Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs promises to finally uncover the truth about the mysterious, glamorous Gabors from Hungary. Claiming to have exclusive interviews and never before seen information, one is promised the removal of the iron curtain the Gabor women hid themselves behind.
Sam Staggs has written several books before tackling the bombshells from Budapest. I am familiar with his previous work, and have long held All About “All About Eve” in high regard. Eve is (for the most part) properly sourced and an excellent volume for behind-the-scenes gossip most movie fans enjoy reveling in. Let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re historical voyeurs. We take delight in finding out the nitty-gritty on our favorite movies and stars. I would put the Gabors (as a unit) in my top two favorite stars. I love reading about all four of them and have lapped up the few books released here and there, including their own tomes. Knowing Staggs from his previous work, I looked forward to seeing him delve deep into the most mysterious family in Hollywood.
Staggs opens his book with major events affecting the Gabors through the 1950s. They’re pretty well-known for Gabor aficionados but I understand that very few people who will read Staggs’ book are going to be deep in the fandom. The next two chapters deal primarily with Jolie and her recollections of raising three of the most famous women of the Golden Era. The rest of the book simply traces the family until their deaths, with a timeline concocted via their scandals. The book is basic, but, again, I wasn’t expecting a scholarly study on the family. As the title alludes, Zsa Zsa is the primary focus – the rest of the Gabors are more like footnotes in Zsa Zsa’s life. Unfortunately, we’re not really getting anything new. One of the biggest “mysteries” presented in the book is the Gabors’ real ages. Fact checks on the Gabors’ ages were accomplished years ago, with Zsa Zsa’s real age being paraded around once she was diagnosed with dementia. It was (again) confirmed when her estate auction transpired in April of 2018.
Staggs’ viewpoint is rather confounding. Does he like them? Does he dislike them? I believe he actually does hold some affection for the marvelous Hungarians, and I will be the first person to admit an author does need to remain as unbiased as possible, but the bitchery throughout the book is jarring. Look – I get it… Staggs wants this book to come across like the reader is having a proper dish-fest with the author but comparing Zsa Zsa to an old drunk or claiming that she was menopausal by 38 tends to become grating. These slight digs pepper the book like the Gabor’s paprika-d their chicken: they’re overabundant; but, unlike the satisfying ending you receive from the Gabors’ paprika-caked anything, you’re likely to just feel a burn all the way through.
I’m going to be blunt. The sourcing isn’t here for this book. There are no end notes or footnotes because the author apparently felt they were unnecessary even though he read “thousands” of papers and printed memorabilia related to the family. He also claims to have hours of interviews with Francesca Hilton (Zsa Zsa’s daughter and the only direct descendant of the sisters), and access to her unpublished memoir, but nothing is sourced besides a one sentence mention about contacting her in 2010 and (apparently?) having contact with her until her passing in 2015. When did these interviews take place? How? Is there any documentation? We don’t know. None of this is sourced. Anthony Turtu, author of Gaborabilia, is mentioned throughout the book as well. Again, when did these interviews take place? Again, we don’t know. Staggs seems to have gleamed some of his documented evidence from Turtu. Most of the information in this book stems directly from the Gabors’ various memoirs. Staggs admits as much in his “notes” section (which also has a painfully self-serving review of every previously printed book on the Gabors and why this material sucks – yet is used throughout the book). The book also houses a fair amount of tittle-tattle with no supporting evidence such as Eric Drimmer (Eva’s first husband) being a spy (huh?) or the author’s convoluted thought process about why Zsa Zsa went to the ’59 Khrushchev luncheon when his answer was painfully obvious for anyone with a remote knowledge of mid-20th-century world history. Eva is also plagued by rumors regarding her sexuality, which have never been supported (if she was a lesbian, great, but there has to be some evidence – not hearsay from undocumented Francesca interviews).
There are a couple rare gems in the book, such as a photo of Zsa Zsa after placing in the Miss Hungary contest, but the supposed footage of the contest (which has never been seen by previous authors) is written off as “in a Hungarian library.” Most researchers attempt to help their colleagues by properly sourcing their finds. We want people to use our work as a stepping stone to further the narrative. Staggs has set the narrative back. I know of at least one book in the works on Zsa Zsa as well as eternally hoping Turtu releases a book as well. Hold out for the confirmed project. If you need a Gabor fix now, buy their memoirs (Zsa Zsa: 3, Eva: 1, and Jolie: 2 (one is a cookbook), double check their ages on Wikipedia, and have fun.
Final Rating: 1/5