Posted by: cassymuronaka | February 7, 2011

Zsa Zsa, Dahhhhhhhhhhhling

A few weeks ago, the country’s culture critics were furiously compiling lists of what they loved and did not love about the year that had just ended. Probably the ones that are most heavily read are those touting or savaging particular movies and the acting performances featured in them.

My sister and I were discussing one of these lists a couple of weeks ago, when she announced out of the blue that she heartily disagrees with the commonly held view that Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is the worst film ever made.

“The worst movie ever made is ‘Queen of Outer Space,'” she declared.
“I agree,” I said.

“Queen of Outer Space” was released in 1958, during the Eisenhower era, at the tail end of America’s first love affair with science fiction films. Some terrific movies came out of that decade — “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” for example — but “Queen of Outer Space” was not one of them.

“Queen of Outer Space” is about a bunch of male astronauts who land on the planet Venus, which turns out to inhabited by badly-costumed women ruled by a mysterious, bitter queen who always wears a white mask with what look like gold glitter antlers. Eventually, that mask comes off and, whoa Nelly, all hell breaks loose.

In addition to bad dialogue and an unoriginal plot, this film boasts sets that make the decor and special effects of the beloved 1960s cheesefest known as “Star Trek” look like they were funded by the treasure of the Vatican.

The most delicious fact to know about this movie is that the script was based upon an idea supplied by Ben Hecht in a drunken stupor at a party. Yes, that Ben Hecht: the one who wrote such classics as “The Front Page” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” and who was the first screenwriter to receive an Academy Award. Hecht literally sued to stop the film from being made.

“Queen of Outer Space” also was terminally crippled by the casting of its heroine and leading lady, Zsa Zsa Gabor. Even then, Zsa Zsa was far more famous for being a “personality” and her numerous marriages than her ability to deliver a line. Her film performances always run akin to what today might be taught at the Madonna Ciccone School of Acting.

I’ve always thought that “Queen of Outer Space” was a giant camp romp, but it scared the living crap out of my sister, when the queen’s face is revealed under that mask. And while that visage is laughably tame compared to horrors that special effects masters in film can produce today, my sister, who is 5 1/2 years younger than me, saw it at a very impressionable age.

I met and photographed Zsa Zsa while working as an LA Times photographer. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem to take herself too seriously. Of course, at that time she was “starring” in a what I recall was a musical being put on by a Beverly Hills church, of all things.

Even in her 70s, she was fastidious about her appearance, and spent at least 15 minutes freshening her make-up while I cooled my jets.

But it was worth it.  She was very chatty, and I almost died and went to heaven when she actually called me “Dahhhhhhhhling” during the course of the photo shoot.

But I’ve kicked myself pretty hard since that time for not having the courage to ask Zsa Zsa what her thoughts were regarding her leading role in “Queen of Outer Space.” Even Zsa Zsa had to know that this was not a film destined for greatness.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is 93-years-old today and, if we are to believe the tabloids, she already has one foot out the door. Her name only has surfaced in the mainstream news a couple of times in the last three decades, two of them having to do more with her ninth husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, an equally vain man who is at least 25 years younger than her. In 2007, the minor German prince claimed he was the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s newborn daughter. He also accidentally superglued one of his eyelids shut on December 21st of  last year when he mistook his wife’s nail glue for eye drops.

Zsa Zsa made far larger headlines in 1989 when she imperiously smacked a Beverly Hills policeman who tried to write her a speeding ticket, an ordeal for him that involved having to chase down the arrogant Hungarian celebrity not once but twice. She airily waved him away during their primary encounter, and then proceeded to speed away from the scene of the crime.

Zsa Zsa eventually ended up doing time for that crime, thereby providing costume inspiration for drag queens everywhere on the following Halloween.

It’s possible that this incident, which received endless coverage worldwide, and her subsequent brief residency at the Beverly Hills jail, may end up being Zsa Zsa Gabor’s single greatest legacy. However, I like to think that it will be for starring in “Queen of Outer Space,” the worst movie ever made.

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Responses

  1. Never saw that one. That was the year I got married, graduated college and got my nursing license. Not much time for movies.

    • I forgot to add the part about Ben Hecht until after I published it. I just updated it. You are such a big reader that I knew you would want to know.

  2. Wonderful post, Cassy. I was unaware of “Queen of Outer Space” until now.

    Zsa Zsa partially redeemed herself for the slapping incident. She does have a pretty funny cameo at the start of one of the “Naked Gun” movies —

    • That is HILARIOUS.

  3. Fascinating (in a scary way).

    On a related note, did you know that Hedy Lamarr was a genuine rocket scientist, and that Natalie Portman was a whiz-bang science student, who studied neuroscience at Harvard? I didn’t til I read this NY Times article, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/science/01angier.html?smid=fb-nytimes.

    • I actually did know about Hedy Lamarr, but not Natalie Portman. Did you know that Paul Winchell invented an artificial heart?


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