He was born July 3, 1906 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He died of an overdose of sleeping tablets in Spain in 1972, and left a famous note: "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 the witty misanthrope, killing himself because he could no longer stand the ennui--that would be a gesture Addison DeWitt, the critic he played in All About Eve, would have applauded. But reading about Sanders gives you little reason to think Addison was close to his personality, however brilliantly he may have played the part. Joseph Manckiewicz, for the record, always said Addison was a self-portrait. In Pictures Will Talk, Kenneth L. Geist's Mankiewicz biography, Celeste Holm recalls that Sanders was "a brilliant actor, but he wasn't much fun." Anne Baxter says his "energy was nil" and that the director had to prod him into a performance.
Particularly difficult to swallow is the idea of Sanders, always described as a man of intellect, marrying and then putting up with Zsa Zsa Gabor (for eight years, from 1949 to 1957). From Pictures:
Gary Merrill relates that when ... Zsa Zsa ... wandered on to the set beseeching that she 'must haff George to go shopping,' Mankiewicz politely informed her, 'We're making a fucking picture, honey.'
Who knows what was behind that marriage. Well, as the Siren's father once remarked about one of her ex-boyfriends, "I'd ask what the attraction is, but I guess there isn't much left." Sanders was also briefly married to another Gabor sister, Magda. Imagine Lydgate in Middlemarch, stuck with not one, but two Rosamonds.
The Siren loves Sanders in so many movies. He made more than 100, ranging from B-grade thrillers to masterpieces, and wasn't boring in a single one. With the aid of a beard obscuring that famous face, he dressed way down and was a believable pirate in The Black Swan (or as believable as any Hollywood pirate ever is). Sanders makes an indelible impression even in his briefest roles, like that of the classmate at a reunion who suspects Edward G. Robinson is not what he seems in Julien Duvivier's wonderful, underrated Tales of Manhattan. Give him a good line and Sanders' delivery would turn it into a classic, as in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, when his character looks at a rainstorm and drawls, "It's easy to understand why the most beautiful poems about England in the spring were written by poets living in Italy at the time." "Forgive me for the intelligence of my argument; I'd forgotten that you were a member of Parliament," he says in The Picture of Dorian Gray, with sang-froid Oscar Wilde himself might have envied.
He will be forever associated with his roles as a heel, even calling his autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad. But Sanders could do much more as an actor. In This Land Is Mine, directed by Jean Renoir, he plays the collaborator sympathetic to fascist politics, but appalled by the consequences when he betrays a resistance fighter to the Germans. And there is the end of Dorian Gray when, as Lord Henry Wotton, Sanders looks at the hideous corpse of Dorian and sees the result of the self-centered hedonism he preached so wittily to his friend. In his face you see horror, realization and the dawn of self-reproach, all in a matter of seconds.
As for the part that comes closest to Sanders himself--the Siren has her own candidate. It isn't Addison. It is the intelligent, unhappy Englishman in Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia. Sanders' character has gone to Naples with his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman. They know their marriage is dying, not from any dramatic cause, but from the thousand cuts life whittles into love every day. They separate, they go off alone, they have squabbles that trail off rather than end. Finally, during a religious parade, they reconcile. Sanders stills loves his wife. They choose one another, and the occasional dreariness of a shared life, over loneliness.
Sanders' final note doesn't strike the Siren as a cynical flourish. It leaves her instead with the sadness and anger that attach to all suicides, and the wish that Sanders could have found someone or something to choose for a little longer.