Tom Conway

Biography

Tom Conway played "The Falcon" in ten of that series' entries. He starred in three Val Lewton horror classics. He appeared in comedies, musicals, two Tarzan films and even science fiction films. He was early television's Detective Mark Saber, but Conway will probably be best remembered as George Sanders' brother. Born into a wealthy family in pre-Bolshevik Revolution Russia, Thomas Charles Sanders might have followed his father as a rope manufacturer and inherited several estates. Had the family not been forced to flee to England, the brothers Sanders may never have added their names to the Hollywood saga. But the Russian Revolution came, and Tom (age 13), George (age 11), sister Margaret (age 5), together with their parents, fled to England, leaving most of their wealth in the hands of the Bolsheviks. The brothers attended Dunhurst and Bedales, private schools, and eventually Brighton College. After college, Tom went to Northern Rhodesia where he worked in gold, copper and asbestos mines and even attempted ranching. Frustrated and "pretty well fed up to the teeth" with his failures, he borrowed passage home. In England, Conway worked as an engineer in a carburetor company and later sold safety glass. He was discovered by a representative from a little theater group who persuaded him to join them. Conway eventually worked for the Manchester Repertory Company and toured with them in over twenty-five plays. He also appeared in BBC radio broadcasts. Brother George persuaded him to come to Hollywood. To prevent confusion on the part of the public, they tossed a coin to see who would have to change his name. Tom lost, thereby becoming Tom Conway. Conway began work at MGM, eventually appearing as a contract player in twelve films there, including a bit part in La signora Miniver (1942). Brother George, tiring of B-film appearances in RKO's Falcon series and with better roles at two studios looming on the horizon, offered Tom his first big break. In La Relève du Faucon (1942), George was conveniently eliminated by a Nazi sniper so that Tom, as Tom Lawrence, could inherit the role. Conway played the role with even greater success than that of his brother in the next ten installments, concluding with Les Aventures du Faucon (1946). During those years, he also appeared in Val Lewton's Il bacio della pantera (1942), Ho camminato con uno zombi (1943) and La septième victime (1943). These led to two major film appearances, Universal's Il bacio di Venere (1948), with Ava Gardner and Eve Arden and Warner Brothers' Femmine bionde (1951). Amidst the collapse of the studio system, Tom found his opportunities shrinking. There were to be no further major roles for him. His next film was Bride of the Gorilla (1951). Alert to new possibilities for work, he accepted the part of homicide detective Mark Saber in the television series, Mark Saber (1951). Conway also made several mystery films in England during the same period. He played a cameo role as a bearded and be-wigged Sir Kay in Il principe coraggioso (1954) with two brief lines. Back in the states, there were guest appearances on TV's Gli uomini della prateria (1959), Aventures dans les îles (1959), and Perry Mason (1957). In October, 1957, Tom turned in a brilliant performance as ventriloquist Max Collodi in Alfred Hitchcock presenta (1955) chilling tale "The Glass Eye". He appeared regularly as the boyfriend on the The Betty Hutton Show (1959). Conway also lent his voice to La carica dei 101 (1961). His final appearance was an uncredited part, in La signora e i suoi mariti (1964). Failing eyesight and prolonged bouts with alcohol took their toll on Conway in his last years. His second wife, Queenie Leonard divorced him in 1963. George Sanders broke off all contact with him over his drinking. Conway underwent cataract surgery during the winter of 1964/65. In September of 1965 Tom briefly returned to the headlines when he was discovered living in a $2-a-day room in a Venice, California flophouse. Gifts, contributions and offers of aid poured in - for a time. Conway, still standing tall and trim, his hair now white, peered owl-like through thick-lensed glasses at the newspaper cameras. His last years were marked with further visits to the hospital. It was there that former sister-in-law Zsa Zsa Gabor visited him one day 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 and died in her bed.

Filmography

Movie Name Release Date
101 Dalmatians November 30, 1961
Peter Pan December 16, 1953