We’d all be forgiven, dahlink, for thinking that Hungarian mantrap Zsa Zsa Gabor had gone to the diamond mine in the sky many years ago. It was rather a surprise to read that the lady actually died only yesterday aged ninety-nine with ninth husband Prince Frederic von Anhalt by her side.
Zsa Zsa was eulogised as an actress though that was the least of her talents. She was terribly decorative as Jane Avril in John Huston’s 1952 film Moulin Rouge but her accent was as thick as molasses and her singing dubbed. The delicious Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge makes Zsa Zsa look camp in comparison.
For every credible cameo in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil there’s a howler in cult movies like Queen of Outer Space. For me, Zsa Zsa Gabor was the natural successor to Mae West who arrived in Hollywood when those risqué sex comedies were no longer being made.
So Zsa Zsa created the wise-cracking persona of a gold-digging blonde with a mind like a steel trap who collected diamonds, furs and homes in the Hollywood Hills with each cumulative husband. Eleven years before Marilyn Monroe was making How To Marry A Millionaire, Zsa Zsa nabbed a real one: Conrad Hilton.
Comparisons between Zsa Zsa and her sisters Eva and Magda with the Kardashians are hollow. The Gabor sisters did not have the fortune to be born in the era of social media. Zsa Zsa was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. She and the family migrated to the US post-war having lost everything.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was a prospector; a female version of the gold-diggers who went West in search of their fortunes. Another husband, the saturnine actor George Sanders, likened her to history’s greatest adventuresses: ‘every age has its Madame Pompadour, its Lady Hamilton, its Queen of Sheba, its Cleopatra’. Zsa Zsa’s talent was to seduce and amuse.
As with any mythical siren, the truth behind Zsa Zsa’s stories is fluid. She claimed to have been seduced aged fifteen by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk. She hinted that the well-hung playboy Porfirio Rubirosa had succeeded where John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Henry Fonda had failed.
Suffice to say, Zsa Zsa never let the truth get in the way of a good story and boy could she tell a good story. She was writing My Story (1960) before she’d starred in a Hollywood film and followed it up with crowd-pleasers such as Zsa Zsa’s Complete Guide to Men (1969) How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man (1970) and One Lifetime is Not Enough (1993).
Zsa Zsa was the darling of the chat show bon mot and rarely missed an opportunity to be on one bedecked in jewels and wearing gowns that would have made her friend Joan Collins look like a wallflower. My favourite Zsa Zsa quips are ‘husbands are like fires – they go out when unattended’ and ‘I want a man who’s kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?’
I do recall Zsa Zsa on Wogan offering my favourite piece of advice to ladies who leave their lovers at the altar: ‘give back the ring, but keep the stone’. You can hear Mae West delivering that zinger, can’t you? There were flashes of true ad lib wit such as the time she was asked whether she liked being a Princess: ‘To tell you the truth, I would prefer to live in America and just be plain old Zsa Zsa Gabor’.
The point being, of course, that Zsa Zsa Gabor had never been plain and never appeared old. She was of that generation of actresses like Joan Collins, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren who seemed to cheat Father Time. My favourite Zsa Zsa moment was when she offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that she’d had a facelift. How many stars would risk that today?
If Zsa Zsa Gabor became a parody of herself then who’s to point a finger of blame? Was she the first to say ‘How many husbands have I had? You mean apart from my own?’ It matters not. She said it with conviction and delivered her line with gusto. So what if her greatest role was playing Zsa Zsa Gabor?
As we know from the obituaries, life wasn’t terribly kind to Zsa Zsa in later life. It wasn’t dignified to see her convicted of assaulting a police officer though it was her compliment that she wasn’t bankrupted losing $7 million to Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. It was horrifying to hear that her leg had been amputated and that she was eventually bedridden.
Most unforgivable of all were the pictures of Zsa Zsa in her final years with friends and family posed around her bed with health and beauty entirely stolen away by paralysis and strokes. Marlene had it so right retreating for the last decade of her life and protecting the face that launched a thousand ships from the prying eye of the camera lens.
Zsa Zsa was predeceased by her only daughter and survived by her last husband the prince. I hope that she has one last hurrah and all those diamonds that were a girl’s best friend are auctioned by Christie’s or Sotheby’s. I wish for a last blaze of glory like the tail of Haley’s Comet and accompanying press photographs of Zsa Zsa Gabor in her prime. The lady deserves nothing less.