Stars like Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Hamilton have fame disproportionate to their achievements

Zsa Zsa Gabor with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 - Dream Warriors. Picture: Warner Home Video

Zsa Zsa Gabor with Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare On Elm Street 3 - Dream Warriors. Picture: Warner Home Video

If you want to become famous for absolutely nothing - famous for being famous or FFBF - reality TV is obviously the way to go now. The comment attributed to Andy Warhol that in the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes never seemed so apt. And if you can't be world famous, you can be Australia famous.

I don't need to name the shows, you know what they are. And you know if you watch them. And who's been on them.

Another way to become famous? You could marry well, or at least someone well known. Kate Middleton, for example, knows something about that. And Megan Markle went from being TV actress to royal wife, gaining a much bigger profile in the process, for good or ill.

But this FFBF phenomenon is just a sign of how lazy and decadent our culture has become.

We've long had people who were famous for being famous but at least they were usually famous for something.

There are some who were once big names whose profile waned when they got older, but others whose fame was disproportionate to their accomplishments.

Zsa Zsa Gabor is an example of the latter. The Hungarian-American actress was the sister of Eva Gabor - who had a pretty respectable acting career - and Magda Gabor, who was basically famous for being the sister of Eva and Zsa Zsa.

But give Zsa Zsa her due: she certainly had a distinctive adopted name (changed from Sari) and she worked for her time in the spotlight.

She made quite a few movies - the most respectable being Moulin Rouge, Lili and Touch of Evil, none of which are remembered for her - but her real renown, if that's the word, is for marrying nine times.

Among her husbands were hotelier Conrad Hilton, actor George Sanders (who went on to marry her sister Magda) and Jack Ryan, who invented the Barbie doll and Chatty Cathy.

She went through seven divorces and one annulment - her eighth wedding took place before her seventh divorce was finalised (after all those marriages, I guess it was hard to keep track). Her final husband outlived her.

No mean feat, you might think, but she was 99 - officially; she claimed to be some years younger - when she died and her husband a mere 74, practically a toyboy. His name was Prince Frédéric von Anhalt - he was born Hans Georg Robert Lichtenberg but at the age of 36, Lichtenberg was adopted by deposed German royal Marie-Auguste of Anhalt. How official his princely status was is debatable.

From left, Gary Kroeger as Ben Smythe, George Hamilton as Ian Stone and Barry Corbin as Thomas Brady in Spies.

From left, Gary Kroeger as Ben Smythe, George Hamilton as Ian Stone and Barry Corbin as Thomas Brady in Spies.

Gabor either had a witty tongue or a good ghostwriter: she made great, good-humoured capital out of her marital life, with lines like, "I have never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back" and "I am a marvellous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man, I keep his house."

Such quips helped keep her in the spotlight, even though she wasn't really doing anything. Do talk-show appearances really count?

Zsa Zsa and her family lived in a surreal world where the truth was whatever they wanted it to be - age, religion, personal history.

And Zsa Zsa made for good copy: she slept with her stepson, Nicky Hilton, and claimed his father raped her, producing her only child, Francesca.

In 1989 she gained a lot of publicity for slapping a police officer who pulled her over: she was driving her Rolls-Royce Corniche without a valid licence. The trial, unsurprisingly, became a bizarre media circus. She was convicted and sentenced to 72 hours in jail, 120 hours of community service, and $13,000 in fines and restitution. But was she shamed? No, dahling.

Elizabeth Taylor was a serious actress from childhood with two Oscars. But she was also a Capital-C Celebrity, noted for her frequent marriages and illnesses and her hedonistic lifestyle. In the latter part of her life the celebrity aspect took over, with ailments, marital issues and weight fluctuations overshadowing her acting. By the 1970s, her career was mostly unmemorable films and television in an era where the latter medium was looked down on by film stars as a refuge for has-beens. But she was always a Name.

One thing I always wondered with much-married people like Gabor and Taylor: wasn't there a point where Samuel Johnson's comment about a second (or third, or fourth, or...) marriage being the triumph of hope over experience might have rung true for them and their spouses?

George Hamilton is a celebrity known primarily for his tan. Hamilton also had a long career in film and television but apart from a couple of comedies including Love at First Bite and a supporting role in the third Godfather movie, his screen appearances are not particularly well remembered.

And Joan Collins lucked into her definitive role on the prime-time TV soap Dynasty: she had begun as an ostensible rival to Taylor (there was no contest) but didn't get the breaks. Her film career largely consisted of horror movies and later, films like The Stud and The Bitch based on her sister Jackie's novels.

Both Taylor and Collins, it should be noted, were named Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire for their services to charity, so at least they made some use of their celebrity for good.

No doubt you can think of other Famous for Being Famous folk, past and (especially) present.

And in this age of instant celebrity, there's no end in sight to the parade of those who are famous for being famous.

This story Famous simply for being famous first appeared on The Canberra Times.