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Anyone who has lived to be almost 100 likely has a few outlandish tales to tell. At least, one hopes they have tales to tell; it’s simply too awful to think of someone living through ten decades without one adventure, one great passion, one scandal worthy of relating over and over again. What’s the point of living a long life, after all, if one can’t look back with some complacency and pleasure at the glorious, memorable mistakes one made along the way?
With that in mind, we turn our attention to the one and only Zsa Zsa Gabor. Born Sári Gábor on Feb. 6, 1917, in Budapest, the middle sister of a middle-class Hungarian family — between younger sister Eva (1919 – 1995) and older sister Magda (1915 – 1997) — Zsa Zsa lived in the public eye for more than six decades, before her death at 99 in 2016.
Beautiful, glamorous and disarmingly funny; married nine times, divorced seven (one marriage was annulled); friend and lover to the famous; accused traffic cop-slapper (remember that weirdness back in 1989?); Bernie Madoff victim to the tune of something like $10 million; best-selling author; actress with scores of movies and TV appearances to her name — one could argue that Zsa Zsa was, in fact, the very last of those outrageous, celebrated Hollywood figures (like her late friend, Liz Taylor) who routinely and unrepentantly provided scandal sheets and gossip columnists with fodder in the middle part of the last century.
Quotations attributed to her through the years, meanwhile, suggest a lively intelligence and a savvy, off-hand and charming worldliness behind her seemingly soft facade:
“A man in love is incomplete until he is married. Then he is finished.”
“Macho does not prove mucho.”
“I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.”
“Husbands are like fires. They go out if unattended.”
“To a smart girl men are no problem. They’re the answer.”
Time, alas, was not kind to Gabor. Late in her life, she suffered strokes, was confined to a wheelchair and had her right leg amputated above the knee to combat an aggressive infection. Her obituary was written and prepped — and then shelved — several times in the past few years by media outlets, as she fought on against mounting odds, diminished but far from forgotten.
Here, LIFE.com recalls the younger Zsa Zsa with a series of photos — many of which never ran in LIFE — from 1951, when she was barely known outside of California, but was quickly becoming as famous as her sister, Eva (who, incidentally, only married five times).
In its October 15, 1951, issue LIFE magazine introduced the 34-year-old Zsa Zsa to its millions of readers thus: