Zsa Zsa Gabor Dies At 99: A Remembrance Of Her Camp, Glitz And Glam : The Two-Way The screen siren was probably most responsible for the notion of "famous for being famous." NPR's Neda Ulaby looks back at Gabor's contributions to pop culture and to our ideas about celebrity.
NPR logo

Zsa Zsa Gabor, An Icon Of Camp, Glitz And Glam, Dies At 99

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129237642/506118962" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Zsa Zsa Gabor, An Icon Of Camp, Glitz And Glam, Dies At 99

Zsa Zsa Gabor, An Icon Of Camp, Glitz And Glam, Dies At 99

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/129237642/506118962" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Taking a moment to say goodbye to Zsa Zsa Gabor, who died yesterday in Los Angeles of heart failure, reportedly at the age of 99. Here's NPR's Neda Ulaby.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: I know exactly what you're thinking. The cop slapper? The vampy, campy personality? The talk-show equivalent of a tick?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOLLYWOOD SQUARES")

PETER MARSHALL: Zsa Zsa.

(APPLAUSE)

ULABY: The flossy blonde who contributed mainly to such cultural touchstones as Hollywood Squares, where she answered questions about Cheez Whiz?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HOLLYWOOD SQUARES")

ZSA ZSA GABOR: What is a Cheez Whiz though?

(LAUGHTER)

MARSHALL: Oh, Zsa Zsa, Zsa Zsa.

ULABY: But it would be a grave mistake to underestimate Zsa Zsa Gabor's achievements, says professor Kirsten Pullen of Texas A&M University.

KIRSTEN PULLEN: She is one of the most important figures of the late 20th century in terms of thinking about celebrities, thinking about women.

ULABY: Pullen is not joking. As far back as the 1950s, a time when women were expected to be decorous, Zsa Zsa Gabor sought and got constant press for her juicy hookups, her fabulous bling and her public antics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Zsa Zsa Gabor - she makes a grand entrance on any occasion - and especially so at a premiere such as this.

ULABY: She could dominate a news reel about a movie premiere for a movie she wasn't even in just by showing up in a diaphanous gown. Arguably, she was the prototype for today's Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons. In fact, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Paris Hilton were related. You can trace a fameball genealogy from Gabor's marriage to Conrad Hilton that made her Paris's great ex-stepgrandmother.

PULLEN: You can't make this stuff up (laughter). Now, whether or not we think it's great to be famous for being famous, she is the one who really sort of set the template for that to continue to happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOULIN ROUGE")

MURIEL SMITH: (Singing) It's April again...

ULABY: Zsa Zsa Gabor scored some small movie parts from big directors, Orson Welles and John Huston, after following her sister Eva from Hungary to Hollywood in the 1940s. But Gabor did not actually sing in Huston's movie "Moulin Rouge." This song was dubbed. Gabor's singing was more like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GABOR: (Singing) In my high-heel sneakers, there's a big hat on my head.

ULABY: An irrepressible performer for over four decades, if not a skilled singer, dancer or actress, Gabor excelled at playing herself. Her charm made her jokes about marrying for money rather than romance palatable right when women were starting to demand more financial control.

PULLEN: She paved the way for the sexual revolution.

ULABY: And her off-stated fondness for sex dented traditional expectations of passive femininity, says professor Kirsten Pullen. Likewise, when Zsa Zsa Gabor hit a cop who pulled her over in 1989, she parlayed the incident into a full-blown comeback without any apparent help from managers or publicists, just David Letterman and Clive James.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID LETTERMAN: Welcome to the program.

GABOR: Thank you, my darling. This is crazier than the jail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLIVE JAMES: How did you manage your beauty treatment in the slammer?

GABOR: Oh, that's nothing. I didn't have a lipstick. I had nothing.

ULABY: Even as an older woman, Zsa Zsa 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 said this about Paris Hilton. I think she's rather silly. She does too many things for publicity. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.