I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house. ~ Zsa Zsa Gabor
Born Sari Gabor on February 6, 1917, in Budapest, Hungary, Zsa Zsa has been a celebrity and socialite for decades mostly for being herself. She’s acted in films with Fred Allen, José Ferrer and Orson Welles. Her television resume includes Gilligan’s Island, Batman, The Love Boat and countless talk show appearances.
Zsa Zsa (Sari) Gabor was the middle daughter of Vilmos Gabor, a soldier, and Jolie Gabor, the heiress to a European jewelry business. Gabor and her two sisters, Eva and Magda, lived a life of luxury, which included a staff of servants, extensive vacations and stints at expensive boarding schools. Sari started referring to herself as “Zsa Zsa” during childhood.
At the age of 13, Gabor was sent to Switzerland to attend boarding school. While finishing her studies at Madame Subilia’s, Gabor was discovered by the famous operatic tenor Richard Tauber, who invited the teenager to sing the soubrette in his new operetta Der singende Traum, or The Singing Dream. After spending three months at the Vienna Acting Academy, Gabor made her stage debut. In 1936, Gabor was crowned Miss Hungary, though she was later disqualified as she’d fibbed about her true age. In 1937, she married her first husband, 35-year-old Turkish government official Burhan Asaf Belge, to whom she proposed. In celebration of the engagement, Gabor’s parents gave their daughter a 10-karat diamond, among other lavish gifts.
Gabor’s marriage began to deteriorate and by 1941 Gabor and her husband agreed to go their separate ways. That same year, Gabor’s parents also began the process of divorce. Gabor and her mother decided to head to the U.S. to join Eva, who was already living in the country with her new husband. Zsa Zsa applied for an official divorce shortly after she was on American soil.
Not long after her arrival in the U.S., Gabor met hotel magnate and recent bachelor Conrad Hilton. The couple began flirting at an upscale club and, according to Gabor, the millionaire offered Zsa Zsa $20,000 to go with him to Florida that night. She refused. Four months later, on April 10, 1942, the two married. They had one child together, daughter Francesca. 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 to have a child.
Zsa Zsa’s good looks and charm landed her a film career in Hollywood, and in 1952 she made her big-screen début in Lovely to Look At. That same year, she also had a part in We’re Not Married! with Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen, and a starring role in Moulin Rouge with José Ferrer. Gabor later appeared in Death of a Scoundrel (1956) and had a small role in Orson Welles’ classic Touch of Evil (1958).
Over the years Gabor worked in television as well, making guest appearances on such shows as The Life of Riley, Playhouse 90, Matinee Theatre, Burke’s Law, Gilligan’s Island and Batman. Vivacious and humorous, Gabor was also a popular guest on talk shows and celebrity game shows.
What audiences seemed most interested in, however, was Zsa Zsa’s personal life. To many, she appeared as an icon of European glamour, luxury and self-indulgence. Often portrayed as a wily seductress, she frequently appeared on television as an alluring, witty and sometimes challenging guest who had a habit of calling nearly everyone “darling.” But as a vivacious and dramatic personality, Gabor quickly became tabloid fodder, more famous for her marriages and conspicuous wealth than for her acting abilities.
One of her most infamous headline-making incidents came in 1989, when she was arrested for slapping a police officer after he stopped her for a driving violation. During the trial, Gabor made remarks about the officer, who then filed a slander suit against the actress. A jury convicted her of slapping a police officer, driving without a license and possessing an open container of alcohol–a flask of Jack Daniels–in her Rolls-Royce, but also acquitted her on charges of disobeying the officer when she drove away from a routine traffic stop. She was sentenced 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 in the criminal case. Gabor decided to drop her conviction appeal and agreed to serve her sentence. However, Gabor refused to to take part in community service and served three days in jail. The civil suit was settled out of court in 1991.
Gabor once again talked her way into trouble during her long-standing feud with actress Elke Sommer. This battle reached the courts in the 1990s when Sommer sued Zsa Zsa Gabor and Gabor’s husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, for defamation of character and libel after the couple made disparaging remarks about the actress to several German publications. The jury ruled in favor of Sommer.
More legal issues surfaced in June 2005 when Zsa Zsa and her husband filed suit against Gabor’s daughter, Francesca Hilton, accusing her of larceny and fraud, alleging that she had forged Gabor’s signature to get a $2 million loan on her mother’s Bel Air house. However, the Santa Monica Superior Court 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, Frederick von Anhalt. Francesca Hilton died on January 5, 2015, at the age of 67 from a massive stroke.
Gabor made headlines again in 2009 when her lawyer announced that forensic accountants determined that Gabor may have lost as much as $10 million from investments with Bernie Madoff, the convicted investment adviser who admitted to operating a Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors. However, official records of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York reportedly do not list Gabor as a victim.
Zsa Zsa began dealing with serious health problems in 2002, when she was badly injured passenger in an automobile accident in 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 July 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.
She was hospitalized again in 2011 for numerous emergencies. In January 2011, doctors were forced to amputate her right leg above the knee when an untreated blood clot led to a gangrenous infection. On March 23, 2011, Gabor had to be hospitalized for high blood pressure when she learned of the death of actress Elizabeth Taylor. According to her publicist, John Blanchett, Gabor was distraught by Taylor’s death, saying “I’m next.” She experienced another health crisis that May and was taken to the hospital for a stomach infection. In October, she underwent surgery to replace her feeding tube.
Gabor’s fragile health led her daughter Francesca to file suit against her stepfather, Prince Frederick von Anhalt. The two parties settled their dispute in July 2012, with von Anhalt serving as Gabor’s conservator and Hilton regaining visitation rights to her mother. Von Anhalt must supply the court with monthly reports on Gabor’s health and financial data.
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. On April 11, 2016, Gabor expressed her wishes to move back to Hungary during 2017 to live out the rest of her life there. Her husband stated that he is determined to make her wish come true and that he intends to arrange for “a big party in the summer” to celebrate the actress’ 100th birthday, after which she would return to Budapest.
Gabor was married nine times, divorced seven times, and one marriage was annulled. Her husbands, in chronological order, were: Burhan Asaf Belge (1937–1941; divorced); hotel magnate Conrad Hilton (1942–1947; divorced); actor George Sanders (1949-1954; divorced); financier Herbert Hutner (1962–1966; divorced); oil tycoon Joshua S. Cosden, Jr. (1966–1967; divorced); inventor Jack Ryan (1975–1976; divorced); attorney Michael O’Hara (1976–1983; divorced); actor Felipe de Alba (1983–1983; annulled); and Prince Frederick von Anhalt, a man roughly 30 years her junior (1986 – present). As von Anhalt’s wife, Gabor was awarded the title Princess von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony. Some royal genealogists questioned this title, however, when further research revealed that Frederick von Anhalt received the title from an adult adoption by Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt.
For an intriguing look into Zsa Zsa’s world, check out this 2007 article in Vanity Fair.