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Memoirs of a Professional Cad - George Sanders

”In the middle of April the Germans took a sombre decision...they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin, in a sealed truck, like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia.”
Winston Churchill

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Little did the Germans know they were also ruining the life of George Sanders. He was going to have to work for the rest of his life. He was born in St. Petersburg in 1906. His birth was not going well so his father took a carriage to find a midwife. ”He brought her back across the river in a rowboat, and in a state of exhaustion, pushed her into my mother’s room, where she accomplished a successful delivery.

In the light of the fact that I have been supporting my father for the past twenty years, his concern for my welfare at the time of my birth would appear to have been thoroughly justified.”

When the revolution hit Russia in 1917 his family had to leave Russia abandoning their properties and moved back to England. Their friends and family that stayed were of course White Russians and many of them were executed or sent to prison camps. George Sanders’s inheritance was lost. He went to school in England. He worked for several British companies abroad in South America and was fired from every job he ever attempted. There was this girl that worked in market research for one of these companies that kept his attention. However, my interest in market research and information continued unabated, and I never lacked for excuses to wander into the office of that gorgeous redhead, where I would feast my eyes on her and enjoy her brilliant conversation. Her name was Greer Garson.”

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Greer Garson, the girl always shooing the young George Sanders out of her office.

This is important because he got to hang out with Greer Garson before she was Greer Garson, but she also put him on a career path. She encouraged him to be an actor.

I’ve encountered George Sanders a lot over the past year most recently in Samson and Delilah where he was barely recognizable until he spoke. He starred with Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury (it was odd to see Jessica Fletcher in a cheesecake role), and Victor Mature. Hedy Lamarr as she seemed to with everyone she met made an impression on him.

”When I first met Hedy Lamarr, about twenty years ago, she was so beautiful that everybody would stop talking when she came into the room. Wherever she went she was the cynosure of all eyes. I don’t think anyone concerned himself very much about whether or not there was anything behind her beauty, he was too busy gaping at her. Of her conversation I can remember nothing: when she spoke one did not listen, one just watched her mouth moving and marveled at the exquisite shapes made by her lips.”

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Over lunch sometimes I just have TMC playing in the background and the other day I heard his suave, sophisticated English voice. It took me more than a moment to recognize him as one of the pirates in The Black Swan. He played Simon Templer in a series of Saint movies. He also played, what is considered a knockoff Saint series by some, the character Gay Laurence in a series of Falcon movies before handing the project off to his brother Tom Conway. The films are not necessarily very good, but listening to him pronounce lines of dialogue with his debonair flourish is certainly worth your time. I also recently saw him in Rebecca playing the skin crawling friend Jack Favell. He was in another Hitchcock that I had the pleasure to rewatch this month, Foreign Correspondent. Due to the fact that he has been appearing regularly in the movies I’ve been watching I decided I would pick up his autobiography of which I’ve heard he was, as expected, quite witty.

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The Debonair George Sanders with Joel McCrea and cute as a button Laraine Day in Foreign Correspondent.

He was married to Zsa Zsa Gabor. I can only imagine that he must have felt that he really was a cad and needed to be punished day and night and night and day. ”To begin with, it is impossible to be in love with a woman without experiencing on occasions an irresistible desire to strangle her. This can lead to a good deal of ill-feeling. Women are touchy about being strangled.” He does defend Zsa Zsa despite the fact that his relationship with her was a devastating experience.

”Zsa Zsa is perhaps the most misunderstood woman of our times. She is misunderstood because she is guileless. She allows her vitality and instincts to spring from her without distortion. She doesn’t disguise her love amorous entanglements or jewels or whatever else catches her fancy, because her character is pure. She is whole-cloth. an isotope of femininity. In a sense also radioactive and fissionable.”

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, a lot of woman for just one man.

He doesn’t learn. His last marriage which only endured six weeks was to Zsa Zsa’s older sister Magda. It must have seemed like a good idea for about five minutes or about as long as it took a preacher to perform the nuptials. What no Eva? Maybe he didn’t stay in queue long enough to become one of the legion of ex-husbands that Eva left in the wake of her whirlwind lifestyle. All three sisters were actresses, but were much more famous for being socialites.

The book was written in 1960. He is witty and charming and tries his best to convince me he was a cad, but he fails miserably. He is just a guy who loves the wrong women, who is a bit lazy, and who suffers from compulsive behaviors.

He sounds like just about everybody I know.

The book does bog down at times. His description of his experience searching for a psychiatrist was verging on boring. Although he did slip in a good line. ”I want to state quite unequivocally that I am one of the sanest people I know. If I weren’t, I would never have risked going to a psychiatrist.” The moments when he talked about what is wrong with American culture and with putting contraceptives in the water supply so that women could finally be free to make love as much as they wanted also felt dated and sort of tedious.

In 1967 he had a year that would stagger the most even keeled of people. His mother died. His brother Tom Conway died from a failed liver. His beloved wife Benita Hume died of bone cancer. I guess it makes sense that he tried to reset the clock in 1970 by marrying Magda Gabor, but as we all know, or soon discover, it is impossible to go back. We can only go forward. He began drinking heavily. He had issues with balance and suffered a small stroke. In 1972 he checked himself into a hotel in Castelldefels near Barcelona and took five bottles of Nembutal and died. He left a suicide note that might have been left by any number of the characters he played on film.

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. (His signature appeared under the message.)