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Zsa Zsa’s a No-No Among the Burghers of Beverly Hills

Times Staff Writer

Longtime Beverly Hills resident Harold Wittner was rushing to a Rosh Hashanah service on Friday when somebody told him that Zsa Zsa Gabor had been convicted on three of four charges in her three-week trial at Beverly Hills Municipal Court.

Wittner burst into loud, cackling laughter. “Throw her in jail for 20 years!” he exclaimed. Then he shook his head philosophically. “I’ll pray for her.”

Near the scene of the crime, the diamond-studded celebrity offender wasn’t getting much sympathy in her hour of defeat.

“She thinks because she’s show business, she can do anything,” scoffed Sarah Schwimmer, another resident. “She’s no better than you or I. I don’t think she acted fair.”

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Bored, Not Amused

While Gabor, who lives in Bel-Air (“People who live in Beverly Hills do not behave like Miss Gabor,” sniffed one civic leader), was entertaining the rest of America with courtroom histrionics, Beverly Hills was either bored or not amused.

“She’s a very nice person,” said a saleswoman in Gorgissima, on Dayton Way, where Gabor sometimes shops. Others acknowledged Gabor’s charity work and her showmanship.

But mostly, in the chichi shops along Rodeo Drive a few blocks from the Courthouse, the salesmen and saleswomen professed Olympian disinterest in the trial. “Who is Zsa Zsa Gabor?” shrugged Leah Cabrera, who works in a store called Alaia. “She’s a woman with a lot of diamonds who knows how to find very rich men.”

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“If I see her on television, I switch the channel,” said a clerk in a haberdashery, asking that his name not be used.

Dismay at Perception

For the staid and low-profile, who are the backbone of the little city of multimillion-dollar mansions, there was dismay that the trial was promoting a growing perception of their city as an enclave of fast-living celebrities.

“In Beverly Hills, nobody is impressed by, quote, ‘celebrities,’ ” said Ellen Byrens, a prominent civic leader. “There’s a big community beyond Rodeo Drive.”

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And they don’t believe in things like ticket-fixing, she added. “I believe that whatever happens to someone else should happen to Miss Gabor,” Byrens said. “I’m not interested in what her Austrian husband says about the rich people who pay all the taxes.”

Many expressed repugnance at what they saw as a plea for preferential treatment by Gabor’s husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, who is actually German. “I think the rich and famous should be judged differently,” he said the other day.

One Beverly Hills matron, who attended the trial regularly, shook her head in disgust. “Even the 95-year-old lady in the grocery store--she knows the mayor, she knows the councilman,” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld. “Who isn’t a prima donna?”

But none expect preferential treatment from the police, she said. “If I drove away from an officer, no matter how rude, I wouldn’t even get a chance to slap him,” she said.

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Behind the elegant facades, Beverly Hills is a varied place, Mayor Max Salter said. Besides the rich and famous, there are doctors, merchants, engineers and other professionals--"the largest part of the population,” he said.

But misperceptions of Beverly Hills are understandable, Salter said, because few see the real Beverly Hills. “The paparazzi don’t chase retailers around,” he said.


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