Zsa Zsa Gabor: A rare, unforgettable celebrity

She was a symbol, from the 1950s on, of European style and flair

FILE - In a May 1, 1990 file photo, Zsa Zsa Gabor gestures as she while answering questions as she leaves the Beverly Hills courtroom where judge Charles Rubin ruled that she violated her probation. Gabor was ordered to complete her community service at a Venice homeless shelter, with an additional 60 hours. At right is her husband Frederick von Anhalt. Gabor died Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, of a heart attack at her Bel-Air home, her husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, said. She was 99.(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)
FILE - In a May 1, 1990 file photo, Zsa Zsa Gabor gestures as she while answering questions as she leaves the Beverly Hills courtroom where judge Charles Rubin ruled that she violated her probation. Gabor was ordered to complete her community service at a Venice homeless shelter, with an additional 60 hours. At right is her husband Frederick von Anhalt. Gabor died Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, of a heart attack at her Bel-Air home, her husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, said. She was 99.(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — You didn’t have to know exactly who she was to appreciate Zsa Zsa Gabor.

She belonged to a rare, hard-to-catalog vintage of celebrity, not only the great-aunt of Paris Hilton, but a true ancestor of Hilton’s jet-set flamboyance.

For such a flashy member of the leisure class, she did plenty, appearing in a number of films, including Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil”; logging enough husbands to field a baseball team; and flaunting sex appeal, excess glamour and an exotic accent into her senior years.

But none of this fully accounts for the enduring recognition she enjoyed and cultivated. Maybe she just knew how to work it. Maybe it happened above and beyond her control. It certainly helped that she was in on the joke.

She was a symbol, from the 1950s on, of European style and flair, of material and romantic extravagance. She was rich in more ways than one. She was playful and outspoken. She was blessed with a ritzy, come-hither name: Zsaahhhh Zsaahhhh!

Some of the heavy lifting that helped sustain the Gabor brand was courtesy of Zsa Zsa’s lookalike sister Eva, who shared the Gabor pizazz. Eva’s star turn in the 1960s as a sitcom socialite on “Green Acres” has guaranteed her immortality in the pop-culture pantheon — and, by association, given Zsa Zsa status beyond her own accomplishments.

But Zsa Zsa could be funny, too.

In a TV commercial from 1963, a begowned, bejeweled Gabor extols the virtues of the Studebaker Lark, kittenishly calling this midlevel compact “so nice, so chic.”

The car featured newfangled disc brakes, and in her fractured English, Gabor purrs to the audience, “My friend says I would be in jail from coast to coast if I wouldn’t have them.”

In 1989, she hit the brakes and had a celebrated brush with the law while driving not a Lark, but her own Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. She slapped the face of a Beverly Hills police officer who had the effrontery to stop her for a traffic violation. The officer was rude, she testified at the trial where she was subsequently found guilty of assault.

Her arrest became just another sparkling career move. She spoofed the incident in “Naked Gun 2 1-2” and various other cameo appearances.

Dahling, the Zsa Zsa legend cannot die, even in a culture with short memories where attention seekers jostle for camera time. She lives on, unchallenged, in the cultural ether. Meanwhile, it’s not hard to imagine her in heaven right now, tricked out with wings and a Blackglama mink, advising St. Peter that the Pearly Gates clash with her diamonds.

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Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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