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Jolie Gabor
Countess de Szigethy
Jolie Gabor.jpg
Born Janka Tilleman
(1896-09-30)September 30, 1896
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died April 1, 1997(1997-04-01) (aged 100)
Palm Springs, California, U.S.
Buried Desert Memorial Park
Spouse(s)
Vilmos Gábor
(m. 1914; div. 1939)

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

Count Odon Szigethy
(m. 1957; died 1989)
Issue
Occupation Jeweler, businesswoman, socialite, writer

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

Family

Birth Record for Jolie Gabor (born Jancsi Tilleman)
Birth Record for Janka Tilleman

Jolie Gabor was born Janka Tilleman 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.

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. Franceska (Josef Tilleman's widow), briefly married a medical doctor and general physician, Dr. Miksa Kende (né Kohn), son of Mór Lipót Kohn and Resi Kohn.

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 (né Lantos Tamás Péter, 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.

Addressing her birth forename, 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". 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 (or Szebasztian; nicknamed "Seb"). A sister, Sydonia, died shortly after birth in 1895. Jolie's other sisters are all believed to have survived the war. Rozália emigrated to Australia with her first husband, Emmanuel Reiss. Dóra returned to Hungary, where she and her husband, Hugo Klein, died. Eugénia married Armin Arvay; the surname later anglicized to "Harvey".

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. Her obituary in The New York Times gave a birth year of 1900. 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. Author Dominick Dunne stated, in 1995, that 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 complete birthdate to be September 29, 1896, as does the 1959 International Celebrity Register.

Career

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. Eventually there were five such shops in the Budapest area. 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 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." 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 Carlos Sampaio 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. 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 ..." Her brother, Sebestyén (or Sebastian), also a jeweler, spent part of the war in labor camps, beginning in 1942, until he and their widowed mother, Franceska, were later killed in a Budapest bombing raid.

Gabor arrived in the United States on December 30, 1945, aged 49. 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, 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.

Television appearances

In 1957, Jolie 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.

Marriages

She was married three times:

  • Vilmos Gábor (circa 1876 - July 7, 1962), a Hungarian army officer, who achieved the rank of colonel; they married on 13th September, 1914 and divorced in 1939. He was the father of her three children, Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva Gabor.
  • 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.
  • 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".

Death

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.

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

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