Husband and daughter battle for control of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s financial affairs
It is an unglamorous end to a life that symbolised exotic Hollywood celebrity, lavish living and sheer female bravado. For Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian-born actress who is renowned as much for her nine marriages as for her films, is at the centre of a family feud that was back in the Los Angeles courts last week.
Her husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, is locked in a legal battle with Gabor’s daughter, Constance Francesca Hilton, over control of the 95-year-old’s financial affairs and medical care. But if that sounds as if it has the dramatic potential to be a final movie for Gabor, it would be a tragedy. For although the two parties clashed in court last Wednesday, it is not clear how much Gabor herself is aware of the legal situation.
She is bedridden in hospital and has not been seen in public for months. In February her husband threw her a lavish birthday party, though she did not take part – she had had part of her leg amputated and could not eat solid food. Hilton has claimed that her mother is generally kept sedated.
In the 1950s Gabor became a sex symbol noted for her quips about her love life and an ability to changes spouses with the frequency that other people got new cars. “I am a marvellous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house,” she once said.
“It would be nice to see her final days have a little dignity,” said Andy Mayoras, a legal expert in family fortune disputes and co-author of the book Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights. “This sort of dispute can be common when there is a second spouse and a previously existing child. But here you have a ninth spouse,” Mayoras added.
The latest round of fighting between Anhalt and Hilton, the daughter of hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, began in March, when Hilton’s lawyer asked a court to oust Gabor’s husband and appoint an independent person to manage her affairs and medical care. Hilton claimed that Anhalt restricted her visits to her mother and prevented them from communicating well. She also said that another visitor saw bedsores on the actress’s body.
In court papers filed earlier this year, Hilton said: “By isolating me from my mother, not only does her current husband deprive her of my love and companionship, but he goes against estate planning documents that appear to reflect her wishes that he not be in sole control of her affairs.”
For his part, Anhalt has rejected the claims and says that Hilton is trying to prise him away from his wife of some 25 years. “It’s all about money. She’s afraid of her mother passing away eventually and there’s nothing,” he once told a newspaper interviewer.
Anhalt has said that he provides the best possible care for the ailing star, but that the pair are in difficult financial straits. He has claimed that he has put their lavish house on the market in order to pay off debts accrued by Hilton in remortgaging the property. He said that monthly payments on the house and on Gabor’s medical bills add up to $30,000 (£18,000), whereas Gabor’s income is just $6,000 a month.
A medical expert, Dr Debra Judelson, also testified that Anhalt is caring for her well. “She is aware of her own bedroom and is calm and well cared for by her husband with the assistance of two aides,” Judelson said last week.
But whatever the truth of the couple’s finances, Anhalt does seem to have behaved strangely. At February’s birthday party, Gabor remained behind closed doors even though many journalists invited to the event had been eager for a picture.
Last year Anhalt announced that he would try to make his wife a mother again by using an egg donor, artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. The plan, which seems to have been dropped, raised eyebrows even among seasoned observers of La-La Land’s more fantastical goings-on.
Not that Hilton is entirely free of eccentricities herself. The 64-year-old is a comedian and has publicly insulted Anhalt during live performances.
He and Hilton are going into mediation over who gets control of Gabor’s affairs, with the results of the process expected to be reported at a legal hearing in July. Perhaps given the characters involved and the feud’s lengthy history, few cynical Hollywood observers expect much in the way of an agreement.