She was groomed to be rich, famous and wed to a king. She became a perpetual jet-setter, one of the most conspicuous names, faces and figures in the world. Reporters and photographers chronicled her every affair and scandal. She married well but not always wisely, nine times in all, with no monarch in the bunch, just a prince who bought the title.
In the otherwise staid cultural landscape of 1950s and 1960s, Zsa Zsa Gabor stood out as a show business personality. Across continents she was recognized for the majestic sweep of blond hair, her green eyes and porcelain skin, her swanlike neck and her fetching Hungarian accent, plump with innuendo.
“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and dogs are a man’s best friend,” she once remarked. “Now you know which sex has more sense.”
Gabor, the voluptuous sometime-actress, international party girl and celebrity who cut a template for later and lesser socialite-somethings with names such as Kardashian and Hilton, died Dec. 18 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 99.
Her publicist, Edward Lozzi, confirmed the death to the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets. The cause was not immediately known.
For much of her life Gabor kept her age preposterously vague. Reports of her birth year spanned from 1916 to 1930. If the latter was to be believed, she was 7 when she married for the first time.
Her prominence depended almost entirely on her gusto for extravagant living, piquant quips about jewels and sex, and her self-help tips for the modern-day paramour. Among her bon mots:
▪ “Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.”
▪ “I’m a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house.”
▪ “I never hated a man enough to give him back his diamonds.”
▪ “I want a man who’s kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?”
She seemed most in her element in nightclubs and on late-night talk shows, from the Jack Paar to the David Letterman eras. In a typical TV exchange, a woman seeking advice asked if she “did wrong” when she spent the night with a man.
“Dahhhling,” Gabor said in her accented English, “don’t you remember?”
The tawny-haired glamour magnet – often photographed wearing diamonds and white fur – displayed a talent for attracting men and headlines.
She said her conquests included Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, widely known as the father of modern Turkey but to her “a professional lover, a god and a king.”
In 1958, she accepted a $17,000 chinchilla coat and a Mercedes-Benz from Rafael Trujillo Jr., the son of the Dominican strongman. She was rebuked on the floor of the House of Representatives during a debate over foreign aid for the Caribbean nation.
From the well of the House floor, Rep. Wayne Hays – an Ohio Democrat whose career unraveled decades later over his own sex scandal – called her “the most expensive courtesan since Madame de Pompadour.”
That same night, Gabor flew to Washington, D.C., for a nightclub date and was mobbed by reporters seeking a comment.
“I’m a hard-working girl,” she said, blithely.
Most reviewers regard Gabor’s best screen-acting work to be in director John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge” (1952), in which she portrayed Jane Avril, the nightclub’s renowned chanteuse who modeled for artist Toulouse-Lautrec.
But Gabor said she detested working with Huston, who demanded that she suppress her considerable personality to allow the character’s to emerge.
“I was hired because I am Zsa Zsa Gabor, but when I go to work, directors try to force their methods on me,” she said. “John Huston’s intense, precise directions tortured me.” Huston was said to have advised her: “Forget about acting. Just make love to the camera.”
For the rest of her career, her performances were notable mostly for her cool and stylish looks. Gabor was a wealthy widow in “Death of a Scoundrel” (1956) and she breezed through “Queen of Outer Space” (1958) as Talleah, ruler of an all-female civilization on Venus.
She had a small part as a strip-club owner in Orson Welles’s “Touch of Evil” (1958) and played twins, one of whom sleeps with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in “The Girl in the Kremlin” (1957).
In her later years, she was hired to play campy versions of herself in films including “The Naked Gun 2 1/2 ” (1991) and “The Beverly Hillbillies” (1993).
Gabor wrote advice books, including “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man” (1970). The husbands she caught, kept and got rid of included Turkish diplomat Burhan Belge, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and Oscar-winning actor George Sanders, who later married Gabor’s sister Magda.
Her other husband included financier Herbert Hutner, oil executive Joshua Cosden Jr., inventor Jack Ryan (designer of Mattel’s Barbie doll), lawyer Michael O’Hara and Mexican businessman Felipe de Alba, whose marriage to Gabor lasted three days in 1982.
Gabor embodied a joie de vivre in the face of adversity.
When Sanders reportedly hired detectives to find evidence she was having an affair with Rubirosa – onetime spouse of heiresses Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke – Gabor was said to have served the detectives champagne upon their arrival at the trysting spot.
Sometimes her flair backfired.
In 1989, a Beverly Hills policeman stopped her for expired registration tags as she was driving in her Rolls-Royce convertible. Words were exchanged. She slapped him.
In court, Gabor was convicted on misdemeanor charges of battery on a police officer, driving without a valid driver’s license and having an open bottle of alcohol in her car. A judge sentenced her to spend three days in jail, pay a $12,000 fine and serve 120 hours of community service.
He also ordered Gabor, who was likely in her early 70s, to list her true age on her driver’s license. She claimed she was 59.
Sari Gabor, who received her nickname Zsa Zsa in childhood, was born in Budapest, most likely on Feb. 17, 1917. Her parents, Vilmos Gabor and the former Jolie Tilleman, were jewelry and porcelain merchants. Jolie, in particular, spoke of pushing her three beautiful daughters – the other two were Magda and Eva – to be “rich, famous and married to kings.”
Zsa Zsa Gabor studied dance, languages and singing and did stage work as a young woman. European society columns took note of her looks and love affairs. She was reported to have eloped for the first time at 14 and married Belge, the Turkish diplomat, in 1937.
She left Ankara, the Turkish capital, for Hollywood in 1941 with eight trunks of clothes. Her sister Eva, later to star on the CBS sitcom “Green Acres,” had taken up residence in the film colony.
Zsa Zsa Gabor immersed herself in a social circle that included the hotelier Hilton, whom she married in 1942 despite their three-decade age gap. The marriage crumbled for many reasons, including her tendency to rack up exorbitant bills.
Hilton restricted her monthly allowance to $250 for personal expenses but left her a loophole by agreeing to cover all household expenses.
Her embrace of grand living culminated in her aptly titled 1991 memoir, “One Lifetime Is Not Enough,” a book that billed the author as “Assisted by, Edited by, and Put Into Proper English by Wendy Leigh.”
In 1986, Gabor wed Prince Frederic von Anhalt, a German police detective’s son who bought the title of a minor aristocrat. He is her only survivor.
In 2005, Gabor and von Anhalt sued her only child, Francesca Hilton, for allegedly faking her mother’s signature to obtain a $2 million loan on the Gabor-von Anhalt mansion in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The case was dismissed in 2007 when Gabor did not show up in court, citing poor health. She had been partially paralyzed since a car wreck in 2002 and suffered leg infections that prevented her from going to court, her lawyers said.
Befitting her long career in the spotlight, every turn in her health, usually for the worse, was picked up by the tabloid media. She underwent hip surgery in 2010, then her right leg was amputated to avoid the spread of an infection.
There were accounts of her receiving last rites, then rallying to a more stable condition as her far-younger husband collapsed from exhaustion.
Francesca Hilton died in January 2015 at 67.
When asked her assessment of other socialites fond of the media glare, Gabor usually said she found them lacking.
“I think she’s rather silly,” she told Vanity Fair magazine of Paris Hilton, the great-granddaughter of her second husband. “She does too many things for publicity.”
Films in which Zsa Zsa Gabor appeared
▪ “Lovely to Look At,” 1952.
▪ “Moulin Rouge,” 1952.
▪ “The Story of Three Loves,” 1953.
▪ “Lili,” 1953.
▪ “Three Ring Circus,” 1954.
▪ “Death of a Scoundrel,” 1956.
▪ “The Girl in the Kremlin,” 1957.
▪ “Touch of Evil,” 1958.
▪ “Queen of Outer Space,” 1958.
▪ “Pepe,” 1960.
▪ “Boys’ Night Out,” 1962.
▪ “Picture Mommy Dead,” 1966.
▪ “Arrivederci Baby,” 1966.
▪ “Jack of Diamonds,” 1967.
▪ “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,” 1987.