Jolie Gabor

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

Jolie Gabor
Countess de Szigethy
BornJanka Tilleman
(1896-09-30)September 30, 1896[1][2]
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
DiedApril 1, 1997(1997-04-01) (aged 100)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
BuriedDesert Memorial Park
Vilmos Gábor
(m. 1914; div. 1939)

Howard Peter Christman
(m. 1947; div. 1948)

Count Odon Szigethy
(m. 1957; died 1989)
OccupationJewelry entrepreneur, socialite


Jolie Gabor was born Janka Tilleman[3] on September 30, 1896, in Budapest, Austria-Hungary. Her parents were Jona (or Jónás) Hersch Tilleman (son of Schie Tilleman and Scheindel Grossman) and Franceska Chawe Feige Tilleman (née Reinharz, Reinharcz, or Reinhartz; daughter of Eiseg Reinhartz and Dorottya Stein); both of Jolie's parents were of Galician (then part of the Austrian Empire, present-day in Ukraine) Jewish ancestry. The Tillemans were jewelers who owned a jewellery shop known as "The Diamond House". His father changed his forenames to József. The Tilleman family's Jewish descent was also cited by a surgeon, Dr. Laszlo Tauber, also Jewish, and a family friend and neighbor of the Gabors in Budapest.[4]

The Reinharz family of Gabor's mother had established jewelry shops in Vienna; her mother's uncle helped the Tillemans open their jewelry business, "The Diamond House", located at Rákóczi utca 54. in Budapest.[5][6][7]

Franceska (Josef Tilleman's widow), briefly married a medical doctor and general physician, Dr. Miksa Kende.[8]

Jolie Gabor was the aunt of Annette Tilleman (b. 1931), daughter of Jolie's brother Szebasztian Tilleman, and wife of Hungarian-American U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (née Lantos Péter Tamás, in Budapest), the first, and to date only, Holocaust survivor to serve in either house of the United States Congress. Szebasztian Tilleman (or Tillemann as his branch of the family style themselves) and his mother, the Tilleman matriarch Franceska, were killed during an apparent Allied bombing raid on Budapest in 1944.[9][10][11]

Addressing her birthname, usually reserved for Hungarian males, Gabor stated, "My parents were so eager to have a son they named me Jancsi, which translated comes out Little John or Johnny".[12] Her birth certificate indicates her birth name was "Janka" which can be also a male or female name. The third of five surviving children, Gabor's siblings comprised three sisters and one brother: Dóra, Eugénia ("Zseni" or "Janette"), Rozália ("Rosalie" or "Rozalie"), and Sebestyén ("Szebasztian", nicknamed "Seb"). Another sister, Sydonia, died shortly after birth in 1895. While there is little information available on Jolie's sisters, this extract indicates all three sisters survived the war.

Although born in 1896, Gabor claimed to have been born in 1900, once jokingly stating that she had lied so much about her age she did not remember her actual birth date.[13][14] Her obituary in The New York Times gave a birth year of 1900.[15] On a ship's passenger manifest dated December 30, 1945, Gabor gave her age as 45 years and two months, which would make her year of birth 1900. Her birth certificate, however, confirms her birth year to be 1896.[16] Author Dominick Dunne stated, in 1995, that Gabor was believed to be 109, which would mean a birth year of approximately 1886.[17] The 1987 edition of Biographical Dictionary, however, cites Jolie Gabor's complete birthdate to be September 29, 1896, as does the 1959 International Celebrity Register.[18][19][20][21][22]


In the 1930s, Jolie 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.[23] Eventually there were five such shops in the Budapest area.[24] The firm's jewels also incorporated semiprecious stones and were admired for their old-fashioned settings and workmanship.[25]

"Just like Bulgari is known in Rome, that's how well-known I was in Budapest", Jolie once stated. "Jolie's did so well that at holiday time they were standing outside in line waiting until somebody goes out from the inside."[26] 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."[27]

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.[28] They were assisted by Carlos Sampaio Garrido,[29] 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.[30][31] An article in Vanity Fair stated in 2001 that it was under Sampaio's guidance that the family "... had been spirited out of the country ..."[32] Her brother, Sebestyén (or 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 Budapest bombing raid during World War II.[33]

Gabor arrived in the United States on December 30, 1945.[6][34][35] She opened a successful costume jewelry business (called simply Jolie Gabor) in New York City in 1946, with $7,200 borrowed from her daughters.[24][36][37] It later moved to 699 Madison Avenue.[38] 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.[6][39]

One of the saleswomen was Evangelia Callas, mother of future opera diva Maria Callas.[40] In 1953 the store introduced ornamental metal fingernails studded with rhinestones.[41] In 1975, almost 80 years old, Jolie signed with the Keene Lecture Bureau as an inspirational speaker. She toured the country speaking about the relationship between beauty and female empowerment.[42]


Gabor lent her name to two books:

  • Jolie Gabor (Mason Charton, 1975), an as-told-to memoir co-written 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."[43] 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".[44]
  • 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.

She is also described, in league with her three very famous daughters and her influence upon them, by Darwin Porter in his award-winning Biography * Those Glamorous Gabors, Bombshells from Budapest (Blood Moon Productions, 2013).

Television appearances

In 1957, Gabor appeared as a mystery guest on the show What's My Line?[45] 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.[46]


She was married three times:

  • Vilmos Gábor (circa 1876[47] - 1962), a Hungarian army officer, who achieved the rank of colonel; they married on 13th September, 1914 and divorced in 1939.
  • Howard Peter Christman (aka Peter Howard Christman; born May 22, 1894 – died March 1986), a New York City restaurant manager; they married in 1947 and divorced in 1948.[37][48]
  • 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.[49][50][51] "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".[44]


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 of natural causes on April 1, 1997, at age 100. Two months after Jolie's death, her eldest daughter, Magda, died. Zsa Zsa died on December 18, 2016, aged 99. Jolie had one grandchild, Francesca Hilton (Zsa Zsa's daughter), who died in 2015. Zsa Zsa was reportedly never told about Hilton's death.[52]

Jolie Gabor de Szigethy is buried in Desert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California.[53]


  • 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


  1. Date of birth was September 30, 1896, although most sources cite September 29; September 30 date and her name at birth as "Janka" not "Jansci" are supported by her birth certificate (see image)"The Hungarian-Jewish Family Tree of Zsa Zsa Gabor". April 2012.
  2. Some sources have incorrectly indicated 1894, such as Dictionary of Women Worldwide. 25,000 women through the ages (3 volumes; edited by Anne Commire). Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, 2007.
  3. Also spelled Tillemann by other branches of the family, i.e. Annette Tillemann Lantos.
  4. Forbes Magazine, volume 134, October 1984, p. 40.
  5. Jolie Gabor, by Jolie Gabor as told to Cindy Adams, Mason Charter, 1975, p. 4
  6. "The Mother of the Gabor Girls", San Antonio Light, February 26, 1950, p. 16
  7. In her own memoirs, Zsa Zsa Gabor used the spelling Franceska.
  8. Dr Kende (Jolie's stepfather)'s name and the correct spelling of his surname cited in Em lékkönyv a Királyi magyar természettudományi társulat (Magyar Természettudományi Társulat, 1892), p. 792
  9. Epstein, Edward (January 1, 2007). "Lantos the master storyteller, communicator". San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. Kurt F. Stone. The Jews of Capitol Hill (Scarecrow Press, 2010, p. 371) states that Annette Tillemann Lantos is a first cousin of the Gabor sisters, which would make her Jolie Gabor's niece. Annette Lantos's father, Sebestyén (or Sebastian), was Jolie's youngest and only male sibling. Annette's mother was Mary (née Seidner or Zeidner; 1908-1999).
  11. Warner, Joel (July 10, 2008). "Denver's Own Royal Tenenbaums". Denver Westword. p. 3.
  12. Jolie Gabor, by Jolie Gabor as told to Cindy Adams, Mason Charter, 1975, p. 3
  13. Jolie Gabor gives Tilleman as her maiden name in her autobiography, co-authored by Cindy Adams, using it as a chapter heading on page 23; she gives her mother's maiden name as Reinherz. And the review by Publishers Weekly of the memoirs enthused that "Jolie Gabor, née Jancsi Tilleman, fills every page of this zany life story with her Hungarian ebullience."
  14. Social Security Death Index entry under the name JOLIE DESZIGETHY,; accessed February 28, 2014.(subscription required)
  15. "Jolie Gabor, Eva and Zsa Zsa's Mother, Dies". The New York Times. April 3, 1997. Retrieved July 31, 2011.
  16. According to December 30, 1945 manifest, accessed on (December 30, 2011), a Johanna Gabor arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Estoril, Portugal claiming to be 45 years old.
  17. Dominick Dunne, "The Two Faces of O.J.", Vanity Fair, November 1995, pp. 124-.
  18. Biography Almanac (Gale Research, 1987), pg. 2366
  19. Cleveland Amory, International Celebrity Register (Celebrity Register, 1959), p. 277
  20. "Fransiska Reinhartz 1879 {sic} - 1944". Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  21. Jolie Gabor's name on a ship manifest in 1945 en route to the United States lists her as "Johanna Gabor".
  22. Jolie's brother, Sebestyén (or Sebastian) Tilleman, was referenced in Zsa Zsa Gábor: my story, written for me by Gerold Frank, World Publishing Co., 1960.
  23. Zsa Zsa Gábor: my story, written for me by Gerold Frank (World Publishing Co., 1960), pp. 25, 126
  24. Art Buchwald, Art Buchwald's Paris (Little, Brown, 1954), p. 148
  25. Sen Sahir Silan, I Do Not Regret (Vantage Press, 2005), p. 62
  26. Jolie Gabor as told to Cindy Adams, Mason Charter, 1975, p. 126
  27. Jolie Gabor, as told to Cindy Adams, Mason Charter, 1975, p. 216
  28. Zsa Zsa Gábor: my story, written for me by Gerold Frank (World Publishing Co., 1960), p. 160
  29. "Dr. Carlos Almeida Afonseca de Sampayo Garrido". Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  30. "The Most Wives Club". Palm Springs Life. December 1996.
  31. Magda, as aide, cited in Zsa Zsa Gabor: My story, written for me by Gerold Frank (World Publishing Co., 1960), p. 161>
  32. "Glamour and Goulash". Vanity Fair. July 2001.
  33. Information about Sebestyén/Sebastian Tilleman as cited by his daughter, Mrs. Annette Lantos, in Mark Seliger, Leora Kahn, and Rachel Hager's When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust (Arcade Publishing, 1996), p. 96
  34. "Jolie Gabor Jewels". Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  35. According to a ship manifest dated December 30, 1945, and accessed on (on December 30, 2011), Jolie Gabor (using a Portuguese passport with the name Johanna Gabor and giving her birthplace as Budapest), arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from Estoril, Portugal. Use of the name Johanna on a passenger manifest or passport does not indicate accuracy, necessarily, however. Given the turmoils of wartime Hungary and Portugal, another name might have been used for the sake of camouflage or expediency.
  36. Witchel, Alex (January 4, 1998). "The Lives They Lived: Jolie Gabor; Mother Dahling". The New York Times.
  37. "The Mother of the Gabor Girls", San Antonio Light, February 26, 1950, p. 17
  38. "Vilmos Gabor Dead", The New York Times, July 11, 1962.
  39. Stephen Kelen d'Oxylion's name is properly spelled, per various published sources (including several books about Zora Neale Hurston), although Gabor spelled it as "d'Oxylian" in her autobiography.
  40. Gael Greene, Don't Come Back Without It (Simon & Schuster, 1960), p. 15
  41. "Metal Fingernails Offered", The New York Times, March 13, 1953.
  42. Marian Christy, "Mama Gabor: Ageless Mother of 3", Newport Daily News, February 17, 1975.
  43. Cindy Adams, "My Jolie Gabor", The Lowell Sun, October 5, 1975
  44. Ellie Grossman, "Accent on People: Jolie Gabor", The Times-Standard, March 11, 1976.
  45. What's My Line? (January 26, 2014). "What's My Line? - Jolie Gabor; Tony Perkins; Lloyd Nolan [panel] (December 29, 1957)" via YouTube.
  46. Jolie Gabor on IMDb
  47. "A&E's "Biography" - "The Gabors", April 2000, stating Vilmos was "twenty years her senior"" via YouTube.
  48. Christman's 1917 draft card gives his birth name as Howard Peter Christman" and his birthdate.
  49. "Mama Gabor Altar-Bound", The Miami Daily News, February 27, 1957, p. 15A
  50. Szigethy is sometimes referred to as Count Edmond de Szigethy but his title cannot be established. His "first" name was spelled EDMOND, according to the signature on his naturalization form, accessed on on December 30, 2011, as well as his grave marker, accessed on Find-A-Grave online.
  51. "Mrs. Gabor To Rewed; She Will Be Married to Odon Szigethy Here on Sunday", The New York Times, February 27, 1957. According to the same newspaper report, Szigethy was previously married to Katalin Ronay.
  52. Witchel, Alex (June 6, 1998). "The Lives They Lived: Jolie Gabor; Mother Dahling". The New York Times.
  53. Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: a guide to the cemeteries and grave sites of the rich and famous. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0762741014. OCLC 70284362.
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