Once upon a time there was a royal marriage made in what would eventually be TMZ heaven.
Hans Robert Lichtenberg, born in 1943 into humble beginnings in Germany, transformed himself in the most conniving way—he deserves the grifter crown of Hollywood—as Prince Frederic von Anhalt. Anhalt became known to the tabloid world as the last of socialite actress Zsa Zsa Gabor’s nine husbands, Gabor being 26 years his senior. As Gabor’s widower (she died at 99 in December 2016), von Anhalt inherited all of her assets that included a Bel Air mansion of over-the-top opulence, originally built by Howard Hughes and once owned by Elvis Presley. In magic coincidence, the HBO Liberace biopic Beyond the Candelabra was filmed at the swanky residence while an infirm Gabor lay bedridden down the hallway.
The tale of Anhalt’s aristocratic metamorphosis (encapsulated beautifully by The Hollywood Reporter’s Gary Baum, who also did the Lord’s sleuth work in an exposé on equally infamous Tinseltown icon Angelyne) has to be one of the top-ten juiciest of all time. On the subject of his royal title, Anhalt entered into a paid arrangement with a bankrupt, 81-year-old Princess Marie-Auguste von Anhalt, daughter-in-law to the last German Kaiser, in which she adopted Hans (then 36) in exchange for financial support. Henceforth Lichtenberg referred to himself as Prince Frederic von Anhalt, Duke of Saxony and Westphalia, Count of Ascania. The shady individual who brokered the deal was Hans Hermann Weyer, also known as Count Yorck. Clearly the miniseries script has written itself. Weyer, who had previously done prison time for selling phony credentials, described Lichtenberg’s adoption as “the most appalling” of the hundreds he had facilitated. He said the on-paper monarch “came to my elegant office in a jogging suit” and had “owned a gay sauna with connections to the red-light district.” Furthermore, Weyer alleges Prince von Anhalt failed to fully pay the 200,000-mark bill for his services.
“I needed a door-opener,” von Anhalt said about his reasons to acquire a nobility title. “It was a tool. This was a business decision—show business.”
Von Anhalt stated that soon after this show-business decision he embarked on entrepreneurship—more saunas as well as discos and restaurants—and loan-sharking in Munich. This latter activity coincides with German public records that document von Anhalt’s involvement in assault, burglary, fraud and theft. He himself sold his “name” through phony marriages and adoptions of five adult sons, somehow also selling knighthoods, all of which made him $10 million, according to von Anhalt.
Eventually von Anhalt, with his title in tow, ended up where the elite meet to eat in Hollywood: a high-end party at Sidney Sheldon’s estate. The prince hired two UCLA students to pose as bodyguard and driver of a rented Rolls-Royce. Donning a Napoleonic uniform, the uninvited von Anhalt was enthusiastically welcomed into the party where he first met Zsa Zsa Gabor.
That was in 1982. In 1986, they were married with the blessing of Gabor’s people except her mother. A life of luxury nonetheless unfolded.
Throughout their marriage, the couple crossed paths with a young Donald Trump and hobnobbed with ancient curmudgeons like Milton Berle and Larry King. Of the relationship, there was no shortage of gossip and family strife.
In 1989, Gabor dominated the tabloids when she was convicted of slapping a Beverly Hills police officer after being pulled over for driving without a license with an open flask of Jack Daniel’s. Francesca Hilton, Zsa Zsa’s only child from her past union with hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, had power struggles with von Anhalt over money and her mother’s welfare. Hilton consistently made jabs at her shady step-father about his ersatz prince status and castle assets, and “openly challenged his sexuality” during her stints as a stand-up artist at The Comedy Store.
“My mother, Zsa Zsa Gabor, always wanted to be a princess, so she married a queen.”
To that assertion, von Anhalt was witnessed by others to be a frequent cruiser in West Hollywood.
“Ask any queen at his gym in those showers or at the ‘gay Starbucks’ on Santa Monica Boulevard,” stated von Anhalt acquaintance Bobby Trendy, an interior designer.
Von Anhalt tried to “burnish his hetero credentials” by claiming he was the father of the late Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter, and that he had sexual relations with a former Miss Hungary who committed suicide because the affair did not proceed to marriage.
Von Anhalt said he rebuffed an advance from Merv Griffin, companion of Zsa Zsa’s sister Eva. He is also the proud owner of a pair of underwear Matt Damon gave him during production of Behind the Candelabra. Otherwise the prince does not directly address rumors that he is gay.
“I never talk about my sexual life,” he told THR. “For 35 years, I’ve been going to that gym in West Hollywood. I get along with everybody. I do my stuff. I go to the sauna. Things happen. Who cares? I don’t.” He added, “My wife was woman enough to know what her husband was doing and, believe me, she wouldn’t have accepted a gay guy in her bed.”
Tensions between von Anhalt and Hilton grew when Gabor’s health declined. Others outside the argument opined that he kept Gabor isolated, though Von Anhalt insisted he was her round-the-clock caregiver. Longtime friend of Gabor Richard Heard stated, in an affidavit, that her husband was committing senior financial abuse, and had disconnected phone lines so that Gabor had no contact to friends outside of the mansion. Sadly this is not uncommon in glamorous Hollywood—it happened to Groucho Marx, Mickey Rooney, and probably to Martha Raye. Furthermore, it seems that von Anhalt in 2005 finagled filing a lawsuit supposedly from Gabor against Hilton (who had been supported by her mother) for larceny and fraud, which was thrown out when Gabor failed to appear in court, although the legal fight gave cause for a court-appointed conservatorship of Gabor. Hilton died of a heart attack in 2015 not long after the legal battle ended. Von Anhalt did not tell Gabor that her daughter passed away, he said in order not to upset her.
In the years leading up to the court battle, affidavits allege that Gabor was not aware of her husband’s career of hoodwinkery until long after they had been married. It is rumored that a New York Post article published the day before their wedding, describing von Anhalt as the “king of con men,” only came to light in the 1990s for Gabor. According to Richard Heard, the revelation was devastating to Zsa Zsa.
“We’d been together for several years before we were married,” von Anhalt disputed. “She knew about everything: She read the papers.”
Other friends summed up their union as one of “mutual convenience.”
“She knew he was gay,” said James. M. Pembroke, Gabor’s former onsite head of security at the mansion. “Everyone around them knew it was a joke, that he wasn’t a prince. But she was also difficult and just happy, at that age, to find someone who would be with her, who she could use as a prop.”
“I’ve often said that if my husband were to predecease me, I’d probably marry a wonderful gay friend who I could cuddle with, watch movies, talk and ‘you do your thing and I’ll do mine,’” said Gabor’s friend actress Ruta Lee.
“We really loved each other,” von Anhalt told THR. “Yeah, we made noise. That’s what people do. It comes with the business.”
Von Anhalt remained vague to what the word business referred.
These days, the widower’s business is politics. In 2017, he decided to run for governor of California as an independent, following in the footsteps of political charlatans he admires, like his coffee buddy Arnold Schwarzenegger and the current Failure-in-Chief—he is even using a twist on the latter’s slogan: “Make America Livable Again.”
“Here you can blindfold with money, with looks, with power,” said von Anhalt upon his announcement. “People fall for it. In Europe, they hold you at a distance. In America, they give you a chance, they take you for what you are. There’s so much more bluff in America.”