“You’re maudlin and full of self pity… You’re magnificent.”
This, one of our all time favorite movie lines, was superbly delivered by George Sanders in 1950’s “All About Eve.” It is directed at Bette Davis as stage diva Margo Channing in the throes of an temperamental explosion encapsulized by the familiar line: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
For our money, Sanders’ delivery of his line (as dyspeptic and ultra-cynical drama critic Addison de Witt) was more than sufficient to earn him 1950’s best supporting actor Oscar. This is a notable time when the Academy got it exactly right.
Sanders’ line also sounds like something that the actor himself might have written, although he didn’t (director Joseph J. Mankiewicz wrote the “All About Eve” script.) The Russian-born Brit was not only a facile and entertaining actor — not great but very good — but also a gifted writer.
Hello everybody, classic movie guys Joe Morella and Frank Segers with the first of several blogs to come on Classic Movie Chat about George Sanders both as actor and as writer.
The Sanders material that we have unearthed is not just a pleasure to read but also provides humorously incisive behind-the-scenes looks at Hollywood’s social mores over two decades beginning in the late 1930’s.
After appearing in several British movies in 1936, he decided that his fortunes lie in America. He was right. His Hollywood career lasted more than three decades, covering well more than 100 movies, many dogs but several gems including “Eve.”
Sanders himself was married four times, most famously to Zsa Zsa Gabor from 1949 to 1954. (The actor later was married for a year beginning in 1970 to Zsa Zsa’s sister, Magda.)
It is the end of the Zsa Zsa marriage that we discuss in today’s Sanders anecdote, quoting from a letter scriptwriter-director Nunnally Johnson wrote to a Hollywood pal in early 1954. (Later blogs will come directly from Sanders writings.)
Seems that Zsa Zsa was prickly about reaching a final property agreement as part of the couple’s divorce settlement. She kept upping the ante at the last minute, demanding more and then still more, which irritated Sanders. “But he figured it wouldn’t be difficult to get something on her,” wrote Johnson.
At the time Gabor had taken up with Dominican playboy-diplomat Porfirio Rubirosa — a notorious womanizer said to have been exceptionally well endowed. Sanders came up with the idea of catching Zsa Zsa in flagrante delicto with Rubirosa (known as simply “Rubi”) at the Bel Air residence they shared.
Wrote Johnson: “So on Christmas Eve, that holy day, (Sanders) prepared to raid her home to catch Rubirosa in the hay with her.” Somehow George managed with the help of four private detectives to hoist a ladder to a second-floor balcony outside Gabor’s bedroom, and to actually climb up and into her boudoir.
Johnson recounts what happened: “(There) he saw two naked forms break the record for the dash to the bathroom, where the light was on… Rubi and Zsa Zsa had slammed the door shut but in their excitement they forgot it could also be locked.
“The door opened inward and then it became a head-on push between George and Rubi, Rubi trying to hold the door shut, George trying to bull it open.
“Now, according to George, he was hitting low, just like Knute Rockne always said, and with a powerful lunge he managed to get the door open about a foot, which to his astonishment brought him face to face with Rubirosa’s organ, whereupon, in a moment of whimsy, he shook it heartily and called Merry Christmas to them both.
“‘Now, George, really!,'” exclaimed Zsa Zsa. “‘Please be seated and I’ll be out in just a moment.’
“She emerged in a diaphanous negligee, leaving the shy Mr. Rubirosa skulking in the can.” Johnson’s letter goes on to note that Zsa Zsa employed her charm to calm the situation, even showing Sanders and his gumshoes the living room Christmas tree and inquiring of Sanders if he had received her gift.
Sanders and entourage exited through the front door, handshakes and exchanges of “God bless you’s” all around.
Stay tuned for more about George Sanders, whose life was often far more interesting than the roles he played onscreen.