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$3.3-Million Libel Award in Sommer-Gabor Feud

December 09, 1993|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If it please the court, let us stipulate to a few things upfront:

First, Zsa Zsa Gabor does n ot look so fat that it would take three or four strong men to lift her onto a horse.

And Elke Sommer does \o7 not\f7 resemble a bald-headed, Hollywood has-been who hangs out in seedy bars and has to sell hand-knitted pullover sweaters to eke out a living.

"Both ladies look fine," agreed a member of a Santa Monica Superior Court jury that Wednesday capped a nine-year feud between the two blond actresses by rendering the largest personal libel judgment in history.

Sommer was awarded $3.3 million in damages from Gabor and her husband, Frederick von Anhalt, for defaming her in interviews published in a pair of German publications in 1990.

The verdicts--$1.25 million against Gabor and $2.05 million against von Anhalt--include $2 million in general damages announced Monday. Wednesday's $1.3-million verdict was for punitive damages.

Sommer embraced jurors after the verdicts. "I felt my dignity had been taken away, and now it's been restored," she said.

Von Anhalt bristled at the judgments, saying he only had been trying to protect his wife when he talked to the German newspaper.

"I won't have to pay a cent, no. I'm a German citizen. . . . It's ridiculous," von Anhalt said in a courthouse hallway.

Gabor, who was absent for the verdict, held her own news conference later at UCLA, where she was rehearsing for "Cinderella." She plays the fairy godmother.

She said the judgment will be appealed. "I'd rather see her starve to death than give her one single dollar," Gabor fumed. "I used to like that girl. I liked her until I saw her calling me a fat pig. Then, I decided I didn't like her anymore."

The German-born Sommer had sought $10 million in damages for the articles, published in the weekly Freizeit Review magazine and the Bild daily newspaper. Sommer said the comments made about her by Gabor and von Anhalt falsely inflated her age, humiliated her and ruined her acting career.

In the magazine interview, Gabor described Sommer as so broke that she "had to sell her house in Hollywood and now lives in the worst section of Los Angeles." She said Sommer "lives from hand-knit pullovers she sells for $150."

When an angry Sommer demanded a retraction, von Anhalt responded by telling the newspaper that Sommer was 68 but looked like a balding "100-year-old grandmother."

All lies, according to Sommer, who has starred in such films as "The Oscar," "The Wrecking Crew" and "The Money Trap."

She said she lives in Holmby Hills, has a net worth "in excess of $1 million" and maintains a celebrity lifestyle. And, oh yes: She was only 48 when the German articles appeared.

To prove it, Sommer produced her birth certificate and her mother, Renate Schletz.

The two actresses agree that their feud began in 1984 when both appeared in "Circus of the Stars."

Sommer remembered watching Gabor mount a horse backstage and commenting: "Poor horse."

Gabor's account suggests that Sommer asserted: "Zsa Zsa has such a big behind that she could not even manage to get on the horse by herself." Gabor contends her derriere fits in size 10 pants.

Neil C. Newsom, the attorney for Gabor and von Anhalt, said his client resented Sommer's characterization of her "having a rather big behind and needing four people to help her on the horse"--a skittish Lippizaner stallion.

Jurors were told that Gabor has a net worth of about $6.2 million in real estate and that von Anhalt has holdings in Europe worth about $2.4 million.

Newsom said the Santa Monica court probably has no jurisdiction over von Anhalt's assets. But he said Gabor's are "very collectible" if authorities make her sell some of her property.

The Gabor-Sommer feud may be far from over, however.

Wednesday night, Gabor said of Sommer: "If she knits, what's so terrible? Millions of women knit. What is so wrong in America if you're broke?"

And outside the courtroom, von Anhalt accused Sommer of "bad-mouthing America" every time she goes to Germany. And he challenged her to return there to try to collect his share of the judgment.

"Thanks for the advice. We will," replied Richard Posell, one of Sommer's lawyers.

As for the U.S.-bashing charge: Untrue, said co-counsel Richard Green.

"These people just never learn," he said.

Times staff writers Jeff Kramer and Mathis Chazanov contributed to this report.

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