“Dahlink, I was the first actress in the family, and I am still the only actress in the family. I shouldn’t be saying it, but it slipped out.” One of the aspects I most admired about the Gabor sisters was their wit. They could deliver a bon mot, get their points across with humor, and do so without malice.
This type of humor played out well when Eva Gabor filled out the role of Lisa Douglas in the 1960 sitcom “Green Acres”. Her television fame edged past that of her co-star Eddie Albert, who played her husband, Oliver. The old comedy show is still rather popular among fans of vintage reruns. She played the glittery, upper class socialite forced to become a farmer’s wife when her husband abandons his career as a successful lawyer to take up the life of a simple farmer. The farce worked so well for Eva, because she simply played herself.
Gábor Éva (Hungarian name order) was born on February 11, 1919 in Budapest, Hungary. She was the youngest out of three daughters of upper middle class Hungarian-Jewish parents. Eva was the first of the three sisters and their mother to migrate to the US. The move happened after she and her first husband, Dr. Erik Drimmer, eloped and married in London, shortly before World War Two.
Her husband became the personal physician to Greta Garbo. Because of this exposure, Eva refocused her childhood ambition to become an actress. Her first film appearances were low-key. They included the 1941 movie “Forced Landing” and 1942’s “Pacific Blackout”. In the meantime she was also a part of Gabor sisters’ Las Vegas nightclub act with her oldest sister Magda and middle sister Sari (Zsa Zsa).
Eva was cast in the starring role in the 1950 Broadway play “The Happy Time”. The acclaim from her work garnered her guest appearances on TV variety shows and her own short-lived interview program, “The Eva Gabor Show”.
It was the quality of her acting that also attracted renewed attention of Hollywood talent scouts. At the same time, Zsa Zsa also arrived in Hollywood, so some sibling rivalry came into the family dynamic. The two sisters had also become notorious for their serial marriages, so the public was often confused about their identities. However, Zsa Zsa’s divorces and legal problems gave the older sibling slightly more public attention.
Later in life, during a 1990 interview, Eva commented about Zsa Zsa. “Why should we be linked together, darling? That annoys the hell out of me. Because we have very different lives and what is white for her is black for me. Of course, she’s my sister and I love her.”
Eva did appear in some “A” movies in the 1950s. She had a supporting role in 1954’s “The Last Time I Saw Paris”; a divorcee who has a fling in the 1957 movie, “Don’t Go Near the Water”; and as Liane d’Exelmans, in the 1958 hit film “Gigi”.
During the 1960s, Eva returned to her Broadway roots for her beloved work in live comedy. One of her big successes was in the romantic comedy, “A New Kind of Love” in which she was also cast in the movie version with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
In the mid-1960s, CBS-TV enjoyed ratings’ success with “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Pettycoat Junction”. So, the network offered producer Paul Henning another half-hour, prime-time position on their schedule. Henning and Jay Sommers adapted the 1950s radio series, “Granby’s Green Acres”. The radio series premise involved a big-city family who moved to a rural area.
The new television version quickly evolved into a world of the absurd. The program appealed to a wide audience demographic. Children loved the slapstick comedy and adults appreciated the surrealism and social commentary. Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor enjoyed the long-run of the sitcom from September 1965 until April 1971. Even though “Green Acres” received strong ratings into 1971, CBS decided to clear the schedule of the corny, rural-themed programs. This became known, within the industry, as the “rural purge”.
After the cancellation of “Green Acres”, Eva was hired as the voice of Miss Bianca on the animated movies, “The Rescuers” and “The Rescuers Down Under”. She enjoyed acclaim in her final Broadway appearance in 1983 as a two-month replacement for Colleen Dewhurst in “You Can’t Take It With You”. In 1990, she returned to the small screen in the two-hour “mockumentary” “Return to Green Acres”.
Eva Gabor died on July 4, 1995, at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles following infections and pneumonia, following a fall in a bathtub during a vacation in Mexico where she broke her hip.