In Their Easter Bonnets: The Crazy Gabors, Zsa Zsa, Jolie, Eva & Magda

Zsa Zsa, Jolie, Eva and Magda Gabor in their Easter bonnets. (Palm Springs Life)

Zsa Zsa, Jolie, Eva and Magda Gabor in their Easter bonnets. (Palm Springs Life)

Greedy, vain, impatient, superficial, obtuse, rude, selfish, imperious.

All Gabors, half in hats.

All Gabors, half in hats.

In fact, there were likely even occasional evidences of those qualities in the real lives of the Gabors, the family of mother Jolie and her three daughters Zsa Zsa, Eva and Magda ubiquitous in the pop culture, half a century before the Kardashians.

Acting out those personality traits in public also became the family’s lucrative stock-in-trade, delighting, bewildering, and outraging the public as they appeared in feature film and television roles and made endless appearances as “personalities” on talk shows, game shows and commercials.

Their apex was surely 1966. That year, the three sisters were freshly-divorced at the same time and decided to marry again for three consecutive weekends which coincided with the Easter season.

Zsa Zsa, Jolie and Eva Gabor, ready for Easter 1966. (AP)

Zsa Zsa, Jolie and Eva Gabor, ready for Easter 1966. (AP)

That year eldest daughter Magda was marrying her fourth husband on Easter Sunday. The following Sunday, youngest daughter Eva was marrying her third husband. And the Sunday after that, middle sister Zsa Zsa was to wed her fifth husband.

Whether or not any of the Gabor weddings were for love, the seeming publicity stunt allowed the family to preview their famous Easter bonnets for the press in the Madison Avenue costume jewelry store established and operated by “Mama,” the original Gabor, Jolie.

The fact that Jolie Gabor was Jewish and celebrating Easter was as minor a fine point as the actual year of her birth.

"Mamma Gabor," Jolie in 1963. (Getty)

“Mamma Gabor,” Jolie in 1963. (Getty)

Born in Budapest during the waning days of the old Austrian-Hungarian Empire, her family had been prosperous jewelers there and she helped run a thriving store known as “the Diamond Shop,” and also one where she sold fake jewelry, called “Jolie’s.”

When the Nazi threat began to overtake Hungary, Jolie and her three daughters managed to escape to Portugal. In 1945, they arrived in the United States and hit the country running.

In the oldest of American traditions, they re-invented themselves, tailoring the truth to whatever needs arose.

“They would lie about everything,” recalled gossip columnist Cindy Adams. “They have always lived with no reality; there was never any truth to anything.”

Hatted Gabors at one of the many weddings among them.

Hatted Gabors at one of the many weddings among them.

Jolie Gabor opened a costume jewelry store in New York City, serving as a sort of glamor home base for her girls and later a branch in Palm Springs, California. In 1963, she opened a women’s day spa. Having divorced her first husband, the father of her daughters, before she left Hungary she set an example for them by marrying a total of three times.

Those who knew the family as real people often described Eva Gabor as the one who most easily dropped the schtick and became an instantly accessible person, even to tourists who encountered her in Los Angeles, a warm and friendly woman.

Eva Gabor chapeaued for Christmas, not Easter, in a scene from Green Acres.

Eva Gabor chapeaued for Christmas, not Easter, in a scene from Green Acres.

Undoubtedly this was helped by the naively clueless but warm persona she conveyed in playing the character of Lisa Douglas in the popular 60s T.V. show Green Acres.

Eva Gabor in the rural comedy sitcom with co-star Eddie Albert.

Eva Gabor in the rural comedy sitcom with co-star Eddie Albert.

She also followed Jolie’s lead and branded her own product, a line of “Eva Gabor Wigs” sold in the back of gossipy movie star fan magazines.

Eva had five husbands (a physician, an investment broker, a plastic surgeon, a textile manufacturer, and an aerospace executive), all ending in divorce.

Magda at far left, with her sisters and mother, once again in group bonnet mode.

Magda at far left, with her sisters and mother, once again in group bonnet mode – except for Zsa Zsa.

The least known Gabor was the eldest sister Magda. Wearing as many hats as her actress-sisters, she established her own identity as a Palm Springs hostess even after a stroke robbed her of full speech for the last thirty years of her life.

While Zsa Zsa and Eva were both considered genuine beauties in their earlier years, the red-haired Magda was once deemed “unfortunate” by comparison.

Eva with Magda.

Eva with Magda.

She didn’t care, perhaps because she became the richest of them all, hitting the divorce settlement jackpot from her fourth of six husbands (a Polish count, a screenwriter, attorney, building contractor executive, actor and economic consultant).

Perhaps the oddest bit of Gabor trivia is the fact that Magda’s fifth husband had also once been her sister Zsa Zsa’s fourth husband, George Sanders, best known for his film depiction of theater critic Addison Dewitt in All About Eve.

Zsa Zsa Gabor with husband number four and her daughter from husband number three. (Getty)

Zsa Zsa Gabor with husband number four and her daughter from husband number three. (Getty)

Zsa Zsa remains the record-holder among Gabors for the greatest number of husbands, accumulating a total of nine, seven ending in divorce and one in annulment. Still wed to her ninth husband, Prince Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, who she married in 1986, it also ranks her as the longest-married Gabor.

Nor did her mother or either sister garner as much publicity as Zsa Zsa, both for her work as a professional actress and string of outrageous remarks and deeds, and for a longer period of time.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, ready for yet another Easter.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, ready for yet another Easter.

In the 60s, she guest-starred on a Canadian comedy series about a St. Bernard dog George, who falls in love with her and on the Batman series played the crook Minerva who owned a mineral star.

For some reason, Zsa Zsa had been making automobile-related T..V. commercials for some time, ranging from a 1963 ad for the Studebaker Lark to a series for Aamco (“Hello?! Aamco man?”)

A still from the 1975 Volkswagon commercial which a turbaned Jolie Gabor made with daughter Zsa Zsa.

A still from the 1975 Volkswagon commercial which a turbaned Jolie Gabor made with daughter Zsa Zsa.

In 1975, she even got old Jolie out in a turban to film a Volkswagon commercial. “With daughters like mine,” pipes up Mamma Gabor, “you learn the value of a dollar!”

Zsa Zsa’s history with cars seemed to foreshadow her most unexpected moment of publicity.

A police photo of Zsa Zsa Gabor handcuffed for assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.

A police photo of Zsa Zsa Gabor handcuffed for assault of a police officer and resisting arrest.

In 1989 she was driving when a Beverly Hills policeman pulled her over.  Claiming he roughed her up, Zsa Zsa Gabor famously slapped the officer and was promptly hauled into the police station. It resulted in a trial and her having to serve two days in prison.

The incident gave her dimming career a second wind, and in the series of commercials and other bits of acting she did, playing herself and spoofing her arrest and incarceration, Zsa Zsa Gabor revealed the true sense of humor that had always really been beneath the surface of her sometimes harsh persona as a spoiled rich European socialite.

It may have also explained why it seemed, that whenever the four Gabors got together, in bonnets or not, they were always laughing nearly to tears.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's mug shot.

Zsa Zsa Gabor’s mug shot.

It also seemed to give Zsa Zsa the freedom to make fun of herself, and it endeared the nearly-80 year old personality more than anything in her public life ever had.

She also joined the bandwagon on that ubiquitous trend of the late 80s and early 90s – making her own workout video.. She called the tape, It’s Simple, Darling, as she wisecracked her way through several modest exercises in her Beverly Hills home with two musclebound giants.

Zsa Zsa Gabor and David Letterman in a still from their famous drive through Los Angeles fast food drive-in restaurants.

Zsa Zsa Gabor and David Letterman in a still from their famous drive through Los Angeles fast food drive-in restaurants.

By 1993, Zsa Zsa Gabor had earned herself something of a cult status among an entirely new audience of young people who followed talk radio and late-night television.

She liked and held her own with the wiseass Howard Stern and even developed a blossoming friendship with then-Late Night Show host David Letterman.

In perhaps one of the funniest bits of spontaneous television comedy, Zsa Zsa Gabor rode around Los Angeles in a convertible with Letterman as they hit up one fast-food restaurant after another, mixing it up with the everyday characters they encountered along the way.

Magda and Zsa Zsa Gabor at the funeral of their mother, months before Magda's own death.

Magda and Zsa Zsa Gabor at the funeral of their mother, months before Magda’s own death.

It may stand as the most natural example of Gabor’s genuine comedic talent.

The Gabor-Letterman sketch holds up as a truly classic episode of television comedy.

Zsa Zsa, however, lost her heart for comedy, publicity and public appearances just two years later.

In July of 1995, her younger sister Eva died rather suddenly after a fall, then respiratory failure and pneumonia.

Less than two years, her mother Jolie and eldest sister Magda both died, aged 101 and 81 respectively.

Surviving a 2002 car accident which left her partially paralyzed, and later a fractured hip which was replaced, two strokes, a partial leg amputation and reportedly scammed by Bernard Madoff for $10 million, Zsa Zsa is the last Gabor standing.

She turned 97 years old on February 6, 2014.

While each had their own public identity and, of course, personalities, the Gabors provoked the greatest frisson by appearing together at events – even without their Easter bonnets.

Thr Gabors, as natural as they got: each a character on their own, but together one big piece of work.

Thr Gabors, as natural as they got: each a character on their own, but together one big piece of work.


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10 replies »

  1. Only you would have such a delightful way of educating us on of all things the Gabors the Kardashians of the 50’s! They were certainly famous for being famous and how appropos for Easter. It was interesting to see how well they loaded their respective Easter baskets with money and actually turned the sacred institution of marriage into a cottage industry. Have a Happy Easter weekend, Carl.

  2. Hi Carl –
    Totally off topic – just watched a news video about Easter and the Cherry Blossom’s in DC – sad that there was no mention of Mrs. Taft and her providing the country every Spring with this ongoing gift.

    Best wishes for the holiday.

    David//Chicago

    • Does that surprise you? After so many years in the business of researching, chronicling and attempting to help enlighten the public, the resistance to accepting First Ladies as individuals of substance is as hard as ever. Anyway – thank you for writing. Happy Easter David.

  3. Eva Gabor is my favorite of the Gabors, for sure. She was genuinely funny on “Green Acres.” Nobody could’ve played Lisa Douglas quite like she did. Thanks for a very enjoyable post!

    • I think I’d have to agree with you – although I think in her later years that Zsa Zsa really loosened up and once she started laughing at herself, she really showed her talent for comedic talent – and that laugh. Apparently, when Eva Gabor died it was really shocking – just unexpected. Anyway – thank you for taking time to write. Glad you liked it.

  4. Loved it!
    It’s Simple Darling… We need to do this workout!

  5. Correction – that’s Zsa Zsa’s daughter from hubbie number two — Conrad Hilton was Fran’s dad — George Sanders was hubbie number 3 and he later married sis Magda

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