Long before the Kardashians became famous television sensations, that honor went to the Gabor sisters. Zsa Zsa was the Kim of the family and the most famous of the sisters. Zsa Zsa craved attention and had the beauty to become a star. Like Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes, Zsa Zsa quickly became known for her scandalous behavior instead of her natural talent.
Her Jewish family moved to America while escaping the Nazis; so how exactly did Zsa Zsa become a socialite in the most elite circles of Old Hollywood. Her career was overshadowed by her multiple marriages and petty feuds, but that doesn’t mean people stopped gossiping about her. She was the talk of Hollywood for years.
Here is the true story of the stunning Zsa Zsa Gabor.
On February 16, 1917, Zsa Zsa Gabor was born in Budapest, Hungary, when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Zsa Zsa was the middle of three daughters, but all the girls were exquisitely beautiful and celebrities in their own right.
Gabor began her on-stage career in Vienna and, in 1936, she was crowned Miss Hungary. By 1941, she emigrated to the United States. Her older sister, Magda, was an American socialite, and her younger sister, Eva, became almost as notorious of a celebrity as Zsa Zsa was.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that “Zsa Zsa” wasn’t her real name. She was actually born with the name Sari, after a famous Hungarian actress named Sari Fedak. So, where did Zsa Zsa’s iconic name actually come from?
Gabor played a character named Zsa Zsa in her first feature film, Lovely to Look at. However, we don’t know if she took the stage name from her character or vice versa. It could also be that the name just kind of stuck after she played the role.
Gabor’s parents, Vilmos and Jolie Gabor were Jewish Hungarians. In her day, Jolie was a stunning jeweler and socialite. Jolie walked down the aisle three times during her life, and her last husband was a rich Hungarian count. But her three daughters became known for their own scandalous, diva ways.
During an interview in 1976, Jolie spoke about her aristocratic sugar daddy: “He takes care of me, he takes care of my business, my three homes in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. When I marry him, darling, he looks younger than me, but now, he looks older.” I see where her daughters get it from…
In 1934, when Gabor was a teenager, she traveled to Vienna, where she was discovered by Richard Tauber, a famous Austrian opera tenor and actor. He was so impressed by little Gabor that he invited her to be a part of his new opera, The Singing Dream. Gabor was excited to make her on-stage debut singing the soubrette role in the play.
Gabor was known to call everyone “darling,” but her Hungarian accent made it sound like “dah-ling” which was much more sophisticated and iconic. Other than keeping up her elegant persona, Gabor admitted that the reason she called everyone “dah-ling,” was because it’s easier than remembering their names.
We mentioned how the Gabor family moved to America to flee the Nazis. The first sister to leave was the eldest, Magda. She ran away to Portugal in 1944 after the Nazis occupied Hungary, and two years later, she made her way to the United States.
While her sister was in the spotlight, Magda preferred to be a little more low-key. In fact, she only appeared in one movie, a 1937 Hungarian comedy called Modern Girls. After that, she was in three television shows, including her little sister Eva’s talk show.
It’s hard to say exactly when Zsa Zsa and her sisters became the gossip of Hollywood. I mean, the family ended up in America when they fled the Nazis in the 1940s and suddenly met great acclaim and recognition. They were extremely lucky to fall into the life they had.
Television host Merv Griffin once said that “It’s hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamourous Gabor girls… 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.”
As we mentioned, their stardom seemed to have started with pure luck. However, when they wanted to break into elite American society, they did have a little bit of help. In 1941, Zsa Zsa arrived in Hollywood with a letter of introduction from African movie star Basil Rathbone and his wife, Oudia.
Like today, connections are important, especially in such a cut-throat industry like Hollywood. With a famous star vouching for her, Gabor was quickly accepted into some of Hollywood’s most glamourous circles.
Zsa Zsa inherited her mother’s sense of drama, but that wasn’t the only trait Jolie passed on to her daughter. Gabor married a total of nine times! She managed to exceed her mother’s record with a whole bunch of husbands. Well, seven of her marriages ended in divorce and one was annulled.
Gabor strategically modeled her persona after one of history’s most scandalous mistresses. According to one writer, “Zsa Zsa in unique. She’s a woman from the court of Louis XV who has somehow managed to live in the 20th century… She says she wants to be all the Pompadours and Du Barrys of history rolled into one.”
Gabor was more than just a pretty face. She was actually a pretty smart girl who was known for her razor-sharp wit, clever one-liners, and self-deprecating humor. Her brilliant sense of humor was a clear trait in her personality. Once, while discussing her notorious love life, she said:
“A girl must marry for love and keep on marrying until she finds it.” This is obviously a reference to her many failed marriages. She later joked that “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house!” If Zsa Zsa was around now, she probably would have been legendary on Twitter.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was awarded her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8th, 1960. In 2004, the starlet was also inducted in the B-Movie Hall of Fame. In 1970, the lavish Gabor had the best luxuries money could buy. The starlet bought herself a vast Bel-Air mansion built in the classic Hollywood Regency Style. However, this wasn’t just your ordinary mansion.
That building was originally constructed by Howard Hughes, the infamous business magnate, record-setting pilot, and film director. Also, Elvis Presley lived there for a short while. Anyway, it was the perfect fit for the glamorous Zsa Zsa.
The 1958 movie Touch of Evil, directed by (and starring) Orson Welles, was one of the most critically acclaimed films that Gabor was featured in. At the time, Gabor was dating Albert Zugsmith, one of the film’s producers, and she just so happened to get a cameo in the film.
It was a small part, but, nonetheless, she made an appearance in the hit movie. Whether or not her romantic connection helped her snag the role is debatable. It seems possible, but I’ll leave the answer up to you… I guess we’ll never know for sure.
We mentioned Zsa Zsa’s long string of husbands. Her first was Turkish diplomat Burhan Belge, next was hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, then actor George Sanders (who later married Magda Gabor). Her fourth husband was New York businessman Hebert Hutner, then oilman Joshua Cosden, and then Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan.
She then married her divorce lawyer Michael O’Hara and Count Felipe de Alba of Mexico, before finally finding her happy ending with Fredric Prinz von Anhalt. The reason her married to Alba was annulled was because she was technically still married to O’Hara when they tied the knot.
It’s no secret that Gabor always had expensive taste, and she liked to find rich men to keep the cash flowing. So, in 1942, she thought she had hit the jackpot when she met the perfect man: Conrad Hilton Jr, owner of the famous chain of Hilton Hotels.
Conrad had a string of wives and four children. One was daughter Francesca Hilton who he had with Zsa Zsa. But just like most of Gabor’s relationships, this was not wedded bliss. The pair tied the knot in 1942 but called it quits by 1947.
Despite her movie roles, Gabor had the most consistent success on reality TV shows and talk shows. Gabor interacted with many TV personalities, including Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson, and even the original shock jock himself, Howard Stern.
Even though the Gabor girls were fruitful in their marriages, they weren’t so active when it came to children. In fact, Zsa Zsa was the only Gabor sister to ever have a child, Francesca Gabor Hilton, who was born on March 10th, 1947. Altogether, the three Gabor girls got divorced a total of 18 times.
In 1949, Gabor got the opportunity to star in the much anticipated movie adaptation of the book Lady Chatterley’s Lover, an infamous novel known for its steamy and explicit intimate scenes (like a modern-day 50 Shades of Grey).
Zsa Zsa was an obvious contender for the role. She had evident experience with men and her scandalous reputation didn’t hurt her chances. However, Gabor didn’t feel like dealing with all that controversy and turned down the role. The movie was ultimately released in 1955, and Danielle Darrieux starred as Constance Chatterley instead.
Gabor auditioned for the role of Miss Caswell in the 1950 classic All About Eve and almost got it. She was one of the final choices but got beat by Marilyn Monroe for the part. Well, I guess if you’re going to have to lose to someone, let it be Marilyn Monroe.
A 1986 episode of The New Hollywood Squares Gabor was set to appear on needed to be delayed by 45 minutes. So, what’s the big emergency that caused the delay? Poor Miss Gabor had broken a fingernail.
Since her celebrity status and scandalous reputation overshadowed her acting talent, Gabor was often placed in television shows where she could play herself, instead of a fictional character. Many of these television programs were reality shows.
Some of the shows that the television star appeared in were Beverly Hillbillies, The Naked Gun ½: The Smell of Fear, A Very Brady Sequel, and Smart Alec. You don’t even need fiction when you’re freaking Zsa Zsa Gabor! She did make guests appearances (not playing herself), in shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
People have plenty to say about Gabor’s career and personal life, but despite all the controversy, she was an incredibly accomplished woman. We mentioned how she had a hilarious side to her, but her witty comebacks weren’t the only thing she had.
She was also a genius when it came to languages. Her native tongue was Hungarian, and obviously, she spoke English. But in addition, she also knew Italian, German, and French. That’s pretty impressive. Plus, these skills were useful when it came to finding hunky, rich, European men.
Jolie, Gabor’s mother, might have married a count, but her daughter Zsa Zsa married a prince… well, sort of. Gabor’s last husband was a man known as Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, a German American entrepreneur whose real name was Hans Lichtenberg. Strangely, in 1980, the deposed Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt adopted Fredric.
He was a full-grown adult at the ripe age of 36 when she took him in. He was never an official royal and didn’t have royal blood. Yet, he liked to call himself, “Prince Frédéric of Anhalt, Duke of Saxony and Westphalia, Count of Ascania.” So, in the end, Zsa Zsa technically got her prince.
The first of Zsa Zsa’s long list of husbands was a Turkish politician, and she exchanged vows with him when they were both living in Hungary. It was after she got to America that she tied the knot with her second and most notable husband, Conrad Hilton.
Hilton was three decades older than Zsa Zsa at the time of their marriage. The marriage crumbled after five years and Gabor ended up in a sanatorium. She said she was so traumatized by the “therapy” she received there that she never fully got over it.
Although Hilton was the father of Zsa Zsa’s only child, he wasn’t a good husband. It didn’t take her long to get out of the toxic environment. In fact, her pregnancy was announced at the same time as her divorce. She explained how controlling her ex-husband was:
“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.” We’ll get to what else he did to the starlet soon.
We mentioned how Gabor had one daughter, Francesca Hilton, but their relationship was rocky even at its best. In 2005, Zsa Zsa’s estate (and ), filed a lawsuit against Francesca, accusing her of larceny and fraud for forging a $2 million loan on her mother’s home.
Francesca firmly denied all these allegations, and, in the end, the case was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. When her mom got sick, Francesca was left to the care of her stepfather, . He completely cut her off financially.
Oscar-winning British actor and singer-songwriter George Sanders was one of Zsa Zsa’s many husbands. Like most of her other relationships, they had a passionate yet incredibly volatile romance. They exchanged vows on April 2nd, 1949 and ended up divorcing exactly five years later, on April 2nd, 1954.
It seems like Sanders never really got over Zsa Zsa considering he married her older sister Magda in 1970. Unsurprisingly, this marriage was just as toxic as the first one. Maybe worse, since they split up after a short 32 days as husband and wife. She even drove Sanders into a drinking bender.
Like any good self-respecting Old Hollywood celebrity, Zsa Zsa was involved in her share of feuds. One of her longest-running quarrels was with German-born Hollywood superstar Elke Sommer. The rivalry started when the two women were featured on the annual television special Circus of the Stars.
Reportedly, Sommer mentioned something about Gabor’s weight: When Gabor mounted a horse, Sommer said, “Poor horse.” Sommer later said that Gabor (and her husband, von Anhalt) falsely exaggerated her age and ruined her acting career. Either way, both starlets agree that the feud began at the 1984 Circus of the Stars special.
As you can imagine, the feud only got more bitter with time. Gabor’s husband, Fredric Prinz von Anhalt, eventually gave a shocking interview calling Elke Sommer out for looking like a balding “100-year-old grandmother.” Yikes!
Zsa Zsa added that she was so poor that she “had to sell her house in Hollywood and now lives in the worst section of Los Angeles.” I get that they don’t like each other but saying mean things about another actress during an interview only makes Zsa Zsa look bad. Nowadays, celebrities don’t often talk much about their frenemies.
As you can imagine, the rivalry ultimately came to a head in 1992. The feud and snarky comments landed Gabor and Sommer in libel court. Unfortunately for Gabor, Sommer ended up winning and the court awarded her with a hefty $3.3 million in damages.
Immediately after the verdict was announced, Zsa Zsa declared her intention to appeal. She bitterly stated, “I’d rather see her starve to death than give her one single dollar.” That’s harsh! All this started with one fat joke? It escalated into a multimillion-dollar lawsuit real fast…
On June 14th, 1989, Gabor was pulled over by police officer Paul Kramer in Beverly Hills while she was driving a Rolls-Royce that costs over $200,000. In addition to driving without a license, there was an open bottle of alcohol in the car.
Things quickly got worse. Instead of admitting her mistakes, she slapped Kramer in the face before driving away. Talk about making things worse. I know celebrities think they can get away with everything but come on! Show a little respect! But don’t worry, the reckless starlet didn’t get off that easy.
Three months later, Zsa Zsa was convicted of slapping a police officer as well as the license infractions and alcohol. She had to pay a large fine and spent three days in jail for her disgusting behavior. Yep, in 1990, 72-year-old Gabor was put behind bars.
A couple of years after this police officer incident, Gabor famously joked about the controversy in the satire The Naked Gun ½: The Smell of Fear. In the opening credits of the movie, Gabor slaps a police car instead of an officer. We always knew she had a good sense of humor, and she seemingly learned her lesson.
Gabor lived an extremely long life, and up until her 80s, she was relatively healthy. But sadly, in 2002, a terrible tragedy struck. Gabor was involved in a car accident while she was the front seat passenger in her car cruising through Sunset Boulevard.
She sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash and became partially paralyzed and needed a wheelchair for mobility. Unfortunately, she never fully recovered. She experienced multiple strokes and underwent various emergency surgeries between 2010-2011 and nearly lost her life. One of the scariest consequences was having her right leg amputated after an infection was destroying her body.
Although Zsa Zsa’s parents are devout Jews, she adapted to Roman Catholicism as her religion and faith. She remained Catholic for the rest of her adult life. In fact, in 2010, she was rushed to the hospital after a serious health scare and Gabor’s family called a Catholic priest to read her the last rites.
After a long career and immense success, Gabor tragically died on December 18th, 2016 of cardiac arrest while in a coma. She lived an incredible 99 years and died a mere 50 days before her 100th birthday.
What’s tragic is that Gabor outlived her only daughter. Francesca Hilton passed away from a massive stroke on January 5th, 2015, at the young age of 67. Gabor’s husband chose to keep Francesca’s death a secret from Zsa Zsa, worrying that the news would destroy her both physically and emotionally.
As we mentioned, the mother-daughter duo didn’t always have the best relationship, but at the end of the day, they were family and they loved each other. So, Gabor died not knowing that her daughter was dead. I guess it was better not to tell her. You know what they say, ignorance is bliss.
Gabor released her autobiography One Lifetime is Not Enough in 1991. As you can imagine, she revealed a lot of extremely juicy details of her life and made incredibly scandalous claims. Some are more scandalous than others.
One of her most shocking claims concerned her daughter Francesca. We know she was her only child, and the baby daddy was Conrad Hilton. Gabor revealed that Francesca was conceived when her then-husband, Conrad, had non-consensual sex with her. As horrific as that is, it might explain the rocky mother-daughter relationship that Gabor had with Francesca.
In addition to her many talents, Zsa Zsa was also a writer. She was the author of a few books: “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man,” “Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Complete Guide to Men,” and “One Lifetime Is Not Enough.”
As much as I like the idea of her books about catching men, am I the only one who is a little iffy about taking relationship advice from her? She once summed up her views toward marriage saying, “Getting divorced just because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do.”
We briefly mentioned how 95-year-old Gabor had to lose a limb. After suffering a series of health issues, her husband Prince Fredric von Anhalt never told the star what happened. Just like he kept Francesca’s death a secret to spare her feelings. Gabor eventually realized her leg was gone on her own.
He told The New York Post: “It took half a year. She found out about it when she told me to sit her up, and she saw it. She couldn’t feel it because one hand is paralyzed, and one hand was too short to go on it. Finally, a half-year later she said, ‘There is something missing.’”
Fredric also wouldn’t tell Zsa Zsa that she was being fed through a tube: “She doesn’t even know she gets food through the tube. It will only upset her. She was so glamorous always, and she is so vain.” It’s true. If he revealed all these dark secrets to Zsa Zsa, it would only break her heart.
Despite her feuds, scandalous behavior, and multiple husbands, Zsa Zsa had something truly special. From an extremely early age, it was evident that she was born to be a star. The Gabor sisters paved the way for the Kardashians and other modern-day socialites to take the spotlight.