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Magda Gabor; Eldest Sister in a Family of Actresses

June 07, 1997|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Magda Gabor, the eldest and least-known sister in the fabled Gabor family of actresses and socialites, died Friday at the age of 78.

Gabor died of kidney failure at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, her niece, Francesca Hilton, said.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, Gabor gravitated to California along with her actress sisters Zsa Zsa and Eva and their mother, Jolie. Eva Gabor, best remembered for her starring role in the television series "Green Acres," died in 1995 at the age of 74. Jolie Gabor died April 1 at the age of 97.

Married five times, Magda Gabor acted briefly on radio and with her mother operated a group of jewelry boutiques in New York, Palm Beach, Fla., Paris and London.

In 1953, the three sisters had an act they dubbed "This Is Our Life" at Las Vegas' Last Frontier Hotel. Their contract prohibited billing as a "sister act" and specified that each sister be on the stage--singing, dancing or chatting in their familiar fractured English--for an equal number of minutes.

"The surprise," wrote Times critic Edwin Schallert in reviewing the stage act, "was the least-known sister, Magda, who carried the show with marked competency."

Magda Gabor took credit for arranging the unusual and reportedly lucrative contract, which pitted the sisters against Marlene Dietrich, at the time Las Vegas' top nightclub act.

"I was the one who sort of got us all together to do this," she told a United Press reporter in 1953. "It began when we worked together on the Martha Raye television show. Never before had we worked all together. We were so professional, really, everyone thought there would be fireworks. But we were very nice--until the next day. Then none of us was speaking to the other."

In recent years, Gabor had lived in Palm Springs, where funeral services will be private.

In addition to Hilton, she is survived by one sister, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

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