Monday, February 6, 2012

The Legend of Zsa Zsa and the Rise of Undeserved Fame

by Julia Buckley

Today is the 95th birthday of Zsa Zsa Gabor, that once-famous Hungarian-American star and one of Hollywood's notorious elite, who forged a career on her appearance and her careless wealth. Nowadays, with the advent of reality tv and internet sex videos, this phenomenon is not at all shocking. Anyone infamous can also be famous, and their fame can rest on something as tenuous as their appearance. Looking back at the glamorous era of the Gabor sisters, I find those once-conroversial ladies quite tame.

I've always felt a certain loyalty to Zsa Zsa Gabor, mainly because she and my grandparents both emigrated from Hungary, and her accent, aside from the "dahlings" that she sprinkled liberally over her conversation, was reminiscent of the accents of my Hungarian relatives. Zsa Zsa and her sisters Eva and Magda were quite a force in Hollywood for a while. Zsa Zsa has the biggest filmography, and worked steadily; Eva is most famous for being "Mrs. Douglas" in the show Green Acres. Magda didn't act, but was often on TV talk shows, merely introduced as "one of the Gabor sisters." And so the Gabors have been defined as women who were "famous for being famous." (Magda and Eva have both died).

Zsa Zsa parallels Paris Hilton in some ways. Both were famous for no particular reason, and people both love and hate them for their ostentatious wealth, their excesses, their beauty. Both have served time in jail; Zsa Zsa famously slapped a policeman back in 1989. Both women have had very public and plentiful love affairs. Zsa Zsa had a head start, and has racked up nine husbands; she is still married to the ninth, although he is openly unfaithful to her and seems to borrow on her name for his own fame-mongering.

I suppose we can look at these women and say that they are the worst sort of social evil, people playing with their wealth and fame while others starve and die. But, for all her sins, or perhaps because of them, Zsa Zsa is a Hollywood legend, and somehow I want better for her than what happened a few years ago, when she, in a wheelchair, was carted to court because her husband was accusing her only daughter, Francesca, of "elder abuse." Francesca, in turn, was accusing him, Frederic Prinz von Anhalt, of abusing her, as well. Poor Zsa Zsa. Even the rich and famous fall, and Paris, too, like all of us, will one day have to address her frail humanity.

Despite the parallels, I see some differences between the two women. Zsa Zsa's legend, for whatever reason, has lasted; I doubt that Paris's will (in fact, it already seems to be declining). Zsa Zsa's was invested with a glamour that Paris' generation, with its coarse language, overt sexuality, and blatant greed, simply cannot achieve. And though Zsa Zsa did not come from a poor background, she did come from a place of revolution; she also lost family members in the Holocaust, which means that she understood pain and suffering, and perhaps that explains why she was so grasping.

In the final assessment, I might be defending Zsa Zsa out of nostalgia, or because I find her current state sad. She was said to be different, more quiet and withdrawn, when her sisters died. Together they were a force, but Zsa Zsa alone had lost her sparkle, and she is now secluded and possibly in the throes of dementia, as well as facing increasing health problems since a hip replacement a couple years ago.

Still, I know that Zsa Zsa spirit is still there; I hope her life at this advanced age isn't as bad as it seems.


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Nice post, Julia. Didn't know all that about Zsa Zsa's husband. If he's still managing to be unfaithful at 95, good for him. ;)
And I too have a soft spot for anyone with an accent like my Hungarian grandmother's.

Julia Buckley said...

Her husband is much younger, and is rumored (despite his royal title) to be a fortune hunter.