Tom Conway

Tom Conway (born Thomas Charles Sanders, 15 September 1904 – 22 April 1967) was a British film, television and radio actor remembered for playing private detectives (including The Falcon, Sherlock Holmes, Bulldog Drummond and The Saint) and psychiatrists.

Tom Conway
from the trailer for Grand Central Murder (1942)
Thomas Charles Sanders

(1904-09-15)15 September 1904
Died22 April 1967(1967-04-22) (aged 62)
Venice, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
EducationBrighton College
Years active1940–1964
Queenie Leonard
(m. 1958; div. 1963)

Lillian Eggers
(m. 1941; div. 1953)
FamilyGeorge Sanders (brother)

Conway is perhaps best known for playing "The Falcon" in ten of the series' entries, taking over for his brother, George Sanders, in The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which they both starred. He is also well known for his appearance in several Val Lewton films.

Early life

Conway was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His younger brother was fellow actor George Sanders (1906–1972).[1] Their younger sister, Margaret Sanders, was born in 1912. At the outbreak of the Russian Revolution (1917), the family moved to England, where Conway was educated at Bedales School and Brighton College. He travelled to Northern Rhodesia, where he worked in mining and ranching, then returned to England, appearing in several plays with the Manchester Repertory Company and performing on BBC Radio.



When he joined his brother George in Hollywood, Conway became a contract player for MGM. During this time he changed his last name from Sanders to Conway after losing a friendly coin toss to his brother.[2] He had small roles in Waterloo Bridge (1940), with only his voice heard, Sky Murder (1941) and The Wild Man of Borneo (1941). He had a bigger part in The Trial of Mary Dugan (1941) then was back to small parts in Free and Easy (1941), The Bad Man (1941), The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941), and Lady Be Good (1941).

Conway was a villain in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941), Mr. and Mrs. North (1941) and Rio Rita (1942). He was a murder suspect in Grand Central Murder (1942) and had an uncredited bit in Mrs. Miniver (1942).

RKO: The Falcon and Val Lewton

At RKO, Conway's brother George Sanders had starred in three popular "B" movies as "The Falcon". Sanders was getting sick of the role so Conway took over as The Falcon's Brother (1942), co-starring with Sanders for one film (Sanders' character was killed off). RKO signed him to a long term contract.[3]

Conway followed this with an excellent role in Cat People (1942), the first of producer Val Lewton's legendary horror cycle. It was an even bigger hit than Falcon's Brother.

Conway starred in The Falcon Strikes Back (1942), then had the male lead in a second film for Lewton, I Walked with a Zombie (1942), now regarded as a horror classic.[4]

He starred in The Falcon in Danger (1943) and The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943) back to back, then was top billed in Lewton's The Seventh Victim (1943) playing the same role he did in The Cat People though his character was apparently killed in that film. After The Falcon Out West (1944) he made a crime mystery, A Night of Adventure (1944), directed by Gordon Douglas. He reprised the Falcon role with The Falcon in Mexico (1944) and The Falcon in Hollywood (1945), then was top billed in a "B" mystery directed by Anthony Mann, Two O'Clock Courage (1945).

After The Falcon in San Francisco (1945), Conway was borrowed by United Artists for Whistle Stop (1946), in which he supported George Raft, Ava Gardner and Victor McLaglen. He went back to RKO for The Falcon's Alibi (1946) and a "B", Criminal Court (1946), directed by Robert Wise. The Falcon's Adventure (1946) was Conway's last "Falcon".

In June 1946 Conway obtained a release from his RKO contract. His next film was to be Strange Bedfellows at United Artists.[5]

Freelance actor

On radio, Conway played Sherlock Holmes during the 1946–1947 season of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, following Basil Rathbone's departure from the series.[6]:302 In spite of a similar vocal timbre, Conway was not as well-received as Rathbone by audiences; he played Holmes for only one season.

He was a leading support actor in Lost Honeymoon (1947) and Repeat Performance (1947) for Eagle-Lion and Fun on a Weekend (1947) for United Artists.

Reliance Pictures, a small outfit who distributed through Fox, hired Conway to play Bulldog Drummond in The Challenge (1948) and 13 Lead Soldiers (1948). Fox cast him in the lead of some B movies: The Checkered Coat (1948), Bungalow 13 (1948), and I Cheated the Law (1949). Conway had a support part in One Touch of Venus (1948). He had the lead in The Great Plane Robbery (1950).

Conway had support parts in Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951) and Bride of the Gorilla (1951). He went back to leads for Confidence Girl (1952) and was a villain in Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953).

In 1951, he replaced Vincent Price as star of the radio mystery series The Saint,[6] portrayed by Sanders on film a decade earlier.

From 1951–1954, Conway played debonair British police detective Mark Saber, who worked in the homicide division of a large American city, in the ABC series entitled Inspector Mark Saber – Homicide Detective.[7] In 1957, the series resumed on NBC, renamed Saber of London, with Donald Gray in the title role.[8]

Conway went to England to star in Park Plaza 605 (1953), and Blood Orange (1953) using his own name for the private detective he played. He had a support part in Paris Model (1953) and a minor role in Prince Valiant (1954), but leads in the British Barbados Quest (1955), Breakaway (1955) and The Last Man to Hang? (1956).

In 1956, the two brothers both featured (as brothers) in the film Death of a Scoundrel, though Sanders had the starring role.

In America he was in The She-Creature (1956) and Voodoo Woman (1957). In England he did Operation Murder (1957). In 1956 he was briefly hospitalised for an operation.[9]

Conway performed in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "The Glass Eye" (1957) as Max Collodi, receiving critical praise.

Final years

Conway had support roles on The Betty Hutton Show television series (1959-60) and in the feature films The Atomic Submarine (1959), and 12 to the Moon (1960). He provided his voice for Disney's 101 Dalmatians (1961) as a quizmaster in What's My Crime?—a parody of the game show What's My Line?—and as a collie who offers the dalmatians shelter in a barn, later guiding them home. His wife at the time, Queenie Leonard, voiced a cow in the barn.

His final television appearance was in the Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Simple Simon" (1964), playing the role of Guy Penrose.

Decline and death

Despite having been financially successful in his twenty-four-year film career, Conway later struggled to make ends meet. Failing eyesight and alcoholism took their toll on him in his last years.

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1953.[10]

His second wife (Leonard) divorced him in 1963 because of his drinking problem. His alcoholism also cost him his relationship with his brother George Sanders, who broke off all contact with him.

Conway underwent cataract surgery during the winter of 1964–1965. In September 1965 he briefly returned to the headlines, having been discovered living in a $2-a-day room in a Venice, Los Angeles flophouse. Gifts, contributions and offers of aid poured in for a time. Conway estimated he had earned $900,000 in his career but was broke. "I don't particularly want to act," he said.[11] He said he lost his last $15,000 to swindlers in a lumber deal.[12] Lew Ayres paid his rent.[13]

His last years were marked with hospitalizations. It was there that former sister-in-law Zsa Zsa Gabor paid Conway a visit and gave him $200. "Tip the nurses a little bit so they'll be good to you," she told him. The following day, the hospital called her to say that Conway had left with the $200, gone to his girlfriend's house, and become gravely sick in her bed. It was 22 April 1967, and he died from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 62. His funeral was held in London.[14][15][16]



  1. Obituary Variety, 26 April 1967.
  3. By Telephone to The New York Times. (1942, Mar 24). Screen News Here and in Hollywood (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  4. By Telephone to The New York Times. (1942, May 12). George montgomery is chosen for a lead role with gene tierney in 'china girl'. The New York Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  5. Paulette Goddard is Signed by Korda: Will Be Seen in 'True Story of Carmen,' Based on Merimee Novel – Henry V' Due Dietrich in Paramount Film Of Local Origin Special to The New York Times 17 June 1946: 32.
  6. Terrace, Vincent (1999). Radio Programs, 1924–1984: A Catalog of More Than 1800 Shows. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-4513-4. P. 293.
  7. Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7. P. 656.
  8. Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time and Cable TV Shows, 1946 – present. New York City: Random House Publishing Co., 2003. 2010. ISBN 978-0307483157. Retrieved 5 January 2011.
  9. Tom Conway has operation. (1956, Oct 05). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. Tom Conway sued by wife. (1953, Jun 16). Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  11. Offers of aid deluge actor tom Conway. (1965, Sep 15). Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  12. Maldin, D. (1965, Sep 16). Offers pour in for actor. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  13. Mauldin, D. (1965, Sep 23). Letters still pouring in for actor Conway. Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
  14. Actor Tom Conway of movies and TV. (1967, Apr 26). The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959–1973) Retrieved from
  15. Tom Conway, star of nearly 300 movies, dies in hospital. (1967, Apr 25). Los Angeles Times (1923–Current File) Retrieved from
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