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August 17, 2010. Muggy and overcast in New York with thunderstorms predicted (no go). Los Angeles. As of this writing, they have given the last rites to Zsa Zsa Gabor before she left the hospital on Sunday, returning to her home in Bel Air. One of the most famous blondes of the 20th century is in her mid-nineties, the exact year somewhat clouded early on in the saga.
I met Zsa Zsa in 1980 in Beverly Hills. She was a friend of our mutual friendLady Sarah Churchill. Sarah first met Zsa Zsa when she went to Blenheim to stay with Sarah's father Bert, the 10th Duke of Marlborough.
Zsa Zsa, when I knew her.
Sarah was a big party giver out there, and Zsa Zsa was a frequent guest. Sarah often prepared the food for her dinner parties (with the total attentiveness of her Jamaican maid). She was quite proud of her culinary talents. Zsa Zsa, on the contrary, always complained to her friend, her hostess, briefly in her Hungarian accent, "Dahling, the food is terrible. You need a good cook."
On the surface both women liked each other for the most superficial reasons. Zsa Zsa, to Sarah, was very funny and clever. Sarah to Zsa, cuisine aside, was a duke's daughter ... and a Vanderbiltheiress.
Underneath that mondaine verneer, however, both women were independent-thinking, tough and liked the spotlight. For Zsa it was a living. For Sarah, who never sought it out, it was just being a Churchill; she enjoyed the attention. They understood each other. And they both liked dogs and always had more than one around the house.
Zsa Zsa had another husband when I first met her – a big , tall Irishman named Michael O'Hara. He looked liked a once upon a time fullback for the USC team who traded in his uniform for bespoke suits, looking like a banker and in the construction business. O'Hara was definitely younger than Zsa although she looked like the "star" image that she perfected. She must have been in her early sixties. Mr. O'Hara might have been ten or twelve years younger.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, circa 1940.
They lived up on Bel Air Road in a big moderne pavilion style villa that had been built by Howard Hughes, from whom Zsa Zsa bought it. It was movie set grand. Tall double doors at the entrance in a faux-Regency pose. There was a high ceilinged, square, all glass lanai-like sitting room that looked out on the pool, and the hills and the canyons beyond. With a flick of the switch, the entire wall/window facing the pool, rose into the ceiling, merging the outdoors and indoors. To a kid from a small town in New England this was ultimate Hollywood luxe. And cool. Built by Howard Hughes. Now the property of Zsa Zsa.
I'd seen her many times on television. It was the same personality off-camera except not making with the jokes. She was one of the three famous Gabor sisters. They were businesswomen, sometimes shrewd, sometimes misled by men they trusted (who often took advantage of them financially). They were famous for being frou frou and frivolous. That was the act, and they made a good living at it. The eldest was Magda (who married and stayed pretty much out of the limelight). Eva, a couple of years younger than Zsa Zsa, had the most success as a straight actress, especially with a long running series calledGreen Acres.
Zsa Zsa was neither a comedienne, a leading lady or even a serious actress. But she was very good at playing Herself. She made a very good living as an over-the-top femme fatale. She even married rich men and tossed them aside when she was finished with them. Her glamour and celebrity were part of her allure, and men fell for it, making her a kind of trophy wife.
Zsa with Jack Paar and Jayne Mansfield.
By the late 1950s, she was a regular on the Jack PaarTonight Show, and one of the most famous women in America, having been married to Conrad Hilton and having stolen Porfirio Rubirosa away from Doris Duke before he ran off with Barbara Hutton for three months (or something along those lines). Her fling with Rubirosa gave her an added measure of sexual appeal, as she was a beautiful woman and he was a ladykiller who could have the richest women in the world.
After all that, Zsa Zsa, with such portfolio was a great talk show guest. She looked like the image of a courtesan and played it to the hilt, joking about it too, the European version of the dumb blonde. Dumb like a fox. But soft, and gentle, and not a bitch.
She married for money, she admitted, although most were brief. "I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house."
That line wouldn't play today, but in the buttoned-up, walk-the-line 50s and 60s, it was hilarious. Sex, feminine wiles, male daftness (when it comes to sex) and worldly goods like diamonds, emeralds, Rolls Royces and mansions in Bel Air.
Off-stage, off-performance, Zsa Zsa liked to boast that she made a fortune in real estate, buying and never selling. Whether or not that was true, the house in Bel Air, the Rolls and the diamonds was acceptable evidence in the community, and remained that way.
Hollywood is a place where every actor and actress is eventually a "has-been" in terms of stardom, although there are some whose stature belies that reality and lasts longer than others. The actors themselves are keenly aware of it -- a fresh crop coming up, who, when they reach the pinnacle, take all the spotlight for themselves. Into all these lives there's a little Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard that comes their way.
The Gabor sisters, Zsa Zsa, Magda, and Eva.
Zsa Zsa surrounded.
Zsa Zsa Gabor, because of her universal image (a European courtesan of another age but living modern), never had the career that so many stars had, but she had the fame, and she kept it – as evidenced by the evidence (real estate, jewels, Rollses).
She married nine or ten times. Some of the husbands were very rich, including husband number two, Conrad Hilton, founder of the hotel chain and great-grandfather of Paris Hilton. The Hilton marriage lasted four years and produced one child, a daughter Constance Francesca (always known as Francesca). When the hotelman died, Francesca was left only $100,000 of a multimillion dollar estate (his son Barron is a billionaire today).
Hilton, it was said, didn't believe Francesca was his child. It was not stated publicly whose child he thought she was, but privately it was said that her father was Conrad Jr., known as Nicky,famous for being the first husband of Elizabeth Taylor and a man with whom Zsa Zsa had an affair while she was married to his father. (So you thought "Dynasty" was just a TV series?) Nicky Hilton died of a heart attack in 1969, two months before his 43rd birthday.
At the time I knew Zsa Zsa, Francesca was often around. The exchange between the two was classic Mother/Daughter. Francesca, who is a friendly and sociable woman, eschews the gilted/blonded image of her mother. Zsa Zsa, despite her ultimate attention to herself (the working girl), could be a nudge with her daughter; a yenta (the Gabors, who were Hungarian, it happens, were also Jewish).
Zsa and Conrad Hilton.
Zsa Zsa with George Sanders, the man she said was the love of her life.
Zsa and Porfirio Rubirosa, circa 1954.
In my mind's eye is a cocktail party one night at someone's house in Beverly Hills where both Zsa and Francesca were present, having arrived separately. In the middle of a conversation with someone, Zsa suddenly started adjusting Francesca's hair, telling her she didn't like it , that it was too long, that she should cut it. This was said in those famous soft dulcet tones of hers mit der accent, but she was also talking to her 30-year-old daughter as if she were a 12-year-old, something that was not lost on the daughter.
It was obviously embarrassing and annoying to the girl. Finally Francesca tactfully left the conversation and moved on to another part of the room to get away from her mother. A few minutes later, while she was in conversation with someone else, Zsa Zsa passed by and as she did, she put her hand on the back of Francesca's head and said aloud for everyone to hear: "too long Francesca, too long."
Zsa Zsa with her mother, Mrs. Jolie Gabor (L), in Las Vegas locking jewelry in safe after night club act.
In the mid-80s Prince Anhalt came along, straight out of Nathanael West. Zsa Zsa was very impressed by the title, although soon the tabloids were revealing him to be a "Prince" by adoption. He was a man about 40, believably princely in this place called Hollywood that is always a costume party. He was taciturn while she effervesced. It was assumed by one and all that he'd married her for her money, and she married him for his title. Zsa Zsa was unperturbed by the revelations about her Prince wasn't really quite. She was happy to wear the title Sari Prinzessin von Anhalt for anyone who cared to know. I never asked her about it, but this was Hollywood and the business is called Show. At the end of the day it's always business; there's always the rent to think about.
The three Gabor Sisters were united by their mother Jolie, whom they all adored. She was their mentor. Their stock in trade was the European accent and accompanying charm. Mama Gabor trained her girls for the big bad world. "I learned in school that money isn't everything," Zsa Zsa mused. "It's happiness that counts. So Momma sent me to a different school." (audience laughs)
Zsa and Prince Anhalt.
While her daughters were gathering publicity and making frequent trips to the altar building that bankable celebrity, Mama had a jewelry boutique on Madison Avenue. She married three times – first to the girls' father Vilmos, a Hungarian solider, and lastly to Count Edmund "Odon" de Szigethy, who was many years her junior and whom she outlived nine years. She lived to her 101st year and died in 1997. Jolie Gabor outlived her youngest, Eva, and died only two months before her eldest, Magda.
Zsa Zsa, the middle child, was her mother's little champ, and gave the name that extra little zip of fame with her ersatz-notoriety. That was her business and no doubt pleased Mama more than we could know. In the end, as it was in the beginning, it was all about Mama.
President Donald Trump has fulfilled almost all of Vladimir Putin's dreams and plans to expand the global power of Russia by diminishing the power, respect and influence of the United States.
The New York Times reported this week that during the past year Donald Trump repeatedly and in private expressed the desire to withdraw the United States from the NATO alliance. Beyond an almost heretofore unthinkable betrayal of one of the most successful alliances in modern history -- and one founded by the United States after World War II to counter the influence and power of the former Soviet Union in a war -- such a move could be seen as surrendering Europe to Vladimir Putin and Russia.
This is one more example of Donald Trump's behavior that validates the logic and reasoning behind the counterintelligence investigation opened by the FBI in 2017, in order to determine whether the president of the United States, is actually a Russian asset.
This may all seem unimaginable. However, a nightmare scenario where a foreign country could buy (or otherwise install) an American president to do its bidding was anticipated by the framers of the Constitution.
Is Donald Trump an agent of Russia? What impact is the revelation that Donald Trump may be a foreign asset having on members of the FBI and those others charged with protecting the United States from foreign threats? How was the "emoluments clause" and the Constitution's requirement that the president be a "natural-born citizen intended as a protection against foreign control of the United States government? With the mountains of public evidence that Donald Trump is doing the bidding of Putin, why are both Democrats and Republicans reluctant to remove him from office?
In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Richard Painter. A longtime Republican until his recent decision to quit the party, Painter was White House chief ethics counsel under George W. Bush and is a frequent political commentator and analyst on CNN, MSNBC and other news networks. He is also a professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota and the author of several books, including "Getting the Government America Deserves."
What was your reaction to last week's announcement that the FBI has been investigating President Donald Trump out of concern that he may be working for Russia and against the United States?
As far as I know this is unprecedented. People knew Trump had strange relationships with the Russians even before he was elected. Consequently, there is every reason to investigate whether Donald Trump is a Russian asset. I don’t know what the FBI has discovered about Donald Trump being a Russian asset. Either way, this is a very worrisome situation.
There is a long pattern of Trump, both as a private citizen and now as president, making choices that advance the interests of Russia and Vladimir Putin and damage the interests of the United States and the American people. If Donald Trump is actually working for Russia in some capacity, this should not come as a total surprise.
I think that there is a substantial chance that Trump owes the Russians money or that they provided him with money in some other ways. There is also a substantial chance that the Russians have the goods on him. It could be evidence of criminal activity, perhaps sexual blackmail or even something worse.
This is how the Russians have operated for years -‑ they get the goods on people and then they can get you to do what they want. This is how someone like Donald Trump could be turned into a Russian asset. The information the Russians have on Donald Trump could at the minimum be embarrassing and at the maximum criminal.
What does the public revelation that Donald Trump may actually be a foreign asset do to the morale of the United States military, agents in the Department of Justice, FBI and national law enforcement, the CIA and others tasked with protecting the United States from outside threats and enemy governments?
It really is undermining morale. But Congress will not do anything. The Democrats do not want Pence because he is even more right-wing than Trump on social issues. Second, Pence could actually get re-elected. This creates a dynamic where the worse the evidence is against Trump, the more the Democrats may just want to just stay with him. Impeachment really seems unlikely because of that feedback loop.
On the other hand, the Republicans would be better off going with Pence to keep the president from dragging down the whole GOP ticket in two years. It is rational Republicans who want to pull the plug on the Trump presidency. But there is a whole part of the Republican Party and their voters who are deeply tied to Trump, intensely connected to him emotionally because of all that "Make America Great Again" stuff. No matter how much they might think Pence would be good, the rational Republicans are afraid of the Trump crowd.
Trump has done everything he can to purge his personal enemies from the Department of Justice with the goal of making sure that Mueller's investigation, if not stopped, will most certainly not be made public. What must be done to ensure that the Trump-Russia investigation is finished properly and its findings made known to the American people?
Special counsel Mueller must be kept in place. If that happens, then there is at least a chance that Trump is thoroughly investigated and he will not be able to stop the process.
Now, that being said, it may not be easy to get a lot of evidence of direct communication between Trump and the Russians, given that when he goes into a room with Putin he does not let anyone else in there at the same time. Trump will offer his own version of events. But Putin could be wearing a wire and therefore has even more leverage over Donald Trump. This would be a very bad situation, because we do not know what Putin actually knows about Trump and what transpired in those conversations between the two of them.
This all shows that in America right now, particularly in the Republican Party, there are people who are so emotionally worked up about social issues such as immigration that they’re almost blindly loyal to Donald Trump. It seems that no evidence -- if it's of Trump working with the Russians -- could sway them. Trump is also mentally unstable. This situation is very dangerous.
There are reports that a draft version of Mueller's report has just been written and it concludes that Trump was used by Vladimir Putin and Russia to destabilize America.
That makes sense and is plausible. Given Trump's behavior during the campaign, electing him president would certainly destabilize America and the country's democracy.
Now, how much Donald Trump has actively been working with Vladimir Putin to destabilize the country is what must be discovered and made publicly known. Do not overlook that Donald Trump is an inherently unstable person. He’s never been able to have stable businesses or stable marriages. It is then wholly predictable that Donald Trump would be unable to have a stable presidency. It could be that Putin put Trump in the presidency knowing that he is just an unstable person to begin with. But it could be true that Putin has information to leverage and blackmail Trump too.
There are still Americans, and not just Trump cultists, who do not appear to care a great deal about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election or whether the president is actually doing the bidding of a hostile foreign power. How would you explain the seriousness of Trump's likely involvement with Russia and Putin to them?
There is a great irony at work with Donald Trump and the Trump-Russia scandal. The founders were very scared that a foreigner could get a bunch of money from Great Britain or France or what have you, come to the United States and then become president. To prevent this the framers put a clause in the Constitution which explicitly states that the president of the United States has to be a "natural-born citizen."
In essence the founders were worried that a foreign mole could be put in the presidency and that foreign money would be used to buy off United States government officials. For 200-plus years the American people have not had to deal with such a scenario -- until the present moment with Donald Trump and Russia.