Throughout much of his screen career, actor George Sanders was the very personification of cynicism, an elegantly dissolute figure whose distinct brand of anomie distinguished dozens of films during a career spanning nearly four decades. Born in St. Petersburg on July 3, 1906, Sanders and his family fled to the U.K. during the Revolution, and he was later educated at Brighton College. After first pursuing a career in the textile industry, Sanders briefly flirted with a South American tobacco venture; when it failed, he returned to Britain with seemingly no other options outside of a stage career. After a series of small theatrical roles, in 1934 he appeared in Noel Coward's Conversation Piece; the performance led to his film debut in 1936's Find the Lady, followed by a starring role in Strange Cargo.
After a series of other undistinguished projects, Sanders appeared briefly in William Cameron Menzies' influential science fiction epic Things to Come. In 1937, he traveled to Hollywood, where a small but effective role in Lloyd's of London resulted in a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. A number of lead roles in projects followed, including Love Is News and The Lady Escapes, before Fox and RKO cut a deal to allow him to star as the Leslie Charteris adventurer the Saint in a pair of back-to-back 1939 features, The Saint Strikes Back and The Saint in London. The series remained Sanders' primary focus for the next two years, and in total he starred in five Saint pictures, culminating in 1941's The Saint at Palm Springs. Sandwiched in between were a variety of other projects, including performances in a pair of 1940 Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Foreign Correspondent and the Best Picture Oscar-winner Rebecca.
After co-starring with Ingrid Bergman in 1941's Rage in Heaven, Sanders began work on another adventure series, playing a suave investigator dubbed the Falcon; after debuting the character in The Gay Falcon, he starred in three more entries -- A Date With the Falcon, The Falcon Takes Over, and The Falcon's Brother -- before turning over the role to his real-life brother, Tom Conway. Through his work in Julien Duvivier's Tales of Manhattan, Sanders began to earn notice as a more serious actor, and his lead performance in a 1943 adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel The Moon and Sixpence established him among the Hollywood elite. He then appeared as an evil privateer in the Tyrone Power swashbuckler The Black Swan, followed by Jean Renoir's This Land Is Mine. A pair of excellent John Brahm thrillers, 1944's The Lodger and 1945's Hangover Square, helped bring Sanders' contract with Fox to its close.
With his portrayal of the world-weary Lord Henry Wooten in 1945's The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Sanders essayed the first of the rakish, cynical performances which would typify the balance of his career; while occasionally playing more sympathetic roles in pictures like The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, he was primarily cast as a malcontent, winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his venomous turn in 1951's All About Eve. The award brought Sanders such high-profile projects as 1951's I Can Get It for You Wholesale, 1952's Ivanhoe, and Roberto Rossellini's 1953 effort Viaggio in Italia. However, his star waned, and the musical Call Me Madam, opposite Ethel Merman, was his last major performance. A series of historical pieces followed, and late in the decade he hosted a television series, The George Sanders Mystery Theater. In 1960, he also published an autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad.
Sanders spent virtually all of the 1960s appearing in little-seen, low-budget foreign productions. Exceptions to the rule included the 1962 Disney adventure In Search of the Castaways, the 1964 Blake Edwards Pink Panther comedy A Shot in the Dark, and 1967's animated Disney fable The Jungle Book, in which he voiced the character of Shere Khan the Tiger. After appearing on Broadway in the title role of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Sanders appeared in John Huston's 1970 thriller The Kremlin Letter, an indication of a career upswing; however, the only offers which came his way were low-rent horror pictures like 1972's Doomwatch and 1973's Psychomania. Prior to the release of the latter, Sanders killed himself on August 25, 1972, by overdosing on sleeping pills while staying in a Costa Brava hotel; his suicide note read, "Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored." He was 66 years old.