In Memoriam         ZSA ZSA GABOR

Zsa Zsa Gabor
Actor who epitomised Hollywood glamour, with her diamonds, nine marriages and witty quotable quips


zsa zsa gabor

The name of Zsa Zsa Gabor, who has died aged 99, is redolent of glamour, wealth, hedonism and campy elegance, but not much to do with acting. Although she appeared in some 30 films, Gabor was the embodiment of the phrase "famous for being famous". She was once called "the most expensive courtesan since Madame de Pompadour" by a US congressman after she received expensive gifts from Lieutenant General Ramfis Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. (She claimed that all she had done was accept a Mercedes-Benz and a chinchilla coat from him, while his country had received a $1.3m loan from the US government.) Gabor had one of the best collections of diamonds in the world, and married nine times. "I don't believe in living in sin, so I always got married," she explained.

She was born Sári Gabor into luxury in Budapest. Her date of birth is disputed but most commonly given as 1917. Gabor was brought up with her sisters, Magda and Eva. "I came from a glamorous family. Even my grandmother was a glamorous woman," she said. Their father, Vilmos, an ex-officer in the Hungarian army and a landowner, was in the diamond business, and their mother, Jolie (20 years his junior), was in the business of wearing them. "All my daughters' lovers also want to sleep with me," she once said.

In 1936, Gabor entered the Miss Hungary beauty contest, which gained her the attention of a fellow Hungarian, Alexander Korda, who offered her a film contract. However, the family forbade her to become an actor, so she married Burhan Belge, a Turkish diplomat, and went to live in Ankara. They travelled a lot and on her first visit to Britain, in 1938, she was flattered by the attention paid to her by George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells. After divorcing Belge, she moved to the US and married the hotel tycoon Conrad Hilton in 1942.

She was 30 years younger than Hilton and, at first, they did not understand a word they said to each other. He gave her a used Chrysler as a wedding gift because "his friends at the country club were always telling him that I married him only for his money and he started to believe it. So to try me out, he bought me that old car. He was always saying that I wanted his money when all I really wanted was his love, so I left him." Gabor, who had her only child, Francesca, by Hilton, was also angry when he refused to name one of his hotels after her. By divorcing Hilton, she missed becoming the mother-in-law of Elizabeth Taylor who married Conrad Hilton Jr in 1950.

Gabor's third husband was the suave actor George Sanders, whom she married in 1949. Meanwhile, Gabor began a film career of sorts. "I love to act, darling," she said in her thick Hungarian accent. She took drama lessons from Constance Collier at MGM. One of her best roles was in John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952).

Looking the image of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting, she played the cabaret singer Jane Avril, whose singing was dubbed by Muriel Smith.

In Lili (1953), she was the wife and alluring assistant to a magician played by Jean-Pierre Aumont, causing pain to a smitten waif (Leslie Caron).

Gabor was then quite happy to play a lovely stooge to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Three Ring Circus (1954), and to cavort with Sanders in Death of a Scoundrel (1956).

 

 

 

Two appalling films in the late 1950s made Gabor a camp icon. The Girl in the Kremlin had her playing a double role as twin sisters. She did not play the title role in Queen of Outer Space (1958), but was cast as a rebel Venusian in a slit skirt who falls in love with four earthmen whom her man-hating queen wants to destroy.

Gabor and Sanders divorced in 1954. Sixteen years later, he was briefly married to Magda. Zsa Zsa's next three husbands were wealthy businessmen: Herbert Hutner (1962‑66), Joshua Cosden Jr (1966-67) and Jack Ryan (1975‑76), the inventor of the Barbie doll. She then married the attorney Michael O'Hara (1976-82) and the actor Felipe de Alba, although that marriage was annulled as she was still wed to O'Hara. She married a socialite, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, in 1986. "It's wonderful in Europe being called 'your royal highness'. Otherwise, I don't give a damn about it," she claimed. "To tell you the truth, I would prefer to live in America and just be plain old Zsa Zsa Gabor."

It was through her marriages, her debts, her court cases and her witty appearances on chat shows – when asked how to prevent men from straying, she said, "Shoot them in the legs" – rather than her (mostly cameo) appearances in films, including Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1958), that Gabor remained in the public eye.

In 1993, she was ordered to pay more than $1m in a slander case brought by the actor Elke Sommer. A few years earlier, she had grabbed headlines when she was convicted of assaulting an LA cop after being stopped for a traffic violation. "He was unbelievably rude," she said. "He used language that no man should use toward a woman – and for no reason, except that the tag on my car had expired. I didn't speed; I didn't do anything. And when he became rude, I just forgot he was a policeman and looked at him as just a man who was insulting me. So I lifted my arm, but I never hit him. I should have, though."

Zsa Zsa Gabor on ITV's Des O'Connor Tonight in 1988.

In 2005, Gabor accused her daughter of larceny and fraud, alleging that Francesca had forged her signature to take out a $2m loan on Gabor's Bel Air house. However, the court threw out the case due to Gabor's refusal to appear in court.

In 2010, Gabor was admitted to hospital in a serious condition and received the last rites from a Catholic priest. The following year, her right leg was amputated above the knee to save her life from an infection. She was admitted again in 2011 for numerous emergencies and in the years before her death suffered from severe ill-health.

Her books included How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man (1970) and One Lifetime Is Not Enough (1992). Summing up her life, she said: "Hungarian Gypsies believe that Z is the luckiest letter in the alphabet, and I have two in my name. So I've been doubly lucky, darling!"

Francesca died in January last year. She is survived by Frédéric.

• Zsa Zsa (Sári) Gabor, actor, born 6 February 1917; died 18 December 2016

Ronald Bergan
first published in:
www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/19/zsa-zsa-gabor-obituary

 

Previous-Page-Icon    09   Next-Page-Icon

 

emailIcon.256183302