Wednesday, December 30, 2009

George Sanders, Zsa Zsa and Me

George Sanders, Zsa Zsa, and Me
by David R. Slavitt
Northwestern University Press

Slavitt has a lot to say. In this book, he gets an opportunity to get those thoughts on paper and into the public's hands. Slavitt is a film critic (local to me since he lives in my area) who has shmoozed with and panned lots of greats from the classic film world. You may think from the title that this book is just about George Sanders his wife Zsa Zsa Gabor and Slavitt. Well, you are completely wrong. While George Sanders' life is the foundation of this book, it is really a free platform for Slavitt to talk about his days as a critic and his interactions with various people in the film world.

While reading this book, to me it seemed like Slavitt was a pretty angry guy. What saves the book for me is that he's a no-nonsense, straight-talking critic who isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks. For that reason, and that reason alone ,I kind of admire the man. George Sanders is a figure of both admiration and curiousity for Slavitt. Sanders was a charming, intelligent man who didn't realize his talent and settled for making lots of not-so-great films and as the final words of the book read: "Sanders' performance [in Viaggio] and All About Eve earned him a crumb of immortality. It's more than most of us get." Slavitt touches upon a lot of aspects of Sanders' life including his odd relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor who he claims is a sort of angel of death in the lives of her husband Sanders and his brother Tom Conway.

There is a laundry list of other stars mentioned throughout the book and I can guarantee you none of them are put on a pedestal and adored. Slavitt sees them as real people who may or may not have done extraordinary things, but not as untouchable ethereal stars. People mentioned in the book include Alfred Hitchcock, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Suzanne Pleshette, Jennifer Jones, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Otto Preminger, etc. Slavitt gives us insights that you won't find anywhere else. He tells us about how he disliked Suzanne Pleshette for snubbing his wife in an elevator and he tried to get out of a breakfast with Alfred Hitchcock because he couldn't stand The Birds and didn't want to face him. He also comments on a rumor started by Ava Gardner about her ex-husband Frank Sinatra's lack of sexual prowess. This book is not for the faint of heart. Pretty much everyone is a target for some disdain on Slavitt's part, except for George Sanders. If anyone is on a pedestal in this book, it's him.

I highly encourage you to read this if you have an interest in the life of George Sanders or if you want a different look at classic Hollywood. The book has no real structure and it moves strictly through wandering thoughts with everything coming back to Sanders.

I also want to take a moment to mention The Siren's series on George Sanders. She, like Slavitt, is fascinated by Sanders and has written some excellent pieces on him. Here are a few to check out:

Life with Zsa Zsa, or the Importance of Closet Space
Surreal Sanders: The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami (1947)
George and Bernard: Notes on a Scandal
George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportions"
George Sanders on the Kind of Thing to Give the Public  

Special thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me a copy to review. And a special thanks to Slavitt for mentioning Northeastern University Press (Boston)! I used to work there as an undergrad, a couple of years before it closed it's doors and it was nice to see it mentioned.


  1. Wow, I love your blog! I can't wait to see what you post next :-)

  2. sounds like a fascinating read! it's kinda funny but it seems almost every book that talks about stars of the old days has in it somewhere a mention of Ava and Frank and almost always NOT in a positive light. has to be one of the all time champion poisonous public relationships!

    hope ya had a nice xmas and have a great new years too ;)

  3. Haha--this was one of the books I was going to review. I wondered if you'd do it since I saw it in your sidebar! Sounds like there's a lot to soak up for it being such a short book. I'll read anything about George Sanders, but you've definitely got me interested about the rest!

  4. The "inside" scoop ... luv those stories. We lived in Hollywood for a few years (just down the slope from the HW sign) and then Santa Monica ... and even tho we had nothing to do w/ the film industry it seemed we saw first-hand and heard much of the goings on not normally known about. Tinsel town indeed.

  5. Sounds like a juicy interesting read. I like the tidbit about not being able to face Hitchcock because he so disliked The Birds! Adding to my must read list.

  6. I love George Sanders! He made great little B detective pics and was wonderfully slimy in Rebecca. I just started reading Memoirs of a Cad, and he sure fit the definition of a cad!

  7. Glad you liked it. David Slavitt

  8. Thanks so much for the links! This book is definitely on my 2010 "must read" list. Confession: I kind of love the story about "The Birds" because while I don't hate it, it is very far from my favorite Hitchcock.


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