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.
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.”
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 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.)
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 (asquotedin 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.
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.
Douglas Kirkland’s touring exhibit, Icons and Idols, features four images from his 1961 photo shoot with Marilyn among 22 shots spanning his long career. It is on display until November 13 at There Is, a gallery in the Northbridge district of Perth, Australia. In an interview with Perth Now, Kirkland reflected on his life as a celebrity photographer.
“He says the entertainment industry has changed ‘like night and day’ from the beginning of his career.
‘This is a different, a vastly different star system today,’ Kirkland says. ‘Social media and the internet have produced more celebrities than at the beginning of my career and I’ve been doing this since the beginning of the ’60s.’
‘People like Elizabeth Taylor and Monroe were the giants then. Today you can only think of Angelina Jolie and another 20 or 30 with staying power but they are not as big as, say, Elizabeth was or Marilyn.’
‘Now, business is money driven, but the access to celebrities is much more limited and controlled. The people who work with stars want to say where they will be and when the photo will be used.'”
Speaking with Australian Vogue, Kirkland reflected on how his images of Marilyn have become iconic since they were taken 55 years ago.
“What was it like to photograph Marilyn?
It was thrilling, frightening and exhilarating. I was very young and frankly I wondered if I was in over my head. The session was charged with sexual energy and the results all went into the camera, as the images can tell.
Were you expecting the reaction to the photograph that it received?
Actually the reaction to the Marilyn Monroe photographs came much later. I had no idea at the time that these would become some of my most iconic and sought after images.
Elizabeth Taylor, however, was the one who was instrumental in establishing my career as a celebrity photographer. I looked into her violet eyes and said to her ‘I am new with this magazine, could you imagine what it would mean to me if you gave me an opportunity to photograph you?’ She thought for a moment and nodded as said ‘Come tomorrow night at 7’oclock’.
She had not been seen for a while and the images from the cover session for Look magazine in 1961 went worldwide and catapulted my career.”
Forgotten Fifties is also the subject of an article in NY Magazine today:
“From its founding in 1937 until the early ’70s, Life Magazine — the first American weekly picture magazine — was the most popular rag in the country. But it was not without its competitors: 1937 also marked the founding of Look Magazine, run by Des Moines Tribune editors and brothers Gardner and John Cowles.
Derided as ‘barber shop reading’ in the ’40s, Look — known for its large-scale photographs and very short articles — lacked the high aspirations and self-seriousness of Life. At the time of its launch, Time described the magazine as having ‘reader interest for yourself, for your private secretary, for your office boy — a magazine mostly for the middle class and for ordinary lives.’
Look had sold 3.7 million issues by the mid 1950s, but the biweekly went out of print in 1971 (a year before Life) and largely faded from historical consciousness.”
Artist Tom Tierney, who created over 400 ‘paper dolls’ books, died on July 12 at his Texas home, reports the New York Times. He was 85.
He briefly knew Marilyn in 1958 when they were both living in New York, Tierney told Michelle Morgan, author of MM: Private and Undisclosed. Tierney’s neighbours at the time were magazine editors Jack Hamilton and Charles Schneider, and Marilyn often attended ‘interview parties’ in their apartment with husband Arthur Miller.
“Marilyn was a very quiet girl and Miller did all the talking,” Tierney recalled. “They came on several occasions so that I finally felt comfortable chatting with them, especially Marilyn.”
One day, Tierney met Marilyn on the stairs while he was taking out the garbage. She instantly offered to help. “She was definitely a sweetheart,” Tierney commented, “and I’ll never forget our brief acquaintance.”
Originally published in 1979, Marilyn Monroe Paper Dollswas the first in the series to make the Times bestseller list – and is one of the few Marilyn-related books to remain in print ever since.
In 2012, Tierney was commissioned by William Travilla’s estate to create a book dedicated to the famed designer’s costumes for Marilyn. (More info here.)
Today’s New York Postreports on one Marilyn fan’s guilty secret – two rare (and now quite valuable) vintage magazines, swiped by a 15 year-old boy from the Jefferson Market Public Library in Greenwich Village over fifty years ago. These long-lost issues of Life and Look, both published in 1953, are among Marilyn’s most iconic, sought-after magazine covers.
“‘He said it was on his conscience all these years and that basically he wanted to make it right,’ said Frank Collerius, the public-library manager at the Jefferson Market branch in the Village, who told the Post it finally reclaimed the well-ogled Look and Life magazines last fall.
‘He was such a passionate fan, that in his passion, he inadvertently took them home,’ Collerius said of the 65-year-old. ‘Fifty years is a long time to make amends.'”
While reading this, I was reminded of the moral dilemma I faced while living in Derbyshire about ten years ago. I borrowed an original copy of Pete Martin’s 1956 book, Will Acting Spoil Marilyn Monroe? Now considered an essential resource by MM scholars, this book sells for high prices on Ebay.
I was sorely tempted to keep it, but my conscience got the better of me. I finally purchased a copy for myself earlier this year (minus the dustjacket, sadly.)
So, dear reader – do you have any Marilyn-related crimes to share?
“In 1972, when I did the Marilyn book with Norman Mailer’s text and twenty-four photographers, I discovered that photographers were just mechanics with Marilyn. You put her in front of the camera; she knew exactly what she was doing. When Dick Avedon photographed her, he did those intimate portraits of her, but then he did her vamping all the other women of the world; you know Marilyn knew how to pose. I think she was different people to different photographers. She reinvented herself depending upon who was shooting her. Take Milton Greene’s pictures of her in the black. That’s him recreating the Marlene Dietrich pictures that he did, that’s Marilyn Monroe taking it a step further. Yes, you could play music; yes, you could fill her up with Dom Pérignon; and yes, photographers had to know lighting; but you got to tell Marilyn Monroe what to do? No way!
Marilyn was right there, right in your face. You could really feel the pores on her skin. Some people when you photograph them, their skin becomes for lack of a better word, dead; there’s a flatness to it. There was never a flatness to Marilyn Monroe’s skin. It was alive. She was constantly alive. She could look anyway she wanted. She certainly had professional makeup people, but I saw her doing her own makeup many times.
I think there are probably some unedited Marilyn somewhere. As an example in the new book, there are at least thirty images that came from the shooting for Look Magazine. I’m not exaggerating, until last year I had never looked at that shooting since the day the film was sent into Look magazine and Marilyn approved the contact sheets. They went into the Look Library, I owned the copyright. Look ran one picture of mine, some with Bob Vose, some with Guy Villet and John Bryson, who was a God to me. I just never looked at it. Now I look at it and I come up with this image, the first picture I ever shot of her. This picture was never published; it’s on the cover of the Talese book. It comes from a contact sheet she killed all except the one frame…Over fifty-two years I never looked at this contact sheet.
In those days, if you sold a picture for a cover for a thousand dollars, that was a lot of money; so a spread for Life Magazinefor six or seven thousand dollars, that’s a lot of money. The American Society of Magazine Photographers day rate was $100. a day in those days, so when we did like $80,000. worth of sales off basically one days shooting, next to David Douglas Duncan’s pictures of Picasso, probably the highest amount generated from one days worth of shooting. If you have exclusivity, you’re able to control the market.
I never even looked at the Marilyn pictures as anything artistic. I remember the thing that really blew me away, I had this image I took of Buster Keaton and one day I walked into Sammy Davis, Jr.’s home and there it was framed on the wall in his den. I just looked at it on the wall like a piece of art. It was the first time I ever realized that my pictures were something more than just that.”