio), Bulldog Drummond, Tom ‘Duke’ Martin and (64 episodes of Mark Saber, 1951-1953) and himself as a private dick in Three Stops To Murder 1953 … plus a certain shamus called – wait for it – Norman Conquest.
  10. 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.

  11. Claude Rains, Notorious, 1945.      Some Enchanted Movie…!    Surprisingly, Alfred Hitchcock, thought of Broadway’s South Pacific musical star, Ezio Pinza, to play the Nazi masterspy bejng investigated by US agent Cary Grant and their – yes, their – lover, Ingrid Bergman.   Hitch also thought of Sanders. Producer David O Selznick wanted Clifton Webb (!). They compromised with Rains. 
  12. Orson Welles, Black Magic (aka Cagliostro), 1949.       Producer Edward Small’s first plan – in 1943 – was Charles Boyer as the notorious 18th Century alchemist, soothsayer, medium, “miraculous healer” and (behind it all) hypnotist. In ’44, it was Sanders in Mexico, except that was not as cheap as Small had heard.. And so, Orson in Italy… having, he said, the most fun ever on a movie. Despite being “directed” by Gregory Ratoff – only worthy of being Orson’s toilet.

  13. Robert Douglas, Kim, 1950.   
    Fourth time lucky for MGM’s desire to film the Rudyard Kipling classic 1900 adventures of Kimball O”Hara, the orphaned  son of a British soldier  in the 1886 India under British rule. Kim posed as a Hindi beggar boy to help the UK Secret Service spy on Russian agitators.  Irving Thalberg won the rights for MGM in 1934 and a year later, the ex-Little Lord Fauntelroy, Freddie Bartholomew was selected opposite  Lionel Barrymore as his Indian mentor, Mahbub Ali the Red Beard, in 1935.  The project was shelved for another Kipling tale, Captains Courageous, with Spencer Tracy and young Freddie – announced as Kim again in 1937, opposite Robert Taylor as Red Beard.  After various delays Mickey Rooney (like who else) was the  1942 hero  in a typically Metro all-stars  line-up of John Carradine, Laird Cregar, Cedric Hardwicke, Basil Rathbone George Sanders (as Kim’s boss, Colonel Creighton),  Akim Tamiroff and Conrad Veidt  WWII killed that as the script was too pro-British Empire and anti-Russia. Finally, MGM’s Boy With Green Hair, Dean Stockwell, was Kim opposite  (a way too old and hardly Indian)  Errol Flynn. He quit King Solomon’s Mines to be Red Beard, because he didn’t fancy living  in a tent in Africa, while he had a hotel in Lucknow…  where Stockwell was doubled by a local  kid.

  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Edward G Robinson, The Ten Commandments, 1954.     
  17. 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).
  18. Eric Pohlmann, John Paul Jones, 1959.      Director John Farrow (Mia’s dad) replaced Sanders with the much bulkier Pohlmann as King George III.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.

  21. Rex Harrison,  My Fair Lady, 1964.    
    To protect the  $5.2m  he paid for the rights, Jack Warner wanted star power – like Audrey Hepburn and Cary instead  of Broadway’s original Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins: Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. Warner had  several other Professors in mind. From the inspired (Grant, Noël Coward, Peter O’Toole, George Sanders) to the plain stupid (Rock Hudson as a grumpy English gentleman?). Plus dowdy Michael Redgrave, who had the style but the box-office appeal of George Zucco.  (Who?)  (Exactly!) Refusing $1.5m, Grant declared:  Not only will  I not play it, but if you don’t put Rex in it, I won’t go see it.”

  22. 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.
  23. 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.”



 Birth year: 1906Death year: 1972Other name: Casting Calls:  23