Zsa Zsa Gabor (/ˌʒɑːʒɑː ˈɡɑːbɔːr/, [ˈʒɒʒɒ ˈɡaːbor]; born Sári Gábor [ˈʃaːri ˈɡaːbor]; February 6, 1917 – December 18, 2016) was a Hungarian-American actress and socialite. Her sisters were actresses Eva and Magda Gabor.
Gabor began her stage career in Vienna and was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. She emigrated from Hungary to the United States in 1941. Becoming a sought-after actress with "European flair and style", she was considered to have a personality that "exuded charm and grace". Her first film role was a supporting role in Lovely to Look At. She later acted in We're Not Married! and played one of her few leading roles in the John Huston-directed film, Moulin Rouge (1952). Huston would later describe her as a "creditable" actress.
Outside her acting career, Gabor was known for her extravagant Hollywood lifestyle, her glamorous personality, and her many marriages. In total, Gabor had nine husbands, including hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and actor George Sanders. She once stated, "Men have always liked me and I have always liked men. But I like a mannish man, a man who knows how to talk to and treat a woman—not just a man with muscles."
Early life and ancestry
Zsa Zsa Gabor was born Sári Gábor on February 6, 1917, in Budapest, Hungary, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The middle of three daughters, her parents were Vilmos, a soldier, and Jolie Gabor (née Janka Tilleman). Her parents were both of Jewish ancestry. While her mother escaped Hungary during the same period of the Nazi occupation of Budapest, Gabor left the country in 1941, three years prior to the takeover.
Gabor's elder sister, Magda, eventually became an American socialite and her younger sister, Eva, became an American actress and businesswoman. The Gabor sisters were first cousins of Annette Lantos, wife of California Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA).
According to Gabor, she was discovered by operatic tenor Richard Tauber on a trip to Vienna in 1934, following her time as a student at a Swiss boarding school. Tauber invited Gabor to sing the soubrette role in his new operetta, Der singende Traum (The Singing Dream), at the Theater an der Wien. This would mark her first stage appearance. In 1936, she was crowned Miss Hungary.
In 1944, she co-wrote a novel with writer Victoria Wolf entitled Every Man For Himself. According to Gabor, the fictional story was derived, in small part, from Gabor's life experiences. The book was subsequently bought by an American magazine. In 1949, Gabor declined an offer to play the leading role in a film version of the classic book Lady Chatterley's Lover. According to an article written for the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1949, she turned down the role of Lady Chatterley due to the story's controversial theme.
Her more serious film acting credits include Moulin Rouge, Lovely to Look At, and We're Not Married!, all from 1952, and 1953's Lili. In 1958, she ran the gamut of moviemaking, from Touch of Evil to the camp oddity Queen of Outer Space. Later, she appeared in such films as Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie (1984). She did cameos for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), and A Very Brady Sequel (1996), as well as voicing a character in the animated Happily Ever After (1990).
She was also a regular guest on television shows, appearing with Milton Berle, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Howard Stern, David Frost, Arsenio Hall, Phil Donahue, and Joan Rivers. She was a guest on the Bob Hope specials, the Dean Martin Roasts, Hollywood Squares, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and It's Garry Shandling's Show. In 1968, she appeared in the role of Minerva on an episode of Batman, becoming the show's final "special guest villain" when it was cancelled soon after. She appeared on the Late Night show where she told host David Letterman about her blind date with Henry Kissinger, which was arranged by Richard Nixon.
Author Gerold Frank, who helped Gabor write her autobiography in 1960, described his impressions of her:
Zsa Zsa is unique. She's a woman from the court of Louis XV who has somehow managed to live in the 20th century, undamaged by the PTA ... She says she wants to be all the Pompadours and Du Barrys of history rolled into one, but she also says, "I always goof. I pay all my own bills. ... I want to choose the man. I do not permit men to choose me."
In his autobiography, television host Merv Griffin, who was known to spend time with Gabor's younger sister Eva socially, wrote of the Gabor sisters' initial presence in New York and Hollywood:
All these years later, it's hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamorous Gabor girls and their ubiquitous mother. They burst onto the society pages and into the gossip columns so suddenly, and with such force, it was as if they'd been dropped out of the sky.
In 1973, she was the guest roastee on the Dean Martin Roast show,; and, in 1998, film historian Neal Gabler called her kind of celebrity "The Zsa Zsa Factor".
Gabor was married nine times. She was divorced seven times, and one marriage was annulled. She wrote in her autobiography,
All in all — I love being married … I love the companionship, I love cooking for a man (simple things like chicken soup and my special Dracula's goulash from Hungary), and spending all my time with a man. Of course I love being in love — but it is marriage that really fulfills me. But not in every case.
Her husbands, in chronological order, were:
Conrad's decision to change my name from Zsa Zsa to Georgia symbolized everything my marriage to him would eventually become. My Hungarian roots were to be ripped out and my background ignored. ... I soon discovered that my marriage to Conrad meant the end of my freedom. My own needs were completely ignored: I belonged to Conrad.
- George Sanders (April 2, 1949 – April 2, 1954; divorced)
- Herbert Hutner (November 5, 1962 – March 3, 1966; divorced)
Herbert took away my will to work. With his kindness and generosity, he almost annihilated my drive. I have always been the kind of woman who could never be satisfied by money — only excitement and achievement.
- Joshua S. Cosden Jr. (March 9, 1966 – October 18, 1967; divorced)
- Jack Ryan (January 21, 1975 – August 24, 1976; divorced)
- Michael O'Hara (August 27, 1976 – 1983; divorced)
- Felipe de Alba (April 13–14, 1983; annulled)
- Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt (August 14, 1986 – December 18, 2016; her death)
Gabor's divorces inspired her to make numerous quotable puns and innuendos about her marital (and extramarital) history. She commented: "I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house." Gabor later claimed to have had a sexual encounter with her stepson, Nicky.
In 1970, Gabor purchased a nearly 9,000-square-foot Hollywood Regency-style home in Bel Air, which once belonged to Elvis Presley. It was built by Howard Hughes and featured a copper French style roof.
Gabor's only child, daughter Constance Francesca Hilton, was born on March 10, 1947. According to Gabor's 1991 autobiography, One Lifetime Is Not Enough, her pregnancy resulted from rape by then-husband Conrad Hilton. She was the only Gabor sister who had a child. In 2005, a lawsuit was filed accusing her daughter of larceny and fraud, alleging that she had forged her signature to get a US$2 million loan on her mother's Bel Air house. However, the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Santa Monica, threw out the case due to Gabor's failure to appear in court, or to sign an affidavit that she indeed was a co-plaintiff on the original lawsuit filed by her husband, Frédéric von Anhalt. Francesca Hilton died in 2015 at the age of 67 from a stroke. Gabor's husband never told her about her daughter's death, out of concern for her physical and emotional state.
Gabor and her last husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, adopted at least ten adult males who paid them a fee of up to $2,000,000 to become descendants by adoption of Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt. Prinz von Anhalt had himself paid Marie-Auguste to adopt him when he was 36 years old.
While Gabor's parents were Jewish, she was a practicing Catholic.
Legal and financial difficulties
On June 14, 1989, in Beverly Hills, California, Gabor was accused of slapping the face of Beverly Hills police officer Paul Kramer when he stopped her for a traffic violation at 8551 Olympic Boulevard. At trial three months later, a jury convicted her of slapping Kramer. They also found her guilty of driving without a license and possessing an open container of alcohol—a flask of Jack Daniel's—in her $215,000 Rolls-Royce, but acquitted her of the charge of disobeying Kramer when she drove away from the traffic stop. On October 25, 1989, Beverly Hills Municipal Judge Charles G. Rubin sentenced Gabor to serve three days in jail, to pay fines and restitution totaling $12,937, to perform 120 hours of community service, and to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On June 14, 1990, Gabor dropped her conviction appeal and agreed to serve her sentence. However, she refused to take part in community service and served three days in jail from July 27 to July 30, 1990.
Gabor had a long-running feud with German-born actress Elke Sommer, that began in 1984 when both appeared on Circus of the Stars, and escalated into a multimillion-dollar libel suit by 1993. The suit resulted in an order for Gabor and her husband to pay Sommer $3.3 million in general and punitive damages.
On January 25, 2009, the Associated Press reported that her attorney stated that forensic accountants determined that Gabor may have lost as much as $10 million invested in Bernie Madoff's company, possibly through a third-party money manager.
Later life and health
On November 27, 2002, Gabor was a front seat passenger in an automobile crash on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, from which she remained partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair for mobility. She survived strokes in 2005 and 2007 and underwent surgeries. In 2010, she fractured her hip and underwent a successful hip replacement.
In August 2010, Gabor was admitted to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in serious condition and received last rites from a Catholic priest.
In 2011, her right leg was amputated above the knee to save her life from an infection. She was hospitalized again in 2011 for a number of emergencies.
On February 8, 2016, two days after her 99th birthday, Gabor was rushed to hospital after suffering from breathing difficulties. She was diagnosed with a feeding tube-related lung infection and was scheduled to undergo surgery to have her feeding tube removed.
In April 2016, Gabor expressed her wish to move back to Hungary in 2017 and live out the rest of her life there. Her husband stated that he was determined to make her wish come true and he intended to arrange for "a big party in the summer" to celebrate the actress' 100th birthday, after which she would return to Budapest.
Gabor died at the age of 99 of cardiac arrest while in a coma at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center on December 18, 2016, fifty days shy of becoming a centenarian. The causes of death were given as "Cardiopulmonary arrest, Coronary Artery Disease, and Cerebral Vascular Disease". She had been on life support for the previous five years.
Her funeral was held on December 30 in a Catholic ceremony at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, where around 100 mourners attended. Her ashes, placed in a gold rectangular box, were interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery; in July 2021 Prinz von Anhalt had them reinterred in the artists' section of Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest in order to fulfil her wish to return to Hungary. He said that the remains were transported in their own first-class airline seat.
|1952||Lovely to Look At||Mervyn LeRoy||Zsa Zsa|
|We're Not Married!||Edmund Goulding||Eve Melrose|
|Moulin Rouge||John Huston||Jane Avril|
|The Million Dollar Nickel||Peter Ballbusch|
|1953||The Story of Three Loves||Vincente Minnelli and Gottfried Reinhardt||Flirt at bar|
|L'ennemi public no. 1 (The Most Wanted Man)||Henri Verneuil||Lola la Blonde|
|1954||Sangre y luces (Love in a Hot Climate)||Georges Rouquier and Ricardo Muñoz Suay||Marilena|
|Ball der Nationen||Karl Ritter||Vera van Loon|
|3 Ring Circus||Joseph Pevney||Saadia|
|1956||Death of a Scoundrel||Charles Martin||Mrs. Ryan|
|1957||The Girl in the Kremlin||Russell Birdwell|
|1958||The Man Who Wouldn't Talk||Herbert Wilcox||Eve Trent|
|Country Music Holiday||Alvin Ganzer||herself|
|Touch of Evil||Orson Welles||Strip-club owner|
|Queen of Outer Space||Edward Bernds||Talleah|
|1959||For the First Time||Rudolph Maté||Gloria de Vadnuz|
|1960||La Contessa azzurra (The Blue Countess)||Claudio Gora|
|1962||Lykke og krone||Colbjørn Helander and Stein Sælen|
|The Road to Hong Kong||Norman Panama||Cameo appearance|
|Boys' Night Out||Michael Gordon||boss's girl friend|
|1966||Picture Mommy Dead||Bert I. Gordon||Jessica Flagmore Shelley|
|Drop Dead Darling||Ken Hughes||Gigi|
|1967||Jack of Diamonds||Don Taylor||herself|
|1972||Up the Front||Bob Kellett||Mata Hari|
|1976||Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood||Michael Winner||Premiere Female Star||Cameo appearance|
|1978||Every Girl Should Have One||Robert Hyatt||Olivia Wayne|
|1984||Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie||Myron J. Gold||Clara|
|1987||A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors||Chuck Russell||Herself||Cameo appearance|
|Johann Strauß: Der König ohne Krone (Johann Strauss: The King Without a Crown)||Franz Antel||Aunt Amalie|
|1991||The People vs Zsa Zsa Gabor||Herself||Documentary|
|The Naked Gun 2 ⁄2: The Smell of Fear||David Zucker||Cameo appearance|
|1992||The Naked Truth||Nico Mastorakis|
|1993||Est & Quest: Les Paradis Perdus (East & West: Paradises Lost)||Rival|
|Happily Ever After||John Howley||Blossom (voice)|
|The Beverly Hillbillies||Penelope Spheeris||Herself||Cameo appearance|
|1996||A Very Brady Sequel||Arlene Sanford||Cameo appearance|
|1953–1960||What's My Line?||Mystery guest||Recurring role (4 episodes)|
|1953–1964||Jukebox Jury||Musical Judge||Recurring role (3 episodes)|
|1955||The Red Skelton Show||Movie Star||Episode: "Cookie and Zsa Zsa Gabor"|
|Episodes: "A Man of Taste", "The Great Impersonation"|
|December Bride||Herself||Episode: "The Zsa Zsa Gabor Show"|
|1950–1956||The Milton Berle Show||Herself||Recurring role (3 episodes)|
|1956||The Ford Television Theatre||Dara Szabo||Episode: "Autumn Fever"|
|1956–1961||General Electric Theater||Various||Recurring role (5 episodes)|
|1956–1958||Matinee Theatre||Various||Recurring role (3 episodes)|
|1957–1960||The Arthur Murray Party||Herself||Recurring role (4 episodes)|
|1957||The Life of Riley||Gigi||Episode: "Foreign Intrigue"|
|1957||Playhouse 90||Erika Segnitz, Marita Lorenz||Recurring role (2 episodes)|
|The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom||Herself|
|1958||Shower of Stars||Herself||March 20, 1958|
|1959||Lux Video Theatre||Helen|
|The Dinah Shore Chevy Show||Herself||Recurring guest (2 episodes)|
|Make Room for Daddy||Lisa Laslow||Episode: "Kathy and the Glamour Girl"|
|1962||Mister Ed||Herself||Episode: "Zsa Zsa"|
|1962–1977||The Merv Griffin Show||Herself||Recurring guest (42 episodes)|
|1963–1980||The Mike Douglas Show||Herself||Recurring guest (31 episodes)|
|1963||The Dick Powell Show||Girl|
|1963–1964||Burke's Law||Anna, the Maid||Recurring role (2 episodes)|
|1964||The Joey Bishop Show||Herself||Episode: "Zsa Zsa Redecorates the Nursery"|
|1965||Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Pilot||Episode: "Double Jeopardy"|
|Gilligan's Island||Erika Tiffany Smith||Episode: "Erika Tiffany-Smith to the Rescue"|
|1966||Alice in Wonderland...||The Queen of Hearts||Television special|
|The Rounders||Ilona Hobson||Episode: "The Scavenger Hunt"|
|F Troop||Marika||Episode: "Play, Gypsy, Play"|
|1966–1975||Hollywood Squares||Herself||Recurring guest (64 episodes)|
|1967||Bonanza||Madame Marova||Episode: "Maestro Hoss"|
|1968||My Three Sons||Herself||Episode: "Ernie and Zsa Zsa"|
|Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In||Herself||Recurring role (8 episodes)|
|The Name of the Game||Mira Retzyk||Episode: "Fear of High Places"|
|Batman||Minerva||Recurring role (2 episodes)|
|1969||Bracken's World||Herself||Episode: "King David"|
|1971||Mooch Goes to Hollywood||Narrator||Television film|
|Night Gallery||Mrs. Moore||Episode: "The Messiah on Mott Street/The Painted Mirror"|
|1974–1976||Dinah!||Self||Recurring role (10 episodes)|
|1976||Let's Make a Deal||Home Viewer|
|1977||Hollywood Connection||Self||Recurring role (8 episodes)|
|3 Girls 3||Self||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1979||Supertrain||Audrey||Episode: "A Very Formal Heist"|
|1980||The Love Boat||Annette||Episode: "She Stole His Heart/Return of the Captain's Brother/Swag and Mag"|
|Hollywood, ich komme||Stargast||Television film|
|1981||The Facts of Life||Countess Calvet||Episode: "Bought and Sold"|
|As the World Turns||Lydia Marlowe||Series regular|
|1982||Hart to Hart||Aunt Renee|
|1983||Matt Houston||Zizi||Episode: "The Purrfect Crime"|
|California Girls||Herself||Television film|
|1986||Charlie Barnett's Terms of Enrollment||"Star Hungry" Celebrity||Television special|
|1986–1989||The New Hollywood Squares||Panelist||Recurring role (12 episodes)|
|1988||Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special||Princess Zsa Zsa||Television film|
|1989||It's Garry Shandling's Show||Goddess of Commitment||Episode: "It's Garry and Angelica's Show: Part 1"|
|1989||The Munsters Today||Herself||Episode: "Threehundredsomething"|
|1990||City||Babette Croquette||Episode: "Oil and Water"|
|1991||The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air||Sonya Lamor||Episode: "Hi-Ho Silver"|
|1994||Late Show with David Letterman||Herself||Sketch|
|1994||This Is Your Life||Herself||Tribute|
|1995||Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills||Herself||Episode "The Glitch"|
|1935||Der singende Traum||Theater an der Wien|
|1968–1970||Forty Carats||Ann Stanley||Broadway; 780 performances|
|1975||Arsenic and Old Lace||Aunt Abby Brewster||Arlington Heights, Illinois|
|Bell, Book and Candle|
|Finders Will Return|