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Entertainment & Arts

From the Archives: That time we spent the day with Zsa Zsa Gabor and the prince at their ranch

Her nine marriages and reputation for shaving years off her age made her a pop-culture punch line.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, who pioneered a modern version of celebrity — she was famous for being famous — died Dec. 18, 2016, of heart failure in her Bel-Air mansion. She was 99. In a 1990 article, the celebrity allowed a Times reporter to come along as she visited her Ventura County horse ranch.

The morning had begun badly, and Zsa Zsa Gabor was still shaken hours later. Schatzi the German shepherd had attacked Genghis Kahn the Shih Tzu, injuring the lap dog’s eye in an apparent fit of jealousy.

“Oh, I can’t be-LIEVE it!" Gabor declared. “Heart attack time, darling. I thought I would have a heart attack!”

Parental anxiety lingered throughout the day, following Gabor and Prince Frederick von Anhalt of West Germany, her eighth husband, from their hilltop mansion in Bel-Air to their recently purchased horse ranch in Ventura County.

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It was only the third or fourth trip the actress had made to the ranch since buying it. She had invited along a reporter who had asked permission to visit her on the spread.

Like doting parents preoccupied with sibling rivalry, Gabor and the prince mulled over the dogfight during their road trip, in the stables and again at lunch, recounting its horror and analyzing their pets’ personalities with gusto.

“Ja, ja, ja, it was so terrible,” murmured the prince, who had driven the injured Genghis Khan to the dog’s West Los Angeles vet and now steered toward the Ventura County countryside. “He was looking at me and it was so pitiful and he was bleeding and crying and my heart was breaking.”

“Schatzi is just another jealous woman," Gabor observed to the prince, as she sat hunkered down in the passenger’s seat with a Shih Tzu named Macho Man. “If you would make such a fuss about another woman, I’d shoot you!”

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And so it went during the jaunt a few days ago to the Silver Fox Farm in Somis. Love and animals, animals and love. She sipped coffee from a plastic mug that read “Married but Not Dead,” its slogan affirmed by the giant pear-shaped diamond ring on her finger. His said, “Happiness is Being Single.”

Prince Frederick drove not the famous Rolls-Royce in which Gabor was arrested last June but a proletarian Chevy station wagon. Its hood was festooned with a silver polo player bought in London, its maroon interior was slathered in dog hair.

Gabor cuddled Macho Man and Zoltan Gabor — “our grandson” — and a second Shih Tzu on the trip, delivering a stream-of-consciousness monologue about her life, her husbands, her real estate, her dogs, her horses. And, inevitably, her treatment at the hands of the Beverly Hills police.

Well, what can happen? What is the worst thing that can happen? I go to jail for two days. Big deal.
Zsa Zsa Gabor

“Well, what can happen? What is the worst thing that can happen?” asked Gabor, whose conviction for slapping a patrolman is on appeal. “I go to jail for two days. Big deal.”

Gabor’s publicist says she bought the horse ranch on Sand Canyon Road in Somis because she was fed up with Beverly Hills and planned to retire there. But, although Gabor stated: “I’ve had it with Beverly Hills!” and acknowledged her Bel-Air home is for sale, she denied any plans to withdraw from city life, much less retire.

“I don’t want to retire as long as I live,” she said. “What the hell do I want to retire for?”

Instead, as Gabor explained it, the ranch fulfills a lifelong dream of raising horses, especially Tennessee walking horses, which she admires for their elegant gait and smooth ride. All seven horses Gabor owns are Tennessee walkers, although only two — Miss Scarlet Honey and her son Red Baron —- have been moved to the ranch. The rest, including her favorite white steed, Silver Fox, remain for now with their trainer in Chino.

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So far, she has acquired 21 acres for $1.75 million, roughly half the Rancho de Courtesy owned by Chevrolet dealer Mitchell McClure and his wife, Eva (source of the station wagon). Gabor said she plans to buy more land to create a working ranch as large as 60 acres, possibly from her Los Angeles veterinarian Richard Gebhart, who owns a neighboring ranch and referred her to the McClure property.

(“I don’t judge people as to their celebrity status,” Gebhart said by phone last week. “I judge people by how they take care of their animals. And she takes excellent care of her animals. She definitely cares for them.”)

About 50 horses are already boarded at the ranch, and Gabor said she plans to take on more, as well as buy some racehorses.

“The horses are going to be looked after like babies,” she said as the station wagon roared along the freeway at Autobahn speed. “You’ll see our grandson, Red Baron, and his mother is pregnant again.”

Talk of pregnancy led to talk of love, and love led to marriage, which led to divorce. Gabor had advice for Ivana Trump.

“If Mrs. Trump is so in love with Mr. Trump, she shouldn’t ask for his money, she should just sit back and wait, because eventually he’ll come back to his children and his wife,” she said.

“Look, darling, a man like that, with three beautiful children, a wife who’s a friend, of course he’ll come back. This is just sexual attraction with that starlet or whatever she is. She should wait like a lady, a European lady.”

Gabor’s only child, daughter Francesca Hilton, is unmarried and has no children, a fact the actress mentioned several times during the trip, especially as she inquired about a visitor’s family and love life. At one point, Gabor appeared to let down her guard and remarked that her daughter might be afraid to marry because of her own celebrated series of divorces.

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“It cannot be easy for her, you know," Gabor reflected. “To be the daughter of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Conrad Hilton.”

But that subject was dismissed as quickly as it was raised. Soon the ranch came into view, its hillside orange groves and graceful rows of eucalyptus trees an oasis from miles of traffic and tract housing.

Zsa Zsa Gabor riding her Tennessee Walking horse “Silver Fox” in the Huntington Beach Fourth of July Parade.
Zsa Zsa Gabor riding her Tennessee Walking horse "Silver Fox" in the Huntington Beach Fourth of July Parade.
(Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times )

“Silver Fox! I wish my Silver Fox were here!” cried Gabor. “I love that horse more than anything in the world.”

Once at the ranch, Gabor fed raw carrots to her charges and strolled through the stables, planning how to repaint them. Maybe red and green, the colors of Frederick’s family coat of arms and the Hungarian flag. Maybe purple, with gold medallions, like the Duke of Marlborough’s stables.

“Here we come! Here we come to feed our children!” she sang as she entered the stalls, looking for Red Baron, a rust-colored colt with a crimson ribbon in his hair.

“Where is my honey child? He’s gorgeous. He’s a love. Hi, love! Hi, Red Baron! My grandson, my angel.”

Gabor recalled that when Red Baron was born, she was dressing for a party. She was so excited, she said, and her hands were trembling so much that she was been unable to open her safe to take out her jewels. “I went to the party without one jewelry on. I couldn’t open the combination, I was so excited.”

Gabor nuzzled the colt. Red Baron returned her affection, rubbing his nose on her chest.

As the prince rode, Gabor made a quick walking tour of the grounds with horse trainer and longtime rancher Victor Puentes, efficiently ticking off a list of orders. That cleaned up, this removed. Red Baron should be gelded. A tenant must leave a small rented house, and a trailer will be donated to the homeless.

A modest, cinder-block house will be transformed into an English cottage for guests, Gabor said, and eventually she will build a large house for herself and the prince. Gabor also said she plans a horse show and a “Dallas"-style barbecue in the spring.

She was dressed in beige riding pants, a matching down vest and black “Frankfurt Am Main” sweat shirt she said the prince picked up at a West German airport. Despite the casual attire and her age, now believed to be 72, Gabor looked every bit the star and primped with abandon.

Her blond hair was pulled back in a French braid and tied with a large, black velvet bow. Diamond-studded hoops swung down from her ears, and a fashionably large, simply designed watch hung from her neck. (“Not a stopwatch,” she said. “Nothing can stop me.”)

A look at her Hermes saddle from Paris, a quick bit of business with Eva McClure, then a toast to her new venture. “Let’s open a bottle of Champagne,” she said to the prince, launching anew into Genghis Kahn’s attack. “I had such a terrible morning!”

On the way back to Bel-Air, they stopped for a late lunch at the Top Notch, a Moorpark restaurant with paper place mats, lace curtains and a menu emphasizing barbecue. “I’m really just a peasant at heart," Gabor said. She may have been booed in the Rose Parade, but in Moorpark she was received like a queen.

“A lady over here says your movies don’t do you justice,” a waitress confided. “You’re more beautiful in real life.”

“Well, tell her that I love her dearly," Gabor replied.

Although they claim to love country food and Gabor nearly ordered pork chops with sauce, she and the prince both settled on chef’s salads, then fastidiously removed all the cheese and much of the ham.

“The cheese, I’ll take the cheese for the kids,” she told the prince as they concentrated on their plates.

“Ja, ja ja. They like it.”

After lunch, Prince Frederick headed straight for the station wagon, carrying the cheese in a Styrofoam takeout container to the yelping Macho Man and Zoltan Gabor.

Gabor stopped in at the Toy Attic, where she bought two windup horses called Pony Pals and chatted with proprietor Gigi Smith about toys in general and husband No. 6, Barbie Doll creator Jack Ryan, in particular.

“I married Jack Ryan just because he made the Barbie Dolls,” she said. “He was impossible.”

The prince stood in the toy store’s doorway and said, “Come!" Gabor left the shop.

The station wagon headed south for Bel-Air. Prince Frederick and Gabor laughed over the wiggling, mechanical Pony Pals. The dogs clambered for the cheese.

“Ja, you like that, don’t you? And a little piece of ham in between?” cooed the prince, as Gabor snuggled with her children most of the way home.

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