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THE LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD

She just has to laugh

Francesca Hilton turns her topsy-turvy life into stand-up.

August 03, 2008|Robert W. Welkos | Special to The Times

"I'm Francesca," she calls to Spector, who looks vacant-eyed and shaky as he turns toward her. She tells him that she once went up to his old Beverly Hills house. "Remember, you had the big dogs?"

"Yes," Spector replies, unearthing the memory.

They chat amiably about mutual acquaintances. "I met him through Kris Kristofferson," Hilton says when Spector leaves. "He took me up to his house one time. I had a crush on Kris Kristofferson."

Not long after, Hilton spots actress Joan Collins, the former "Dynasty" star, who exudes an aura of celebrity mixed with mystery in a leopard-skin top, a swank hat and oversized sunglasses.

"Joan, you look fabulous," Hilton tells her.

"Thank you, Francesca," Collins purrs. "Nice to see you. How's your mom?"

"She's good. I'll give her your love."

Collins departs, and Hilton remarks: "My mother fixed her up with Trujillo" -- that's Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator -- "a long time ago."

In her autobiography, "One Lifetime Is Not Enough," Zsa Zsa wrote that she once clashed with Collins when the actress "accused Francesca of flirting with her husband, Ron Kass. Which was ridiculous because Francesca was much too young and even now doesn't really know how to flirt." Today, Francesca scoffs at the very idea she would have flirted with Collins' husband.

There are other eyebrow-raising entries in the book. Like actress Hedy Lamarr telling Francesca the facts of life when the girl was only 3 years old. Or Zsa Zsa's claim that Frank Sinatra banged on her locked bedroom door one night, yelling and refusing to leave. "Frank wouldn't take no for an answer and leave me alone," Gabor wrote, "and made so much noise that I was terrified that he would wake up Francesca."

But the most shocking revelation was Zsa Zsa's allegation that her daughter was the result of her mother's rape by Conrad Hilton.

When asked how her mother's claim made her feel, Francesca deflects the question with humor. "How would I know? I wasn't even there." Then she deadpans: "I know they had sex because here I am." She adds: "I asked my mom about this and she doesn't seem to remember."

Zsa Zsa had many rich and famous lovers. At one time, she was married to actor George Sanders, but he divorced her and married her sister, Magda. Sanders later committed suicide, claiming he was bored with life.

"My mother's boyfriends took me everywhere," Francesca recalls. "They tried to buy me things so I would tell my mother to marry them."

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Once inseparable

In EARLIER years, Hilton and her mother were inseparable. They loved to ride Tennessee walking horses, competing professionally and winning blue ribbons.

It seemed like a fairy-tale existence. Life magazine published a photo of Francesca's 11th birthday party, where children were dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos. Life's story said the "18 guests, dressed like well-bred miniatures of their movie-colony elders, showed up on a rainy evening at Miss Gabor's Bel Air home. They partook of ginger ale and grenadine cocktails, a dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and danced till 10 o'clock. When the evening threatened to segregate into sexes, Francesca, a chip off the old block, murmured to the girls, 'Let's go in and meet the boys.' "

"My view is that Francesca was like a trophy child, an accessory," says film critic Thomas. "You've got the fancy house, you've got the fancy TV, you've got the decor and the fancy car. So you've got to have the fancy child to complete the picture."

"My mother would drag me around -- not drag me, but take me to different locations: Paris, Rome, you name it," Hilton recalls. "I was never really a kid because I'm the only child. Parents do the best they can, you know?"

At one time, there was no one in Hollywood more glamorous than the Gabor sisters. Hilton's publicist and longtime friend, Edward Lozzi, recalls how the Gabors -- Magda, Zsa Zsa and Eva -- would hold court every Friday at the old Bistro Gardens in Beverly Hills. "They were all coiffed up, all looking beautiful," he says.

It was their mother, Jolie Gabor, who coached her daughters to "go after big men and rich men and manipulate them," Thomas recalls. "She had a really grasping view on how you should handle men. I think of all of them, Zsa Zsa took it to heart the most."

But Zsa Zsa "went through many husbands, and that was probably difficult for Francesca," says Ronald Richards, her attorney.

Hilton never reached the heights of celebrity that her mother did, but over the years she has honed her skills as an actress and comedian in films, on TV and in the theater. Early film roles included parts in "Cleopatra Jones" and "Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills"; her TV credits include the old detective series "Cannon."

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