Farewell to Zsa Zsa
She was a legend when Hollywood still had movie stars
Some celebrities are famous just for being famous. You can find them all over the Internet. Other celebrities are famous for being infamous. There are even a rare few, like Zsa Zsa, who died this week age 99, who are famous just for being who they are.
Zsa Zsa was the middle child of the glamorous Gabor sisters, the last of the three. She first recognized opportunity as the 15-year-old Miss Hungary, came to America in 1942, divorced her first husband, and soon married the second of nine husbands, the hotel entrepreneur Conrad Hilton. Like all but the ninth marriage, it didn’t last.
“Life with Zsa Zsa was a little like holding a Roman candle,” the hotelier said long afterward. “Beautiful, exciting, but you were never quite sure when it would go off. And it’s hard to live the Fourth of July every day.”
Zsa Zsa said he was the only husband she married for his money, and settled a divorce for $35,000 and $2,500 a month until she married again. It was a bargain because she didn’t say unmarried for long. “I’m an excellent housekeeper,” she said. “Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.”
Zsa Zsa used her considerable beauty and her title — as Miss Hungary — to get to Hollywood where she appeared in 25 movies, none memorable. But her greatest role, in which she was a spectacular success, was as Zsa Zsa. She had a gift for the quip, usually about sex, always with wit and never with cheap vulgarity. She played the innocent courtesan, and played it well. “I actually know nothing about sex,” she said. “I was always married.” She was the femme fatale with insight. “A man in love is incomplete until he has married, and then he is finished.”
Zsa Zsa — she was the rare celebrity known by just a given name — was born in Budapest to a dashing Hungarian cavalry officer and a mother who pushed Zsa Zsa and her two sisters, Magda and Eva, to show business. All Hungarian calvary officers are dashing, of course, but Zsa Zsa once said, in the fractured English that was part of her charm, that “Hungarian is not a nationality, ‘dahlink,’ but a disease.”
She was never without the playful remark. When she was arrested in Beverly Hills for driving her Rolls-Royce convertible with an expired tag, she slapped the arresting officer. She insisted she never actually hit him, but served three days in jail. She was ready for a long trial. “I have enough outfits to last a year.” But she was terrified of jail. “They have ways of making you a lesbian whether you want to be or not.”
Her last years were not happy ones. Her health failed, a leg was amputated, and she was forced to sell the $11-million Beverly Hills mansion she shared with her ninth husband, a German immigrant who styled himself Prince Frederic von Anhalt.
She was the extravagant legend when Hollywood was an extravagant legend, and a movie star was expected to appear in her diamonds and furs even when shopping at Safeway. “The modern movie stars,” she once said, “don’t look anything like themselves in real life.”
Zsa Zsa was a refreshing affront to the humorless feminist and politically correct modern culture. “There’s nothing wrong with a woman encouraging a man’s advances,” she said, “as long as they are in cash,” and “I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back.” She wrote several autobiographies, including a slender volume entitled “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man and How to Get Rid of a Man.” A girl must marry for love, she said, “and keep on marrying until she finds it.”