The job description on Gabor’s passport probably said “Actress.” But she was renowned for so much more
In her most famous movie, John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge, Zsa Zsa Gabor plays Jean Avril, a chanteuse who enjoys the favors of many men and the habit of lying about her age. “I have been 25 for four years,” she smilingly confides to her friend Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (Jose Ferrer), “and I shall stay there another four. Then I’ll be 27 for a while. I intend to grow old gracefully.” Gabor was 35 at the time, and for the better part of the next six decades she either grew old gracefully or simply ignored the process of degeneration, preserved in the aspic of chic middle age. She was well into her sunset years when a member of Phil Donahue’s TV audience asked how old she was, and Zsa Zsa snapped, “A woman who tells her age tells everything, and I won’t tell it.
Now that this Hungarian glamour girl has finally passed on, after 99 years, we can say it without assaulting a lady’s sensibilities. Zsa Zsa Gabor died Sunday, according to her publicist Edward Lozzi.
The job description on Gabor’s passport probably said “Actress.” But she was renowned for so much more: the ash-blond hair, the furs and the jewelry, the artfully maintained Hungarian accent, the slyly obvious double entendres, the eight or nine husbands (one marriage was annulled), the three days she served in jail in 1989 after slapping a Beverly Hills cop. Primarily, and almost first in her class, she was famous for being famous—the living embodiment and droll parody of American celebrity. How appropriate, then, that Gabor, through her marriage to hotelier Conrad Hilton, should be the ex-step-great-grandmother of madcap heiress Paris Hilton, a more recent example of the species.
She appeared fitfully in movies, and perennially on American television: one way or another, she spanned virtually the entire history of the medium, from a guest spot with Milton Berle in 1950, through countless talk shows and game shows, to recent Entertainment Tonight reports on her failing health. If she had a vocation, it was raconteuse: the guest on the late-night TV couch who spouted pithy wit, almost always about her very public private life. “I know nothing about sex, because I was always married,” she‚d say; or “Husbands are like fires: they go out when unattended”; or “It’s never as easy to keep your own spouse happy as it is to make someone else’s spouse happy.”
Gabor’s nearly 75 years in the public eye—she was named Miss Hungary of 1936—were less essential than ornamental, and her one significant statuette was a 1958 Golden Globe for Most Glamorous Actress. But why bother being an actress when she could be