Before Paris Hilton, there was Zsa Zsa

Our roving correspondent, Paul O’Connor, whiled away some driving time by listening to a true story that could provide ample fodder for a prime-time TV soap.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

THE HILTONS: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMERICAN DYNASTY. By J. Randy Taraborrelli. Hachette Audio. 16 CDs. 19.5 hours. $35. Read by Robert Petkoff.

The good news about this audiobook is that it isn’t about Paris Hilton. The bad news is that it is too much about Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Conrad Hilton was an amazing man. The eldest son of a small town New Mexico merchant, he tried and failed at a number of endeavors in early adulthood. After he found his niche as a hotelier and built a small profitable chain, the Great Depression nearly broke him. After he survived that, he went on to build one of the nation’s great businesses, making a fortune in the process.

He was a devout Roman Catholic, extremely generous to charitable and civic undertakings, and he did his best not to spoil his children.

But he also married Zsa Zsa. Poor guy. The second marriage for both of them. She’d have seven more husbands, he only one more wife, but their lives were inextricably bound together.

Hilton believed strongly in family, and because Zsa Zsa was pregnant at the time of their divorce, Hilton always publicly treated the child of that pregnancy as his own. (The author never determines whether the child was biologically Hilton’s daughter, but Hilton denied her being so in private and later in legal documents.)

Hilton also had two sons by his first wife, the elder being a fun-loving guy who married Elizabeth Taylor, the younger being a serious guy who went on to become Paris’s grandfather and a billionaire in his own right. Oh, and then there was a third son by that first wife, conceived while Conrad was working all the time and while the first wife was probably having an affair with the local football coach who would become her second husband.

I don’t remember any reference to J.R. Ewing in any of this.

So, here’s my advice on this audiobook: Listen to it if you like People magazine and those Hollywood news shows that come on at 7 p.m. Find another Hilton biography if you’re more interested in learning how this amazing businessman built and sustained the Hilton operations.

While the author does wander into the business details of Conrad Hilton’s, they obviously take second priority to the family gossip. Paris does show up on the final CD, and that was all most of us would want to know about her.

Robert Petkoff does an admirable job of reading the book, although his Zsa Zsa voice does grate after 19 hours.

  • Paul T. O’Connor, contributing editor, is a university lecturer who is available for freelance writing assignments. Contact him at


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