The Gabor sisters, Magda (1915-1997), Zsa Zsa (1917-2016) and Eva (1919-1995) were Hungarian-born American actresses and socialites, known more for their notorious marriages, than their work in the film industry. Their mother Jolie (1896-1997) encouraged and raised them to be divas.
The most well-known of the sisters is undoubtedly Zsa Zsa, mostly for her short-lived marriages to high-profile men. But her sisters – or even her mother for that matter – did not lack in the husband department either, while Zsa Zsa tied the knot with nine men during her lifetime, her older sister, Magda got married six times (once to Zsa Zsa’s ex-husband), their younger sister, Eva was married five times and their mother, Jolie, three times.
Jolie and her husband – and the father of the Gabor sisters –, Vilmos were both of Jewish ancestry, Vilmos changed his name from Grün to fit in better into the anti-semitic society of the country at the time. The whole family ended up emigrating to the USA, but all at different times.
Vilmos was a soldier and Jolie a jeweller. They sent their daughters to private and boarding school and thought it was vital for them to learn languages. The original diva in the family was Jolie. She often lied about her age, always making herself out to be younger, and even admitted to having lied about it so much that she could not even remember her actual birthday. This seemed to have passed onto Zsa Zsa, who won Miss Hungary in 1936 but was later disqualified for lying about her actual age. She also lied to one of her husbands, saying she was in her mid-50s when in reality, she was nearing 70.
The first one to leave Hungary was Eva, the youngest daughter, not long after marrying for the first time in 1937. She became an actress and a businesswoman stateside. She got her first role in a movie called Forced Landing in 1941. In the 50s and 60s, she got small roles here and there and even had her own talk show, but it was cancelled after the first season. She is most remembered for her role as Lisa Douglas in the sit-com called Green Acres. She also did voice-acting in a few Disney movies, but she never really did make it in Hollywood.
As for being a businesswoman, in 1972 she launched a fashion line with Cuban, award-winning designer, Luis Estevez, which was named after her.
Zsa Zsa left for the US the same year Eva got her first role in a movie. However, her career in the spotlight started way before moving to Hollywood. In 1934, operatic tenor, Richard Tauber discovered and asked her to sing in the operetta Der singende Traum (The Singing Dream) at the Theater an der Wien. Two years later, she became Miss Hungary.
10 years after emigrating to the USA, she appeared in her first supporting role in Lovely to Look At, and got major roles in Moulin Rouge and We’re Not Married! From then on, she appeared in several productions; she was a sought after actress, she did voice-overs for animated movies, cameos and guest-starred regularly in television shows.
The oldest sister, Magda, first fled to Portugal in 1944, after the Nazis occupied Hungary, and then moved to the United States two years later. While her sisters bathed in the spotlight, Magda remained more private and low-key, only ever appearing in one movie, Modern Girls, a Hungarian comedy, in 1937, and in three TV shows, one of which was her sister, Eva’s talk show.
Their parents left Hungary in the wake of World War II and later arrived in New York City, but got divorced when Jolie decided to move to Hollywood with her girls to make it in the film industry, which Vilmos did not agree with.
The only sister to bear a child was Zsa Zsa, and the father was the founder of Hilton Hotels, nonetheless, Conrad Hilton. Their only daughter was Francesca, who became an actress, comedian and photographer.
When Sam Staggs, author of Finding Zsa Zsa, The Gabors Behind the Legend, was writing his book, he had several interviews with Francesca, who claimed her aunt, Eva, was a lesbian and believed that her mother had bipolar disorder.
Even though all three sisters appeared in at least one movie throughout their life, what they are remembered for is hardly their work as actresses.
The Gabor women had a total of 23 husbands in their lifetimes and a high profile affair or relationship here and there. Most of these men – and women – were either famous, wealthy, or both.
Read about the Hungarian Dolly twins, who conquered the US in the 1920s, HERE.
Magda got married a couple of times, and was widowed twice and divorced four times.
Zsa Zsa has a longer list of husbands, having first married a Turkish politician when she still lived in Hungary. However, after arriving in the US, she soon got into a relationship with the hotel owner, Conrad Hilton, who was 30 years her senior, and whom she shared daughter, Francesca with. They were married for five years, which ended with Zsa Zsa filing for divorce and ending up in a sanatorium. The “therapy” she received left her severely traumatised, and she never quite got over it.
“Conrad’s decision to change my name from Zsa Zsa to Georgia symbolised everything my marriage to him would eventually become. My Hungarian roots were to be ripped out, and my background ignored… I soon discovered that my marriage to Conrad meant the end of my freedom. My own needs were completely ignored: I belonged to Conrad,” she said of her marriage in an interview.
Her pregnancy was announced at the same time as her divorce.
Two years later she fell in love with and married British actor George Sanders, but this marriage did not last long either, they divorced after five years, because of Zsa Zsa’s affair with Porfirio Rubirosa, a diplomat from the Caribbean.
Her last marriage is also notable, it was to a prince, or so she thought. Zsa Zsa married Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, who was actually no prince at all. He was born Hans Georg Robert Lichtenberg in Germany and paid Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt to adopt him in 1980 when he was 36 years old. His title had no value behind it, he was a con artist, and Zsa Zsa fell for it, thinking she would now become a real Princess of Bel Air.
Frédéric and Zsa Zsa also allegedly adopted about ten grown men who paid them to, so they would become descendants of Princess Marie-Auguste by adoption.
As Zsa Zsa neared old age, her health started to slip away, and her last husband took advantage of it. She was basically a prisoner in her own home, while Frédéric had access to her social circle and connections. He cut her off from her daughter, who as a result, had severe struggles.
Eventually, when Zsa Zsa’s only daughter, Francesca died in 2015 aged 67, Frédéric did not even let Zsa Zsa know, his excuse was her mental and emotional state. Zsa Zsa passed away a year later, only weeks before her 100th birthday.
Eva, the youngest sister, was married five times, after her last divorce, she served as a beard apparently, when she got into a very publicised relationship with Merv Griffin, TV producer, who was rumoured to be gay. She was also involved with actress Marlene Dietrich, as told by her niece, Francesca.
The apple did not fall far from the tree, their mother got married three times, and it seems Zsa Zsa was not the only one finding titles appealing. Jolie married a restaurant manager after her divorce from her daughters’ father, but quickly got divorced again. She later married Count Odon Szigethy, making Jolie a countess. Her title, unlike Zsa Zsa’s, was actually real.
These sisters were the first real celebrities. They were known more for being well-known, than for their work, everyone had heard of them because of their beauty, their relationships, their scandals. And they loved the spotlight.