The Untold Truth Of The Gabor Sisters

Once upon a time, the Gabor sisters — Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva — were always in the spotlight, always making headlines, and always getting married. Contemporary discussions surrounding the famous family frequently include comparisons to the Kardashians or the Hiltons. While these descriptions are almost cliche by this point, their accuracy cannot be denied. The Gabor sisters dabbled in many endeavors, from acting in prominent television roles to running their own lucrative businesses; however, in the end, the three Hungarian-American women were simply famous for being famous. 

Throughout their lives, they appeared to always capture mainstream appeal. They were icons in elite fashion circles; they were charismatic socialites who were always arm-in-arm with European nobility and American business magnates. They could make audiences laugh and conquer any high-profile interview despite English not being their first language.

The story of the Gabor family is a fascinating adventure of intense drive, immense greed, and an insatiable hunger for fame. 

Their mother attempted to leave her family many times to pursue fame

Jolie Gabor was arguably just as famous as her daughters. Coming of age in post-World War I Hungary, she and her family lived a comfortable lifestyle thanks to their costume jewelry business. From a young age, Jolie wanted to conquer the world of theater and be Hungary's next major star. It was this dream that nearly led her to leave her future family. 

In a mere attempt to run off from her controlling parents, Jolie agreed to marry a Hungarian army officer named Vilmos Gabor. To say it wasn't a loving marriage would be a severe understatement; a six-month contract was signed that would allow Jolie, then 17, to leave the marriage should she continue to want to pursue her dreams of becoming an actress. For Vilmos, what he wanted the most was a son. As destiny would have it, he would get three daughters. After the birth of Magda, Jolie attempted to leave to pursue her acting career in earnest. Allegedly, Vilmos responded by threatening to drop Magda through an open window unless Jolie stayed. Jolie stayed through the birth of Zsa Zsa, with Vilmos promising her a divorce if she gave getting pregnant one more time a go in hopes of a son.

After Eva's birth in 1919, Jolie again attempted to leave Vilmos and girls to pursue her aspirations of stardom. However, Vilmos simply laughed. "Now you are too old," according to "Such Devoted Sisters: Those Fabulous Gabors," by Peter H. Brown.

The Gabor sisters were raised with cold military precision

If Jolie Gabor could not capture her cinematic and fanciful dreams, she would donate every second of her life to ensure her daughters could for her. The Gabor sisters had their days planned out to the letter as children, from breakfast to school to an endless cycle of studious instruction. The upbringing of all Gabor sisters consisted of constant calculated training in a wide array of disciplines and subjects — anything that could help propel them to some form of stardom. Jolie put her daughters through an endless ringer of vigorous study, including dancing lessons, piano practice, and fencing instruction. When it came to their language studies (German, French, and English), Eva Gabor bluntly recalled, "We could talk about nothing in four languages," as per "Such Devoted Sisters: Those Fabulous Gabors."

Jolie's parenting style went beyond military-like discipline and never-ending routine. It sometimes crossed into fanatical territory, as evidenced when she took her little girls out to a lake and threw them off the rowboat, despite none of them knowing how to swim. This was Jolie's attempt at teaching her daughters the importance of survival. Magda Gabor would later recall, "Amazingly, we didn't drown ... we managed to stay afloat until mama allowed us back in the boat ... It felt like we'd swallowed gallons" (per "Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells From Budapest," by Darwin Porter).

A Buckingham royal match was wished for one of the sisters

While the ever-so-frequent rotating door that was a Gabor marriage regularly made headlines throughout the sisters' lives, there were some other and lesser-known matrimonial matches that were attempted behind the scenes.

The most famous, and rather unsettling, example had to be when Jolie Gabor tried to set a future match between Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was only 12 years old at the time, and the Prince of Wales and future King of Britain, Edward VIII. In her 1991 autobiography, "One Lifetime is Not Enough," Zsa Zsa remembers the event at the beginning of the book. By chance, her mother saw the then-Prince of Wales with his future wife, Wallis Simpson, at the Ritz Hotel in Budapest. Jolie was so impressed with the way Edward doted on Simpson that she immediately sought to arrange a possible marriage between him and Zsa Zsa. "Dazzled by this display of princely devotion, my mother promptly wrote to Buckingham Palace, informing the Prince that, on his return from Hungary, he should consider marrying her tiny daughter Zsa Zsa as soon as she came of age."

According to Darwin Porter's book, "Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells From Budapest," this encounter between Jolie and Edward did indeed happen, with the former even going so far as to give a letter and photo of a young Zsa Zsa to the prince. "I told him that you were growing more beautiful every day, and that in just a few years, you'd be one of the most dazzling beauties of Europe, fit to sit on his throne as Queen of England when he becomes King."

A single trip to Vienna changed Zsa Zsa Gabor's life

To say Zsa Zsa Gabor had a fascinating life would be the understatement of the century. Interestingly, despite everything the world-renowned socialite achieved throughout her life, her first time in Vienna, Austria, would forever remain one of her fondest memories, with Zsa Zsa recalling in her memoir that the trip was "a journey that altered the course of my entire life."

When Zsa Zsa Gabor was 15 she lost the Miss Hungary beauty pageant. While she initially won the contest, she was later disqualified after it was revealed she was too young. The loss devastated her, but it absolutely enraged her parents, especially her mother, who did not try to hide the fact that she was living vicariously through her middle daughter. The loss stung so much for Jolie Gabor that she allegedly hit the pageant director after he disqualified Zsa Zsa.

The Gabor matriarch refused to let this defeat halt her daughter's rise to stardom. She signed Zsa Zsa up for another local talent competition that eventually led them to Vienna. The moment they arrived, Zsa Zsa was completely enamored with the city, declaring, "I should have been born Viennese!" (via"Those Glamorous Gabors: Bombshells From Budapest"). The trip consisted of endless mini-adventures, from going on a shopping tour with acclaimed chanteuse Greta Keller, to taking part in an Austrian operetta, to getting the chance to meet Hedy Lamarr. Zsa Zsa would never forget Vienna or her encounter with Lamarr. "I fixed the brilliant image of Hedy in my mind forever, knowing somehow that I, Zsa Zsa, would one day equal and even surpass her," she wrote in her memoir. 

Magda Gabor worked alongside the Hungarian resistance in World War II

Magda Gabor may have been the least known of the three sisters. However, that doesn't mean her life was any less interesting. In fact, due to her actions during World War II, it can be argued that Magda was the most fascinating Gabor of all.

In 1941, Magda, while married to a Polish count, began an affair with the Portuguese Ambassador to Hungary, Carlos de Sampaya Garrido, who was in his 60s and decades older than her and who would bring her into the world of espionage. With her new lover, Magda worked to break Nazi codes. According to Peter Brown's biography of the sisters, Magda memorized ciphers used by the Portuguese ciphers for communicating with the few freedom fighters left in Europe at the time. Magda's work didn't stop there. She also worked with Hungarian resistance forces, smuggling civilian clothes to soldiers looking to escape Nazi wrath. 

Magda Gabor's work during the war was certainly a personal one, especially since her family had Jewish ancestry and both her parents were still in Hungary during the war. In 1944, a rapid turn of events saw Garrido discover the Germans intended to intern Magda. With the help of the ambassador, Magda and her family were able to escape the Gestapo by a thread.

A single screen test halted Eva Gabor's early acting career

Eva Gabor is often considered to have had the best acting career out of the three sisters, primarily due to the powerful legacy of "Green Acres" and her memorable voiceover work in Disney's "The Rescuers." However, according to Eva and certain other accounts, she might have had a chance at even greater stardom if not for one test screening.

By 1939, with limited English, Eva Gabor was living in Hollywood during the industry's Golden Age. She eventually received a tremendous chance to audition and test for a role in "My Life with Caroline," a picture directed by Lewis Milestone — the man behind 1930's "All Quiet on the Western Front" — and starring Ronald Colman. Eva impressed with her beauty and tearful audition. Confidence and absolute glee soared through her. However, when Paramount execs and Colman observed the test footage, they were completely taken aback by how young she looked. While they had no issue with her performance, they could not look past how youthful she looked on screen. The loss of such a razor-close opportunity haunted her for over a decade. "If I hadn't photographed too young I would have become a big star. They had the contract already written," she later recalled, as per "Such Devoted Sisters: Those Fabulous Gabors.".

Zsa Zsa Gabor popped up in some unexpected roles

It doesn't get more iconic than Adam West's "Batman" series from the '60s. Fans may cringe at its campiness now, but there was a time when those "Bams!" and "Pows!" ruled television. So, when the show's ratings dropped in 1968, and the series aired its final episode in March, who was West paired with to send the series off? Surely, it had to be Cesar Romero's Joker or Burgess Meredith's Penguin? Nope, it was Zsa Zsa Gabor's Minerva.

The final "Batman" episode featured Zsa Zsa playing a thief targeting Gotham's millionaires. The episode, titled "Minerva, Mayhem, and Millionaires," sees the character use a machine called the "Deepest Secret Extractor" to find out where Gotham's elite are hiding their riches. Playing the final villain in such an original piece of superhero programming is a unique feather in the Gabor cap. Years later, in 1991, Zsa Zsa once again popped up on another prominent television series, a little production called "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." The Season 2 episode, "Hi-Ho Silver," showcases Gabor as a famous actress, Sonya Lamor. In the episode, a hilarious misunderstanding causes Will and cousin Carlton Banks to steal Sonya's fancy silverware after thinking she stole from them.

Magda Gabor was involved in a heavy legal battle

In 1966, tragedy struck the Gabor family. One late night, Magda Gabor tripped over her dog while walking down the stairs. After falling and hitting her head, Magda's husband (Arthur "Tony" Gallucci, a rich New York contractor) and her mother initially believed the swelling and a bad bump were the worst of her worries. However, days later, hours after attending the Southampton Horse Show with her signature exuberant energy, Magda suffered a terrible stroke that left her in a wheelchair and with an extremely limited vocabulary. Shortly after this, Magda's husband would be diagnosed with terminal cancer and pass away in 1967.

This forced Magda into a serious legal battle with her husband's family over his immense estate. To prepare, Magda consumed an endless amount of legal texts. "It was unbelievable the way she handled herself during this troubled time," Jolie Gabor once explained (per "Such Devoted Sisters"). "By reading law books, she helped build her own case and sat next to her lawyers, giving them one-word directions as the hearing progressed."

Magda prevailed in the legal proceedings against the Gallucci family, earning her millions. Afterward, she moved to Palm Springs. By all accounts, even without the ability to speak full sentences, Magda Gabor never lost that signature, extroverted Gabor energy. According to Darwin Porter's biography, she became a well-known socialite in Palm Springs, as well as a supporter of the local arts scene. 

Eva Gabor created a wig empire

While Eva Gabor was certainly the most accomplished actress out of the three sisters, she might have also been the most business-savvy. The youngest Gabor succeeded in crafting her very own wig enterprise — Eva Gabor International. This endeavor consumed much of her time and energy and helped change the wig industry as a whole.

According to Eva, before her business, wigs were ugly and impractical. "I had done a lot of movies and plays with costumes and wigs, and they used to be ghastly," she said in a 1988 interview with The Los Angeles Times. "They used to weigh tons." The company, which was founded in 1969, was a mammoth success. Gabor once claimed to Merv Griffin on his talk show that selling her lightweight wigs for around $25 a piece brought her at least half a million dollars yearly, as per Darwin Porter's biography. This wasn't just the family ego talking either. By the late '80s, industry sources believed Eva Gabor International was making around $30,000,000 a year.

At the time of Eva Gabor's death in 1995, The L.A. Times called the business the biggest wig-making venture in the world, with the company still going strong to this day.

The Gabor sisters married a total of 20 times

You can't talk about the Gabor sisters without discussing their marriages, specifically how many times they got married — 20. Magda was married six times throughout her life. Meanwhile, Zsa Zsa married nine times, with her most famous marriages being to hotel mogul Conrad Hilton and Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, a famous German-American socialite. Eva married five times in her life, with her last marriage to Frank Gard Jameson Sr., a corporate powerhouse in the field of aerospace technology, ending in 1983.

The Gabor marriages can be talked about endlessly, with each one possessing its own unique set of drama or general bizarreness. Case in point: Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth marriage was to Mexican actor Felipe de Alba was annulled after one day. Magda's fifth marriage was to George Sanders, a British actor and Zsa Zsa's third ex-husband.

Nineteen of these total marriages were childless. Only Zsa Zsa would have a child from her marriage with Conrad Hilton. However, in her memoir, "One Lifetime Is Not Enough," Zsa Zsa wrote that the birth of her daughter in 1947, Francesca, was a result of her being sexually assaulted by Hilton.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's final years

Zsa Zsa Gabor passed away from a heart attack in December 2016 at 99. In contrast with the exuberant and glamorous life she led at the peak of her fame, her final years can only be described as unfathomably bleak and riddled with severe medical complications. In 2002, she was involved in a car accident in Los Angeles that resulted in partial paralysis. Three years later, the Budapest-born star suffered a stroke and had to have immediate surgery. In 2011, a serious infection forced doctors to amputate her right leg.

According to those close to her, the five years before her death, Zsa Zsa was in a near-comatose state, plagued by dementia, and completely reliant on life support. After her passing, her publicist, Ed Lozzi, explained just how critical her condition had been. "I am pleased that she is finally out of her misery. For the past five years, Zsa Zsa has suffered chronic dementia, locked away in her mansion laying in a hospital bed being fed through tubes in her naval, not able to speak, see, write or hear. Nor knowing who she was or how famous she was" (per NPR).

Zsa Zsa was the last of the Gabor legacy, having outlived her entire family, including her own daughter. Her ashes were buried in her native Hungary nearly five years after her passing.