Long before the Kardashians became famous for being famous, that honor went to Zsa Zsa Gabor. While she was a noted actress in her prime, Gabor’s more lasting fame came from her scandalous socialite activities in the most elite circles of Old Hollywood.
From her petty feuds to her multiple marriages, Gabor’s personal life far overshadowed her career. Put on that silk dressing robe and read these 42 facts about Zsa Zsa Gabor.
1. Born in a Different Time
Gabor was born on February 16, 1917 in Budapest, Hungary when it was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
2. Three Beauties
Gabor was the middle of three daughters, all of whom grew up to be exquisite beauties and celebrities in their own right. Her older sister Magda became an American socialite, while the youngest girl, Eva Gabor, became nearly as notorious a celebrity as Zsa Zsa herself. There’s no telling what was in the water in Hungary!
3. Follow Your Namesake
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Gabor’s real name wasn’t actually “Zsa Zsa.” Her brith name was “Sari,” inspired by the famous Hungarian actress Sari Fedak. Maybe it was this namesake that helped Zsa Zsa pursue fame and fortune.
4. Kept Woman
Gabor’s parents were the Jewish-Hungarians Vilmos and Jolie Gabor. Jolie was a noted beauty, jeweller, and socialite in her own day, and her three daughters came by their scandalous diva ways honestly: Jolie was married no less than three times throughout her life, and her last husband was a wealthy Hungarian count.
In a 1976 interview, Jolie said of 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.” Yep, we can definitely see where her girls got it all from…
5. Early Start
In 1934, the teenaged Gabor was visiting the city of Vienna when she was discovered by Richard Tauber, a famous Austrian opera tenor and film actor. Tauber was so struck by Gabor that he invited her to join him in his new opera, The Singing Dream. Gabor agreed and made her debut stage appearance, singing the soubrette role in the play.
6. Nice to Meet You, Dahling
Gabor became very well-known during her lifetime for calling everyone “darling,” which her Hungarian accent turned into the drawling, sophisticated “dah-ling.” Of course, Gabor wasn’t just keeping up her elegant socialite persona: during one of her many TV interviews, she admitted that she called everyone “dah-ling” because it was much easier than actually remembering people’s names.
7. Like Manna From Heaven
It’s difficult to pinpoint when Zsa Zsa and her sisters started becoming the talk of Hollywood. The family fled the Nazis in the 1940s, ended up in America, and were suddenly met with great acclaim. As television host Merv Griffin described it, “It’s hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamorous 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.”
8. Thanks, Darlings!
Of course, the Gabors did have some help from high places when they decided to break into elite American society. Zsa Zsa arrived in Hollywood in 1941 with a letter of introduction from the South African film star Basil Rathbone and his wife, Ouida. With a famous actor to vouch for her, Gabor was quickly accepted into the most glamorous circles.
9. Quite the Social Life
Zsa Zsa’s sense of drama wasn’t all she got from her mother Jolie. During her life, Gabor was married to nine different men, beating her mommy dearest by a whole bunch of husbands. Seven of these marriages ended in divorce, while another was annulled. But hey, maybe Zsa Zsa was just an utterly hopeless romantic?
10. Bedroom Eyes
Gabor very consciously modeled her persona after some of the most saucy and scandalous historical mistresses. As one writer put it, “Zsa Zsa is 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.”
11. Chicken or Egg
So where did Zsa Zsa get her iconic name from? We can’t be sure, but in her feature film debut Lovely to Look at, Gabor plays a character named “Zsa Zsa.” Jury’s out on whether she took her stage name from this character or vice versa.
12. Born Comedian
Gabor wasn’t just a pretty face. She was known for her razor-sharp wit, penchant for one-liners, and self-deprecating humor. On one occasion, when talking about her notorious love life, she quipped, “A girl must marry for love and keep on marrying until she finds it.” In a reference to her many divorces, she later joked, “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house!”
Something tells us this woman would have been legendary on Twitter.
13. Where Legends Walked
In 1970, used to being kept in the best luxuries money could buy, Gabor bought a vast Bel-Air mansion done in the classic Hollywood Regency Style. However, this wasn’t just any mansion: Howard Hughes had originally constructed the building, and none other than Elvis Presley once lived in it. In short, it was a palace fit for Zsa Zsa.
14. You Said It, Not Us
One of the most critically acclaimed films that Gabor appeared in was the 1958 film noir Touch of Evil, directed by and starring Orson Welles. At the time, Gabor happened to be the girlfriend of Albert Zugsmith, a producer on the film. It was a small part, but whether or not this romantic dalliance helped snag her the role is a question we’ll leave up to you…
15. Honeymoon Suite
Gabor always had expensive tastes, and she liked to find expensive men to keep the cash flowing. In 1942, she thought she’d found just the man: Conrad Hilton, founder of the famous (and swanky) Hilton Hotel chain. Like most of Gabor’s unions, it wasn’t wedded bliss: the couple was married a handful of years, but called it quits in 1947.
16. Hard to Find the One
Collectively, the three Gabor sisters were divorced a whopping 18 times.
17. Please Welcome…
Despite her film roles, Gabor’s most consistent career was in reality television and talk shows. Among the many TV personalities with whom Gabor interacted were Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson, and even Howard Stern, the original shock jock himself. In this way, Gabor’s lengthy career spanned many eras and audiences.
Gabor was a big deal even before she made her way to America: In 1936, she won the title of Miss Hungary.
19. One-Kid Family
Though the Gabor girls were prolific in their marriages, they weren’t so industrious when it came to children. In fact, of her sisters, Gabor was the only one to have a child. Her daughter Constance Francesca Gabor Hilton was born on March 10th, 1947 to Gabor and her then-husband, hotel magnate Conrad Hilton.
20. No, Thanks
In 1949, Gabor was offered the chance to star in a highly-anticipated film adaptation of the book Lady Chatterly’s Lover, a novel infamous for several steamy and very explicit intimate scenes. Despite her obvious experience with men and her scandalous persona, Gabor refused to court controversy and turned the role down.
21. My Week With Marilyn
Gabor was one of the final choices to play the role of Miss Caswell in the 1950 classic All About Eve, but she lost out to Marilyn Monroe for the part. If you have to lose to someone, I guess it doesn’t hurt to lose to Marilyn Monroe.
22. The Show Must NOT Go on
In 1986, an episode of The New Hollywood Squares that Gabor was set to appear on had to be delayed by a lengthy 45 minutes. The emergency that caused the delay? Ms. Gabor had broken her fingernail.
23. Playing Yourself
Because her celebrity eventually totally eclipsed her acting career, Gabor was frequently cast in films or television shows as herself rather than any fictional character. Examples of this include The Beverly Hillbillies, The Naked Gun ½: The Smell of Fear, A Very Brady Sequel, and Smart Alec. Who needs fiction when you’re Zsa Zsa freaking Gabor?
24. Voulez-Vous Couchez Avec Moi?
Say what you will about Gabor’s career or her romantic life, she was an extremely accomplished woman. In fact, she had a prodigious gift for languages; aside from her native Hungarian tongue, Gabor also spoke English, Italian, German, and French. Of course, these skills are also very useful when wining and dining handsome, rich European men.
25. Prince Charming
Gabor’s mother Jolie may have married a count, but Gabor did her one better and married a prince—sort of. Zsa Zsa’s ninth and final husband was Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, a German-American entrepreneur whose real name was Hans Lichtenberg. Rather bizarrely, in 1980, the deposed Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt adopted Frederic as an adult when he was a ripe 36 years old.
Though he was never an official royal, he liked to style himself “Prince Frédéric of Anhalt, Duke of Saxony and Westphalia, Count of Ascania.” So in the end: Zsa Zsa Gabor got her prince.
26. A Star Is Engraved
On the February 8, 1960, Gabor was awarded with her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone interested in finding it should go to 6915 Hollywood Boulevard.
27. Family Feud
Gabor’s relationship with her daughter Francesca Hilton was rocky at the best of times. In 2005, Gabor’s estate even filed a lawsuit against Francesca, accusing the younger woman of larceny and fraud for forging a $2 million loan on her mother’s house. Francesca staunchly denied all charges, and the case was eventually thrown out of court.
28. Prestige, Indeed
In 2004, Gabor was inducted into the B-Movie Hall of Fame.
29. Terrible Accident
Gabor lived an incredibly long life, and she was relatively healthy well into her 80s. However, in 2002, a horrific tragedy struck. Driving on Sunset Boulevard, Gabor was involved in a crash while she was the front seat passenger in her respective car. Due to the serious injuries she sustained from the crash, the aging Gabor became partially paralyzed and required a wheelchair for mobility.
30. Close Call
After her car accident in 2002, Gabor never fully recovered a clean bill of health. She suffered multiple strokes, and very nearly lost her life between 2010 and 2011, when she underwent various emergency surgeries. One of the riskiest ones was an amputation of her right leg above the knee after an infection ravaged her body.
31. Change of Faith
Although Gabor’s parents were devoutly Jewish, she herself adopted Roman Catholicism as her faith. She would remain a Catholic for her entire adult life. In fact, after the serious health scare in 2010 that had her rushed to the hospital, Gabor’s family even called in a Catholic priest to read her the last rites.
32. So Close, and Yet So Far
Gabor died of cardiac arrest while in a coma on December 18, 2016. She was 99 years old, and just 50 days away from her 100th birthday.
33. Ignorance Is Bliss?
Tragically, Gabor actually outlived her only child. Francesca Hilton died on January 5th, 2015 at the age of 67 after suffering a massive stroke. Incredibly, Gabor’s husband didn’t tell Zsa Zsa about her daughter’s death out of fear that it would destroy her emotionally and physically. Though they always had a fraught relationship, Gabor died never knowing that her daughter was gone.
34. Keeping It Symmetrical
One of Gabor’s many husbands was Oscar-winning British actor and singer-songwriter George Sanders. Like many of Gabor’s relationships, their love was incredibly passionate but also incredibly volatile: they married on April 2nd, 1949 and divorced exactly five years later to the day, on April 2nd, 1954. Really, it’d be poetic if it wasn’t so sad.
35. Sisters Share
Maybe Sanders never quite got over Zsa Zsa, because in 1970 he married her older sister Magda after a whirlwind romance. Unfortunately, this union was just as ill-fated as his other foray into the Gabor family: they divorced after a mere 32 days, and the split even quickly drove Sanders into an alcoholic bender.
36. Oh No You Didn’t!
As with any self-respecting Old Hollywood celebrity, Gabor was involved in several feuds. The longest-running one involved a spat with German-born Hollywood star Elke Sommer. The feud began after the two women appeared on the annual television special Circus of the Stars. Reportedly, Sommer made comments about Gabor’s weight: When Sommer watched her mount a horse, she muttered, “Poor horse.”
37. Keep It Classy
As time went on, the feud only got more and more bitter. Eventually, Gabor and her husband Frederic Prinz von Anhalt gave a shocking interview that called out Sommer for looking like a balding, “100-year-old grandmother.” Gabor also added that the actress was so poor she “had to sell her house in Hollywood and now lives in the worst section of Los Angeles.”
38. I’ll See You in Court
Eventually, the feud—and this series of colorful comments—landed Gabor and Sommer in libel court in 1992. As it turned out, Gabor’s rival won, and the court awarded Sommer a nice $3.3 million in damages. Upon hearing the verdict, Gabor immediately announced her intent to appeal, stating bitterly, “I’d rather see her starve to death than give her one single dollar.”
39. Reckless Behavior
On June 14, 1989, Gabor, who was driving a Rolls-Royce worth more than $200,000, was pulled over in Beverly Hills by police officer Paul Kramer. Not only was she driving without a license, there was also an open alcohol container in the car. Oh, but it got so much worse: instead of admitting any culpability, Gabor slapped Kramer in the face and drove away from the traffic stop.
40. Not Getting off With a Warning
Three months later, Gabor was convicted of slapping Kramer, as well the alcohol and license infractions. She had to pay a hefty fine and serve three days in jail for her bad behavior. That’s right, in 1990, a 72-year-old Gabor was put in the slammer.
41. She Always Did Have a Sense of Humor
Just a couple of years after this incident with the police, Gabor famously parodied the controversy in the satire The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear. During the opening credits of that film, Gabor slaps a police car instead of an officer.
In 1991, Gabor released her autobiography, which she titled One Lifetime is Not Enough. As you might imagine, some of the claims in the book are incredibly scandalous, though some are more serious than others. In one chapter, Gabor reveals that her only daughter Francesca Hilton was conceived through an act of non-consensual sex by Gabor’s then-husband Conrad Hilton.