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1945 brought Hangover Square, a dark drama that teamed him with Cregar and Darnell, separate costars from his previous two films. The bleak tale was allegedly part of the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd. (It was also Cregar's last film as he died from the excessive dieting he'd undergone in order to land his role!) Next, Sanders affected a striking salt and pepper, goateed look for The Picture of Dorian Gray. He played a society snob and a very bad influence on the title character, portrayed by Hurd Hatfield. The cast included Angela Lansbury and, as shown here, Peter Lawford, Donna Reed and Donna Reed's hair.
Sanders, either top or second-billed, played the leading man opposite such ladies as Ella Raines, Signe Hasso, Hedy Lamarr and Angela Lansbury as the '40s continued. In 1947, he was cast in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir with Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney, a significant hit. That same year, he starred in Lured, opposite Miss Lucille Ball. The movie, about a serial killer who sends cryptic poems to his intended victims, was directed by the great Douglas Sirk and was the fourth of five films Sanders appeared in of his. (But who knew that Ball ever appeared in a Sirk film?!) The studio, fearing that Lured sounded too much like “Lurid” changed the name to Personal Column, which, understandably, did nothing to aid the film in finding its audience.
Even more controversial was Sanders' next movie, Forever Amber. It re-teamed him with (now blonde-wigged) Linda Darnell in the story of a girl who sleeps her way from poverty to near royalty, though obviously cleaned up considerably for the then-closely-governed cinema. Sanders played King Charles II, one of her conquests.
In 1949, Sanders married for a second time to a Hungarian-born socialite (divorced from hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton) who was mostly known for just being exquisitely glamorous and fun, a certain Miss Zsa Zsa Gabor. Gabor fell hard for the debonair Sanders and they were very happy for a time. Within a few years of their marriage, though, she began to make a name for herself on local television programs and eventually embarked on an acting career of her own. This was a source of friction for the couple as her notoriety and newfound employment began to make demands on her time and caused her to garner more attention than him.
After appearing in the epic Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr (and frequent costar Angela Lansbury), Sanders landed the role for which he would be most famous (and most acclaimed.) The Joseph Mankiewicz masterpiece All About Eve told the backstage story of an aging actress (Bette Davis) who is taken in by a scheming sycophant (Anne Baxter) as a rondolet of onlookers comments on or takes part in the action. The strong cast also included Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Celeste Holm and relative newcomer Marilyn Monroe, who gave Sanders the opportunity to try out some deliciously sarcastic lines. (According to Gabor, Monroe once appeared at Sanders' dressing room door clad in a fur coat and nothing else, leading to a sexual encounter which he proceeded to tell Gabor about in detail!) As acidic drama critic Addison DeWitt, Sanders more than held his own against fire-breathing Davis and the other dramatic performers around him and he was granted the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. (Interestingly, he did not win the Golden Globe that year. The trophy went to Edmund Gwenn in Mister 880.)
There was no sudden wave of leading roles for Sanders in the wake of his Oscar as has been the case many times for other Best Supporting Actors. In fact, he continued to make fewer leading appearances and concentrated more on playing the third corner of love triangles or the villain of various pieces. He costarred with Susan Hayward and Dan Dailey in I Can Get it for You Wholesale and with Stewart Granger and Pier Angeli in the Italian-made The Light Touch before heading off to England where he fought Robert Taylor for the hand of Elizabeth Taylor in Ivanhoe (and she was quite a lovely prize as one can see here.)