Some may call her ageless, but the most reliable sources say that on February 6, Zsa Zsa Gabor will turn 99. Born Sári Gábor in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, to Vilmos Gábor and his wife Jolie, Zsa Zsa has survived not only her long-lived mother but also sisters Magda and Eva, daughter Francesca, at least seven of her eight ex-husbands, and most of the talk-show hosts who gave the glamor queen a platform for expanding her fame beyond the requisite 15 minutes. She was such a ubiquitous presence on television during the 1960s and 70s that anyone over the age of 50 may think they have nothing to learn about Zsa Zsa. But the woman has long been all about the myth. Herewith some facts—or at least well grounded speculations.
1) Zsa Zsa started her career as a singer. After attending Swiss boarding school, the 17-year-old beauty ended up in Vienna, where tenor Richard Tauber invited her to sing the soubrette role in the operetta The Singing Dream. It’s unclear how much of a splash Zsa Zsa’s warbling made, but she was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. Then it was time to settle down to her truer calling, collecting husbands.
2) Husband no. 1 gets the credit for saving Zsa Zsa’s life. Turkish diplomat Burhan Asaf Belge, 30 years Zsa Zsa’s senior, provided her transit to the United States by the time World War II enveloped Europe. This was no small matter; Jolie Gabor was Jewish, and she and Magda barely escaped Hungary following the Nazi occupation. (Eva had previously married and emigrated to the US.) Other family members, including Zsa Zsa’s grandmother, stayed behind and perished.
3) Husband no. 2 was maybe not so nice to Zsa Zsa. Hotelier Conrad Hilton married the recent émigré in 1942, and they were separated, soon to be divorced, when daughter Francesca was born in 1947. Zsa Zsa claimed that Conrad forced her to have sex during their separation, and that Francesca was a product of the rape. Later, more than one observer noted the daughter’s resemblance to George Sanders, who became Zsa Zsa’s husband no. 3 in 1949. Francesca inherited only $100,000 from Hilton’s estate. She died of a massive stroke in 2015, following years of court battles with her ninth stepfather.
4) On the other hand, Zsa Zsa was maybe not so nice to Hilton. Later, she claimed to have had sex with stepson Nicky Hilton while still married to his father. Nicky went on to become husband no. 1 to Elizabeth Taylor, who married a mere eight times (twice to Richard Burton) as against Zsa Zsa’s nine journeys into matrimony. By virtue of her second marriage, Zsa Zsa became not only Taylor’s almost-step-mother-in-law, but also Paris Hilton’s sort-of step-grandmother.
5) Husband no. 3 later became sister Magda’s husband no. 5. Apparently, George Sanders, who divorced Zsa Zsa in 1954, just couldn’t quit the Gabor clan; he married Zsa Zsa’s older sister in 1970, though the marriage was soon annulled. (At this point, Zsa Zsa was between husbands five and six.) In 1972, Sanders committed suicide, explaining in a note that boredom drove him to it.
6) Zsa Zsa was famous for being famous, but at one time she did play actual roles in actual movies. In her first movie, the 1952 musical Lovely to Look At, she played a character named Zsa Zsa, but later that year she costarred in both the comedy We’re Not Married! and in the Toulouse-Lautrec biopic Moulin Rouge as dancer/model Jane Avril. Supporting roles in movies like Lili and The Story of Three Loves followed, but by 1958 the best she could do was Talleah in Queen of Outer Space and the tiniest of cameos in Touch of Evil. During the 1960s, she became so famous on the talk show circuit that most of her TV and occasional film parts were essentially playing herself.
7) Zsa Zsa said a lot of things on a lot of talk shows, but there is no evidence of an infamous feline-related exchange on the Tonight Show. The story goes that Zsa Zsa sat next to Johnny Carson with a kitty in her lap, and asked the host if he’d like to pet her pussy. He replied something along the lines of, “I’d love to, but you’ll have to remove that damn cat.” Snopes.com puts the lie to it, but we can keep on believing the legend if we want.
8) Husband no. 9, who made her Princess Zsa Zsa, has endured. For the record, husbands no. 4 through 8 were investment banker Herbert Hutner (1962-66), Texas oilman Joshua S. Cosden, Jr. (1966-67), Barbie designer Jack Ryan (1975-76), and attorneys Michael O’Hara (1976-83) and Felipe de Alba (who lasted for only one day in 1983, apparently because Zsa Zsa was not properly divorced from O’Hara). In 1986, the celebrity entered into her most lasting union with Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a former masseur who is a quarter-century younger than Zsa Zsa and gained his title at age 36 through adoption by an aged German princess.
9) So is she really 99? Zsa Zsa has laid claim to a several different birth dates over the years, including one as late as 1931, even though she married for the first time in 1937. When the princess was arrested for haughtily slapping a police officer in 1989, her driver’s license showed 1928 as her birth year (although the date was written in ink). Soon after, a classmate of Zsa Zsa’s from Swiss finishing school produced a school photograph of the timeless beauty with her birth date — February 6, 1917 —clearly noted underneath. So happy 99th, Zsa Zsa. May you live even longer and continue to prosper.