Camp, Glitz And Glam: Remembering Zsa Zsa Gabor

  • Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor played Jane Avril, star of the famous Paris Dance Hall, in the 1952 film Moulin Rouge.
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    Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor played Jane Avril, star of the famous Paris Dance Hall, in the 1952 film Moulin Rouge.
    AP Photo
  • Gabor and Porfirio Rubirosa arrive at the Orly Airport in Paris on May 2, 1955.
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    Gabor and Porfirio Rubirosa arrive at the Orly Airport in Paris on May 2, 1955.
    AP Photo
  • Gabor gets a kiss from her husband, actor George Sanders, at the Rome Ciampino Airport on Feb. 16, 1953.
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    Gabor gets a kiss from her husband, actor George Sanders, at the Rome Ciampino Airport on Feb. 16, 1953.
    Jim Pringle/AP
  • Traveling with three fur coats and a $950,000 diamond known as the "Shah of Persia," Gabor is escorted by two Brinks guards as she arrives at CBS' Television City in Hollywood on Dec.1, 1955.
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    Traveling with three fur coats and a $950,000 diamond known as the "Shah of Persia," Gabor is escorted by two Brinks guards as she arrives at CBS' Television City in Hollywood on Dec.1, 1955.
    Harold Filan/AP
  • Gabor is dressed for her role in the 1958 science-fiction drama Queen of Outer Space.
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    Gabor is dressed for her role in the 1958 science-fiction drama Queen of Outer Space.
    AP
  • Gabor (left) and her daughter Francesca Hilton (right) flank Gabor's parents, Vilmos and Jolie, and sister Eva as they pose for a photo during a 1960 family reunion in Vienna.
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    Gabor (left) and her daughter Francesca Hilton (right) flank Gabor's parents, Vilmos and Jolie, and sister Eva as they pose for a photo during a 1960 family reunion in Vienna.
    AP
  • Gabor (right), her fourth husband, Herbert Hutner, and her daughter, Francesca Hilton, cling to a floating lounge chair at Monte Carlo beach in Monaco on July 20, 1964.
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    Gabor (right), her fourth husband, Herbert Hutner, and her daughter, Francesca Hilton, cling to a floating lounge chair at Monte Carlo beach in Monaco on July 20, 1964.
    Rene Maestri/AP
  • Gabor (right) and her daughter, Francesca Hilton, arrive at London's Heathrow Airport on June 1, 1973, to appear on a television talk show.
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    Gabor (right) and her daughter, Francesca Hilton, arrive at London's Heathrow Airport on June 1, 1973, to appear on a television talk show.
    AP/Press Association
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor appears with her eighth husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt of Munich, in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1986, their wedding day.
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    Zsa Zsa Gabor appears with her eighth husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt of Munich, in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1986, their wedding day.
    AP Photo
  • Gabor strikes a glamorous pose during a rehearsal for CBS's As The World Turns on Nov. 19, 1981.
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    Gabor strikes a glamorous pose during a rehearsal for CBS's As The World Turns on Nov. 19, 1981.
    Marty Lederhandler/AP

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Zsa Zsa Gabor — the woman who probably inspired the term "famous for being famous" — died today at [THIS PLACE] of [THIS CAUSE.] She was [AGE] years old. [[BRITANNICA: born Feb. 6, 1917]]

Buxom and blond, vampy and campy, the Hungarian-born screen siren mainly contributed to cultural touchstones such as The Love Boat, The Naked Gun 2 1/2 and Hollywood Squares — where she answered (or, more accurately, couldn't answer) questions about Cheez Whiz.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1954

hide captionThough she made a splash in movies of the 1950s, the Hungarian-born actress Zsa Zsa Gabor would eventually become more famous for her multiple marriages and her glamorous lifestyle than for the films she made.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

But it would be a grave mistake to trivialize Gabor's achievements.

"She is one of the most important figures of the late 20th century in terms of thinking about celebrity, thinking about women," says Kirsten Pullen, a professor at Texas A&M University.

Pullen is not joking. As far back as the 1950s, when women were expected to be decorous, Gabor sought and got constant press for her juicy hookups, her fabulous bling and her public antics. She could dominate a newsreel about a movie premiere — for a movie she wasn't even in — just by showing up in a diaphanous gown. She was arguably the prototype for today's Heidi Montags and Paris Hiltons.

(In fact, Gabor and Hilton had family ties: Gabor was once married to Conrad Hilton, who is Paris Hilton's great-grandfather.)

"You can't make this stuff up," Pullen says wryly. "Whether or not we think it's great to be famous for being famous, she is the one who really set the template for that."

Gabor followed her sister Eva from Hungary to Hollywood in the 1940s. Zsa Zsa scored some small movie parts from big movie directors — Orson Welles and John Huston among them — and was also featured in some movies probably best forgotten, such as Queen of Outer Space.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1989 i i

hide captionGabor, on trial in 1989 for assault after striking a police officer, poses in her Rolls-Royce for photographers as she prepares to leave the courthouse during a lunch break in the proceedings.

Nick Ut/AP
Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1989

Gabor, on trial in 1989 for assault after striking a police officer, poses in her Rolls-Royce for photographers as she prepares to leave the courthouse during a lunch break in the proceedings.

Nick Ut/AP

But if she wasn't known for her skilled acting, dancing or singing, Gabor was an irrepressible performer — and she excelled at playing herself, once endless rounds of Hollywood gossip and publicity made her own persona larger than any character.

She had charm, which made her jokes about marrying for money rather than romance more palatable right when women were starting to demand more financial control. Her oft-stated fondness for sex dented traditional expectations of passive femininity, Pullen says. "She paved the way for the sexual revolution," Pullen says.

And when Gabor slapped a policeman who pulled her over in 1989, she parlayed the incident into a full-blown comeback, without any apparent help from mangers or publicists. The incident put her back on the talk show circuit, where she chattered merrily about the challenges of maintaining a beauty regimen in the slammer.

Even as an older woman, Gabor tended her image as the glamorous starlet who married something like 10 times. She threw out lines like, "I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house."

But she also, ironically enough, had this to say about Paris Hilton: "I think she's rather silly. She does too many things for publicity."

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