Hjördis first met David while visiting the set of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in late 1947. She settled herself down in his personal canvas chair, and then refused to budge when asked by the assistant director. David, a vision in tartan with a blonde wig, stomped over to evict her, took one look, and fell in love. Six weeks later they were married and she became a Hollywood wife.
Hjördis’ life before that encounter has never been fully documented. It’s commonly known that she had been Sweden’s top fashion model, with one marriage already behind her, to a rich Swedish businessman called Carl-Gustav Tersmeden. And that is it.
In the received wisdom, after meeting the recently widowed David, the blindingly quick marriage suggested that she saw him purely as a means to an end – a ticket to becoming a Hollywood actress. When he actively stood in the way of her ambitions, the consequences were thirty years of heavy drinking, jealousy, adultery and mental cruelty, right through to his death in 1983.
That’s neither accurate nor the full picture. For starters, Hjördis had been turning down offers from Hollywood for two years before David set eyes on her. Even when they met, she was still carrying around the offer of a movie contract from ‘Gone With The Wind’ director David O. Selznick.
Much of the vitriol aimed at Hjördis stems from “Niv”, Graham Lord’s excellent biography of David Niven, which was published in 2003, six years after her death. It revealed an unhappy marriage which had previously been held up as a rare example of a lasting and loving Hollywood coupling. Ironically, Hjördis, who felt sidelined by David’s success, completely dominates Lord’s book as soon as she appears about halfway through.
Despite all the details of her miss-deeds, circumstances such as her recurrent miscarriages, the resulting depression and David’s unflagging adultery are all skimmed over. Also striking, is that among the many people interviewed for their opinions on Hjördis, none are from her family in Sweden.
Was she an interesting person? She certainly had an interesting life, lived at an interesting time, met interesting people and her story was and is interesting to piece together. She was no angel, but in the period up to 1959 behaved no worse than many of her contemporaries.
My initial aim was to piece together the first forty years of Hjördis’ life, from 1919-1959, in the hope of finding that she and David had more good times together than what is normally assumed. I have continued beyond the initial cut off point – given my aim I’m not so sure if that was a good idea – and am currently approaching 1965.
I’ve used Hjördis’ words where possible, and despite going off on the occasional tangent, it is first and foremost meant to be her story.
No pages are closed off and complete- they are all being constantly added to and amended as new information arrives and new thoughts occur. Please feel free to comment and contribute.
If you own the copyright to any of the uncredited images, I apologise and am happy to either remove or credit them.