Zsa Zsa Gabor 1917-2016

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Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose flamboyant lifestyle and many husbands made headlines for nearly eighty years, has died of a heart attack at her home in Bel Air, aged 99.

The second of three daughters, Sári Gábor was born in Budapest on February 6, 1917 (although she later claimed the year was 1928.) She made her theatrical debut in a Viennese operetta at seventeen, and was crowned ‘Miss Hungary’ two years later. Her first marriage, at twenty, was to politician Burhan Asaf Belge.

In 1942 she married the American hotelier, Conrad Hilton. During their five-year marriage she gave birth to  a daughter, Francesca, and co-wrote an autobiographical novel, Every Man For Himself. In 1949 she rejected the lead role in a film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and married the British actor, George Sanders.

Zsa Zsa with her third husband, George Sanders
Zsa Zsa with her third husband, George Sanders

In 1950, Sanders was cast as the acerbic theatre critic Addison DeWitt in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic Broadway satire, All About Eve.  Among his illustrious co-stars was Marilyn Monroe, as a beautiful young starlet who accompanies DeWitt to a party hosted by ageing star Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis.)

In her 1954 memoir, My Story, Marilyn remembered being seated next to Sanders during lunch at the studio, when a waiter called him to the telephone. On his return, a pale, nervous Sanders quickly paid for his meal and left. That afternoon, his stand-in asked Marilyn to keep her distance.

“I turned red at being insulted like this but I suddenly realised what had happened,” she wrote. “Mr Sanders’ wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, obviously had a spy on the set, and this spy had flashed the news to her that he was sitting at a table with me, and Miss Gabor had telephoned him immediately and given him a full list of instructions.”

Sanders with a young Marilyn in 'All About Eve' (1950)
Sanders with a young Marilyn in ‘All About Eve’ (1950)

But Zsa Zsa’s jealousy was soon reignited at a Hollywood party. “George went straight over to say hello to Marilyn, but Zsa Zsa got no farther than the door,” photographer Anthony Beauchamp recalled in his autobiography, Focus on Fame. “She too had spotted Miss Monroe, and she turned on me like an infuriated Persian kitten. In a voice that echoed across the room, and with the well-known Gabor intonations, she exploded in indignation: ‘How can you ‘ave this woman in your ‘ouse, I will not stay in the room wis her!’ Nor did she.  Zsa Zsa when she gets going is quite powerful – in lungs, accent and gesture.”

“Poor Marilyn was sitting quietly in a corner, making trouble for no one except perhaps for half a dozen men and their wives,” Beauchamp added wryly. “Zsa Zsa swept into a bedroom closely followed by her mother where they sat it out until George was ready to go home.”

Zsa Zsa with Louis Calhern in 'We're Not Married!' (1952)
Zsa Zsa with Louis Calhern in ‘We’re Not Married!’ (1952)

Zsa Zsa made her movie debut in the 1952 musical, Lovely To Look At.  Her next film, We’re Not Married!, was an anthology about a justice of the peace who accidentally marries several couples on Christmas Eve, two days before his license becomes valid. Marilyn starred as a beauty queen in one episode, and Zsa Zsa played the gold-digging bride of Louis Calhern in another. (Back in 1950, Marilyn had played Calhern’s mistress in The Asphalt Jungle.)

In November 1952, Look magazine further exposed what Marilyn called “the one-sided Gabor feud” by publishing ‘What’s Wrong With American Men?’, an article penned by Zsa Zsa, with marginal notes by Marilyn highlighting their very different attitudes towards the opposite sex (click on the photos below to enlarge.)

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Zsa Zsa went on to play roles in Moulin Rouge, The Story of Three Loves and Lilli. After she divorced Sanders in 1954, he went on to marry her sister, Eva. Nonetheless, Zsa Zsa would often describe him as the love of her life.

In the late 1950s, she starred in two cult B-films (The Girl in the Kremlin and Queen of Outer Space), as well as taking in a cameo role in Orson Welles’ masterpiece, Touch of Evil. She continued working in the theatre and was regularly seen on television.

Her sixth marriage was to Barbie doll designer Jack Ryan, and her eighth (to a Mexican actor) was annulled after just one day. In 1986, she joined the ranks of royalty by marrying Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a German-American entrepreneur who had paid Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt to adopt him six years earlier.

In 1989, Zsa Zsa was arrested for slapping a Beverly Hills policeman after he stopped her in her car for a traffic violation. She later recreated the incident in one of her last films, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991.)

“Marilyn was a very dull girl,” Zsa Zsa told Playboy (as quoted in The Unabridged Marilyn, 1987.) “She thought that if a man who takes her out for dinner doesn’t sleep with her that night – something’s wrong with her.” She went on to claim that she and Sanders had once counted four men visiting Marilyn’s hotel room in one evening during filming of All About Eve, a tale that is probably apocryphal. “That’s a terrible thing to say about somebody whom the whole country admires,” she admitted.

Zsa Zsa Gabor looks inside Marilyn’s trunk (2011)

By 2011, Zsa Zsa had mellowed considerably. “In the beginning I didn’t like her because she was flirting with my husband,” she said, while opening a trunk owned by Marilyn during a fan contest at Planet Hollywood. “We had lunch and we talked it over, and she was very nice and she never flirted with him again.”

Zsa Zsa’s final years were marred by ill-health, and legal and financial problems. When her estranged daughter Francesca died in 2015, Zsa Zsa was too frail to hear the news. She is survived by her last husband, with whom she lived for thirty years.

TCM Brings Marilyn Back to the Big Screen

Marilyn filming 'Some Like It Hot'
Marilyn filming ‘Some Like It Hot’

The TCM Big Screen Classics program for 2017 features two MM films. All About Eve will be shown in selected theatres across the US in March, with Some Like It Hot following in June. More details here.

Marilyn in May at the BFI

On the set of 'All About Eve' (1950)
On the set of ‘All About Eve’ (1950)

Following the Marilyn retrospective at London’s BFI Southbank last year, two of her most acclaimed films will be screened in May: All About Eve on the 9th, 10th, 11th (with intro by BFI Cinemas head Helen de Witt) and 14th; and Some Like it Hot on the 19th, 22nd and 31st. Both are part of the BFI’s new, ongoing Big Screen Classics series, with a theme of ‘the magic of words’ and tickets priced at £8.

Marilyn’s Hollywood Double Whammy

At the Chicago premiere of 'Some Like it Hot', March 1959
At the Chicago premiere of ‘Some Like it Hot’, March 1959

Two of Marilyn’s films are listed in the Hollywood Reporter‘s 100 Best Hollywood Movies of All Time – with All About Eve at 52, and Some Like it Hot at 47. (The top 3 are The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz and Citizen Kane.)

If you think that’s a rather low ranking, you’re right – after all, Some Like it Hot has been voted best comedy of all time by the AFI and many others. And the same two movies are also featured in a forthcoming book from TCM, The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter.

Seven Year Itch Soundtrack Reissue

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Hot on the heels of their Some Like it Hot reissue, the Soundtrack Factory label has released Alfred Newman’s music for The Seven Year Itch on CD, alongside his compositions for other Fox classics (including All About Eve) and including a 16-page booklet. You can listen to sample tracks on the Jazz Messengers website.

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Kenneth Turan’s ‘Not to Be Missed’

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Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film is a new, very personal book by Kenneth Turan, movie critic for the Los Angeles Times. His selection includes two movies from Marilyn’s early career, The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve.

“Though she is eighth billed, a young Marilyn Monroe is a standout…even in this heady ensemble, so much so that ‘an officially authorized stunning hand-painted porcelain collector doll’ of the actress in her All About Eve party dress now sells for twice its original $195 Franklin Heirloom Dolls Price. Cast largely because of the efforts of her mentor, powerful agent Johnny Hyde, Monroe impressed Mankiewicz, he later wrote, as having ‘a breathlessness and sort of glued-on innocence about her that I found appealing.'”

The Playlist: Marilyn’s Top 5 Movies

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On the 88th anniversary of the birth of Marilyn, The Playlist selected five of her greatest movie performances yesterday (in Niagara, The Seven Year Itch, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like it Hot and The Misfits.) While I don’t agree with all of their comments, it’s great to see Monroe’s cinematic legacy getting proper attention.

Some of MM’s other roles were also given honourable mention, although Clash by Night and Don’t Bother to Knock have been omitted.

“But it’s easy to overlook her screen achievements with the legend, and the woman born Norma Jeane Baker in Los Angeles in 1926 was a star for a reason. Despite being slighted as a weak actress by some, she was an accomplished comic talent, and capable of far more when she was allowed.

Of those early supporting turns, it’s The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve that make the most impact, the former as Louis Calhern’s beguiling mistress in John Huston’s excellent noir, the latter as an aspiring actress, a graduate of ‘The Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.’ Her supporting performance in Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, released just before she became a star, is also worth checking out.

She reteamed with Hawks, joined by Jane Russell, to far greater effect on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, arguably the film that cemented her stardom, even if the film doesn’t hold a candle to Some Like It Hot, something doubly true of the same year’s How To Marry A Millionaire, although the central trio of Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall is undeniable. Finally, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Bus Stop, as a small-town singer who’s borderline-stalked by a rodeo rider. The film is a somewhat uncomfortable watch, but it’s a good showcase of Monroe’s range.”