Gabor, Eva

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Gabor, Eva

(b. 11 February 1921 [?] in Budapest, Hungary; d. 4 July 1995 in Los Angeles, California), youngest of the three famous Gabor sisters and an actress in films, plays, and television.

Gabor was born to Vilmos Gábor and Jolie Tilleman Gábor in 1921. This birth date, like many dates surrounding the family, is not definitive. Her father was a soldier and a jeweler and her mother was an heiress to a Hungarian jewelry fortune. In the late 1930s, Jolie divorced Vilmos, who died in 1962.

Because of an economic downturn in the family, Gabor did not enjoy the finishing-school experience available to her older sisters. Instead, she was tutored by governesses and attended the Forstner Institute in Budapest. In her autobiography, Orchids and Salami (1954), Gabor described the sisters’ upbringing as one of “cultural ignorance.” She remarked that they could speak in four languages, but had nothing of consequence to say. Even at age seventeen, Gabor knew the importance of the “right” marriage. At a party thrown by her sister she met Eric Drimmer, a handsome Swedish doctor who worked in Hollywood. Before the party was over, he had proposed and she had accepted.

Arriving in Hollywood in 1939 as a new bride, Gabor was quickly smitten by the desire to act. Her first attempts were not satisfactory, primarily because of her youthful appearance and difficulty with the language. Nevertheless, Paramount gave her bit parts in two not very successful movies, Forced Landing (1941) and Pacific Blackout (1942).

Discouraged but not daunted, Gabor continued her quest of acting roles, playing secondary parts in A Royal Scandal (1945), The Wife of Monte Cristo (1946), and Song of Surrender (1949), as well as in plays. Her appearance in a CBS television play, L’Amour the Merrier (1949), brought her to the attention of Richard Rodgers, who saw her as a perfect Mignonette in his and Oscar Hammerstein’s new production of The Happy Time (1950). This play ran for eighteen months and was an undisputed success for Gabor. Concurrent with her appearance in The Happy Time, Gabor was hosting the Eva Gabor Show (1950–1951) on television. As a result of these performances, she appeared often on television and costarred with Boris Karloff in the television production of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece Uncle Vanya. Gabor divorced Eric Drimmer in 1942 and married millionaire Charles Isaacs in 1943. By 1950 they were divorced.

In the 1950s, the Gabor women were in their heyday. The relationship among the sisters was often stormy, fraught by personal and professional rivalry, but the Gabors were never seriously or long estranged. They were often featured in magazines; Eva and Zsa Zsa appeared on the covers of Life and Colliers. The three sisters also entertained together in a nightclub act in Las Vegas in 1953.

Gabor continued to appear on the stage, on and off-Broadway. She starred in the short-running Little Glass Clock (1956) and was in Noël Coward’s Present Laughter (1958). Her second starring role was in Lulu (1958), yet another unsuccessful play. Gabor replaced Vivien Leigh as Tatania in Tovarich (1963), continuing the role on national tour. She also acted in several films in the 1950s, including, among others, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), Artists and Models (1955), Don’t Go Near the Water (1957), Gigi (1958), and Youngblood Hawk (1964).

Gabor, who had long sought stability in her acting roles, finally found stardom through the television series Green Acres. With Eddie Albert as Oliver Douglas, she costarred as Lisa Douglas from 1965 to 1971. In the show Jay Somers reversed the premise of The Beverly Hillbillies, in which the nouveau riche Clampetts strike it rich and migrate to swanky Beverly Hills. In Green Acres, the Douglases move from New York City to rural Hooterville and take up farming. Although the show was sometimes characterized as “fluff and frill,” Green Acres was consistently in the Nielsen top ten ratings, and Gabor was often cited as television’s most popular actress. Gabor never complained about the hours or the work; in her mind she had finally arrived as an actress.

Gabor continued to be professionally active throughout her life. She made more than two dozen television guest appearances. She provided the voice of Bianca in the animated films, The Rescuers (1977) and The Rescuers Down Under (1990). In her seventies, Gabor repeated her role as Lisa Douglas in the television movie Return to Green Acres (1990).

Despite a busy career, Gabor managed to marry and divorce five husbands. In addition to Eric Drimmer and Charles Isaacs, Gabor married plastic surgeon John Williams in 1956; the alliance lasted eight months. In 1959 she wed Richard Brown, a Wall Street stockbroker to whom she was married for thirteen years, and in 1973 she married Frank Jameson, an aerospace mogul, and Gabor’s husband for ten years. Gabor reportedly quipped, “Marriage is too interesting an experiment to be tried only once or twice.”

The Gabor sisters, according to the socialite Elsa Maxwell, were “three of the world’s true celebrities.... [T]hey are famous for being famous.” This fame, however, carried a psychological price. In an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter, Gabor once talked about the monetary, physical, and emotional costs of maintaining the appearance necessary to support that fame. According to her, the preparation for the simple act of going out to dinner was a nightmare.

Zsa Zsa was the most famous and flamboyant of the Gabor sisters, but those who knew Eva described her as the most dedicated and industrious. In the foreword to her autobiography, Lawrence Langner describes Gabor’s boundless energy, her concentration, and her dedication. In addition to acting, Gabor also created her own successful company, the Eva Gabor Wig Line.

Although the youngest of the Gabor sisters, Eva was the first to die. On 4 July 1995, two years before her mother’s death in 1997, Gabor succumbed to a respiratory infection. She is buried in Westfield Memorial Park in Los Angeles. Although her impact was limited to the field of entertainment, Gabor brought joy and delight to her audiences for several decades.

Eva Gabor’s autobiography, Orchids and Salami (1954), is entertaining and informative. However, like Zsa Zsa’s My Story (1960), cowritten with Gerold Frank, and her mother’s Jolie Gábor as Told to Cindy Adams (1975), Eva’s autobiography is composed primarily of personal anecdotes. A more objective view of all four Gabors is Peter H. Brown’s Such Devoted Sisters: Those Fabulous Gabors (1985). Brown brings some order to the chaos of the Gabor mystique; he uses varied sources and tries to separate fact from fiction where possible. In addition to the many magazine features on Gabor as well as her family, Current Biography 1968 has a substantial article, focusing primarily on her acting career. In addition, the Biographical Encyclopaedia and Who’s Who of the American Theatre (1966) has a shorter piece, detailing Gabor’s stage and film performances up to the time of the encyclopedia’s publication. An obituary is in the New York Times (5 July 1995).

Mary Boyles