Zsa Zsa Gabor and I were born in the same of month February. But the times of which we represent are so vastly different. I, an ’80s baby when I arrived in 1987. Gabor had already turned an ample seventy years old two weeks before. Her stork delivery date was on February 6, with the date of 1917. Coincidentally, I did not know of this connection until months ago out of sheer curiosity. Scrolling through what was available to watch on either Netflix or Hulu, appearing as a choice, out of the many, was Green Acres. The bucolic with a gag sitcom that starred Gabor’s sister Eva (also born in February 1919). They are quite identical in looks and shared an older sister named Magda. All three women were born during and after World War I in Budapest, Hungary and gained recognition as actresses. Eva and Zsa Zsa (birthname Sari) would become eminent celebrity figures.
I have a particular affinity for those whose birth year end in the number seven. Same for those who died in a year that ended in seven. Whether older or younger than me, I quickly do some math and excitedly compare and contrast how astounding it is that when I was born, another life was called home. Someone was in the prime of their twenties. Another turned ten years old. This couple got married. A family welcomed their second child. For some people, 1987 was the worst of times. These imaginings place me in slight metacognition, however exhilarating the adventures are. It is my way of perceiving the circle of life.
In Zsa Zsa’s case, she had already lived a full life by ’87. She slingshot her acting career, after roles in the original Moulin Rouge, lead as the Queen From Outer Space, and many TV appearances from Batman to The Facts of Life, into a full-blown socialite lifestyle. By the time I left the hospital, wrapped in a soft pink blanket in Massachusetts, by tacit, Gabor was the most disarming debutante in the decade of Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and MTV. Her overindulgent lifestyle was the blueprint on How To Stunt In The 20th Century for similarly beautiful, sassy, audaciously styled and jeweled, married multiple times, including to a Hilton, women such as Elizabeth Taylor. Zsa Zsa was also the complete antithesis to Princess Diana, the eloquently spoken and graceful lady of Wales.
I instantly reacted with an “Awwww” upon hearing Gabor passed away on December 18, 2016, at the age of 99 years old from a heart attack. (Sadly, she had been confined to the bed inside her California mansion. Fed through a test tube for the last five years). She was just six weeks shy of her 100th birthday. Her death was viewed as another notch on nostalgic sadness belt of 2016. A calendar year that took a lot of famous and iconic lives, abruptly one after the other. Contrarily, her over the top, champagne life never dissuaded me from being a fan.
Her cameo in the 1988 Pee-Wee novelty special A Pee-Wee Christmas was when I was first introduced to Zsa Zsa Gabor. My toddler’s ears heard her syrupy Hungarian accent before I could fully take in her flamboyant holiday red dress with the inflated, ruched sleeves, and matching hair bow tie. While appearances on Phil Donahue certainly revealed a more brandish tone, on Pee-Wee, she was milk and cookies on a Cartier plate. I liked her instantly and would go on to recognize that idiosyncratic accent, smiling with glee every time it filled the air, even from an analog television screen.
“Zsa Zsa Gabor has died at 99. As my fellow Hungarian wrote me: “That’s it. 2016 worse year ever.” Zsa Zsa was the last connection to my mother’s world of Budapest and the glory of Hungarian women born before World War Two – a cosmopolitan, very clever, very adaptable, very assimilated, world of superficial beauty, sexual sophistication and a love of jewelry and luxury.” – Tom Teicholz, Forbes.com
Correlations between Gabor and Kim Kardashian were made aplenty in memoriam pieces published by the media following her death. It is a clear attempt to connect the almost centenarian to the now. Egregiously, The New York Times headlined one of their last retrospectives as “Before There Were The Kardashians, There Was Zsa Zsa.” The comparison makes sense when considering the almost twenty marriages between the Gabor sisters (including Zsa Zsa’s one-time husband George Sanders having the gall to marry Eva too) but boxes Gabor far too conveniently. The “Hungarian Princess” may have been the first true famous for being famous archetype, a claim reestablished by Paris Hilton (Gabor is her great-aunt) in the gaudier than the ‘8os early 2000s. Yet to say Gabor was the Kardashian of her day minimizes the very factors that made her epic beyond her name, celeb name-dropping, and marriages. Transferred through that delectable voice, her unforeseen wit, clutch the pearls clap backs, (the second greatest reads of the 20th century after any Joan Collins and Diahann Caroll scene in Dynasty), and affable laughter, and again, that charm, nearly made her a national treasure of pop culture. Kardashian is an undervalued businesswoman, but she will not be remembered for her implement of satire and comedy, next to those enviable Balmain body cons.
To witness this level of vivacity, watch her Larry King interview from 1989. Filmed after her physical altercation with a Beverly Hills policeman, she accused the “Tom Selleck look-a-like” of roughing her up and she in return slapped the man’s upside the head on his helmet. The incident was scandalized and further added to the jocular allure of Gabor. Her celebrity star continued to shine well into the early 1990s. (A josh was made about the cop incident for her A Very Brady Sequel cameo in 1996).
Her wit moreover lent itself to dishing out hard truths about romance, sex, and men. Her outlook was rife with a kind of hood rich sophistication. She kept it real and advocated the dynamic of allowing men to be men and women to be women. That didn’t mean that Gabor herself was a doormat. For decades, she was living proof of the art of seduction. On paper, nine marriages look damn absurd. Lest, a woman being able to get married that many times knows a lot about the knottiness of men. Without obtaining a proper academic background, Gabor was a walking, breathing accidental intellectual on relationships. To her credit, her final marriage to Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt lasted thirty years. Right up until her passing. Can you blame someone for trying until they get it right? (In case you were wondering, Gabor only had one child, a daughter Francesca, with Conrad Hilton. She died in 2015).
The quotes she left behind are hilariously ruthless. (And if seriously intrigued, don’t bypass her previously published books, an amalgamation of truth-telling and autobiography, one of them titled: How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man. Only Gabor can make that progression sound like an odyssey).
“Husbands are like fires. They go out when unattended.”
“I’m a great housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.”
A more fitting comparison than a Kardashian or Jenner to Gabor would be, albeit a fictional character, Samantha Jones of Candace Bushnell‘s Sex and The City. Both headstrong, bawdy, viewed men as desserts, owned their sexuality, and found the humor in life, these two were bad feminists before feminist became a trigger word of women who apparently hated men (not true) or ridiculed as liberal “SJWs” on social media (social justice warriors).
Jones and Gabor lived to be dined and wined but did as they pleased and were shamelessly grateful in the true privilege of life in having such freedom. Gabor seemingly dodged the issue of the Madonna-whore complex (or bad girls vs. “good girls”) by the media. Her self-parodying mannerisms having won much of the public that viewed her as preposterous Lucille Ball spared Gabor. Jones and her friends on SATC constantly dealt with the issue. Surely, if the term had been brought to Gabor’s attention, she would’ve dismissed it with a manicured finger handwave. Why can’t women enjoy sex or us it to their advantage? Why type of society are we in, in which women are mentally bashed for finding liberty in sex? Zsa Zsa Gabor is the same woman who, during an outrageous 1989 interview on The Arsenio Hall Show, vocally objected Lorena Bobbitt (now Gallo) for cutting off her ex-husband’s John Wayne Bobbitt‘s penis as he slept. (Can you believe that doctors were able to re-attach it?) Almost insinuating that girl power cannot be had in such crude behavior. Unless, of course, you’re on a Beverly Hills highway with an expired license. Time and place to open that can of whoop ass ladies!
Zsa Zsa Gabor became a legend though unorthodox ways though her beginnings were humble enough. Mouthy, flamboyant, and an immigrant. The American Dream never transpired so comically and lavishly as it did with Gabor. Rest in glam, you haute couture wearing bad-ass.
One response to “Rest In Glam: The Enduring, Bad Ass Appeal of Zsa Zsa Gabor”
[…] for the first time Joan Rivers, Charo, Grace Jones, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was introduced as Princess Zsa Zsa in the credits. These ladies would go on to be inducted into my personal trove of icons […]