The Many Loves and Life of Zsa Zsa Gabor
Update: Zsa Zsa Gábor has died at the age of 99 on December 18, 2016, from a heart attack. She is survived by her 8th (legal) and final husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt and pre-deceased by her daughter Francesca Hilton.
(Zsa Zsa Gábor c. 1955 Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Glamorous actress, nonagenarian senior citizen, and larger-than-life personality Zsa Zsa Gábor “I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back,” was born Sári Gábor on February 6, 1917 in Budapest, Hungary.
Zsa Zsa (a nickname from childhood) is best known for being actress Eva Gabor’s (Green Acres) older sister; and her frequent marriages and divorces, disputes, and more highly quotable remarks.
According to Bio., Zsa Zsa’s Jewish mother Jolie Gábor was wealthy, and the Gábor daughters (there was also an older sister, Magda) attended boarding schools.
While Jolie Gábor said her wealth came from jewellery stores, her name has been linked with brothels in Budapest, Hungary.
Zsa Zsa spoke Hungarian and German at home in Budapest and learned English and French when she went to Madame Subilia’s School for Young Ladies in Lausanne, Switzerland.
While at home on leave from school in 1934, 17-year-old dark-haired Zsa Zsa Gábor first met the visiting Director of Press for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, twice-divorced Burhan Belge (b. 1899), through a party at her grandmother’s (Franceska Kende) home. That same year while vacationing in Vienna with her mother, opera singer Richard Tauber saw Zsa Zsa and suggested she play the soprano in the operetta The Singing Dream (August-December 1934), in Vienna, Austria.
( Zsa Zsa Gábor 1936 Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
In her biographies, Zsa Zsa has said she proposed to all of her husbands, starting with Burhan Belge. Their marriage is credited as taking place in 1937, when she was 20 years old and Belge was 38; the couple lived in Ankara, Turkey.
Gábor also said that after marrying, she and Belge lived together without consummating the marriage (her wish, not his).
Burhan Belge gave Gábor an Arabian horse (Zsa Zsa owned and rode horses until her 2002 car accident), and she spent a lot of time riding alone. During one of her rides Gabor met the British Ambassador to Turkey, Sir Percy Loraine, who would become a friend.
In Zsa Zsa’s memoir One Lifetime Is Not Enough (1991) she claims to have had a 6-month romance with (Mustafa) Kemal Atatürk (the President of Turkey, then age 56) while she was married to Burhan Belge.
“He dazzled me with his sexual prowess and seduced me with his perversion. Atatürk was very wicked. He knew exactly how to please a young girl.”
Kemal Atatürk, who was a heavy drinker, was 57 when he died due to cirrhosis of the liver.
By 1939, Zsa Zsa’s friend Sir Percy Loraine had left Turkey and became the British Ambassador to Italy, under Fascist rule. Her sister Eva Gábor eloped with her new husband to America, and World War II was raging in Europe. Unhappy in her marriage, and wanting to go to America, by mid-1941 Zsa Zsa achieved her goal and arrived in New York, and then California, alone – leaving Burhan Belge behind in Ankara, Turkey. Belge agreed to a divorce by letter in December 1941; he died on January 12, 1967.
24-year-old Zsa Zsa Gábor met 54-year-old, recently divorced, devout Roman Catholic and hotelier Conrad Hilton Sr. in early December, 1941. They married on April 10, 1942, a few months after first meeting. The marriage was strained; Zsa Zsa described being shocked at having separate bedrooms, and Conrad keeping his door locked to her. And as the thrifty Conrad Hilton, Sr. recounted in his 1957 autobiography Be My Guest:
“Glamour, I found, is expensive, and Zsa Zsa was glamour raised to the last degree. She also knew more days on which gifts could be given than appear on any holiday calendar.“
According to legal documents referenced in the book The Hiltons: The True Story of an American Dynasty, Conrad Hilton and Sari Zsa Zsa Gábor were separated by November 1944 and their final decree of divorce was granted in September, 1946.
In her biography Gábor admitted to having an affair with Conrad’s son Conrad “Nicky” Hilton Jr. which began in 1944 when Zsa Zsa was separated from Conrad Hilton Sr., and according to her, continued beyond Nicky Hilton’s engagement in 1950 to Elizabeth Taylor. Nicky Hilton died of a heart attack at the age of 42 on March 31, 1969.
Zsa Zsa’s daughter Constance Francesca Hilton was born on March 10, 1947; in her memoirs Zsa Zsa claimed that Francesca was born as the result of a rape one night by her estranged husband Conrad Hilton Sr. While Hilton never had a paternity test done and never publicly disavowed Francesca, he did write a letter to his lawyers in 1971 stating he’d never believed Francesca Hilton was his daughter; the letter came to light when Francesca unsuccessfully contested Conrad Hilton’s will after his death in 1979.
In his book The Hollywood Book of Break Ups (2006), author James Robert Parish describes Zsa Zsa meeting married Russian-born actor George Sanders at a Manhattan party in April 1947. Although Zsa Zsa Gábor and George Sanders got married in April 1949 – her third marriage, his second – their marriage was tempestuous. Sanders was by turns witty and moody, and often away on location for movies; Gábor was bored.
Zsa Zsa Gábor has said George Sanders taught her how to act, but he refused to help her get parts in his movies. It was Sander’s brother Tom Conway who arranged Zsa Zsa Gábor’s first acting job onscreen, in a live show he hosted for CBS called Bachelor’s Heaven (1951), while Sanders was on location in England. She was an instant hit with her one-line responses, and began to be featured on magazine covers and fielding offers for parts in the movies and on television.
Gábor appeared in 7 films in the next two years, beginning with her first, Lovely to Look At! (1952), and including Moulin Rouge (1952). The above movie trailer for Lovely to Look At features the movie’s stars Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton, Howard Keel, Marg and Gower Champion, Ann Miller, Kurt Kasznar, and Zsa Zsa Gábor. In 1953, Zsa Zsa Gábor appeared in 2 movies co-starring Leslie Caron – The Story of Three Loves, and Lili.
Neither George Sanders nor Zsa Zsa Gábor remained faithful to each other; Sanders’ purported affair with heiress Doris Duke and Gábor’s subsequent long affair with Duke’s ex-husband, Dominican diplomant, polo player, rumoured spy and playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, did not help their marriage.
(Porfirio Rubirosa Ariza & Zsa Zsa Gábor c. 1954 Photo: Los Angeles Times)
Porfirio Rubirosa and Zsa Zsa Gábor met in late 1952 in New York, and in her biography In One Life is Not Enough (1991) Zsa Zsa Gábor described him as “machismo incarnate” and possessive. Gábor claimed Porfirio asked her to leave George Sanders and marry him many times, and she refused because she was torn between the two men; Sanders who had cooled on her, and Porfirio Rubirosa who was passionate.
In her biography, Gábor described George Sanders (with two detectives) breaking in on her with Porfirio while they were both naked; Sanders filed for divorce. Porfirio Rubirosa briefly married wealthy heiress Barbara Hutton (from December 1953 – February 1954), only to go back to Zsa Zsa. After 6 years of marriage, the Sanders-Gábor divorce was finalized in April 1954.
(Zsa Zsa Gábor 1957 Matinee Theater Photo: NBC Television)
Zsa Zsa Gábor’s film and television career continued; she had co-starred with legendary comedy team Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 3 Ring Circus (1954), and appeared in the movie Death of a Scoundrel (1956) opposite her now ex-husband George Sanders.
This role may have also signaled the end of her relationship with Porfirio Rubirosa, as he had supposedly said he would leave her if she starred in it with Sanders.
Porfirio Rubirosa married Odile Rodin in 1956 and was 56 years old when he died in a car crash in 1965.
Many of Zsa Zsa Gábor’s television roles in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s were guest spots where she portrayed herself. In 1958 alone, Zsa Zsa Gábor was in 4 movies, although most of her films would be considered “B” movies, such as Queen of Outer Space (1958) and For the First Time (1959). Below, clips of Zsa Zsa Gábor’s best lines from the movie For the First Time, with Mario Lanza and Kurt Kasznar.
(Zsa Zsa Gábor 1958 December Bride Photo: CBS Television | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Zsa Zsa was also linked with builder millionaire Hal Hays and Ramfis Trujillo (the son of Dominican President Rafael Trujillo) during the 1950’s, although she surprisingly remained officially single/divorced from 1954 to 1962.
Her first biography Zsa Zsa Gábor: My Story (1960), was written by Zsa Zsa Gábor and Gerold Frank.
Zsa Zsa Gábor married financier Herbert Hutner (his second marriage, her fourth) in 1962. In a 1963 interview she said that her first 3 marriages failed because her husband’s weren’t successful husbands. The interviewer noted that her behaviour was subdued, and her husband Herbert Hutner was referred to as Mr. Gabor twice during the interview. They divorced on March 3, 1966; Herbert Hutner was a nonagenarian senior citizen when he died in 2008 just a few weeks before his 100th birthday.
Gábor promptly married for the fifth time, to oil millionaire Joshua S. Cosden Jr., on March 9, 1966, while she was also appearing on Broadway in the play Forty Carats. 18 months later, in October 1967, Zsa Zsa Gábor and her fifth husband Joshua Cosden were divorced.
Now in her 50+ years, Zsa Zsa Gábor’s movie and television career was waning rapidly.
She had a small role in the film Jack of Diamonds (1967) with George Hamilton, and didn’t appear in another movie until Up the Front (1972).
That same year, ex-husband and friend George Sanders committed suicide in April; two years before, he had been briefly married to Zsa Zsa’s older sister Magda (for less than 6 weeks) before the marriage was annulled.
Although Zsa Zsa Gábor’s acting career was on the decline, she had friends and her marital career was still zipping along. Zsa Zsa Gábor married yet another millionaire. Mattel designer (Barbie Dolls, Hot Wheels, etc.) Jack Ryan was 9 years younger when he married Zsa Zsa Gábor in a Las Vegas wedding in January, 1975. According to an interview with People Magazine in 1975, they had first met 8 years earlier at a dinner party. Zsa Zsa Gábor and husband number six, Jack Ryan were divorced in August 1976. Jack Ryan died in 1991, age 64.
Next, Zsa Zsa Gábor married husband number seven, lawyer Michael O’Hara (he had represented her in her divorce from Jack Ryan), in 1977. This marriage lasted a little longer; Gábor and Michael O’Hara didn’t divorce until 1983. Below, ever the glamour queen even during her marriage to Michael O’Hara, Zsa Zsa Gábor sold her 14-karat gold plated Rolls-Royce automobile.
(Zsa Zsa Gábor 1979 Photo: Alden Jewell | Flickr Some rights reserved)
Unfortunately, before the divorce from O’Hara was finalized, Zsa Zsa married for an 8th time, to Mexican Felipe de Alba at sea on April 13, 1983. Zsa Zsa Gábor’s marriage to Felipe de Alba was annulled the next day, on April 14, 1983. By now an extremely youthful-looking senior citizen, Gábor claimed the reason for the annullment was because “He bored me. He’s a playboy and I’m a hard working actress.” De Alba was an octogenarian senior citizen when he died in 2005, age 81.
In 1986, senior citizen Zsa Zsa Gábor married Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt (born Hans Georg Robert Lichtenberg in 1943). It was her 8th (legal) marriage (discounting the bigamous marriage to de Alba), and Frédéric Prinz Von Anhalt’s 7th marriage.
More than 25 years younger than Gábor, Hans Georg Robert Lichtenberg had been given his title Prinz Von Anhalt when he was adopted as an adult in 1980 by German Princess Marie-Auguste after the death of her son. His name has been linked with brothels and prostitution in Germany. Below, 69-year-old senior citizen Zsa Zsa Gábor at her wedding to 43-year-old Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt in 1986. The 2011 real estate video below provides a tour through the Bel Air home that Zsa Zsa Gábor lived in from 1973 on, complete with her personal portraits and an appearance by her husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt.
As a septuagenarian senior citizen, Zsa Zsa continued to make guest appearances on television in the movies during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Her arrest for slapping a police officer in 1989 gathered more attention than any of her professional appearances.
According to Wendy Leigh, her One Lifetime is Not Enough (1991) biographer, Zsa Zsa continued to undergo plastic surgery and beauty treatments well into her seventies.
As an octogenarian senior, Zsa Zsa Gábor appeared in the movies Naked Gun 2.5: The Smell of Fear (1991), and The Naked Truth (1992). Her last movie role was a cameo in the 1996 made-for-TV movie A Very Brady Sequel. She also released a very low-impact exercise video It’s Simple Darling in 1993, notable more for humour than exercise benefits.
A 9-year feud (according to the Los Angeles Times in 1993), during which insults were exchanged with actress Elke Sommer, resulted in a $3.3 million judgement against Zsa Zsa Gábor and Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. Gábor subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection in 1994.
Since becoming a nonagenarian senior citizen in 1997, Zsa Zsa Gábor has been fairly low profile. She began making the news for a long list of health problems, beginning with a serious car accident in 2002 that left her partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. This was followed by a stroke which impacted her speech, and required emergency surgery for a blocked artery in 2005. In 2010, Gábor fell out of bed, broke several bones, and had to have a hip replacement. In 2011 her right leg was amputated above the knee.
(Zsa Zsa Gábor 1959 Photo: Rogers & Cowan | Wikimedia PD)
On February 9, 2016, she was rushed to hospital; several reports have said she is having problems breathing due to a lung infection and must have a feeding tube that she’s had for several years replaced via surgery.
A final quote from Zsa Zsa Gábor‘s book How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man (1970):
“These days, any man between the ages of 15 and 95 can produce children—and so can even a test tube. (The nice thing about that is you don’t have to lie awake at night wondering who your test tube is out dancing with.)”