Hello everybody, classic movie guys Joe Morella and Frank Segers back with another of our several blogs covering the life and career of one of our favorite actors — George Sanders.
Sanders was married four times, most famously to wife No. 2, Zsa Zsa Gabor from 1949 to 1954. (The actor was later married at wife No. 2’s urging to wife No. 4, Zsa Zsa’s sister, Magda, for a year beginning in 1970.)
The marriage to Zsa Zsa was the romance of his life. It certainly generated the most talk in Hollywood, and the most headlines. Although it legally ended with some acrimony the two remained close friends throughout Sanders’ life.
It is the end of the Zsa Zsa marriage that we discuss in today’s Sanders anecdote, quoting from two sources — author Richard VanDerBeets’ 1990 biography, George Sanders: An Exhausted Life, and from a letter scriptwriter-director Nunnally Johnson wrote to a Hollywood pal in early 1954.
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 the extraordinarily money-conscious 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, and who held Zsa Zsa in sexual thrall. Sanders came up with the idea of catching Zsa Zsa in flagrante delicto with Rubirosa (known as “Rubi”) at the Bel Air residence they shared.
Accounts of what happened next differ. VanDerBeets’ biography discreetly tells of George climbing a ladder and bursting into Zsa Zsa’s second floor boudoir through a shattered French window. After the initial shock was absorbed at this surprise visit, Zsa Zsa turned to Sanders and inquired if he was sick. My Dear, George replied, I’m and old man (he was nearing 50 at the time). I’ve absolutely no business climbing ladders.
Zsa suggested that George should “come downstairs and have a drink. Responded George: Well, perhaps just one.
Johnson’s far more detailed and entertaining version begins by setting the scene: So on Christmas Eve, that holy day, (Sanders) prepared to raid her home to catch Rubirosa in the hay with her.” In this version, 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.
(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.
According to biographer VanDerBeets, Gabor later said that despite their marital misadventures, she and Sanders had really never been out of each other’s lives entirely from the day we first met. He was part of my life — like my child, my father, my family…He was the love of my life.
By the way, Sanders and Zsa Zsa appeared in only one movie together, RKO’s 1956 crime drama Death of a Scoundrel. The interaction and byplay between the two is most entertaining, as is this picture as a whole. Highly recommended.