It's a Mad, Mad, Zsa Zsa World: Fame & Scandal: vanityfair.com
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince Frederic von Anhalt after their August 1986 wedding.
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince Frédéric von Anhalt pose for photographers outside of her Bel Air mansion after their wedding, in August 1986. Bettmann/Corbis.
It's a Mad, Mad, Zsa Zsa World
Nothing is as it seems when Zsa Zsa Gabor and Prince Frédéric von Anhalt are involved. He says he's her 10th husband; she says he's only her 8th. She won't say how old she is; he doesn't want to know. Some accuse him of keeping her prisoner, but he says he's the one who's hemmed in—never mind his self-proclaimed affair with the late Anna Nicole Smith or his alleged robbery by a lesbian street gang. Welcome to a surreal address that makes Sunset Boulevard look like Sesame Street.
by Leslie Bennetts WEB EXCLUSIVE September 6, 2007
We have come to answer a sinister question: Is the ersatz princess, otherwise known as Zsa Zsa Gabor, being held prisoner by the ersatz prince in her gilded aerie, a decaying Bel Air mansion that once hosted Hollywood's most dazzling luminaries but now brings to mind an ominous scene out of Sunset Boulevard?
Zsa Zsa Gabor and her ninth (or so) husband, Prince Frédéric von Anhalt, at home in Bel Air. Photograph by Jonathan Becker. Enlarge this photo.
In the ensuing weeks, other pressing questions will arise. Was the prince stripped naked, robbed, and tied up by a gun-toting gang of hot lesbians? Were aliens from outer space involved? And whose daddy is he, exactly?
But initially, at least, the issues seem simpler, or at least as simple as anything involving Zsa Zsa and her consort could ever be—which is to say, not very.
It has been several months since the gossip columnist Cindy Adams—a longtime friend and biographer of Zsa Zsa's late mother, Jolie Gabor—suggested in print that Prince Frédéric von Anhalt had locked up his wife, preventing her from seeing or even talking to old friends. This charge greatly upset von Anhalt, the aging German stud who counts himself as Zsa Zsa's 10th husband, although she claims to have married a mere eight. In high dudgeon, he determined to prove that he takes fine care of his elderly wife, who suffered a devastating car accident in 2002 and a massive stroke in 2005.
And so he decided that Zsa Zsa—who has repeatedly turned down buckets of money from tabloids desperate for an interview, according to the prince—would consent to be interviewed and photographed for the first time in many years.
The only problem was persuading Herself to go along with the plan. How difficult could this be, after all? Zsa Zsa is partially disabled and totally dependent on her strapping, virile husband, who looks as if he could effortlessly crumple men half his age into little pretzels. But getting Zsa Zsa to cooperate turned out to be as simple as figuring out how old she is. The prince confides that Zsa Zsa was quite put out by his unexpected claim to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith's billion-dollar baby. The resulting media furor did not improve Zsa Zsa's mood, already soured by the indignities of decrepitude. "She doesn't want to talk, because she thinks people make her old," the prince warns me before I meet her. "She hates to talk about the age. She doesn't believe she's 90 years old. She says she's 82."
When Zsa Zsa married Frédéric, she listed the year of her birth as 1930, although this would have made her seven years old when she married her first husband. Most sources list her birth year as 1917, but Zsa Zsa has long maintained that she and her sisters, Eva and Magda, pretended to be older than they really were when they first arrived in America.
"I don't think she's 90, but I don't even want to know," says the prince, who gives his own age as 58. But 21 years ago, when he married Zsa Zsa, he was widely reported to be 43, and many sources now put him in his early 70s.
The Gabors always adjusted the facts to suit the needs of the moment, according to Cindy Adams. "They would lie about everything," Adams says. "When I wrote my book about Jolie, Eva was getting married to her 44th husband, and the wedding gown was very décolleté. Between the fleshly hills of Gabor was a cross larger than St. Peter's Basilica. The Gabors were Jewish, so I said to Jolie, 'What's with the goddamn cross?' Jolie said, 'Eva's new about-to-be-husband hates the Jews, so in this book you make us Catholic.' They have always lived with no reality; there was never any truth to anything."
Adams maintains that "the only way you can tell the age of a Gabor is from the rings around their gums." So how old does she think Zsa Zsa really is? "Close to 100," she replies.
Zsa Zsa may be ancient, but she is a lifelong master in the dark arts; pity the ordinary mortal who engages in any contest of wills with this Hungarian spitfire. The prince endured many weeks of frustration in trying to negotiate the promised audience. "I finally said, 'You owe me a favor—you have to do it or I'll move out of the house,'" he says. "I want her to be seen."
And so, on this sunny morning, the photographer, photographer's assistant, fashion stylist, hair and makeup artist, and reporter have all converged in Bel Air. Various minions have labored for hours, painting and poofing and spraying the frail little old lady into a creditable semblance of her famously confectionary self. Zsa Zsa Gabor is ready for her public at last—whereupon Prince Frédéric summarily banishes everyone from the room, sending the pack of grown-ups scurrying like well-trained dogs.
Several minutes pass as we all wait beside the pool, which is surrounded by cracked terra-cotta tiles and has quite a few drowned leaves submerged in it. In this neighborhood, such imperfections are noticeable. Zsa Zsa's ochre mansion—which she bought from Howard Hughes and which now sports awnings the color of paprika—is nestled high in the hills, near the end of a road that wends its way upward past one exquisitely manicured estate after another. Inside this house, however, the passage of time has suffused the scene with the melancholy air of neglect.
The jewel-toned rooms, painted ruby red, emerald green, and a weird pinky gray that calls to mind a newborn mouse, are crammed with a lifetime of memorabilia—cheesy oil paintings of Zsa Zsa and the other Gabors; photographs of a bejeweled Zsa Zsa, sometimes wearing a tiara, with everyone from the Reagans and Gerald Ford to Henry Kissinger (who was fixed up with Zsa Zsa by Richard Nixon but begged out of their second date because he had to invade Cambodia).
There are also horses everywhere—paintings, photographs, equine heads. Zsa Zsa and the prince are both passionate equestrians who keep 40 horses at their 42-acre ranch in the Simi Valley, although Zsa Zsa had to give up riding after she became disabled. But the prince has just vetoed a photograph taken beside the two large sculpted golden stallions rearing their heads in the living room, after realizing that the shot would include a section of the wall where water damage has left the paint discolored and peeling, exposing patches of plaster.
Suddenly the prince claps his hands, loud as the crack of a gunshot. At this peremptory summons, everyone races back into the living room, where a curious tableau awaits.
Clad in Chanel, Zsa Zsa has been carefully arranged against a mound of pillows on a canopied four-poster divan near the gilded grand piano. ("She didn't want anybody to see her get in and out of the wheelchair; that's why everybody had to go out," the prince explains to me later. "She can't walk. I have to help her.")
The bouffant hair frames her face like a silvery cloud of cotton candy. Shrewd and alert, her unnaturally wide eyes are ringed by a thick fringe of false eyelashes. Her arms lie still at her sides; she is not about to let anyone see how impaired she may be. She regards me with suspicion; the prince has forewarned me that Zsa Zsa doesn't like women.
A poster for Queen of Outer Space (1958), one of Gabor's more notable films. Allied Artists Pictures/Photofest.
Fortunately, the crew is male. Photographs are taken, and small talk is exchanged. One subject of conversation is Paris Hilton, whose great-grandfather the hotel magnate Conrad Hilton was Zsa Zsa's second husband. In many ways, Paris could be said to have transformed herself into a latter-day incarnation of Zsa Zsa, who spent three days behind bars in 1989 for slapping a Beverly Hills police officer after he had the temerity to stop her for driving her white Rolls-Royce Corniche without a valid license. An entertainer whose career tended toward television talk-show appearances and Las Vegas stage extravaganzas that capitalized on her fractured English, outrageous pronouncements, and sex-bomb image, Zsa Zsa somehow made herself into one of the most famous women on earth despite the fact that her most notable film roles were in vehicles such as Queen of Outer Space.
Swathed in white fur and diamonds, she became a glamour icon as renowned for the trappings of wealth as for her prodigious list of lovers. These included everybody from Sean Connery (who had velvety-soft skin, according to Zsa Zsa) and Richard Burton (who liked to talk dirty in bed) to Frank Sinatra (whom she hated and slept with only because he refused to move his car out of her driveway unless she did).
Once infamous as "the most successful courtesan of the twentieth century," Zsa Zsa snagged her first husband by proposing to Burhan Belge, a Turkish diplomat, when she was 15. Although they were married for several years, one of Zsa Zsa's two autobiographies maintains that she never slept with him but was instead deflowered by Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey.
In any case, Zsa Zsa soon decamped to the United States, where her first conquest was Conrad Hilton. He was succeeded by the actor George Sanders, Zsa Zsa's third husband (who later married her sister Magda just to spite Zsa Zsa). Sanders was followed by financier Herbert Hutner; oil heir Joshua Cosden; Jack Ryan, an inventor whose credits included the Barbie doll; attorney Michael O'Hara; and then actor Felipe de Alba, in what was apparently a bigamous union, since Zsa Zsa was still wed to O'Hara. The marriage to de Alba was later annulled, which accounts for Zsa Zsa's claim to have had eight husbands instead of nine. Although Prince Frédéric says he is her 10th husband, he is unable to explain who the missing spouse might be.
Gabor with Dominican playboy and longtime obsession Porfirio Rubirosa, at a stable outside Paris, April 1954. Photofest.
But the official husbands often seemed like mere bit players in the larger melodrama of Zsa Zsa's romantic life. One longtime obsession was the legendary Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, who seduced Zsa Zsa while she was married to Sanders. When she refused to divorce her husband, Rubirosa—who had already married and divorced Doris Duke—married the heiress Barbara Hutton for 72 days and then went back to romancing Zsa Zsa while Sanders occupied himself with Duke.
Zsa Zsa also claims to have turned down a long list of smitten swains ranging from J. Paul Getty to John F. Kennedy. But she did admit to sleeping with her stepson Nicky Hilton, a future husband of Elizabeth Taylor's. With her customary disregard for inconvenient facts, she attributed the demise of her marriage to Conrad Hilton not to this quasi-incestuous dalliance but rather to his guilt over divorcing his first wife and remarrying outside the Catholic Church. Before he and Zsa Zsa split, Conrad managed to father her only child, Francesca, in an act that Zsa Zsa has described as rape. Francesca's relationship with her mother has been troubled; in 2005 Zsa Zsa accused her daughter of fraud, elder abuse, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and filed suit against her in a California court.
With that kind of family history, Zsa Zsa might be expected to forgive Paris Hilton her transgressions—but no. "I think she's rather silly," Zsa Zsa says with a lofty arch of a well-plucked eyebrow. "She does too many things for publicity."
If any of Zsa Zsa's old crowd were alive to hear this, they might choke to death in paroxysms of laughter. After all, Zsa Zsa made an entire career out of courting publicity, often through her uncanny knack for coming up with attention-getting answers to the questions of television interviewers. On being asked, "How do you keep a husband?" she replied, "Shoot him in the legs."
But that was decades ago, back when her décolletage was celebrated on several continents and her entire persona seemed to be molded from whipped cream, enticing every man she met to dive right in. Today, she could be an antique doll, her smile so fixed it appears her face might crack if she moves a muscle.
I ask how she and the prince first met.
"In a restaurant," she says, her speech apparently unimpaired. "A friend of ours introduced him."
She gives me a sly smile. "I liked how he looked; I liked how he talked," she says. "I liked everything about him."
There is much, much more to this story, but I will learn the coldly calculated details later on from the prince, who went to extraordinary lengths to ensnare her.
And why did she decide to marry him? "I wanted to be with him," Zsa Zsa says. "I didn't get tired of being married."
So what is the prince like as a husband? "Tough," she says with a coquettish sidelong glance at her husband. "Tough with me. I think I'm very old-fashioned. Today women boss their husbands like mad. I don't think I do. I'm easygoing with a man."
The prince is trying studiously to maintain a poker face. I ask Zsa Zsa if she still enjoys a social life. "Sometimes I go out," she says. "I always liked parties. You meet people; you can have fun."
A wistful look crosses her face, but then it hardens. "That's enough," she says abruptly. "I have to go back to bed. I have a headache."
The prince looks as if she's stabbed him in the heart. "Just a minute, just a minute," he murmurs to her. "You can talk, go on, go on," he hisses to me.
"I have a headache. I want to go now," Zsa Zsa says loudly. The prince pleads with her to give me more time, motioning me to stay put and keep talking. But Zsa Zsa will not be deterred; she impales me with an icy glare and sends me from the room. ("She doesn't want to be reminded of what she did and had before," the prince tells me later.) Her only concession is a reluctant agreement to continue our conversation by telephone at a future date.
Prince Frédéric takes it easy in jeans and cowboy boots. Photograph by Jonathan Becker. Enlarge this photo.
Crestfallen, the prince disappears upstairs to change out of the Prada suit he wore for the photo shoot. He re-emerges in form-fitting jeans, cowboy boots, and a denim shirt unbuttoned to showcase his manly chest, upon which lies a heavy gold medallion. This is the solid-gold insignia of the House of Saxony Anhalt, he says—a hereditary medal passed down by each prince to his successor. "Every child gets it and it goes from generation to generation," he explains, although his own acquisition of the title had nothing do with heredity. He lifts the medallion to demonstrate its heft. "If I hit somebody over the head with it, he's going to be dead right away," he adds with a cheerful grin.
The prince brings out the sleek dove-gray Rolls-Royce, and soon we are gliding down Sunset Boulevard on our way to Clafoutis, a local haunt he often dashes to for a quick lunch. Zsa Zsa is back in her bedroom, attended by a nurse, and the prince is allowed to slip away for a bit. "She didn't have a headache," he says. "She just didn't want you to ask her any more questions."
But he is very happy to talk about Anna Nicole Smith.
Tall and deeply tanned, Prince Frédéric von Anhalt carries himself with military rectitude and spends much energy staying fit, a lifelong obsession. "I am very disciplined," he informs me. "I get up at five o'clock in the morning, even if I go to bed at three. I get up, do my sports—I'm very tough on me. I'm also tough on my partner. A man has to have discipline in everything—how to handle himself, how to handle other people."
Born Hans Robert Lichtenberg in Wallhausen, Germany, he was the son of a police detective and was, he once admitted, the village troublemaker. But he discovered a noteworthy talent early on. "I always knew how to handle women," he says.
An avid sportsman, he befriended the son of Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt, a member of the German nobility and daughter-in-law of Kaiser Wilhelm II. "We played soccer together," Frédéric says. "He moved to Chile and had a big horse ranch. All of a sudden he had a car accident and he died."
This left an intriguing vacancy in the hereditary-title department, and Frédéric was soon consoling his friend's bereaved mother. "The princess was all alone," he explains. "Because I knew she was lonely, I called her and took her out sometimes for dinner."
Did they ever have a romantic relationship? "No, no, no!" he exclaims. "She was an old lady. But she liked conversation."
His ministrations also included other favors. "She called me and said, 'My brother in Switzerland died.' I said, 'No problem, I take you down,'" Frédéric reports. "I did things like that. I didn't have any parents anymore, so one day she said, 'I'm going to adopt you. You'll be Royal Highness. You'll have the highest title in Germany—everybody's going to be jealous of you!'"
And so, in 1980, he became Prince Frédéric von Anhalt, the Duke of Saxony. He also helped to support the princess financially. "I was a good businessman; I made lots of money," he says, attributing his assets to "real estate and some health clubs." But the princess was impoverished. "This woman was supported by the government; she gets only enough money to just live. All of a sudden here's somebody who gives her a better life. I gave her $4,000 every month, which was good money then. I gave this woman in her last days a lot of pleasure."
He shakes his head. "People have been so jealous after that. They said I bought the title. Who gives a damn! I know what I did; she knows what she did. The rest doesn't matter."
In the ensuing years, Frédéric managed to make money from his title, selling 68 knighthoods for $50,000 apiece and marrying one woman in exchange for $4 million. Although the tally has varied over the years, he now admits to having married and divorced six wives prior to meeting Zsa Zsa. "I fall in love right away with women. I don't want to let go, and the only way not to let go is to get married," he explains. "Then after you're married and living together, you find out the rest—something not good. But I always got out of marriage in friendship."
And who were all these wives? "Just good-looking blonde girls, all of them," he says vaguely. "Sometimes I had a feeling they wanted me to marry them because of the title, so they could become princesses. But as long as I had fun, who cares?"
After having three sons by different wives, the prince was ready for a change of venue. "I came over to America in 1983, and I wanted to meet a movie star, any movie star," he says. "I was very interested in Zsa Zsa, because I had lots of old pictures of her. I collected them. I liked her; I liked her movies. Germans love Hungarians, because they're full of pepper—full of paprika! America was, for us Germans, a paradise. The rich and famous in Hollywood—it was a dreamland for us."
After arriving in Los Angeles, he checked into a low-rent motel, but he soon realized such an address wouldn't get him anywhere he wanted to go. "Having the title, that was bad," he says. "A prince couldn't live in a $25-a-day motel! So I went to the Beverly Hilton. I had a cheap rental car, a Honda from the airport. I said, Well, I need a good car—so I got myself a Rolls-Royce Corniche. I asked the concierge, 'What's going on, where are the parties?' He said, 'Even with your title and lots of money, they won't invite you, because they don't know you. I know a photographer; he takes pictures of famous people.'"
So the prince told the photographer, "I want to meet a movie star—if possible, Zsa Zsa Gabor. I'm going to give you $10,000 if you make a picture—take it or leave it."
Success was virtually instantaneous. "He called me in two days and said, 'I know where she goes,'" the prince recalls. "It was a restaurant on Melrose. She was there with a couple of friends. We took a picture, and we talked a little bit. I love animals, and Zsa Zsa said, 'Why don't you come up to my house and say hello to my dogs?' I went up the next day."
When the prince succeeded in charming even Rubi, the snappish Lhasa Apso she had named after her former lover, Zsa Zsa was deeply impressed. "Then she invited me to openings," the prince says. "She had lots of appearances."
But her high-profile life eventually began to wear on him: "I was getting stressed. I was a sporty, easy guy, and all of a sudden I was getting dressed: 'You cannot wear that tie!'"
One night, Rubi bit his hand when they both reached for the same piece of salami. "That was too much," the prince recalls. "I said, 'Good-bye, good luck, I am going to Germany.' I couldn't do it anymore."
Over the next three years, he continued to visit Zsa Zsa periodically. "We always had a good time. But I didn't agree very much with Hollywood. It was a little fake. I'm a tough guy. I don't like bullshit," the prince says.
And so he went back and forth, torn between his old life and the possibilities of a glittering new one. "I couldn't make up my mind," he admits. "Shall I stay here or not? But I wanted to be with Zsa Zsa. She was really lots of fun. I could talk about everything with her."
But they never talked about the tragedy that precipitated their marriage. Back in Germany, the prince met a 17-year-old named Csilla Molnar, who had won the beauty-pageant title of Miss Hungary, a designation that Zsa Zsa herself had earned half a century earlier. "She was just a beautiful girl, and we ended up at my place," says the prince. "I wasn't married, so what the heck. It was just an affair. And then she went on vacation to Egypt, bought some snake poison, and killed herself."
Because of his association with Zsa Zsa, the resulting scandal went international. News reports attributed her death to an overdose of lidocaine, and charged that Frédéric refused to marry her after she became pregnant. "They said she killed herself because I promised to take her to America, but it's not true," he says. "I didn't talk to her. She didn't understand me. She didn't speak English or German; I didn't speak Hungarian."
To escape the uproar, he fled back to Los Angeles, but he didn't call Zsa Zsa. "The photographer said to me, 'That's the end of it. You screwed it up,'" the prince recalls.
But he hadn't bargained on Zsa Zsa's irresistible attraction to flagrantly unfaithful men. "A couple of days later, I get a phone call: 'There's a party in Bel Air.' The major television stations were all lined up with cameras. I came up with Zsa Zsa, and a guy said, 'When are you going to get engaged?' She said, 'We are engaged already!' I didn't know what to say. He said, 'When are you getting married?' She said, 'Very soon!' I stood there like an idiot. I said to her, 'What was that about?' She said, 'Shut up.' The next day, her agent came in, her lawyer came, and she said, 'If you go back to Germany, I will never see you again.' I thought, Well, it's just marriage. Get divorced in a year. But with her it's different."
Cindy Adams has her own interpretation of why Zsa Zsa married Frédéric. "Zsa Zsa had run through a lot of guys, and she needed a man," Adams explains. "If she didn't have a husband, she had a lover, because that's the only way a Gabor knows she's alive. They grew up as courtesans: 'Everybody desires me, darling!' That was her life. This one dressed well, he had a title, and with Zsa Zsa it was always about what showed. He did what he was told; he toed the mark, and to her that was sufficient."
Was the prince truly in love with Zsa Zsa? "When we were married, I was very much in love with her," he says. "I am still. When she had her accident, I knew she would depend on me. Four and a half years ago, I gave up my life. I live for her, because she needs me. I gave up traveling, doing business, going to Europe. I gave up nightlife completely. She wants me to put her in the wheelchair, get her out of the wheelchair. It's very tough on me, but I have no choice. She's my wife. I have to take care of her. I have no way out. You do it for better or worse."
But the prince's sacrifice did not extend to renouncing other women, if one believes his tale of an affair with the bodacious Anna Nicole Smith. "A girl like that, you're not going to kick her out of bed, that's for sure!" he says. "I met her in New York 10 years ago, at a big ball at the Plaza. Then she came to L.A., and she called me. She wanted to have a cup of coffee. Then all of a sudden it came to an affair."
This was no one-night stand, however. "In these 10 years, we met about 30 or 40 times, mostly in L.A. We always went to a private house," says the prince, although he won't tell me the identity of its owner. "She wanted to be a princess. But I couldn't have married her, because I was already married. I couldn't adopt her; my wife wouldn't have signed the papers. I was never in love with Anna Nicole Smith; it was an affair. She said, once or twice, 'Why don't you get a divorce?' I told her, 'Don't even say that!' I would never have done it, not [even] with the millions—it doesn't mean a thing. I love my wife very much."
Others frankly disbelieve his claim to have bedded Anna Nicole. "He's thirsting to be important, because he knows at some point this is going down," scoffs Cindy Adams.
The talk-show host Bill O'Reilly even called him a "fraud" on The O'Reilly Factor, whereupon the prince filed a defamation suit against him and the Fox Network, seeking $10 million in damages. The suit is ongoing. The prince insists that he has always been catnip to women. "In 20 years with Zsa Zsa, you know how many telephone numbers I got under the table?" he says. "Even from her best friends! It was from being jealous that Zsa Zsa is happy with a guy. If she is happy, there must be something special, so let's try him out! But my wife was smart enough, every time I went out swimming for an hour, she went through my pockets and threw them all out."
Not that he enjoyed such overtures. "They treated me like a cheap gigolo," he says. "I hated that."
And yet the trysts with Anna Nicole grew into something resembling a real friendship, he says: "She really trusted me and asked for advice. She needed somebody to trust."
Her death was a terrible shock to the prince, who does not believe she was suicidal. "She did not want to die," he says. "When it came on television that she died, I nearly got a heart attack. I just couldn't believe it, because she was full of pepper."
But he decided that the timing of their last rendezvous might put him in the running for the hotly contested title of father to her newborn infant, which DNA tests eventually awarded to photographer Larry Birkhead. "I thought it could be my baby," the prince says. "I would have loved to have that baby."
His public announcement that he had slept with Anna Nicole came as an unpleasant surprise to Zsa Zsa. "My wife knew I knew her, but she didn't know there was an affair," he says. "But she knows I will never leave her. She said one day to me, 'You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't bring them into my house.' She knows I suffer a lot. I mean, sure, when she says things like that, she suffers a little inside, but life is not a one-way street. She wants to give something."
Although Anna Nicole was widely considered a gold digger when she married billionaire Howard Marshall, who was 63 years her senior, the prince defends her motives. "She loved Howard Marshall," he insists. "He was a father to her. She did not go to bed with him, but she was very good to him."
Wait—Anna Nicole claimed she hadn't had sex with her own husband? "She said no," the prince replies with a shrug. "He was a rich man. All of a sudden he gets a young girl. She made him happy. That's what counts in life, to make your partner happy. When I die, I want to leave my money to people who made me happy, not people who gave me grief. So far my wife made me very happy. If my wife dies before me, I leave all the money to the animals."
How much money there might be remains mysterious. The forlorn mansion hints at financial difficulties, but the prince claims that he and Zsa Zsa have plenty of assets, even though Francesca Hilton's alleged attempt at fraud has cost them dearly. In 2005, Zsa Zsa and the prince filed a lawsuit charging that Francesca conspired to take out a $3.75 million loan against her mother's home and used the transaction to steal $2 million, with which she bought a home for herself and made investments in New York. Because of this, the prince says, their mortgage payments soared from $12,000 a month to $21,000, although he has not shared this disturbing fact with Zsa Zsa. The case is ongoing, but she is now trying to repair the estrangement from her daughter with regular phone conversations. "My client has been the victim of scurrilous allegations," Francesca's lawyer said. "She will have her day in court." According to Hilton's court papers, she has been living in the house in question since 1982 and claims that Gabor gave it to her "free and clear" in 1998. To the charges of abuse, Francesca has said, "You know what elder abuse is? That's what's happening with my mother. Frederic is trying to take everything. I refinanced the house with her permission in order to stop that."
Whatever their current bank balance, the prince has paid a considerable price for his perch in the gilded cage. "I wanted to meet a movie star, but married to a movie star—I will tell you the truth, I would not recommend it," he says. "It's very hard. You have to give up your life. It's not easy, but I know how to handle her. It's 21 years. She could have kicked me out; she kicked out nine husbands. But she didn't do it. I must have done something right."
And after all this time, he says, "It is not only love; it is not only friendship. You are glued together. You know everything about your partner. I cannot let go. She cannot let go."
But Zsa Zsa is deeply depressed by her disability. "Very often she gives up and says, 'I don't want to live anymore.' I twist it around and say, 'You've got to make the best out of it,'" the prince reports. "I take her out; I drive around a little bit. I keep her busy. I try to make her happy. I have her old movies; I put them from tape onto DVD. I put in a DVD and say, 'Look, they're showing a movie about you today!' That makes her so happy. She doesn't know how I do it. I'm a very positive guy. She likes that. If she had a guy a little bit negative, that would be a disaster. They would have killed each other."
He depends on her as well. "Life alone without her—I can't even think about it," he says, shaking his head. "I wouldn't know what to do. She was the best lover, the best friend—she was the best everything."
Zsa Zsa Gabor with her stepson and lover, the hotel heir Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr., and the actress Natalie Wood, at Mike Romanoff's restaurant after the premiere of the film Island in the Sun, June 13, 1957. By Bruce Bailey/Getty Images.
When the prince recalls their former life together, he grows more and more animated, his ruddy face flushing with excitement. "I met four presidents!" he exclaims. "We went to the White House! That was the biggest thing for me. My wife knew President Reagan and Nancy. I shake his hand—the most powerful man in the world! A guy comes out of a little village, you're nobody and nothing. I was frozen. He saw it, and he loosened me up. He started a conversation. It was a very nice talk I had with him. Then when the old President Bush was president, he came to L.A., and he was so nice and so friendly. There was a big ball and we were sitting on his table. You cannot top what I experienced in the Gabor family. If I would be sick in bed and close to die, I could say, 'I didn't miss anything!' She gave me the whole world."
But the prince remains irate about the accusation that he has incarcerated Zsa Zsa. "They say he locks up his wife. She sure is not locked up. That's stupid," he grumbles. The driveway to their house had to be repaved, he says, and the electronic front gates were disconnected while the repairs were going on, so the prince padlocked them when he went out.
He also insists that it's Zsa Zsa's choice not to receive or speak with friends: "When people want to talk to her, she says, 'I don't want to see them.' Then they say, 'He keeps her away from them!' What do you want me to do—fight her? It makes me very often sick. I want her to be out, to do things. She doesn't want to do it. She says to me, 'What can I say? What is there that people don't know about me? Whatever I can tell them, it's boring.' She doesn't want people to see her in a wheelchair. She wants people to remember her like she was years ago."
Indeed, reaching Zsa Zsa on the telephone proves almost as difficult as seeing her in person. The prince finally threatens once again to leave her, and she reluctantly gets on the phone. I ask her about Cindy Adams's claim that the prince prevents her from seeing people. "That was a stupid article," Zsa Zsa says. "I don't know why she wrote that."
So is she free to come and go as she pleases? "Of course I am. I don't have any complaints, except that I'm not in such good physical condition. But we are perfectly O.K. There is nothing wrong right now. I am taken care of very well. We have a very good marriage. He's very nice to me. He looks after me."
I ask Zsa Zsa what makes a good husband. "A nice faithful man," she says. Then she hangs up.
During the media frenzy over Anna Nicole Smith's baby, the prince was interviewed on television. At the time, Charlie Matthau, Walter's son, was preparing to direct Baby-O, a low-budget film musical written by David Proval, who played Richie Aprile on The Sopranos.
"I was watching Larry King, and on comes Freddy, and I thought, This guy is a natural!" says Matthau. "I asked my casting people to track him down."
Set in the Las Vegas jazz scene, Baby-O featured a mob boss named Sal Longoli. But Matthau was so entranced with Freddy that the mob boss was rewritten to become Adolph von Mecklenburg-Cronkite, an investment banker and deal-maker who lends the money to characters who want to build a casino. Matthau describes von Mecklenburg-Cronkite, who might be German or Austrian or Swiss, as "a lovable rogue, à la David Niven in Bedtime Story—a guy who may not always tell the truth, but you can't help being amused by him anyway."
Early this summer, Baby-O commenced filming in Las Vegas with an eclectic cast that included Theresa Russell, Eric Roberts, Buster Douglas, Robert Goulet, and Zsa Zsa's husband, who is playing the rogue, much to Matthau's delight.
"I love him," Matthau exclaims, laughing out loud. "He never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. How could you not love this guy? You'd have to have no sense of humor at all." After all this time as a supporting player, Prince Frédéric von Anhalt, the Duke of Saxony and consort of Bel Air Road, was ready for his close-up.
Perhaps his moment in the spotlight wasn't enough. Perhaps he was bored and wanted to amuse himself.
Or perhaps he really was held up by a gorgeous gang of larcenous lesbians, if not by space aliens.
On an otherwise unremarkable summer morning, von Anhalt was driving his Rolls-Royce near the Bel-Air Country Club when something happened. As he tells it, he was being followed by a car with three young women in it when they suddenly passed him and waved at him to stop. "One of the girls came out and said, 'We saw you on television—you make our day if you take a picture with us.' So I went out of the car and the other girls came out," the prince reports. "It happens all the time in Bel Air, because we have all the tourists; they come and want to see people. So I do it, because if you don't, they get mad. And I love to do it, especially if they have a couple of beautiful girls. I didn't know what was going to happen to me."
Prince Frédéric, still bound and naked in his Rolls-Royce, is photographed by paparazzi after his alleged robbery by a group of gun-toting young women. Flynet.
But as the young women crowded around him for the picture, he says, "all of a sudden I felt something hard in my neck. She said, 'Don't move—it's the real thing.' I do shooting myself, and I knew I had a gun in my neck. I believe it was a Heckler & Koch 9-mm. automatic, which is a very dangerous gun; it goes off very fast. I was so scared of the gun. I had to take off my watch—it was a platinum Rolex with diamonds all around—and then she told me to get undressed. So I took everything off, and she took the belt out of my pants and tied me on the steering wheel with my belt and pulled it tight. She kicked the door closed and took the key out of the car. They took my Rolex, my clothes, my wallet, my driver's license, and my key. It took me about five minutes to get my hands loose, and then I called 911."
But his problems were far from over. When the 911 operator connected him with the L.A. police department, he says, "the guy started laughing! It took them 50 minutes to come—in Bel Air! I don't have a car key; I couldn't get out, because I was completely nude. I didn't have nothing to cover myself. I called around to friends, but most of the people I couldn't reach. I stopped a Bel Air patrol that was passing by, and he was laughing too. Everybody was laughing, like I was a jerk!"
Eventually the police came and took him back to his house. Von Anhalt described his attackers as driving a white car with Florida license plates. "It looked to me like some kind of lesbian gang," he says.
The media had a field day; "wackadoodle" and "imbecilic" were among the milder terms applied to the prince. A picture of him naked with his wrists strapped to the steering wheel elicited more gleeful commentary, along with questions about why he was bound when the paparazzi arrived, despite having earlier untied his restraints in order to call for help.
Several internet gossip columnists suggested that von Anhalt frequents gay cruising areas and might have picked up the wrong person. Another claimed that, according to his stepdaughter Francesca, von Anhalt first told Zsa Zsa he had been robbed by three aliens, but she "told him to say it was three humans, because people would think he was crazy."
Frédéric, who insists he is telling the truth about what happened that day, has resigned himself to such reactions. "Nobody believes me," he says. "What can I do? It's insane—if you wrote a script about it, nobody would believe it—but it happened."
And with a life story like his own, not to mention Zsa Zsa's, who can blame him for holding fast to one of his most cherished convictions? "Anything can happen," he says.
Leslie Bennetts is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.