She began her stage career in Vienna and was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. She emigrated to the United States in 1941 and became a sought-after actress with "European flair and style", with a personality that "exuded charm and grace". Her first movie role was as supporting actress in Lovely to Look At. She later acted in We're Not Married! and played one of her few leading roles in Moulin Rouge (1952), directed by John Huston, who described her as a "creditable" actress. Besides her film and television appearances, she is best known for having nine husbands, including hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and actor George Sanders. She once stated, "Men have always liked me and I have always liked men. But I like a mannish man, a man who knows how to talk to and treat a woman – not just a man with muscles."
Gabor's mother, Jolie, was an aunt of Annette Lantos, wife of Hungarian-born U.S. congressman and Holocaust survivor, Tom Lantos. Jolie was Jewish and barely escaped Hungary after the Nazis occupied Budapest in 1944, crediting Magda's influential connections with rescuing her: "For Magda's Portuguese Ambassador [ Carlos Sampaio Garrido ] I thank God. It was this man who saved my life." Gabor's maternal grandmother and uncle Sebastian (Annette Lantos's father) chose to remain in Budapest feeling they "had a good place to hide". However, both died during an Allied bombing raid. The fate of Zsa Zsa's three maternal aunts, Jolie's sisters, remains unclear.
Following studies at Madame Subilia's, a Swiss boarding school, Zsa Zsa was discovered by tenor Richard Tauber on a trip to Vienna in 1936 and was invited to sing the soubrette role in his new operetta, Der singende Traum (The Singing Dream), at the Theater an der Wien, making her first stage appearance. Author Gerold Frank, who helped Gabor write her autobiography in 1960, describes his impressions of her while the book was being written:
Zsa Zsa is unique. She's a woman from the court of Louis XV who has somehow managed to live in the 20th century, undamaged by the PTA ... She says she wants to be all the Pompadours and Du Barrys of history rolled into one, but she also says, "I always goof. I pay all my own bills ... I want to choose the man. I do not permit men to choose me."
In his autobiography, television host Merv Griffin, who often squired Zsa Zsa's younger sister Eva socially, described the Gabors "in their heyday" as "glamour personified": "All these years later, it's hard to describe the phenomenon of the three glamorous Gabor girls and their ubiquitous mother. They burst onto the society pages and into the gossip columns so suddenly, and with such force, it was as if they'd been dropped out of the sky."
Gabor has been married nine times. She was divorced seven times, and one marriage was annulled. Her husbands, in chronological order, are:
Gabor's divorces inspired her to make numerous quotable puns and innuendos about her marital (and extramarital) history. She commented: "I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house." When asked, "How many husbands have you had?", she was quoted as responding, "You mean other than my own?" While Gabor was still married to Conrad Hilton, she admitted to having once had sex with her stepson Nicky, who would be Elizabeth Taylor's first husband.
Gabor's only child, a daughter named Constance Francesca Hilton, was born on March 10, 1947. According to Gabor's 1991 autobiography One Lifetime Is Not Enough, her pregnancy resulted from rape by then-husband Conrad Hilton. She was the only Gabor sister to have a child. In 2005, a lawsuit was filed accusing her daughter of larceny and fraud, alleging that she had forged her signature to get a US$2 million loan on her mother's Bel Air house. However, the Santa Monica Superior Court threw the case due to Gabor's failure to appear in court or to sign an affidavit that she indeed was a co-plaintiff on the original lawsuit filed by her husband, Frédéric von Anhalt.
Zsa Zsa helping out at the Denver Muscular Dystrophy TV Marathon, c. 1955
Gabor arriving at a movie premiere in 1962
On June 14, 1989, in Beverly Hills, California, Gabor was accused of slapping the face of Beverly Hills police officer Paul Kramer when he stopped her for a traffic violation at 8551 Olympic Boulevard. Gabor also had a long-running feud with German-born actress Elke Sommer that began in 1984 when both appeared on Circus of the Stars and escalated into a multi-million dollar libel suit by 1993.
In 2002, Gabor was a passenger in an automobile crash in Los Angeles, from which she would remain partially paralyzed and reliant on a wheelchair for mobility. She survived strokes in 2005 and 2007 and underwent surgeries. In 2010, she fractured her hip and underwent a successful hip replacement.
In 2011, her right leg was amputated above the knee to save her life from an infection. She was hospitalized again in 2011 for numerous emergencies.
^"Ghost", Life magazine, 29 June 1959, pgs. 129-39
^Griffin, Merv. Merv: Making the Good Life Last, Simon & Schuster (2003), pg. 179
^ abcGabor, Zsa Zsa; Frank, Gerold. Zsa Zsa Gabor: My Story, The World Publishing Company, 1960.
^ abFeinberg, Alexander. "Bandit Gets $600,000 Gems in Raid on Penthouse Home: Mrs. Sari Hilton, Hotel Chain Owner's Wife, Reveals Hiding Place of Jewel Box After Intruder Threatens to Shoot Baby", The New York Times, October 5, 1947.
^"Zsa Zsa Gabor Is Married Here to Corporation Head", The New York Times, November 6, 1962.
^"Herbert L. Hutner, Arts Adviser, Is Dead at 99", The New York Times, December 19, 2008.
^"Zsa Zsa Decides It's Time to Sell Beauty Formulas", The New York Times, January 29, 1969.
^"Jack Ryan Dies at 65, Designer (sic) of Barbie Doll", The New York Times, August 21, 1991.
^Gabor, Zsa Zsa (and Wendy Leigh). One Life is Not Enough (Delacorte Press, 1991), p. 311.
^Current Biography Yearbook (H. W. Wilson Company, 1989), p.177.