'I Know He's No Good'
09/01/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
She had married seven times before, for every reason you can think of and some you cannot. She had married to live with men she adored, and she had married to find a good home for her dog. She had married fine men who bored her and beastly men who mistreated her. She loved some of them and left all of them. Now, two days before her marriage to Prince Frederick von Anhalt, Duke of Saxony and some other places, her mother and her sister and her best friends were telephoning the house in Bel Air, advising her not to go through with it. By now they should have known: When a man is involved, does Zsa Zsa Gabor ever do what she is told?
"Daahling," she said, leaning back on her pure white sofa, still looking gore-jus, as she says it, after all these years, "I checked him. I know he's no good."
She turned to Frederick, sitting beside her, slapped him on the shoulder, hugged her beloved Shih Tzu and laughed. At herself. Nobody understands Zsa Zsa like Zsa Zsa. "You know," she explained, "the moment a man is bad I fall in love with him. I always marry bad men. It's a sickness, my sickness. The more bad they tell me they are, the more I am attracted. That's my tragedy. Then I'm surprised later at how bad they are."
Her mother, whom Zsa Zsa worships, refused to fly from New York to California for the wedding. "I think she is going to shoot me," Zsa Zsa said, more concerned about her mother's distress than about her mother's marksmanship. Her sister, Eva, who lives in Beverly Hills, refused to drive a few blocks to the wedding. "She is so jealous of me, anyway," Zsa Zsa said. "If she married a murderer, I'd still go to her wedding." And then there were the friends, telephoning with warnings, some disturbing, some amusing. "One called to say I had to be careful, that this was my last wedding. I said to her, 'Who says it's my last wedding?' "
Whatever else you might say about this wedding, it wasn't prolonged. Nearly 150 guests in black tie and evening dresses drove up to Zsa Zsa's home, past the security guards, past the iron gates, past the statues of lions wired to roar by ex-husband No. 6. The guests drank Frederic Prince de Anhalt Champagne (slightly fruity, dry finish), which her new husband plans to import here, read a prominently displayed congratulatory telegram from Ron and Nancy and chatted about meaningful Southern California events. Best overheard line: "She's had so many face-lifts, she finally looks younger than her daughter." The tipsy dowager who said this was not speaking of Zsa Zsa, who credits her enduring looks to Hungarian bone structure and swears she's had neither nip nor tuck.
At 8:03 p.m. Zsa Zsa and Frederick appeared, she in a gleaming blue Ruben Panis gown with embroidered satin flowers, he with medals embellishing his ruffled shirt. She immediately threw the bridal bouquet to her unmarried daughter, Francesca Hilton, 39, daughter of ex-husband No. 2. Francesca dropped it. Then the chaplain of the Queen Mary, who presided, asked Zsa Zsa to repeat her vows after him.
"I know that love is precious and sometimes fragile," he prompted.
"I know that love is precious and very many times fragile," said Zsa Zsa, laughing.
Taking that as a cue, the piano player broke into the wedding march.
"Cut," said Zsa Zsa. Dignity restored, the ceremony went on.
"I give you this ring which has no beginning and no end," the preacher said.
"I give you this ring which has no beginning and I don't know when the end comes," said Zsa Zsa, laughing harder.
Nine minutes after stepping to the altar—actually her fireplace—she was pronounced Princess Zsa Zsa von Anhalt, Duchess of Saxony, Engern and Westphalia, Countess of Ascania. Should the imperial family return to power, says Frederick, he will be the Kaiser and she the Kaiserin, quite an achievement for a woman whose only previous brush with royalty was a starring role in Queen of Outer Space. Should she and Frederick ever divorce, an unpleasantry one must consider with Zsa Zsa, she retains the title and all her money. At his insistence, they signed a prenuptial agreement giving her 50 percent of his future earnings and giving him none of hers. She says the agreement is unimportant. She believes, for reasons not immediately apparent, that this marriage will last.
"He is a good friend and a wonderful guy," she says, "the nicest and most understanding man I know. He is very, very sweet."
That opinion is not held by all. According to various published reports, Prince Frederick is a con man, a shoplifter and a brawler. He denies all but the scrapes and points out that he has some nice qualities, too. He is attentive and discreetly affectionate to Zsa Zsa, often holding her hand or squeezing her arm reassuringly. Mostly, though, he is reserved. "Frederick, you are so shtiff," Zsa Zsa complains, mocking his German accent.
Frederick is 43 years old, which makes him somewhat her junior. Two weeks ago, while applying for the marriage license in the Santa Monica Courthouse, Zsa Zsa listed the year of her birth as 1930, then raised her right hand and swore an oath that the statement was true. Unmentioned was the fact that she was married for the first time in 1937.
The age difference, says Frederick, isn't bothersome. "This marriage is more a friendship marriage," he says. "We have much in common: animals, horseback riding, getting up early in the morning, working in the garden. When I am home alone in West Germany, lonely, I always call Zsa Zsa. I think it's because she is the only woman who always tells me the truth."
He was born, according to his marriage license, on June 18, 1943. He was not born a prince. His name was Robert Lichtenberg and his father was a police detective in Frankfurt who came home only on weekends. Frederick says that from the time he was 5 years old, he was considered the village troublemaker. "In this village of Wallhausen there were only 3,000 people," he says. "When something happened, they said it was me. They would call my father, tell him what I had done, and he never believed me, always hit me. I grew up hard and it made me very strong."
He is a fit man, his hair short and grey, his body hard. He does not smile easily, and when he laughs, it comes unexpectedly. "My father was all the time punishing me," he continues. "I was living like in a prison. I said one day I would be on my own, get bigger than my father and everybody."
In 1980, he was adopted by Princess Marie-Auguste von Anhalt, daughter-in-law of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. She was 81, lonely and childless and not well off. "She had nobody," Frederick says. "We played chess, had dinners. One day she said she would like to adopt me. I said okay."
He has been accused of buying the adoption, paying her to get the title.
"Never," he says.
He has been accused of selling knighthoods, 68 of them, for $50,000 apiece. Good point. He says that after he knighted someone on television, thousands of commoners wrote to him, asking to be elevated. "They started offering money, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000. I said for $50,000 for a half-hour work, I'd do it. There is nothing wrong with that. It is business."
He has been accused of marrying for money. He says only one of his five marriages was for money and that was for $4 million, too much to pass up.
He has been accused of a variety of criminal acts. He admits to only one of consequence, buying a stolen gold watch. "All the other things I did were small, idiotic things like fights and making noise at night. I always had to pay a fine."
Zsa Zsa and her prince have known each other for four years. They met when the prince paid a photographer $5,000 for an introduction, and their relationship has gone the way Zsa Zsa likes it: They fight, he goes back to West Germany, they talk, he returns. The guy not only has a title, he also has a terrific frequent-flyer program. "I know he has a very bad temper," says Zsa Zsa. "He's not an angel, but if he was an angel, I wouldn't want him." Let's be fair to the prince. While Zsa Zsa is vivacious and witty, she is also demanding, impatient and a notorious backseat driver. Not long ago, after her directions turned a half-hour drive into a two-hour ordeal, the prince stopped the car, went to a flower shop, bought her a vase of roses and poured the water over her head.
He is not always so charmingly roguish. This past July, Csilla Molnar, 17, Miss Hungary of 1985, died of an overdose of Lidocaine, a prescription drug she found in her parent's home. The prince says they met in a TV studio, went to dinner, spent a "wonderful night" together and she became pregnant. "She wanted to marry me. I said no. Then she killed herself."
He goes on calmly, seemingly without grief or remorse. "I had fun with her, but I didn't love her. What can I do with an 18-year-old girl? When I am 60, she will no longer want me."
After Molnar's death, Frederick came to stay with Zsa Zsa, and she took care of him. He says she always supports him, that "she is the only woman who stands on my side, no matter what happens. And I will never let her down, never."
And so Zsa Zsa has married again, for the eighth time, unless you count her marriage at sea to Felipe de Alba, which would make this No. 9. Zsa Zsa says the yacht never got far enough into international waters to make it legal, so she decided to forget the whole thing. Seven genuine marriages, and yet she says, "I was always alone. I probably didn't live a total of more than eight or ten years with men. I don't want anybody to ever feel sorry for me, and I don't want anybody to ever say, 'Poor Zsa Zsa,' but it was always me looking after the house, the child, the dogs, the bills. It was very sad and it was very lonely."
As she looks back at a half century of husbands, at least one wedding in each of the past six decades, it seems to her as though she was never married at all. She has never been that fond of playing around—"They never had a sexual revolution in Budapest," says Francesca—and she has never liked being alone. For Zsa Zsa, nothing could ever take the place of marriage, especially when she could find a man bad enough to love.