It’s fair to say that the most shocking people in the media spotlight in America today is the Kardashian family. Somehow this group of sisters managed to turn 15 minutes of fame—fame that many feel was undeserved—into a full-time career, a media empire, and millions of dollars.
Yet, they weren’t the first trio of sisters to turn their personal lives into the talk of the world. In fact, the Gabor sisters beat them to it by more than 50 years. Magda, Zsa Zsa and Eva were all born during the time of World War I and by the 1950s they were bringing scandal to sophisticated society the world over.
A Little Background
The Gabor sisters came from a Hungarian-Jewish background. Their father was Vilmos Gabor and he served as a major in the Hungarian Army and their mother, Jolie Gabor, was the heiress to a jewelry empire.
Magda was born in 1915, Zsa Zsa in 1917 and Eva in 1919. If they had remained in Hungary they might never have caught anyone’s attention but that wasn’t what fate had in store for them – they fled Hungary during World War II as a family and headed for the safety of American shores. Their route to freedom was not a simple one.
Arriving in America
Jolie Gabor and the majority of the family left Hungary in 1944 but they didn’t arrive in America until December 1945 as they made their way across war-torn Europe. Magda Gabor didn’t make it until the middle of 1946. She was already engaged in a minor scandal in Hungary where her “friendship” with Carlos Sampaio Garrido, the Portuguese ambassador, was under increasing scrutiny.
Rumors of an affair, followed by speculation of an official engagement, set tongues wagging but there’s never been any official proof that she was more than an aide to Carlos in his duties.
The Talent Of Attracting Men
While the girls grew up in Budapest Hungary, they were raised by their mother Jolie. Jolie was determined to give her daughters a good life. She was said to have recognized the beauty her daughters possessed, ironically her own name meaning pretty in French, and taught them how to attract wealthy men.
Apparently, Jolie also owned and operated a successful brothel. It was through her business that allowed her and her daughters to move to the United States in 1946, which was at the height of WWII. At this time, eldest daughter Magda had already begun her career as an actress and she and her two sisters planned to continue the career in Hollywood.
Jolie Gabor = Early Kris Jenner
In the same way that Kris Jenner is said to be domineering her famous daughters’ careers, so did Jolie Gabor. In fact, some might go so far as to say as she paved the road for momagers as we know them.
Jolie believed that if she trained her daughters in things that rich people were accustomed to doing, her daughters would also become rich. However, she certainly did not want her daughters to be completely submissive to a man, but rather hold their own as an equal. Jolie once said, “’When you can support yourself, you can choose your husbands. You have not to be the slave of a rich man.”
How To Land A Man According To Jolie
Although Jolie guided her daughters and was certainly a product of her time, she was also a bit ahead of her time. She did not believe that women existed solely for the benefit of men but rather women could engineer their own lives. According to Jolie, she believed that women could pick their own husbands if they were successful on their own.
She also said in order to “catch” a husband and to have a successful marriage you must have, ”Beauty to capture, brains to hold. Brains are important because if a man is just looking for beauty, he can buy a beautiful painting. Then a good disposition. A nagging wife can kill a husband. A marriage is something between two, and I always feel much sorry for a man to make a bad marriage than a woman because he has to pay for it. In money, I mean. And two made the mistake.” So make from that what you will.
More Scandal for Magda
Magda had been married to Jan Bychowsky in Hungary in 1937 and her “affairs” with Carlos Sampaio Garrido took place until his death in 1944. However, when she fled Hungary – she is reputed to have shacked up with a Spanish nobleman along the way Jose Luis de Vilallonga.
It didn’t take long to shake off the Spanish influence in New York and within a few months of her arrival in America, she took her second husband – William M. Rankin – who was a playwright and screenwriter.
That didn’t last long though and she divorced him in Los Angeles in August of 1947.
Magda Marries Again and Again
Magda wasn’t content to stop with one American husband and by July, 1949, she was walking up the aisle once again. This time she was back in New York and marrying Sidney Robert Warren who was a practicing attorney. Magda must have been practicing at marriage because by 1950 they were divorced.
She then went on to marry Arthur “Tony” Gallucci. He was the president of Samuel Gallucci and son, one of America’ oldest contracting companies in the building trade. They proved to be a good match and only parted company after he passed away from cancer in 1967.
And There’s More for Magda
Magda went into mourning following the loss of Arthur Gallucci and it would be 3 years before she married again. It’s important to remember that a single divorce was a scandal in that time but what came next was a huge shock to the world.
Magda married George Sanders, a British actor, who had previously been married to her sister Zsa Zsa! We can only assume it was family pressure that led to the annulment of their union a single month later.
Her sixth and final marriage came in 1972 to Tibor Heltai, a real-estate broker, they divorced in 1975 and Magda never married again.
Eva Enters the Limelight
Magda had only briefly graced the silver screen and only in her native Hungary but her sister Eva was to become a minor star and help to propel the family name and all its dirty laundry into the public eye.
Her debut performance came in the Paramount Pictures motion picture, Forced Landing. The film is not particularly memorable except as a vehicle for Eva Gabor. It was a firm “B movie” grade action flick, based on an imaginary tale of air force heroism, and Gabor’s acting is particularly poor in her screen breakthrough. However, it still spawned two sequel movies.
Eva Briefly Becomes the 1950s Oprah Winfrey
Eva, despite her acting career’s rocky start, was too attractive to be kept off screen and in 1953, she was given an opportunity to bring celebrity news and gossip to the nation in the form of The Eva Gabor Show.
It was a chat show but rather more limited in scope and format than the vehicle which would send Oprah Winfrey into every living room in the land. Instead, Eva had a mere 15 minutes a week on screen and had to interview a series of celebrity guests. The show didn’t last and was quickly canned in 1954.
Eva and Green Acres
Eva finally broke through into the mainstream and the memory of the American public in 1965. She starred in Green Acres a sitcom that had been produced as a “sister” to the successful Petticoat Junction. Both shows aired on CBS.
Green Acres was a hit. It ran for six years and was never poorly rated. Unfortunately, for all of the cast and not just Eva, it was to fall victim to the “rural purge” of CBS in 1971. CBS felt that it was time to shift the focus of American television to urban settings and shows like Green Acres, set in rural landscapes, were simply axed to make room for new shows whether they were performing or not.
Eva Voiced Some Of Your Fav Cartoons
In addition to being well known for being on shows like Green Acres, Eva also voiced the characters of some of your favorite cartoons. She voiced the part of The Duchess in the famous 1970 Disney film, The Aristocrats as well as the voice of Miss Bianca in both The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under.
Eva was certainly the part of many people’s childhoods without them even knowing it! Eva continued to appear in various sitcoms throughout the 1980s including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Hart to Hart. The Rescuers Down Under was actually one of her very last film roles before her death in 1997.
Eva’s Love Life Was Also Rocky
Eva wasn’t married quite as many times as her sister Magda but it was a close-run thing. Eva’s first marriage came in 1937 in London to Eric Valdemar Drimmer, a Swedish masseur and osteopath.
The couple divorced in 1942 in Los Angeles. It wasn’t a happy ending to the marriage and Eva claimed in an interview that the divorce was because, “I wanted to have babies and lead a simple family life but my husband objected to me having children.” In 1943 Eva claimed her second husband, Charles Isaacs, an investment broker. They divorced in 1949.
Eva Marries Thrice More
In 1956, it was the turn of John Elbert Williams M.D., a practicing plastic surgeon, to tie the knot with Eva. He was even less successful than his predecessors and the marriage lasted less than a year before ending in divorce.
Eva found a longer-lasting form of love in the form of Richard Brown, a textile manufacturer, and their marriage ran from 1959 to 1973 before the courts let the couple go their separate ways.
Her final marriage in 1973 was to Frank Gard Jameson Sr., a vice president of Rockwell International. They parted ways in 1983 but not before Gabor had become stepmother to his children.
Zsa Zsa Gabor Begins Her Rise To Fame Early
Of the three Gabor sisters, by far the most famous was Zsa Zsa Gabor. While her sisters’ marriages were minor scandals, Zsa Zsa’s prominence in the public eye meant that her every move was scrutinized and nearly every move that she made was reported everywhere around the world.
Her fame began in Hungary where she was crowned Miss Hungary in 1936. She had also appeared on the stage in an operetta, after being discovered by Richard Tauber, a famous tenor of the time. The operetta was called “The Singing Dream” (Der Singende Traum) at the Theater an der Wien and was widely praised at the time.
The Queen of the Scandal
Zsa Zsa’s marital exploits put her sisters in the shade. She was married an incredible 9 times! Once she was asked, “How many husbands have you had?”
She responded, “You mean other than my own?”
She began by marrying Burhan Asaf Belge, a leading Turkish intellectual and eventual member of the Turkish National Assembly in 1937 and they would divorce in 1941.
She went on to marry Conrad Hilton in 1942 and said of their marriage, “I soon discovered that my marriage to Conrad meant the end of my freedom. My own needs were completely ignored: I belonged to Conrad.” Not surprisingly – they parted in 1947.
Two More Husbands
George Henry Sanders, the English film and TV actor, who would also end up married to Zsa Zsa’s sister for a single month came next in 1949. They appeared together in the movie Death of a Scoundrel in 1956 a year after their divorce.
Sanders would come to a tragic end and committed suicide in 1972 with an overdose of barbiturates. His death would once again draw scandal to the Gabor name.
Her next husband 1962-1966 was Herbert Hutner, a banker, attorney and philanthropist. Their marriage came to an end because Zsa Zsa claims that he was too good to her and she almost lost her drive because of it.
More Husbands for Zsa Zsa
“I am a marvelous housekeeper: Every time I leave a man I keep his house,” Zsa Zsa once quipped, and it wasn’t far from the truth.
She married Joshua S. Cosden in 1966 and it was barely a year before they divorced in 1967. Then came Jack Ryan, strangely famous in his own right as the inventor of Mattel’s Barbie doll (which might even have been inspired by Zsa Zsa Gabor,) in 1975. He was back on his own in 1976.
Then she took up with Michael O’Hara and they lasted a rather more substantial six years before divorcing in 1983.
The Briefest Marriage Of Them All
Zsa Zsa Gabor’s marriage to the Mexican attorney Felipe de Alba, may have been one of the briefest periods of wedlock in history.
They were married on April, 13, 1983 and the marriage was dissolved by annulment on April, 14, 1983. The reason? It turned out that the paperwork to end her previous marriage to Michael O’Hara hadn’t been processed properly and she wasn’t legally allowed to marry Felipe.
It was probably a good thing for Felipe’s wallet as the couple would break up soon later and he moved to New York City where he lived until he died in 2005.
A Happily Ever After, At Last
Zsa Zsa Gabor finally hit a permanent relationship with her ninth husband, the German-American entrepreneur Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
The “von Anhalt” of his name is a German title which he bought by paying the Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt to formally adopt him as her heir.
Amusingly, he would repay the favor by adopting 10 male heirs, each of whom would pay him $2 million for the privilege. Despite this being illegal in Germany.
He wed Zsa Zsa in 1986 and the couple remained married until that she passed away in 2016. He appears to have loved her very much, although some questioned his intentions.
A Questionable “Prince”
Frederic Prinz von Anhalt is strange enough to warrant his own slide. Before Zsa Zsa Frederic was married an astounding seven times, and was also known for his flamboyant lifestyle. Many people as though he was taking advantage of Zsa Zsa, especially in her later years.
In addition to purchasing a “royal” title, Frederic also once claimed to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daughter Dannilynne, after Anna’s tragic drug overdose death. He even allegedly gave DNA in order to be tested to see if he was the father. Although, this was clearly not the case, it seemed as though the spectacle of it all excited him enough. Frederic’s love of the limelight is what made those close to Zsa Zsa and even her fans, eyed him with suspicion.
Zsa Zsa’s Only Child
Despite being married nine times, Zsa Zsa’s only had one child, Constance Francesca Hilton. According to her autobiography, Francesca was conceived when she was raped by Conrad Hilton, her husband.
Zsa Zsa and Conrad would divorce before Francesca was even born. Francesca went on to tell the LA Times in 2007 that she spent the holidays with her father as well as the occasional upscale lunch, but the two by no means were close. In fact, when he passed away in 1979, he only left her a mere $100,000 out of his $200 million estates, with the majority of the money going to his charity.
Francesca Challenges The Will
Following her father’s death, Francesca sued to challenge the will but lost in court. During the same time, her half-brother, Barron Hilton, also challenged the estate in probate court but he walked away with voting interest and income rights over the majority of Hilton Hotel corporate stock.
Since he was already acting as CEO of the company, he dramatically increased the value and holdings of the Hilton empire. He eventually became a Forbes 400-ranked billionaire. He later announced that his estate plan, like his father’s, would leave the large majority of his holdings to charity when he dies.
Francesca Tries To Make Ends Meet
Unlike her rich niece, Paris Hilton, Francesa stopped enjoying the support of wealthy parents decades ago. As a result, she tried to make ends meets in a variety of ways. From acting and stand-up comedy to working for her father’s charitable foundations, she tried her hand at a number of jobs.
Meanwhile, she sat back and watched her mother get married six more times after her father before she would eventually settle down with Frederic Prinz von Anhalt in 1986.
Francesca Vs. Frederic
Once Zsa Zsa fell into ill health, Francesca began to butt heads with Frederic. Zsa Zsa began to become more and more incapacitated by her health issues including having full blown dementia and being unable to speak. Francesca accused Frederic of withholding her mother from her.
Ultimately, Francesca passed away shortly before her own mother of an unexpected stroke. At this point, Frederic even attempted to claim her body. However, the medical examiner in Los Angeles denied him the right. Ultimately, her body was claimed by Barron Hilton, her half-brother, and the Hilton family laid her to rest.
Francesa Works Odd Jobs
Despite her rocky upbringing, Francesa managed to have a somewhat successful career in show business. She stared in A Safe Place in 1971, which featured Tuesday Weld, Orson Welles, and Jack Nicholson. Three years later in 1974, she had a small role in The Gravy Train, which starred Stacy Keach and Frederic Forrest.
Following her roles on the big screen, Francesca worked as a photographer in the 1980s before working at her late father’s foundation. She made a career shift in 2008, trying her hand at comedy. She was a regular performer at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood.
Francesca Passes Away In 2015
Sadly, Francesca passed away on January 5, 2015, at age 67. She died at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a major stroke. Her stepfather fought to take possession of her body but was rejected by the Los Angeles coroner, so she remained in a morgue until her half-brother, Barron, was given her body.
At the time of her death, Zsa Zsa was 98 years old and suffering dementia. She was unaware that her daughter had even passed away. Zsa Zsa died just the following year.
Zsa Zsa’s Glamorous Mugshot
In true socialite fashion, Zsa Zsa, of course, took one of the more glamorous mugshots we’ve seen. The socialite was arrested on June 14, 1989, in Beverly Hills, California after slapping a police officer.
It’s not exactly easy to look pulled together under those harsh fluorescent lights of the slammer. But with her hair perfectly teased and coifed, statement jewelry and that slightly mischevious look, Zsa Zsa pulls it off. We can help but be reminded of similar socialite mugshots of the early 2000s and beyond from Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Khloe Kardashian and more.
Zsa Zsa Cries In Court
Although her mugshot may have been glamorous, Zsa Zsa’s charges were still serious. She was not only accused of slapping police officer Paul Kramer in the face after he stopped her for a traffic violation, she was also driving without a license and with an open container of alcohol.
The Hungarian actress had a full flask of Jack Daniel’s in her $215,000 Rolls-Royce when she drove away from the traffic stop. Although she may have been a socialite, she didn’t get off scotch free.
The Slappers Goes To The Slammer
On July 27, 1990, Zsa Zsa started her three-day sentence. She was photographed wearing a large orange sweatshirt at the El Segundo city jail after starting her sentence imposed by Beverly Hills Municipal Judge Charles Rubin last October of 1989.
Zsa Zsa’a lawyer, Harrison Bull, was able to make special arrangements for the actress so she could serve her time under an El Segundo program that charged $85 a day for a cell and food for prisoners who qualify for a weekend jail program. She was released on July 30, 1990.
Met By Fans And Media Crew Outside The Jail
Bull escorted Zsa Zsa to the city jail as she surrendered. Although it was supposed to be confidential, when the pair arrived, they were met by photographers, reporters, television crews, and fans of the actress. Reports show that there 40 or so media crew alone outside.
Amidst the sea of media crew, Zsa Zsas’ fan showed up to the city jail to show their support. In the photo above, you can see that fans made homemade signs protesting the actress’s sentence.
Posing For The Camera In 1953
One thing socialites have in common is that it seems like they have an endless stream of stunning photos of them—typically looking effortlessly stunning—and leaving us wondering who takes all of these amazing pictures of you?
This is very much true of today’s socialites who post a slew of posed photos of themselves looking amazing all over their social media feeds. While this black and white film photograph of Zsa Zsa predates any social media by a few decades, it still reminds of the socialists today…with much more old-school glamour.
Zsa Zsa’s Signature Pose 40 Years Later
Four decades later and Zsa Zsa was still looking effortlessly stunning while rocking her signature laid-back pose. Only this time, she is pictured poolside at her Bel Air Mansion.
Here, Zsa Zsa was 75 years old but still looks amazingly youthful. We can’t help but be reminded of the countless celebrities who have posed for similar photographs poolside at their lavish homes. This was just three years after her run-in with the law where she served three days in jail. Although the experience was hard on the socialite, it set her on a better path.
Three Generations Of Gabors
In this iconic photograph, three generations of Gabors gather in the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria, circa 1955. This black and white portrait captured a rare moment of family togetherness.
From left to right: (top row) Madga (1919 – 1997), ‘Mama’ Jolie (1894 – 1997) and Eva Gabor (1919 – 1995); (bottom row) Zsa Zsa and Papa (Vilmos) Gabor and Francesca Hilton, age 8, Zsa Zsa’s daughter with Conrad Hilton. Surprisingly, Francesca is the only child from the combined 20 marriages of the three Gabor sisters.
Zsa Zsa Lived Life In The Fast Lane
Zsa Zsa may have been known for her nine husbands, but she also had an impressive collection of exquisite automobiles. In fact, the actress owned more cars than she did husbands!
Here, Zsa Zsa poses with her new Rolls Royce in April 1978 in Los Angeles, California. The Silver Cloud II was one of only 299 examples of the 2716 Cloud IIs that had long wheelbases. In true Zsa Zsa fashion, her car had tons of personalizations. From etched windows to a golden crust of lavish paint, automotive Hollywood legend George Barris tailored the car for her to show off during the 1978 Auto Expo.
Zsa Zsa’s Other Exquisite Rides
Zsa Zsa owned a slew of other cars that were especially over the top, but not all of them were purchased by her. Her is Zsa Zsa pictured with her Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing. This luxury vehicle was gifted to her by Porfirio Rubirosa. Rubirosa was a Dominican diplomat, racing car driver, and a polo player. He wanted to show Zsa Zsa his appreciation after she showed his nephew around Hollywood.
Aside from Sophia Loren, Zsa Zsa had one of the most enviable Mercedes around. This gift turned out to be a great investment for Zsa Zsa too as the cars easily sell for more than $1 million today.
Zsa Zsa’s Studebaker Lark
Although not nearly as glamorous as a Rolls Royce or Mercedes-Benz, Zsa Zsa also drove a Studebaker Lark, which is worth mentioning. The Studebaker Lark was produced for just seven years from 1959 to 1966 in Southbend, Indiana.
Zsa Zsa appeared in a commercial for Studebaker Lark, in which she hilariously showcased the car’s numerous features. Taking the viewer on a “tour” of the car, she shows how the flat, carpeted floors won’t break your high heels and how the vanity helps you ensure your makeup is always perfect.
Zsa Zsa’s Other Love: Her Dogs
Zsa Zsa may have had nine husbands, but her real love was her dogs. The actress has numerous poodles and Shih Tzus and has said in interviews that she loved to throw parties for her pups, during which she would even make hot dogs for them on her beloved hot dog machine.
In August 2011, the last of Zsa Zsa’s dogs passed away and the actres was heartbroken. In an interview, her husband told reporters: “The last of my wife’s dogs died recently, Macho, her little Shih Tzu. A couple years earlier, her other two Shih Tzus, Ruby and Zolan died. We can’t have any more dogs around the house because there’s so many nurses and help coming and going.”
She Was Superstitious
Zsa Zsa was known for her striking beauty and over the top personality. She was always seen dressed to the nines, wearing fabulous clothes and donning beautiful makeup.
But the star had her share of beauty regimens—some of which may be considered quite unusual. Apparently, the late actress would religiously cook a goulash recipe that included ginger snaps in it. She claimed that it was one of her secrets to healthy, glowing skin. Another one of her secrets? Zsa Zsa said numerous times that she ate a single piece of green peppe every day to stay youthful. It may have worked too, since she lived to be 99 years old.
Eva Passes Away
The first Gabor sister to die was the youngest, Eva. Eva had always felt that her reputation as the “good Gabor” wasn’t an accurate portrayal of her character and that she had caused every bit as much of a stir as her two older sisters. Although she professed her strong love for her sisters, too.
She broke her hip in a fall on June 21, 1995, and was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai medical center the same day. On the 4th of July, Eva passed away due to complications from the fall, multiple infections and respiratory problems. She was 74 years old.
Magda Enters the Pearly Gates
Magda Gabor lived the latter part of her life in silence. She had suffered a massive stroke which left her unable to speak for nearly 30 years. This didn’t stop her from becoming a well-known Palm Springs hostess though, and it may be that her later years were her happiest.
She would also be the next to depart the earth. Her mother died in April of 1997 and Magda would only survive her by two months. Her liver failed and she died just five days shy of her 82nd birthday in hospital. She was laid to rest in Desert Memorial Park in California.
Zsa Zsa Bids the World Adieu
Zsa Zsa Gabor was perhaps the world’s ultimate socialite. She passed away in 2016 at the age of 99. She had planned to move back to Hungary on her 100th birthday and live her remaining days in the country of her birth. A plan that her husband had fervently supported.
She had been sick for many years following a stroke in 2005 and a broken hip in 2010. It was a heart attack which finally took her life. She will be remembered as the woman who said, “I deserve attention not because of any talent, but just because of who I am.”
Adopted Son Tragedy
In a strange turn of events, one of the “sons” adopted by Frederic Prinz von Anhalt and Zsa Zsa, died almost simultaneously with famous adoptive mother. Oliver Prinz von Anhalt was known to be a flamboyant party type figure much like his adoptive father.
However, tragedy struck in the Christmas season of 2016, when he suffered a fatal motorcycle accident. Oliver crashed his motorcycle on December 18th 2016, the same day that Zsa Zsa passed away. He too passed away only days later on Christmas day at the age of 45. Certainly quite the strange phenomenon for the two to pass away so close together!
Paris Hilton On Zsa Zsa
Zsa Zsa Gabor was once married to Conrad Hilton, hotel heir and great-grandfather to Paris Hilton. As fate would have it, Paris almost followed in the footsteps of her would be great-grandmother becoming one of the first modern “reality” socialites. Paris, as it was, actually made way for the empire that would one day become the Kardashian family.
Kim first got her start appearing in the media and on Paris’ reality show. Needless to say, although Paris’ great-grandfather and Zsa Zsa were said to have a rough marriage, to say the least, the remaining Hilton family still offered their condolences on her passing. Paris took to Twitter to express hers saying, ‘Sad to hear the news of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s passing. My great-grandfather and her made such a beautiful couple. May she rest in peace.’
Remembering The Bel Air Fire Of 1961
As wildfires ravished southern California in December 2017, we are reminded of the devastating fires of yesteryear. With their wild and unforgiving nature, fires don’t care whether you’re rich or famous—which was a lesson Zsa Zsa and other wealthy individuals living in Bel Air learned in November 1961.
It was that year that the Santa Ana winds fueled a fire that claimed nearly 500 homes near Bel Air. In addition to Zsa Zsa, other notable residents included Maureen O’Hara, Fred MacMurray, and Richard Nixon. The event was referred to by one local paper as “A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink.”
Socialites Of Yesteryear
In today’s “like”-obsessed times, social media has shaped how we view socialites more than ever. Not only has it given socialites like the Kardashians and Hilton sisters a platform to document and showcase their lives, but it’s paving the way for an entirely new generation of socialites to come.
The Gabor sisters are proof that socialites have been around long before the Kardashian became popular and infiltrated every aspect of the media. But the Gabor sisters weren’t the only ones to make waves either. Check out the other socialites of decades past next.
Caroline Astor was said to be the “grandmother of all socialites” pre-dating even the Gabor sisters. NY Magazine also referred to her as the “original American snob”. Caroline was the wife of William Astor, a businessman, racehorse breeder and yachtsman.
They had a son named John Jacob who died aboard the famed Titanic. From her name stems the original Waldorf Astoria hotel, although the original was ultimately torn down in order to build the Empire State building. Although, obviously another Waldorf Astoria was later rebuilt and remains famous until today. Caroline was definitely considered to be the pinnacle of socialite society during the mid to late 1800s and up until her death in 1908.
A more recent, and even more famous version of a socialite is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie O, was famously the First Lady of the United States and was also the widow of John F. Kennedy. The two were said to be very in love at some point although her husband reportedly engaged in multiple extramarital affairs.
Before marrying JFK, Jackie was already set up for socialite status as the daughter of Wall Street stockbroker John Vernou Bouvier III and his wife and socialite Janet Lee Bouvier. After the assassination of JFK, Jackie went on to marry Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The two remained married until his death in 1975.
Edie Sedgwick was born into a family with high wealth and social status. Her family included famous painter Edith Minturn Stokes. Her family also had ties to the original colonies and the American Revolution. However, Edie also had a difficult time as a youngster, with her even being institutionalized as a teenager due to an eating disorder. Ultimately, she became involved with Andy Warhol’s Factory and starred in several of his films.
Sadly, as many of the time period, she developed severe drug addictions and again had to be hospitalized. She later died from an accidental overdose at only twenty eight years old. However, her immense personality has lived on in the decades past and she even had a film made about her called Factory Girl which starred actress Sienna Miller. Edie also had multiple famous songs written about her over the years which includes the Velvet Undergrounds Femme Fatale and Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman.
Alva Vanderbilt was one of the first famous socialites in America. Although married previously and even having children she later married William Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius. And through him she came to fame with the prominence of the Vanderbilt family in the United States.
Although already a powerful family, the social status enjoyed by the Vanderbilt’s was largely because of the insistence of Alva. Allegedly, there was some social competition between Alva and Caroline Astor, the other main socialite of the era. The two were said to compete through the dueling of massive balls each of which were considered to be the center of social activity at the time. Although, the Vanderbilt’s at the time were considered to be “new money”. Alva also became very active within the women’s suffrage movement.
Consuelo Vanderbilt, a member of the Vanderbilt family and the daughter of Alva, was one of the most famous socialites of the Gilded era. From the time of her birth, her mother ensured that her appearance would be suitable for marriage. She wrote that she was even forced to wear a steel rod along her spine in order to ensure she had excellent posture, although the experience was undoubtedly quite painful.
Her mother’s insistence must have worked, however, as she had numerous suitors including some with royal titles. One of her suitors was none other than Charles Richard John Spencer-Churchill the cousin of Winston Churchill. Her mother insisted she marry Charles however the marriage was not to last. She later married again to inventor and engineer Jacques Balsan who once worked with the Wright Brothers.
The Vanderbilts were at one point one of the most famous families in America. The family rose to prominence during the Gilded Age. Although their star has somewhat diminished in modern time they are still extremely well to do. When Gloria Vanderbilt was a child, she was the subject of a custody battle between her mother and her aunt and it was dubbed “the trial of the century” by the media.
The battle was also over her 5 million trust fund. Gloria went on to establish her own fashion house with a particularly famous line of blue jeans. She is also the mother of Anderson Cooper, the famous journalist who currently hosts his own show on CNN.
Babe Paley was another American socialite whose pinnacle of fame came when she was often named on best-dressed lists. Babe’s second husband was none other than William S. Paley who was the founder of CBS. Her father was a world-renowned brain surgeon so it’s no surprise that all three of his daughters went on to marry wealthy.
One of her sisters, Betsey, even married the son of President Roosevelt. In the late 1930s she began to work for Vogue Magazine as a fashion editor. She was known to craft an extremely well-controlled persona and was constantly admired for her appearance and her fashion which was mimicked across the United States and world at large.
Amanda Burden is the daughter of Babe Paley and her first husband. Although obviously born into a tremendous social status, this did not engineer her entire life. She has been more involved in architecture and public planning, with an aim making life better for residents.
She is currently working as a Principal at Bloomberg Associates where she focuses on helping city governments improve quality of life for citizens. She has received many honors throughout her life including being named on international best-dressed lists, just like her mother. She is also notably married to acclaimed journalist Charlie Rose. This is one socialite who has certainly used her social status to improve life for others.
Nan Kempner rose to prominence as a New York socialite, however she was born into a wealthy family on the other side of the country in San Francisco. Her father owned the largest car dealership in California. Her father allegedly once told her, “You’ll never make it on your face, so you’d better be interesting.” She went on to marry a vary successful banker named Thomas Kempner and the family moved to New York.
She became extremely involved in social circles and in charity work and was said to have raised over $75,000,000 for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She was, as many socialites are, interested in fashion and collected couture which involved designs from Mainbocher, Yves Saint Laurent and Bill Blass. She also worked as an editor for French Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and as a consultant for both Tiffany & Co. and Christie’s. She was even famously painted by Andy Warhol in 1973.
Brooke Astor was an American socialite and philanthropist, as well as writer. She was married three times, the third to Vincent Astor who was the great-grandson of the first multi-millionaire in the United States, John Jacob Astor. Vincent’s father also named John Jacob was aboard the ill-fated Titanic where he perished in the icy waters. Brooke was the daughter of Marine Corps Commandant.
She later took charge of the Astor foundation. In her later years, her son and grandson were accused of elder abuse against her after it was found that she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and the two were later sentenced to a short time in prison. Brooke passed away in 2005, and her funeral was attended by many famed people including Henry Kissinger and Michael Bloomberg.
Eleanor Lambert was a socialite who also took a prominent standpoint in both the fashion and public relation industries. She originally studied fashion before making her foray into art. She was married twice, secondly to Seymour Berkson. Her son is the well known poet Bill Berkson. She was once the Press Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art and she was also instrumental in the formation of the Museum of Modern Art.
She represented multiple famous artists perhaps the most well-known by the mainstream would be Jackson Pollock. She, like many other socialites, also often found herself on various best-dressed lists and in the 1960s was even appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts. She remained particularly active in fashion up until her death.
Brenda Frazier (right) was a popular socialite during the Depression era. Her debutante ball in 1938 was highly publicized and even featured on the cover of Life magazine.
Frazier began appearing at cafe society functions and was regularly photographed and featured in the society pages on magazines and newspapers when she was just 12 years old. She became of interest to the media when she was a teenager as her family was wealthy but had not lost their fortunes in the Wall Street Crash on 1929. Sadly, she attempted suicide in 1961 but survived. She suffered from an eating disorder and severe depression and passed away from bone cancer in 1982.
Gloria Guinness was a socialite and fashion icon, as well as a contributor to Harper’s Bazaar from 1963 to 1971. She wrote frequently for the magazine and is most famously known for her quote in the July 1963 issue, which she wrote: “Elegance is in the brain as well as the body and in the soul. Jesus Christ is the only example we have of any one human having possessed all three at the same time.”
In true socialite fashion, Guinness lived a colorful life, full of lots of men, partying, and even rumors of espionage. She died of a heart attack in 1980 when she was 67 years old.
Nancy “Slim” Keith was born on July 15, 1917, and became a New York socialite and fashion icon during the ’50s and ’60s. Keith exemplified the American jet set and was often imitated by others trying to achieve her elegant, crisp style.
Keith was best friends with fellow socialite Babe Paley. The two were even the thinly veiled inspiration behind characters in Truman Capote’s novel Answered Prayers. Some even credit Keith with this discovery of iconic actress Lauren Bacall since Keith was the one who showed her then-husband, producer Howard Hawks, a photo of Bacall.