A Void in the Socialite World: RIP Zsa Zsa Gabor

Arguably the woman who wrote the book (incidentally, she has written a few books, one of which includes How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, How to Get Rid of a Man) on what it means to be a socialite, it’s no coincidence that Zsa Zsa Gabor was once married to hotel magnate/Paris Hilton progenitor Conrad Hilton. Then again, this was just one of her nine husbands (the only one whom she purported to have raped her, resulting in her only child, Francesca Hilton). Her death at the age of 99–just about two months shy of her 100th birthday–lends pause to women aspiring to fabulosity everywhere. We’re all ruminating over just how she did it so well.

Like most socialites, it seemed, to quote Merv Griffin, “it was as if [she’d] been dropped out of the sky.” And that sky was one in Budapest, where her looks garnered her favorable attention from the outset–though it helped that her mother, Jolie Gabor, was already an actress and socialite to begin with. Being a socialite is inherited after all, not created–and no one ever really knows how the money manages to last so long over the generations. Zsa Zsa’s attendance at a Swiss boarding school led her to Vienna afterward, where she was “discovered” (such a quaint phenomenon now, in the midst of everyone being too self-involved for such things as discovery of others) by famed tenor Richard Tauber. It was thus that she made her first stage appearance in 1934, at the mere age of seventeen. Two years later, she was crowned Miss Hungary, which is apparently a sleigh ride into Hollywood.

Her first major supporting film role, Lovely to Look At, in 1952 established her abilities as more than just being, well, lovely to look at. Her tongue in cheek humor, paired with her Golden Age Hollywood sense of glamor, made her a standout in spite of not being a genuine member of the “stable of stars” the decade was renowned for.

Her younger sister, Eva (the “real” actress, if you will) and older sister, Magda, put Zsa Zsa staunchly in the middle role, much like, wouldn’t you know it, Kim Kardashian. And yes, in so many ways, Gabor established what it truly means to be a socialite. It’s about more than money, more than jewelry. No, a socialite worth her weight in diamonds must have personality, charisma. And above all, no shame about multiple husbands and plastic surgeries.

And, speaking of multiple pre-nuptial agreements, her last husband, Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt, is telling of Gabor’s unique flavor in men (he was an owner of, among other businesses, a brothel), a testament to one of her many aphorisms, “I pay all my own bills… I want to choose the man. I do not permit men to choose me.” In this way, too, Gabor established a blueprint for the socialite’s existence: a man is as much of an accessory as any bauble–so choose wisely, and always for the fashionability of the moment.