Jolie Gabor

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Jolie Gabor, Countess de Szigethy
 amerikaner, ungar, jude
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Jolie Gabor, Countess de Szigethy (September 30, 1896 – April 1, 1997) was a Hungarian-born American socialite, jeweler and memoirist, best known as the mother of actresses and socialites Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva Gabor.


Born as Janka Tilleman in Budapest, Austria-Hungary (present-day Budapest, Hungary), the youngest daughter and third of four children, born to a Jewish couple, Jona Harsch Tilleman, who later took the name "Josef", and his wife, Chane Faige (née Reinherz or Reinhartz), who later adapted the name "Franceska", both of whom were born in Galicia. The Tillemans were prosperous jewelers who owned a jewelry shop known as "The Diamond House". After the death of Jona Tilleman, Franceska briefly remarried, to Dr Miksa Kende, a medical doctor and general physician.

Gabor’s friend, Cindy Adams, who helped with Jolie's memoirs, once recalled one of Eva Gabor's weddings, at which the bride wore a cross, "They would lie about everything ... When I wrote my book about Jolie, Eva was getting married to her 44th husband, and the wedding gown was very décolleté. Between the fleshly hills of Gabor was a cross larger than St. Peter's Basilica. The Gabors were Jewish, so I said to Jolie, 'What's with the goddamn cross?' Jolie said, 'Eva's new about-to-be-husband hates the Jews, so in this book you make us Catholic.' They have always lived with no reality; there was never any truth to anything."

Jolie's purported birthname "Jancsi" is usually used for males in Hungary: "My parents were so eager to have a son they named me Jancsi, which translated comes out Little John or Johnny", she would claim later in life, although her birth certificate indicates her birth name was Janka. She had two elder sisters, Zseni ("Janette") and Dora; a younger sister, Rozalie ("Rozsika"), and a younger brother, Sebastian. The fate of her three sisters remains unclear, although this extract seems to indicate that they survived the war. Jolie was an aunt to Annette Tilleman, wife of Hungarian-American congressman and Holocaust survivorTom Lantos. Annette was the daughter of Sebastian Tilleman, Jolie's only brother — who was killed in a bombing raid during World War II, along with their mother. The Reinherzes, had established jewelry shops in Vienna, and an uncle of Franceska helped the Tillemans open "The Diamond House", located at 54 54 Rákóczi utca.

Gabor claimed to have been born in 1900 and once jokingly said she had lied so much about her age she didn't remember her actual birth date. Her obituary in The New York Times gave a birth year of 1900. On a passenger manifest dated December 30, 1945, Gabor gave her age as 45 years and two months, which would make her year of birth 1900; however this was fudged by four years as her 1896 birth certificate confirms. Published accounts of her third marriage, in 1957, have Gabor stating her age as 54, which would mean a virtually impossible birth year of 1903. (Her first marriage took place in 1914, and her first child Magda was born in 1915.) Author Dominick Dunne stated, in 1995, perhaps in jest, that Jolie Gabor was believed to be 109, which would mean a birth year of approximately 1886. The 1987 edition of Biographical Dictionary, however, cites Jolie Gabor's birthdate as September 29, 1896, as does the 1959 International Celebrity Register.


Vilmos Gábor (1914-1939; divorced); 3 children
Howard Peter Christman (1947-1948; divorced)
Count Odon Szigethy (1957-1989; his death)


Magda Gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Eva Gabor 

Constance Francesca Hilton (granddaughter)


In the 1930s, Jolie Gabor opened Crystello, a shop selling crystal and porcelain in Budapest, as well as Jolie's, a handmade-costume-jewelry shop at 4 Kígyó utca in Budapest; she also established another branch of her eponymous shop in Győr. Eventually there were five such shops in the Budapest area.[25] The firm's jewels also incorporated semiprecious stones and were admired for their old-fashioned settings and workmanship. "Just like Bulgari is known in Rome, that's how well-known I was in Budapest", Jolie Gabor stated. "Jolie's did so well that at holiday time they were standing outside in line waiting until somebody goes out from the inside." The rise of Nazism in Germany forced her to curtail her retail business, Gabor recalled, "Everybody told, 'Jolie is crazy to go now to Berlin and Leipzig for jewelry.' I never went again."

She was forced to close the stores when Hungary was occupied by the Germans, at which time she and other family members fled to Portugal. They were assisted by Dr. Carlos Almeida Afonseca de Sampayo Garrido, Portuguese ambassador to Hungary — Gabor's daughter Magda reportedly was either his aide or his mistress — who provided safe passage to many Hungarian Jews in 1944. As an article in Vanity Fair stated in 2001, "[It] was under [Sampayo's] auspices that the family, which was partly Jewish, had been spirited out of the country. (The girls' grandparents and other family members were killed by the Nazis.)" Her brother, Sebastian, also a jeweler, spent part of the war in labor camps, beginning in 1942, until he and their mother, Franceska, were killed in a bombing raid during World War II.

Gabor arrived in the United States on December 30, 1945. She opened a successful costume jewelry business (called simply Jolie Gabor) in New York City in 1946, with $7,200 borrowed from her daughters. It later moved to 699 Madison Avenue. Gabor also established a branch of the firm in Palm Springs, California. Among the company's designers were Elsa Beck and Stephen Kelen d'Oxylion, as well as her own daughter, Magda.

One of the saleswomen was Evangelia Callas, mother of future opera diva Maria Callas. In 1953 the store introduced ornamental metal fingernails studded with rhinestones. In 1975, Gabor signed with the Keene Lecture Bureau as an inspirational speaker on the subjects of beauty and personal empowerment.

The jewelry stores were sold by Gabor in the late 1980s to Madeleine Herling (née Magdalena Steingisser), a Hungarian-born businesswoman and philanthropist. Born in 1919 in Budapest and later a resident of São Paulo, Brazil, Herling was a daughter of Sigismund Steingisser and his wife, Frederica (née Pollachek).


Gabor lent her name to two books:

  • Jolie Gabor (Mason Charton, 1975), an as-told-to memoir co-authored by Cindy Adams, a newspaper columnist and family friend. Gabor approached Adams to write the book in 1972, even though Gabor fretted that her daughters would dislike the publication. "I am sure it will be a Hungarian tragedy when they read what I have said", she told Adams. "My husband will throw me out and my daughters won't speak to me." Regarding the book, Gabor told another reporter, "Always [a woman] can do something. She makes a new hairdo, she makes a new make-up. If the nose isn't good, she fixes it. That is why I write the book. It's never too late for a new look, a new business, a new husband or lover. When we think life is over, it's always ready to begin".
  • Jolie Gabor's Family Cookbook (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1962), which was written with Jean and Ted Kaufman, and contains more than 300 traditional Eastern European recipes.

Television appearance

In 1957, Gabor appeared as a mystery guest on the show What's My Line? In 1950, Gabor made a cameo as a jeweler in Black Jack. In 1955, Gabor appeared in The Colgate Comedy Hour. In 1960, Gabor appeared in The Mike Wallace Interview.


She was married three times:

  • Vilmos Gábor (circa 1876 - 1962), a Hungarian army officer, who achieved the rank of colonel; they married in 1914 and divorced in 1939. He later became a real-estate investor in Budapest and married, as his second wife, a woman named Magda.
  • Howard Peter Christman (aka Peter Howard Christman; born May 22, 1894 – died 19??), a New York City restaurant manager; they married in 1947 and divorced in 1948.
  • Count Odon Szigethy (July 12, 1912 – September 30, 1989), a Hungarian refugee, also known as Odon Szigethi and Edmond de Szigethy; they married in New York City, New York, on March 3, 1957. The bride wore a gown by Rumanian-American fashion designer Livia Sylva. "He's a moneymaker", she said of Szigethy in a 1976 interview. "He takes care of me, he takes care of my business, my three homes in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. When I marry him, darling, he looks younger than me, but now, he looks older".


Jolie Gabor was preceded in death by her youngest daughter, Eva, although she apparently was never told of Eva's death. She died less than two years later, in Palm Springs, California on April 1, 1997, at age 100. Two months after Jolie's death, her eldest daughter, Magda, died. She had one grandchild, Zsa Zsa's daughter, Francesca Hilton, who died in 2015.

Jolie Gabor de Szigethy is buried in Desert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California.


  • Jolie Gabor, by Jolie Gabor as told to Cindy Adams, Mason Charter, 1975; ISBN 0-88405-125-0; ISBN 978-0-88405-125-1
  • Jolie Gabor's Family Cookbook, by Jolie Gabor, with Ted & Jean Kaufman, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1962.
  • Gaborabilia, by Anthony Turtu and Donald F. Reuter, Three Rivers Press, 2001; ISBN 0-609-80759-5


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