Doodad Kind of Town


I Do Not Want to Live in Zsa Zsa Gabor’s World
March 27, 2009, 12:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

There’s been a whole lot of George Sanders in the blogosphere lately. First, there was a wildly popular pair of posts at Self-Styled Siren, one of which pondered how Sanders might have fared playing Bernie Madoff. Then, Greg at Cinema Styles posted some lovely vintage photos of Sanders and his second wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

All of which inspired me to pull down from the shelf one on my most bizarre used-book-store finds,- Gabor’s “How to Catch a Man, How to Keep a Man, and How to Get a Rid of a Man.”

I’ve had the book for years, but I’ve never sat down and read it from cover to cover, even though I could probably finish it in an hour or two. (It’s not a weighty tome by any means.) To do so would be the literary equivalent of eating a carton of Cool Whip for dinner; it might sound like a fun and decadent thing to do, but afterwards, you’d probably wind up feeling a little sick.

And make no mistake – the book is a little sickmaking. Most of it is exactly what you’d expect from a frivolous golddigger who’d already been through five husbands at the time of its publication in 1970 (and has had four weddings since.) There are lots of predictable bon mots, along the lines of what you’d hear on a slow night at the Merv Griffin Show. A sample: “The best way to attract a man is to have a magnificent bosom and a half-size brain and let them both show…. the only place men want depth in a woman is in her decolletage.” Catching a man calls for skill in mixing martinis, cooking breakfast, and striking the delicate balance of showering the man with extravagant presents and flattery while keeping yourself bewitchingly unavailable. “A successful romance is like a tug of war. For him, nothing is more boring than constant surrender.”

When Zsa Zsa lacks in originality and insight, she makes up for in blatantly outrageous advice that no one in her right mind would take seriously. The best time to look for your next husband? While you’re still married to your current one! In fact, one of Gabor’s cardinal rules for scouting a new spouse is that it must be someone who’d make a good ex. Very young women should marry much older men – among other things, it eliminates the problem of dealing with in-laws (“If they’re still living at all, they’ll be old enough to be your grandparents and will dote on you.”) Then “when she’s older and ready for her new young husband, her children will be the right age to have friends for her to marry, and it will be easy and convenient for her to pick one out when they’re over for birthday parties.” Oh, that darn Zsa Zsa!

But here comes the really sick-making part. Discussing the charms of Russian men, Zsa Zsa tells us: “I saw a movie about Isadora Duncan and there was a wonderful episode with a Russian lover who beat her up and tore up all her pictures and said ‘You live in the past. You have to live in the now.’ And she fell madly in love with him…..and I’m sure I would have too.”

Hmmm. Well, I’m sure I would have kicked his ass out and called the police. I’m not interested in abusive men, but perhaps Ms. Gabor is. And nowhere is that more queasily hinted at than in her remembrances of her five-year marriage to George Sanders.


Obeying her own advice, she picked him out as husband Number Three while still married to hotelier Conrad Hilton. While pregnant with Hilton’s daughter, Gabor and her mother went to the movies to see Sanders in “The Moon and Sixpence,” after which Gabor announced “That man is my next husband.” What made her fall in love with Sanders? Among other things, it was this line of dialogue: “All women are like little beasts. You have to beat them and that’s when they love you.”

So Gabor eventually met Sanders and immediately told him “Mr. Sanders, I’m madly in love with you!” To which he responded “How well I understand you, my dear.” Infatuated, she presented him with a 24-karat gold cigarette case engraved with the words “I’m so glad I met you”; in return, she breathlessly relates, Sanders “allowed me to buy the cigarettes to keep it filled.”

Following another of her own cuckoo-bird guidelines for marital bliss, Zsa Zsa “honeymooned” with Sanders before they were married, indeed while she was still married to Hilton. The site of their pre-nuptial honeymoon? The Hilton in Palm Beach. When Sanders checked out he was told “There is no charge. Mrs. Hilton goes with the compliments of the house.”

If you weren’t already feeling a little queasy about this relationship, the notion of Hilton pimping out his wife as a room amenity, along with the scented soaps and the nightly turndown service ought to have done it. (Especially since Zsa Zsa herself seems to find it all so charming and funny.) But it gets worse. On their wedding night, Sanders moans that “I’ll never be able to make love to you again. Before you were the glamorous Mrs. Hilton, and now you’re just plain Mrs. Sanders,” and the two of them wind up playing chess all night. In the years to follow, Sanders would attempt to strangle Gabor at least once, and would also dangle her outside a hotel window by the fabric of her dress (“thank God the dress was good and tight”) in a fit of jealousy over “a young guitar player named Alfonso who was too big to hold outside the window.”

Everything Gabor writes about Sanders indicates he’s a man any sensible woman would run, screaming, away from. But Gabor isn’t known for being sensible. She prattles on and on about how well she get on with her both her ex and his current wife. And she notes that all her other former husbands are equally huge fans of “The Moon and Sixpence.”

I know I’m not supposed to take any of this seriously, that I’m supposed to just chuckle and roll my eyes appreciatively when Zsa Zsa writes stuff like this: “If all your friends are divorced naturally you are feeling left out of things….but don’t rush off to a lawyer. Not everyone is cut out to be divorced.” Or this little bit of wisdom about child custody matters: “This is easy to figure out. You keep all the young children, and let the father have all those that are over eighteen. This is because: 1) the older ones are never home anyway; 2)the older ones are a big headache to take care of; and3)they give away your age.”

Yeah, I know that’s all for laughs. But honestly, the more I read, the more depressed I got- especially by the parts about Sanders. He comes off as such an abusive, egotistical shit, and the fact that Gabor continues to flatter and praise him just makes it worse. About this time last year, I wrote glowingly about Sanders’ performance in “All About Eve.” But, I swear, I’m never going to look at Addison DeWitt the same way again.

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18 Comments so far
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To do so would be the literary equivalent of eating a carton of Cool Whip for dinnerI’ve done that for real. Mixed with bourbon. In college. Also, we occasionally ate cookie dough with duncan hines frosting. Mmmmm.Anyway, Zsa Zsa does indeed sound like just about the most awful woman on Earth. I hope I’m not the next husband.

Comment by Greg

Greg -Sounds like someboday had a wicked case of the munchies. But, seriously, bourbon-laced Cool Whip? That’s inspired. What a great idea that’d for topping pecan pie. I think we can all agree that Zsa Zsa is a nightmare of a human being. Unfortunately, I think she’s also the obvisou antecedent of many of our current reality TV stars (The Kardashians, the Real Housewives of NYC/Orange County/Atlanta – rich, clueless and badly behaved.

Comment by Pat

You are too cool, Patty. I am in total and complete agreement. Oh, holy Christ. Where do I start…? All right.*deep breath*It was another era and I was born decades later. THANK GOD. But I don’t think that there was much of a sense of equality or equal partnership in most marriages and relationships in the 50s. To this day, MANY (but not all) European women have very different ideas about marriage, relationships and men than A LOT of North American women. Some European women tend to be distressingly traditional. Right up to outdated ideas about men having the “right” to tell them what to do and how to do it. The patriarchy is still cruising big time over there in some spots. Zsa Zsa (BTW, what a ridiculous bloody name) was a serial matrimonialist in an era where ONE divorce was frowned upon. Surely anyone could see that this woman – though admittedly extremely attractive – was, at the very least, eccentric? The way she conducted her personal life was not exactly normal. So her choices would definitely reflect that. It wouldn’t even be considered as such today. The difference is that today no one would have cared. Back then she must have been the focus of many high society conversations. But Zsa Zsa obviously didn’t give a damn. It certainly didn’t slow her down. I had always heard that George Sanders was a prick and that he was essentially playing himself in ALL ABOUT EVE. I guess all those ACADEMY members who voted for him were in on the joke…? I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But it does appear that, in the incidents that Ms. Gabor outlines in her book, that Mr. Sanders doesn’t exactly come off as a prize human being. This is what I always tell other women IF they ever ask me for advice…Be with a handful of men your whole life. Be with dozens. Marry once, a bunch of times…or not at all. BUT FOR CHRIST’S SAKE BE SMART. Be educated and have your own life. Be a strong, confident woman – so that you can weed out all the misfits and jerks and scumbags…and spend time with someone WORTHWHILE who adores you and cherishes you.Get some good birth control and make intelligent choices. You have to know that you can be an adult and take care of yourself so that you won’t fall prey to any smooth talking good looking jackass. Own your sensuality and everything that makes you feel good about yourself. Then men can never take advantage of you. If you have your own career, are aware that you have value as a person (regardless of whether you’re in a relationship OR NOT) and something concrete to bring to the table, then you’ll always be able to run your own life to your own satisfaction. Being independent in every way (including financially) will only benefit you in the end. It doesn’t matter whether you’re married (even many times over), divorced or single. You always have to be at the centre of your own life. Though they can be wonderful to be with, men aren’t the answer or the end and be all. You sure as hell don’t want a husband or boyfriend calling all of the shots where you’re concerned. Relationships can bring you a lot of joy or tons of grief. Quite often both together. (Ummm…yeah.)It’s fine to be married or with someone as long as it’s going well or things can be worked out fairly smoothly. But I think a woman does herself a great disservice if that relationship goes to hell and negative things (such as abuse) start creeping in. If things start to fall apart in anj insidious way, then there’s no point. There’s no point in sticking around if you’re going to be unfulfilled either. I just wish that some women understood that it’s all right for them to be by themselves for a while and that it’s acceptable to call guys on their behaviour if they’re doing things that are not so swift. Having a good relationship or being in love are wonderful things. I don’t think anyone should be cheated out of them. But sometimes you have to know when enough’s enough. Thanks for this, Pat.Quite the eye opener…

Comment by Miranda Wilding

Miranda -Thank you for your wise comments. You make an excellent point that Ms. Gabor’s choices of men and marital circumstances were largely a reflection of both the times and her cultural conditioning. But I still can’t help feeling both sad and appalled that, in her early 50s (her approximate age when this book was written – Gabor was notoriously evasive about her age), she doesn’t appear to have gained any wisdom or insight about the messes she made. Or that she considers the potential of being beaten a turn-on.But you offer lots of sage and savvy advice in your comment – perhaps you should be writing a book! I know I’d buy it.

Comment by Pat

she doesn’t appear to have gained any wisdom or insight about the messes she made. Or that she considers the potential of being beaten a turn-on.Undoubtedly incapable of it, either. Damaged people like Zsa Zsa or her modern equivalents will be exploited all their lives, they have a need for affection, a gaping hole most of us fill with self regard.

Comment by Rick Olson

Rick – Yes,quite true. Although I also think the life she’s led and the values she’s embraced are exactly what was modeled for her by her own mother and the society she was raised in. Very sophisticated people probably consider this lifestyle normal, but it looks really sad and empty to me, no matter how much champagne and caviar or how many chinchilla coats you toss into it.

Comment by Pat

In Gabor’s world, violence and domination equal passion, which seems all she’s interested in, given that she advises not getting attached to any man. In a strange way, that may have given her a perverse sense of independence, since in reality, the world would probably not have given her the work and means to live the life to which she wished to be accustomed.I wonder, though, if the anecdotes were exaggerated.

Comment by Marilyn

Marilyn -Good question about whether the anecdotes were exaggerated. Maybe they were – the advice is certainly exaggerated for humorous effect. But I still find the constant reference to the attractiveness of violent, abusive behavior to be disturbing.

Comment by Pat

The marriage between Sanders and Gabor should not have happend… First off Zsa Zsa chased HIM that was the first mistake… I doubt he realy ever wanted her. If you read the 2 books written about him you will get a much better feel of WHO sanders realy was.. a very talented and complex man. Noel Coward wrote of him “I have never met someone with so much talent who did not know what to do with it”. Yes I think he could have been a very obstructive man but once you get behind that hard ‘CAD’ case that he build around himself there lies a much more vulnerable and warm human being.I rest my case your honour!!!

Comment by Crewe Paranormal Research

Crewe -Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate your input.I have no doubt that there is more to Sanders than meets the eye – and especially more to him than Gabor lets on. And I’m quite sure that Gabor is the co-creator of her own problems.Having said that, I don’t think we can deny Sanders’ ultimate culpability for his own choices and actions. I doubt anyone actually put a gun to his head and forced him to marry Gabor. What really disturbed me was Gabor’s attraction to violent or abusive men. Sanderas is by far the most frequently mentioned of her exes, so I focused on him. But there are other equally disturbing examples in her book.

Comment by Pat

Hi PatI confess I have never read her book, (perhaps I should) or know enough about her to critically comment fully.. but I am well read on Sanders. The only ‘Zsa Zsa’reference I HAVE read is in the book ‘All about All about Eve’ where she comments on Sanders attentions to Monroe (I find that hard to believe). She states that he came home late from the shoot and she accuses of him being involved with Monroe, he picked her up took her upstairs, did the Job, picked her again and threw her into the pool. Which I find quite funny. She also said that Sanders wasnt a violent lover. But taking your comment into context obviously she would know as to what degree a violent lover was?Yep I also agree he chose to marry her as he did Magda (it was infact Zsa Zsa’a suggestion) many years later. He had the reputation for seaking out rich women, basically to support him I think, until, that is, he married Benita. maybe she comments more about him because (and i’m sure you already know this) George was the only man she ever loved?????We have to ask the question WHY?

Comment by Crewe Paranormal Research

Crewe -That actually is a pretty funny anecdote about Sanders throwing Zsa Zsa into the pool. In his shoes, I suspect I’ve been tempted to do the same.Anyway, I certainly defer to your knowledge of Sanders,and I’m interested in seeking out the biographies you mentioned. I think we can both agree, however, that Zsa Zsa is a bit of a nut job.

Comment by Pat

How very sorry I am to have missed this post. Sanders' own recollections of his marriage to Zsa Zsa are a good deal more placid; in his memoirs he says they "collided" a few times until finally they collided with each other and a minister at the same time. He says that they got along much better once they were divorced, but also slyly alludes to a certain amount of being henpecked, in that he was allowed one small room in the house and the rest was given over to ZZ's wardrobe and jewels and makeup and press clippings. His friend Brian Aherne indicates that Sanders positively encouraged ZZ to cheat on him when he got tired of her, which doesn't suggest the smouldering jealousy ZZ describes. Also, for whatever it's worth, David Ehrenstein in my comments mentioned that he is friends with Francesca Hilton, and said that she has always believed she is Sanders' daughter and not Hilton's. I don't think there is any real proof though and if ZZ knows she isn't talking.In his memoirs Sanders also refers to that line in The Moon and Sixpence and says he had a hard time convincing women that it was Maugham's sentiments, not his, but then couldn't resist adding that the fact that he completely agreed with the thought was neither here nor there. Sanders also admits, however, that after a while he found himself the woman-hater designate and was constantly being called upon in interviews to make outrageous statements about women; of course he obliged every time.It's always hard to tell with Sanders when he's "on" and when he's not–this is a man, after all, who left two suicide notes, one hard and cynical, the other tender and regretful. He seems to hit on the core of his attraction to ZZ, however, when he says they had the same approach to humor and their analysis of social life. What all this tells me is that they both enjoyed shocking the bourgeoisie with outrageous statements that could be true, false or somewhere in between. So it's quite possible that ZZ was exaggerating some of the incidents with Sanders. I haven't encountered much else to suggest that he was violent with anyone, let alone women. His cruelty seems to have been primarily mental. On the other hand, I don't doubt for a moment that ZZ had at best a venal and at worst a repellent approach to male-female relations. She came by it honestly. I read her mother's autobiography years ago. I don't have it, I didn't buy it, it's the kind of thing libraries were made for, but I can still remember Jolie telling of how a woman she knew woke up one morning during some army's stomp through Hungary to find herself being assaulted by a soldier who had climbed in the window. Jolie's response to this was that it sounded like "a very nice way to wake up." Dear god…how could Zsa Zsa turn out any other way?

Comment by The Siren

Siren, Thank you so much for "stopping by" – I'm flattered that you read the post and took the time to share an insighful and nuanced response. I freely admit that I don't have much knowledge of Sanders' life beyond this book – you and previous commenters have expanded my apprecation of (and sympathy for) the man. Based on Zsz Zsa words alone, there wasn't much there to like.I do remain a little sickened, even after all this time, by Zsa Zsa's book. AS you righlyt point out, she came by her attitudes honesstly, but how sad it is to me that this book passes for charming, light-hearted entertainment.

Comment by Pat

Really late, but I can't help sticking up for Sanders. When he married Benita Hume, Ronald Colman’s widow, many disapproved because of Sanders' reputation. However, just days after Benita had a double mastectomy, she wrote Brian Aherne, “I know George has told you my grizzly news because he read me one of his letters, which I am sure made you laugh as much as it did me. He’s a remarkable man all right and never more so than now. I don’t think he casts any shade, all you have to do is stick around and he just shines all over you.”No doubt a difficult man, a complicated man, an eccentric man and occasionally a dreadful man, but not the man Zsa Zsa describes.

Comment by edwards

Edwards -Welcome. As you can easily see, you are only the latest of a number of people who wrote to set me straight about Sanders. Thank you. I shall always regret my naivete in taking Gabor's version of her marriage to Sanders at face value, and wish I had never put this post up. I appreciate your comment.

Comment by Pat

No, no Pat! If you hadn't put the post up, I would never have found you. Based upon what you read, it is reasonable to make certain assumptions regarding George Sanders. And he did have a reputation as a difficult man. Who else do you know would get himself suspended at least three times in 1942 alone, primarily to work on the airplane he was building in his backyard? (He was also exhausted and hated the scripts.) No, keep up the great work. Many thanks.

Comment by edwards

Pat, with permission please, one last word(s) from me on this post. As The Siren noted, there was only one room in the house for George and after the divorce, when someone (particularly a male) stayed over Zsa Zsa and the servants "put them in George's room". This I found in the last of her three books which I have now read. Unfortunately she does not get better with age. And a strong stomach is needed (or some of that bourbon-laced Cool Whip previously mentioned). The publisher of Zsa Zsa's first book in 1960 sent George and Benita a copy so they could be prepared. Benita notes they did not finish it.But by Book Three George fairs a little better because he is dead, but still the love of her life. And it was Rubirosa who frequently hit Zsa Zsa. She used an eye patch when needed. She also continued to love him after he died.How much of anything Zsa Zsa says is true is anyone's guess. But even today there are women who think as she does in terms of the male-female relationship. Something I, even as a much older female, still do not understand.

Comment by edwards




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