Frédéric von Anhalt speaks about his late wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor
Hollywood celebrity “was a Hungarian at heart”
The glamour that usually surrounds Prinz Frédéric von Anhalt, a well-received guest of countless Hollywood parties, is somewhat missing this morning as he is finishing his breakfast on InterContinental’s terrace overlooking the Danube. In his outfit consisting of a plain T-shirt and black jeans, his highness looks more like someone who would prefer to stay incognito than a glamorous prince. However, today he does not manage to remain unnoticed, as during our interview two German tourists start talking to him, praising his great insights and outspoken personality. Eventually, they ask for a photo with the prince and wish him well.
Resting place in Budapest
Born Hans-Robert Lichtenberg in 1943 in Germany, the prince became famous not only through his aristocratic adoption – which brought him the family name Prinz von Anhalt and the title Duke of Saxony and Westphalia, Count of Ascania – and his newspaper or television interviews. Prince Fred received widespread recognition as the ninth husband of legendary Hollywood actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor. Of course, this number is broadly disputed depending on who you ask and who you count as a husband. But more on this later.
The former beauty queen and her prince lived together in marriage for 36 years. And they went through thick and thin, from presidential dinners and cheering crowds to loud scandals, broken china and even a police arrest. Since Gabor’s devastating car accident in Los Angeles in 2002 until her death in 2016, von Anhalt took care of his wife in their decaying Bel Air estate.
After her death the prince repeatedly came to Budapest to fulfil her last wishes and bury her remains in her hometown. “It was her last will, which she gave me in writing, to get back to Budapest,” he says. “She was born in Budapest and she wanted to be buried here.” The reason that this has not happened yet is – rumour has it – the high cost of a grandiose funeral befitting the life and legend of Zsa Zsa Gabor, but there also seems to be an argument about the place where her ashes should be buried. This is at least what Edward Lozzi, Gabor’s former agent, claimed in the media. He stated that she wanted to be buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles next to her sister Éva Gabor and her daughter Francesca Hilton.
At heart always a Hungarian
As Gabor’s widower and only heir, von Anhalt has the last word regarding her final resting place, and he is pushing for a return to Hungary. As he says, Zsa Zsa Gabor was always a Hungarian at heart. “The Hungarian flag and the Hungarian coat of arms were hanging all over our house,” he asserts. Even the china was from Hungary, from porcelain manufacturer Herend. Gabor often warned him to be especially careful with the fragile pieces, though the feisty Hungarian apparently threw a couple of pieces at him in the heat of the moment.
That Gabor always stayed loyal to her European homeland was expressed in many things, says von Anhalt: “We had a lot of Hungarian guests, and with her family she was always talking exclusively in Hungarian. I could not understand a word,” he laughs. She is said to have spoken seven languages fluently, and the couple communicated mostly in German.
The personality – who even in old age still put a lot of emphasis on dressing up provocatively – often invited Hungarian students from the nearby University of California, Los Angeles. “She was sitting at the piano and then they had to sing something Hungarian.,” von Anhalt recalls. If someone could accompany on violin she “opened up like a rose and started singing Hungarian songs. And if we were in Hungary in a restaurant where they played Hungarian music, she even started to dance.” He says she always stayed true to her Hungarian roots and never “americanised” herself.
A life straight from a Hollywood script
Much like Zsa Zsa’s life in Hollywood, the story of her European childhood and her escape from Hungary is no less exciting. She was born in Budapest as Gábor Sári in 1917 – a fact that over the years became more and more obscured, with Zsa Zsa constantly claiming she was actually born in 1930. She grew up as one of three daughters of a wealthy Jewish military man. Already in Budapest the Gabor sisters were admired for their beauty and intelligence. As a teenager Zsa Zsa got a role in Vienna to play in Richard Tauber’s newest opera, “Der singende Traum“. In 1936 she was elected Miss Hungary.
In an attempt to save their daughter from the ever-growing antisemitism of fascist Hungary, her parents, Vilmos and Jolie Gabor, married Zsa Zsa to Turkish politician and diplomat Burhan Asaf Belge, who took her to Ankara. As the self-spread rumour has it, Gabor’s first big catch happened there and it was none other than the father of all Turks, Kemal Atatürk, who supposedly fell in love with the young Hungarian beauty. Whatever happened in the Turkish capital, the fact is that in 1941 Zsa Zsa wanted to go on a holiday, so she embarked on a cruise to India but later decided to keep on sailing to America.
When she arrived in New York all she had with her was her suitcase. She wanted to study to become a veterinarian but soon her plans changed when she met Conrad Hilton, a bachelor and millionaire hotel owner. Through her new spouse, Gabor landed atop New York’s society. Swathed in luxurious fur and jewels, she quickly became a glamour icon desired by every man and envied by every woman. Her unusually big eyes, blonde hair and esprit made her famous and popular worldwide. Not long after Gabor arrived in Hollywood her acting career started with films such as “Moulin Rouge”and “We’re Not Married!”, the latter with co-stars Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe.
An incredible line of suitors
In 1947 her only child, Francesca Hilton, was born. That same year she divorced Conrad Hilton. After that came an incredible line of suitors and husbands who included many famous actors and businessmen who mattered during the 1950s and 1960s, and several politicians. Shortly after she concluded her marriage with Hilton she married actor George Sanders (who later also married her sister Magda).
He was succeeded by investment banker Herbert Hutner, who was followed by oil heir Joshua S. Cosden, then inventor of the Barbie doll Jack Ryan and attorney Michael O’Hara. And these were just the husbands to whom she made a “lifelong” commitment. In between two marriages Zsa Zsa’s lovers included among others Sean Connery, who according to her had “velvety soft skin”, Richard Burton who “liked to talk dirty” and Frank Sinatra who refused to move his car from the driveway unless they slept together.
In 1983 Gabor married actor Felipe de Alba but their marriage was soon annulled when it turned out she was still married to O’Hara. This accounts for why Zsa Zsa numbered von Anhalt – whom she married in 1986 – as only husband No. 8, while others believe him to be No. 9. von Anhalt himself has even claimed to be the 10th husband but he could not account for whom the missing spouse should be.
Zsa Zsa always managed to stay close to the world of politics and was good friends with President Richard Nixon. The commander in chief even set her up with Henry Kissinger (who then had to get out of their second date in order to invade Cambodia). John F. Kennedy on the other hand was turned down by her. Ronald Reagan and the Bush family were among the many distinguished dinner guests visiting her Bel Air residence.
According to the prince, the menu at these parties was often prepared by Gabor personally. “She cooked everything herself and nobody was allowed in the kitchen. Often she prepared a special kind of goulash soup, which she called Dracula goulash. It was goulash with sauerkraut and a little bit of sour cream.”
The biggest star on the red carpet
Although Zsa Zsa was often considered an actress – mostly for lack of a better word – her greatest role was undoubtedly herself. As von Anhalt states: “She always knew she will not be a leading lady in a film. She knew it. Because she was not an actress, because she just could not do it.”
According to the prince, Gabor preferred reality and liked to play herself. The movies only interested her as far as the attention went, but she never wanted to learn any lines. “She always wanted to play short roles. Zsa Zsa wanted fame, she wanted to be in the movies but she never wanted a script. She just wanted to be herself.” He believes that this is what made Zsa Zsa such a unique icon in Hollywood. “Every little waiter in Los Angeles wanted to be a film star. But Zsa Zsa Gabor did not. She did not want to be a film star. This is what made her something special in Hollywood. She could always do what the others could not.”
Gabor often stated that she did not care what people said as long as they were talking about her. And she made sure that she always stayed the centre of attention. When her glorious years in the golden age of Hollywood – during which she was admired for her gleaming beauty, constant love affairs and the infamous title of “the most successful courtesan of the twentieth century” – slowly came to an end, she made herself known as a witty woman who had a spicy retort to every question. One of her most famous remarks went: “I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house.”
Even in her older age, the prince explains, whenever Zsa Zsa appeared somewhere she always dominated the occasion. He recalled once when the couple went to the Golden Globe award ceremony: “Zsa Zsa liked to attend these events in a red velvet dress. It was important to her that the colours would pop out. And then we walked down the red carpet and all the photographers stuck to her. And even the biggest star could have walked behind her unnoticed because everybody was only focused on Zsa Zsa Gabor. This is why they used to say ‘If Zsa Zsa Gabor is walking down the red carpet, do not go. Wait until she goes in and only then you follow. Otherwise, nobody will take a picture of you’.”
A little scandal is the best publicity
But it was not only her spicy remarks and glorious dresses that kept the Hollywood star on the cover pages. “Zsa Zsa Gabor knew how to make a scandal,” explains her widower. He goes even further and claims she enjoyed scandalising. “She really liked causing a commotion.” When this happened it could sometimes be a bit of a shock, as the prince explains: “I am driving my car down Sunset Boulevard, I am on my way home and I hear on the radio: Breaking News, Zsa Zsa Gabor was arrested.”
What actually happened – as the whole world would soon find out – was that a police officer had the nerve to stop her in her Rolls-Royce in 1989 for driving without a valid licence. “When giving a ticket, a police officer can be nice to a lady, he could flirt with her or he can be rude,” says von Anhalt. “And if someone was rude to Zsa Zsa she fired straight back at him. She did not let him talk to her like that.” Zsa Zsa slapped the police officer, an act that 30 years later seems simply unbelievable. The subsequent case went for 14 days, each closely covered by the media. “This is how it went on every day. The viewers already knew that at 5 o’clock the next episode of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s court drama will be on,” remembers von Anhalt.
Of course, for a European prince with a less outrageous background these first scandals seemed somewhat strange. “At the beginning you do not really know what to do with that,” he says. “But later when you have already lived in Hollywood for a while you realise that these scandals are a part of it. Many times they are more important for Hollywood than the films themselves.”
“It doesn’t have to be true, the point is that people are talking about me”
As the prince explains, the scandals were always a good means to keep the publicity alive. However, if Zsa Zsa thought that the details were not extravagant enough she often felt the need to spice up the facts with some “extra paprika”. One of her most remarkable sayings was, “It doesn’t have to be true; the point is that people are talking about me.” This was something that she seemed to have in common with her mother and her sisters Éva and Magda, who were also actresses and socialites. It seems as if the whole family had a unique flair for alternative facts.
As Cindy Adams – longtime friend of the family, who wrote a biography of mother Jolie Gabor – said: “They would lie about everything.” Adams recalls an instance when she was writing the book, and youngest sister Éva was about to marry a Catholic man and she was wearing a huge cross. To Adams’ question of why her Jewish daughter was wearing a cross, Jolie replied: “Éva’s about-to-be-husband hates the Jews, so in this book you make us Catholic.” As Adams claimed: “They have always lived outside of reality; there was never any truth in anything.”
This certain disregard for facts Zsa Zsa managed to pass on to her last spouse. The constant pursuit of fabrications can be interpreted in the following way: much like their beloved Hollywood, Gabor and von Anhalt were all about storytelling. They treated every new interview as a rewrite of their already incredible stories. If they did not find real life dramatic or funny enough they changed some details. This has left a lot of people uncertain about their life.
The prince himself seems to be like a mysterious character out of a book of Hollywood stories. There is great uncertainty about how he came by his title, how many previous wives he had and if he has any children. It is therefore no surprise that as a Republican Party member von Anhalt is a great friend of President Donald J. Trump.
A love story written in the boulevards
Much like with every story about Gabor and von Anhalt there is no telling how exactly the two of them met. Prince Fred told The Budapest Times a story straight out of any screenwriter’s desk: in an attempt to get into the party of the author Sydney Sheldon, von Anhalt put on his “royal” uniform and rented a convertible Rolls-Royce with a driver and bodyguard, and drove up to the writer’s house.
“In Germany they probably would have put me in an asylum but in America anything goes, in Hollywood anything is possible.” To his biggest surprise not only did security let him in but the hosts greeted him as an old friend. “And then a door opened and Zsa Zsa Gabor came through. And she said: ‘Hello, I also speak German.’ And she came to me. We spoke for five minutes and then she introduced me to everybody as her best friend from Germany. This is how it happened.”
Later that night von Anhalt went home like a disenchanted Cinderella. But already the next day the Hungarian sex idol sent her own chauffeur to pick up prince Fred from the Hilton, where he was staying, and bring him to her place in Bel Air. “And from then on I was in the house,” he summarises as the beginning of their story.
Whether this story or a different, earlier version covers the whole truth is unimportant. In any case, the prince’s profuse confidence caught the eyes of the Hollywood star and there was no separating them from then on. Finally, one morning in Bel Air, when he came downstairs for breakfast, Gabor’s attorney, secretary, manager and press agent awaited him.
“Suddenly her press agent comes down the hall, pats me on my shoulders and tells me, ‘We gonna do it on the 14th’,” remembers the prince. “I asked him: ‘What are we doing on the 14th?’ And he replied: ‘Well, the wedding will be on the 14th.’ This is how it went down. And then I said: ‘That cannot be, I cannot get married on the 14th because I have to go to Germany. I have a business in Germany. I cannot just leave everything and get married.
“And then Zsa Zsa Gabor entered the hall and she pointed with her finger at me and she said: ‘If you go to Germany, you will never be welcome here anymore’.” von Anhalt stayed. He and Zsa Zsa married on August 14, 1986.
The public received their sudden matrimony with mixed feelings. In any case, everybody agreed with mum Jolie, who said: “Zsa Zsa Gabor has already been married eight times by now. Now we need a prince or a duke.” But still, von Anhalt was received with suspicion. Jolie pretended to have a heart attack to stop the wedding but it did not change anything. The ceremony took place as planned.
But were they truly in love? Zsa Zsa once famously said: “Getting divorced because you do not love a man is just as silly as getting married just because you do.” von Anhalt views things with a little more confidence: “Zsa Zsa was in love with me from the first day we met.” But his love for her, he says, came a bit later, over the years.
Fragile family peace
Nevertheless, the Gabor family needed a real man who could help them run their extravagant lives. Prince Fred often had to fly across the whole country to solve Jolie’s problems with her personnel. “The mother has always been the general of the family,” he explains. “The girls were only doing something if Jolie Gabor gave her OK. All of her daughters listened to her.” Magda, Éva and Zsa Zsa often drove out to her place in Palm Springs to ask her advice.
As the only man in a family of feisty, belligerent women, von Anhalt’s main job was to maintain the peace. “Many times it was my job to bring them together or put some space between them. That was not always so easy to accomplish. Because they always fought with each other, and I never knew who was in the right because they all spoke Hungarian. All I knew was that they were on bad terms with each other and I had to make peace again. And then they did not meet for a while, and I had to get them to meet each other.”
The final act
In 2002, Zsa Zsa suffered a terrible car accident on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. A couple of years later she had a stroke. After that her condition slowly deteriorated. In the beginning, the couple planned to move to Hungary. “She wanted to go back to her homeland. Also because she was advised to regularly go to the thermal baths. She needed massages and physiotherapy. I talked to a Hungarian doctor and he said Budapest would be perfect for us. There we could do everything she needed.”
Von Anhalt says her daughter Francesca – who always had a bad relationship with him – managed to stop them from moving to Hungary. He says Francesca told her mother: “If you go I will kill myself.” Soon fate took the decision out of their hands, because only a few months later Zsa Zsa’s condition did not allow her to travel internationally anymore.
It took him a great effort even to get his wife out of the house. “My wife told me, ‘I will never leave the house in a wheelchair’. So I called Liz Taylor, who also sat in a wheelchair, and I told her: ‘Please come over and show her how you do it’.” He felt sure: “I just had to get her to leave the house once, then she will always do it.”
In 2011 Zsa Zsa was hospitalised and lost her right leg. After that, she hardly ever left her own bed. “During the last years she could not see that well anymore and she was not always lucid, but she could still press my hand. And through that I knew that she is still there.” Following her reaction to her friend Elizabeth Taylor’s death in 2011, the prince thought it best to keep bad news from her towards the end of her life. So Gabor never found out that her estranged daughter Francesca died before her, in 2015. After long years of sickness, Zsa Zsa died on December 18, 2016, shortly before her 100th birthday.
Grand return to homeland
In accordance with his wife’s will, von Anhalt is trying to organise a funeral service in Budapest worthy of her life. The prince was surprised at how many people still idolise Gabor in her home country. “I did not know that she is so popular in Hungary and that she is still so loved so many years after her death. Her name is simply huge in Hungary. This is what I discovered in the last four days. And then I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if maybe the Ministry of Culture would come forward and tell me, ‘Let us take care of the funeral’. I would be very honoured.”
The Hollywood icon could find her resting place in Kerepesi Cemetery, the most famous in Budapest. von Anhalt would like the state to pay for an honorary funeral – partially because of financial reasons. Now that he has not succeeded he is trying to get private donors to chip in.
The prince has a lot of plans to honour his wife in her hometown. He would like to open a museum of Zsa Zsa’s red-carpet outfits and other memorabilia. This is why he repeatedly visits the Hungarian capital, to organise a display. He has even promised to bring her star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, together with many big personalities who would like to be here for her last big feast. But until all these plans of a grand Hollywood funeral come true, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ashes remain in their Bel Air living room awaiting their final big entry.