Witness for the Persecution

On a tranquil morning after her verdict, the diamond-studded convict sits at home in her mirrored dressing room, powdered and perfumed, her omnipresent hairdresser pinning a velvet bow to her champagne blond coif. “If I were guilty, I would say I’m a stupid ass, which I am sometime,” Zsa Zsa admits in her unique brand of blenderized English. “But I’m not going to say I’m guilty if I’m not guilty, even if they kill me. We are Hungarian freedom fighters. They can shoot me and I won’t say it. If I am guilty, I will say it. But in this case, I was innocent as they come.”

To Zsa Zsa’s way of thinking, why should there be any contrition? This latest incident, after all, was not the first time she’d left a guy in the dust by the side of the road. But this time, after her Rolls-Royce Corniche was stopped last June 14 with expired tags, the eight-times-married Hungarian spitfire ditched not a husband but a Beverly Hills cop. And two weeks ago, when a jury found her guilty of driving with an open container of alcohol and without a valid license, as well as of slapping the cop, the onetime “goodwill ambassadress” for the Montgomery Ward Auto Club faced a possible 18-month hitch in the slammer and $3,100 fine.

The press dubbed the incident “the slap heard round the world,” her own daughter saw it as “the trial from hell” and Johnny Carson called her three-out-of-four-count conviction “ironic, since she’s already been married to three out of four counts.”

Though few expect that the diva of décolleté will do hard time, benumbed observers could be thinking that the only way to silence Zsa Zsa’s motor mouth is to get her to Sing Sing. Anticipating just that, a group of inmates from that establishment sent her a fan letter saying, “You’re welcome in the Big House,” and Zsa Zsa herself boasted she could survive incarceration, but “only if there are really nice people there.”

Another way to meet nice people, as one wit suggested, might be community service…maybe scooping up candy wrappers in the Angeles National Forest or perhaps providing pedicures for Beverly Hills’s underprivileged. In any event, there are few signs of remorse—only Zsa Zsa’s posttrial dirges: “The policeman beats me up. It cost me $5,500 to repair my car. All this three weeks I couldn’t work.” And, she notes poignantly, “I had to hire hairdresser and makeup.”

That seems somehow fitting, since over its tortured 15-day course, Zsa Zsa’s trial became the most closely followed courtroom theatrical since Judge Wapner first leveled a gavel. Each morning an international thicket of perhaps 50 reporters gathered, representing a media spectrum from London to West Germany to a local cable show. Here, for the delectation of posterity, are the highlights.

Day One: Zsa Zsa arrives, demure and down-scale, in a Chevy station wagon steered by her husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt. “After what happened,” she explains, “I don’t want my jailbird Rolls.”

In an elevator, Joelle Nelson, winner of a trip-to-the-trial contest sponsored by a Houston radio station, accidentally jostles Zsa Zsa, who hisses, “Move your purse!” “I felt sorry for her at first because people were picking on her,” says Nelson, 31. “But she seemed so rude. You know, we even drove by her house on our first night here. Now I wish I’d had a big rock.”

Day Two: Zsa Zsa reassures the press that she has what it takes to withstand a lengthy trial: “I have enough clothes [even] if this lasts a year.”

Day Four: The prosecution introduces a blowup photo of the driver’s license carried by Zsa Zsa at the time of her arrest. It shows two clownish ink-overs—the date of birth changed to 2/6/28 and her weight to 110 lbs. Out of court, despite a gag order imposed by Judge Charles Rubin, Zsa Zsa says that her license was stolen by Mexicans with whom she was involved in a car accident and returned to her in its altered state.

Day Five: Gabor impersonator Pati La Pearl is mistaken for sister Eva and seated in the court’s VIP family section. Reporters dub her Zsa Zsa’s “evil twin.” The real Eva, says Zsa Zsa, is actually at an Arizona spa. “Why, Eva wouldn’t come close to this court.”

Day Seven: On the stand, Zsa Zsa recounts that Officer Kramer “was the toughest, nastiest, rudest person I ever saw in my life…[He] was like a wild animal.” Fellow arresting officer Scott Thompson testifies that, sitting on the curb, handcuffed, Zsa Zsa told him ‘ “You m——- f——-. I’ll have your job! I’m calling the Reagans on this!”

Day Eight: Zsa Zsa calls the deputy DA “a termite” and deduces that the officer who arrested her must be gay. “Don’t you know a gay man would not like a woman like Zsa Zsa Gabor? I marry all the men he would want to have.”

Day Eleven: Judge Rubin notes that the trial (its cost to taxpayers will later be estimated at $30,000) is “unfortunately going on much longer than expected—and might fall in the category of ‘too long.’ ”

Day Thirteen: After being slapped with a $500 contempt-of-court citation for violating a gag order, Zsa Zsa storms out of the courtroom: “In Nazi Hungary, they were fairer than here. Here they don’t kill you. They kill you with words.”

Outside court, Prince von Anhalt issues a Leona Helmsley-esque proclamation: “The rich and famous should be judged differently,” he tells the press. “This city couldn’t live with the little people’s tax money.” Later, Zsa Zsa applies delicate spin control. “He was very stupid,” she says of her spouse. “He watches that TV show about the rich and famous.” By 8 P.M., she is bracing for the verdict, at home in bed “with my three little dogs.”

Judgement Day: In court, Zsa Zsa calls to her daughter, “Francesca, don’t worry. Mama won’t be in jail.” When the jury foreman announces the three guilty verdicts, Zsa Zsa gasps and then fights her way outside court for a moment of Zola-esque defiance: “If I go to jail, then the policeman should be shot.”

There is a temporary lull in Zsa Zsa mania, but the hordes will be back for the Oct. 17 sentencing. For now, as she awaits the date, Zsa Zsa summons a few magnanimous words for the jury that convicted her. “It was not my class of people. There was not a producer, a press agent, a director, an actor.” The jury returned the compliment. During deliberations, says jury foreman John Burke, an accountant, “If we got on each others’ nerves, we’d joke, ‘Behave, or I’ll slap you.’ ”

Even feisty prosecutor Elden Fox weakens a bit. “I think she’s vile and despicable and outlandish and outrageous,” says Fox, the constraints of judicially imposed discretion now behind him. “She feels that because she’s Zsa Zsa Gabor, the laws that apply to other people don’t apply to her.”

Such words hardly sting a woman undaunted, unbowed but never uncoiffed. “I would never want pity, even if I die on the street,” says the Magyar princess, drawing herself up to full, if well-rounded, height. “One thing I never admit is defeat.”

—Susan Schindehette, Robin Micheli and Lee Wohlfert in Los Angeles

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