Mother and three daughters whose flamboyant lifestyles, which included numerous marriages (18 between them), both astonished and entertained Americans for decades .
Gabor, Jolie (d. 1997). Mother of the infamous Gabors. Name variations: Mama Jolie. Born Jolie Kende around 1900; died in Rancho Mirage, California, on April 1, 1997; married Vilmos Gabor, a businessman (divorced); children: Magda Gabor (c. 1917–1997); Zsa Zsa Gabor (1919—); Eva Gabor (1921–1995).
Gabor, Eva (1921–1995). Hungarian-born actress. Born on February 11, 1921, in Budapest, Hungary; died from pneumonia on July 4, 1995, in Los Angeles, California; youngest daughter of Vilmos Gabor and Jolie Gabor (1900–1997); sister of Magda Gabor (c. 1917–1997) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (b. 1919); married Dr. Eric Drimmer (a physician), in 1939 (divorced 1942); married Charles Isaacs (a realtor), in 1943 (divorced 1950); married John E. Williams (a surgeon), on April 9, 1956 (divorced less than a year later); married Richard Brown (a stockbroker), on October 4 1959 (divorced); married Frank Jameson, an aerodynamics industrialist (divorced 1983).
made Broadway debut as Mignonette in The Happy Time (1950); appeared as French countess in Little Glass Clock (1956); appeared in Lulu (1958) and Present Laughter (1958); portrayed Tatiana in Tovarich (1963); appeared in stock and/or touring productions of Strike a Match, Her Cardboard Lover, Candlelight, The Play's the Thing, Affairs of Anatol, Blithe Spirit, Oh, Men! Oh, Women!, A Shot in the Dark, Private Lives, and The Happiest Man Alive.
Forced Landing (1941); A Royal Scandal (1945); The Wife of Monte Cristo (1946); Song of Surrender (1949); Paris Model (1953); The Mad Magician (1954); The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954); Artists and Models (1955); My Man Godfrey (1957); Don't Go Near the Water (1957); Gigi (1958); The Truth About Women (1958); It Started With a Kiss (1959); Love Island (1960); A New Kind of Love (1963); Youngblood Hawke (1964); (voice only) The Aristocrats (1970); (voice of Miss Bianca) The Rescuers (1977); The Princess Academy (1987); (voice of Miss Bianca) The Rescuers Down Under (1990).
Made television debut in supporting role of French woman in L'Amour the Merrier (1949); had her own interview program on television, "The Eva Gabor Show" (early 1950s); played Lisa Douglas on television series "Green Acres" for CBS (1965–71).
Gabor, Magda (c. 1917–1997). Hungarian-born American actress and businesswoman. Born in Budapest, Hungary, around 1917; died of kidney failure in Rancho Mirage, California, on June 6, 1997; daughter of Vilmos Gabor and Jolie Gabor (1900–1997); sister of Eva Gabor (1921–1995) and Zsa Zsa Gabor (b. 1919); married and divorced six times; fifth husband was George Sanders; sixth and last husband was Tibor Heltrai (divorced 1975); no children.
Gabor, Zsa Zsa (1919—). Hungarian-born actress. Born Sari Gabor in Budapest, Hungary, on February 6, 1919; daughter of Vilmos Gabor and Jolie Gabor (1900–1997); sister of Magda Gabor (c. 1917–1997) and Eva Gabor (1921–1995); married Burhan Belge (press director of the Turkish foreign ministry), in 1937 (divorced 1941); married Conrad Hilton (a hotelier), in April 1942 (divorced 1947); married George Sanders (an actor), in April 1949 (divorced 1954); married Herbert Hutner (a businessman), in 1964 (divorced 1966); married Joshua Cosden, Jr. (an oil magnate), in 1966 (divorced 1967); married Jack Ryan (an inventor), 1975 (divorced 1976); married Michael O'Hara (a lawyer), in 1977 (divorced 1982); married Felipe Alba (a Mexican businessman), in 1982 (declared invalid); married Prince Frederick von Anhalt, duke of Saxony, in 1986; children: (with Conrad Hilton) one daughter, Francesca Hilton .
Lovely to Look At (1952); Moulin Rouge (1952); The Story of Three Loves (1953); Lili (1953); Three Ring Circus (1954); Death of a Scoundrel (1956); The Girl in the Kremlin (1957); Touch of Evil (1958); Queen of Outer Space (1958); Pepe (1960); Boys' Night Out (1962); Picture Mommy Dead (1966); Arrivederci, Baby (1966); Jack of Diamonds (1967); Up the Front (UK, 1972); Johann Strauss—Der König ohne Krone (Aus./Ger./Fr., 1986); A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (1987); Dream Warriors (1987); (voice only) Happily Ever After (1990).
The colorful saga of the Gabor sisters began in Hungary around 1916 when Jolie Kende's parents insisted that she marry after her return from a Swiss finishing school. Six months after the wedding, Jolie asked for a divorce from Vilmos Gabor, a businessman twice her age, so that she could pursue her dream of acting. But just when Vilmos agreed to the split, Jolie discovered that she was pregnant. The divorce was postponed, and the marriage unexpectedly endured for another 22 years before it was dissolved. After the birth of Magda, Sari (Zsa Zsa) and Eva, Jolie ran a jewelry boutique in Budapest. But the most important item on her agenda was the preparation of her girls for the glamorous world of high society that she felt had been denied her.
Jolie Gabor's first priority was that her daughters be attractive to men. Convinced that her own marriage had brought her down in the eyes of the world, she was determined that this would not happen to her children. Following in their mother's path and imbued with her buoyant self-confidence, the Gabor sisters were sent to exclusive schools in Switzerland, there to be polished, cultivated, and taught how to make the most of their beauty. "I wanted them to play the piano so magnificently that a Rubinstein would be green with envy," Jolie recalled years later. "They learnt to swim, to ride, to play tennis. They all went to the best finishing schools. Who wants a man who wants a dowry?"
By the late 1930s, having left a Central Europe tottering on the brink of war, Jolie and her daughters found themselves in the glitzy world of Hollywood. The quartet, as assertive as they were glamorous, soon became the talk of the town. Magda got on the matrimonial merry-go-round by marrying a glamorous Royal Air Force pilot. After divorcing him, she wed a successful New York lawyer. Spouse number three was also an attorney from New York. Her fourth husband was a Hungarian nobleman. Husband number five was the British actor George Sanders, who had previously been married to her sister Zsa Zsa. The marriage lasted only two months, the shortest of her unions; one reason given was that while Mrs. Sanders loved parties her aging husband did not. When not involved in nuptials, or courting celebrity, Magda acted on the radio with her mother Jolie and, in 1953, gave proof of her substantial business acumen by negotiating a lucrative contract for her entire family to appear on stage at the Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. In a show they named "This Is Our Life," the Gabors faced competition that few performers wished to confront, namely Marlene Dietrich , then the top nightclub act in Las Vegas.
Although Eva later proclaimed the show "horrible," the Gabors' singing, dancing and conversing in their unique brand of fractured English was immensely successful with audiences. The public fell in love not only with Jolie, more of an Auntie Mame than a conventional mother, but her glamorous daughters as well. A publicity still from the show depicted the Gabors in matching negligees, chatting with each other on telephones. After the Las Vegas success, Magda appeared occasionally on television, but she never displayed the dramatic ambitions of her sisters. Instead, she joined her mother in managing a string of jewelry boutiques catering to the upscale market in New York, Palm Beach, Florida, London, and Paris. By Gabor standards, Magda was somewhat retiring.
It was Eva, the youngest of the sisters, who enjoyed an acting career of considerable substance. Serious about her pursuit from an early age, she enrolled in acting classes at 15, but her parents, who at the time viewed the theater as a vulgar profession for a young lady, forced her to drop out. In the late 1930s, over her parents' opposition, she married a Swedish-born Hollywood physician and moved to Hollywood where she signed a contract with Paramount. Her early film career foundered, and she was eventually dropped by the studio, then fared no better on her own. In 1949, she made her television debut as a French girl in L'Amour the Merrier, after which her career took an upward swing. Thereafter, she appeared on a number of dramatic television programs, including a production of "Uncle Vanya" in which she played Helena. She also made guest appearances on variety shows, and even had her own television interview show for 18 months. Still hoping for an acting career, however, Eva accepted small roles in stock and touring companies, eventually earning the respect of the acting community. In 1958, Noel Coward, who called Eva "a damn good actress," cast her in his Broadway production of Present Laughter. Coward made Gabor change her orange chiffon costume to a more subdued champagne color on the grounds that the former would make the audience focus totally on her and not on him. She appeared again on Broadway in 1963, replacing Vivien Leigh as Tatiana in Tovarich, then also toured. Her later film career included secondary roles in My Man Godfrey (1957) and Gigi (1958), but her image of the often-wed glamour queen kept her busy on the television talk-show circuit and eventually led to her role as the ditzy but dignified socialite Lisa Douglas in the television series "Green Acres," which ran on CBS from 1965 to 1971. Eva called it "really the best" show of her career. In the last decades of her life, Eva, who also had her share of husbands (five), headed a successful company that manufactured wigs. "We Gabors are supposed to do nothing but take bubble baths and drip with jewels," she told her friend and frequent companion Merv Griffin. "But I've worked like a demon. I didn't have time to sit in bubbles." Her autobiography, Orchids and Salami, was published in 1954.
Zsa Zsa, by far the most flamboyant of the three sisters, has also had the most husbands
(eight), among them Conrad Hilton, George Sanders, and Prince Frederick von Anhalt, her last. She has also been the most quotable member of the Gabor women: "I'm an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house," she said. Or, "A man is incomplete until he is married. After that, he is finished." Zsa Zsa's movie career was ongoing from 1952 to 1990, but her roles were mostly decorative. She also played in summer stock and in 1970 starred on Broadway in Forty Carats. Like her sister Eva, Zsa Zsa was a regular on television, notably as a guest on Jack Paar's late-night program, and as a panelist on the game show "Hollywood Squares." Prone to remarks that other celebrities (or their attorneys) deem libelous, Zsa Zsa has been in court on more than one occasion. In 1990, she made headlines when she spent three days behind bars for slapping a traffic officer. She has kept the world apprised of her career and her hard-learned lessons about the opposite sex with four books: Zsa Zsa Gabor: My Story (1960), Zsa Zsa's Complete Guide to Men (1969), How to Get a Man, How to Keep a Man, and How to Get Rid of a Man (1971), and One Lifetime Is Not Enough (1991). Always ready for new experiences and business ventures, in 1993 Zsa Zsa released a low-impact aerobic video entitled "It's Simple, Darling."
Starting in 1995, the colorful Gabor family began to be steadily and sadly diminished by the inevitable progression of time and human mortality. On July 4, 1995, Eva Gabor died in Los Angeles. Less than two years later, on April 1, 1997, matriarch Jolie Gabor died at the age of 97 in Rancho Mirage, California. The two remaining sisters were still reeling from their loss when Magda died of kidney failure in Rancho Mirage on June 6, 1997. Although the high-spirited sisters sometimes had their differences, according to Frederick von Anhalt, Zsa Zsa's eighth husband, "they loved each other very much." Underneath the style of zany flamboyance the Gabors exposed to the public, one could also discern that here were four highly intelligent and realistic women who had long ago made up their minds to be survivors. In a 1961 interview, Eva noted that "we're all doing well.… We worked very hard but we're also very lucky." Zsa Zsa, the last of the Gabors, spoke of the continuing pain of losing her mother and siblings: "It still hurts so much to talk about Mother. When she was alive, we were all alive."
Brown, Peter H. Such Devoted Sisters: Those Fabulous Gabors. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
Gabor, Eva. Orchids and Salami. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954.
Gabor, Jolie, and Cindy Adams. Jolie Gabor. NY: Mason/Charter, 1975.
Gabor, Zsa Zsa, "assisted by, edited by, and put into proper English by Wendy Leigh." One Lifetime Is Not Enough. NY: Delacorte Press, 1991.
Geier, Thom. "Look Out, Jane Fonda," in U.S. News & World Report. Vol. 116, no. 1. January 10, 1994, p. 14.
Graham, Judith, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1995. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1995.
Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.
"Magda Gabor," in The Daily Telegraph (London). June 9, 1997, p. 23.
"Magda Gabor," in The Times (London). June 10, 1997, p. 25.
Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography Yearbook 1988. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1988.
Oliver, Myrna. "Jolie Gabor: Matriarch of Flamboyant Family," in Los Angeles Times. April 3, 1997, p. B10.
——. "Magda Gabor: Eldest Sister in a Family of Actresses," in Los Angeles Times. June 7, 1997, p. A20.
Russell, William. "Magda Gabor," in The Herald [Glasgow]. June 12, 1997, p. 18.
Witchel, Alex. "The Lives They Lived: Jolie Gabor, Mother Dahling," in The New York Times. January 4, 1998, section VI, p. 24.
Gabor, Zsa Zsa. "It's Simple, Darling" (videocassette), Best Film and Video, 1993.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia