The Hjördis Niven bookshelf

David Niven - The Moon's A Balloon - book coverThe Moon’s A Balloon
David Niven, 1971
ISBN-10: 0140239243

David’s long-promised autobiography / collection of anecdotes became an international best-seller. Some of the stories, especially from his earlier years, are embroidered from his first fib-encrusted Hollywood promo biography. Many of the stories involving Hjördis do scan as true – if perhaps exaggerated. Her reaction to the book was not positive – “I haven’t read it”. So there.

David Niven - Bring On The Empty Horses book coverBring On The Empty Horses
David Niven, 1975
ISBN-10: 0340839953

The follow up to David’s autobiography is another collection of essays, this time concentrating on his Hollywood years and the characters encountered. According to Hjördis: “Another pack of old lies”.

Not quite. There are stories told purely for entertainment, but the book is also an incisive look at life in Hollywood, and again many of the stories involving Hjördis are true. The highlight is a fascinating chapter about Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, based on first-hand experience.

The films of David Niven, book coverThe Films of David Niven
Gerard Garrett, 1975
ISBN -0 85321  069 1

Glossy 250 page softback, crammed with rarely seen photos from David’s movies. There are two family snaps featuring Hjördis, but the book concentrates on it’s title subject – David’s film career. It is written with the warmth of a fan, but is brutally honest about the quality of the movies. An entertaining read!

Igor Cassini - I'd Do It All Over Again - book coverI’d Do It All Over Again
Igor Cassini with Jeanne Moli, 1977
ISBN-10: 0399115536

Igor’s highly entertaining autobiography. Hjördis appears during his “smorgasbord phase”. The book contains illuminating descriptions of the cafe society / jet set world of the 1940s and 1950s, inhabited by playboys, playgirls, and  gossip columnists.


David Niven - Niven's Hollywood book coverNiven’s Hollywood
Tom Hutchinson, 1984

198 page hardback book, intertwining David’s Hollywood career with an illustrated history of Hollywood and its stars during the  1920s-1950s ‘Golden Age’. There are lots of great photos. It was written by a film critic who knew David personally throughout his days in Hollywood. The biography is warm and the words about David’s films are entertainingly honest. There are a few photos of Hjördis, but the book is about David’s life as a film actor.

The Last Gentleman, A tribute to David NivenThe Last Gentleman, A tribute to David Niven
Peter Haining, 1984
ISBN-0 491 03103 3

A 220 page hardback split into three sections: David’s life story – with an emphasis on his acting and writing careers; specially written tributes by friends and colleagues; and a filmography.

The first section skims over the marriage – “like all couples, the Nivens were to have their ups and downs”, and the second doesn’t include any words from Hjördis, although she does appear in a few photos.

David Niven - The Other Side Of The Moon - book coverDavid Niven – The Other Side of the Moon
Sheridan Morley, 1985
ISBN-10: 0773680012

The first in-depth David Niven biography, written by the son of actor Robert Morley. It features interviews with David’s sons, and importantly with people who had passed away by the time of the next biography – including Hjördis. In its introduction the book describes the marriage as “often extremely unhappy”, but doesn’t really discuss it beyond the temporary break in 1959. Which is fair enough.

Morley, who knew David Niven socially, later said: “David did have some less than admirable qualities. He was an opportunist and he sought out stars as friends. But if those are a man’s worst qualities, he isn’t really a very bad man.”

Hjördis’ input was limited, and she did not demand any say in the book’s contents. However, Sheridan Morley reported her reaction to its publication as “a thunderous silence.” (She was reportedly furious about a sentence claiming that David had semi-regular girlfriends in London and New York.)

David Niven book coverDavid Niven – Endearing Rascal
Charles Francisco, 1986
ISBN-0: 86369 218-4

Lesser known American 300 page paperback biography. David’s sons provided some interview material, and there are snippets from a few of David’s friends, but Hjördis’ words mainly come from a 1957 American magazine interview. The bulk of the material comes from press clippings [pot, kettle, black] which are at times stretched and over-embellished.

The author occasionally touches on the more difficult aspects of David’s second marriage despite seeking to portray it as a happy, loving success, especially after the short split in 1959. If only.

David Niven - Niv, biography by Graham Lord - book coverNiv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven
Graham Lord, 2003
ISBN-10: 0752859285

The biggest and best David Niven biography, even though it seems to switch to a Hjördis biography half-way through, due to the force of her role – for good and ill – in David’s life. She does not come out of it at all well, despite Graham Lord’s very occasional attempts at introducing balance. He seems to get more and more annoyed with her as the book progresses. It looks as if the photo captions were added last, by which time Mr Lord was really letting rip.

Considering the weight of Hjördis’ presence in the book, it seems an oversight that none of her friends and family in Sweden were interviewed.

NP. Thompson‘s review in Seattle Weekly was… strong, but showed sympathy with Hjördis that the book chose to overlook: “In spite of Lord’s unquestioning reverence for Niven, he paints the actor as a dilettantish control freak who wouldn’t allow his second wife, the Swedish model Hjördis Tersmeden, to have a profession once they’d tied the knot. Hjördis disintegrated into an aimless, drunken boor, and Lord (all too conveniently) tries to portray the denied wife as a villain.”

The author interviewed David’s sons, his adopted daughters Kristina and Fiona, and friends such as Pat Medina, Doreen Hawkins, April Clavell, and, memorably, Lauren Bacall. The story of his interview with Ms Bacall is memorable in itself, and shows the difficulties involved in putting the book together.

True Grace. Wendy LeighTrue Grace – The Life and Times of an American Princess
Wendy Leigh, 2007
ISBN-10: 0312342365

Biography of Princess Grace of Monaco, which pays particular interest to her entanglements before and during her marriage. One chapter is devoted to her “did they, didn’t they” (doesn’t matter) relationship with David. Grace’s “was she, wasn’t she” friendship with Hjördis is also mentioned – with a dispiriting conclusion. The author interviewed David Jr and Jamie Niven, as well as some of David Snr’s friends.

What ho, Giotto! book coverWhat Ho! Giotto
Freddie Owen, 2012
ISBN-10: 1300871350

“An artist’s verbal sketchbook – on life, love of Italy and creation of a studio and garden in Le Marche…” Another garden lovingly described is the one at Lo Scoglietto. The author speaks warmly of a visit to the Nivens during David’s final winter in Chateau D’Oex, and his family’s subsequent friendship with Hjördis.


In My Own Fashion, An Autobiography
Oleg Cassini, 1987

My Word Is My Bond, The Autobiography
Roger Moore, 2008

Kvinnor i elden
Jules Berman, 1954

Killing My Own Snakes
Ann Leslie,  2008

My Lucky Stars
Shirley MacLaine, 1995

Pieces of My Heart: A Life
Robert J Wagner, 2009

Jackie Oh!
Kitty Kelley, 1979

Various magazines, including:

Se: 1942, 1960, 1961,
Vårt Hem, 1943, 1944, 1946,
Vecko Revyn: 1943, 1945, 1949, 1961
Vecko Journalen: 1944, 1958, 1971,
Damernas Värld (Women’s World): 1945, 1960, 1963
Svensk Damtidning: 1945
Husmodern (Housewife): 1946, 1948,1950, 1962,
Filmjournalen: 1950
Allas: 1952
Esquire: 1952
Illustrated, 1954
Året Runt (All Year Around): 1961, 1963, 1966, 1972,
Paris Match: 1961,
Allers: 1963, 1970
Hemmets Journal: 1965
Grazia: 1965
Woman’s Home Journal: 1968
Woman’s Realm: 1973
Telegraph Sunday Magazine: 1977
Weekend: 1977
Woman’s Weekly: 1979, 1982
Private Eye: 2009

Bogus book corner:

The 2009 David Niven biography ‘The Man Behind The Balloon’ reads as a fantasy in which the author lifts ‘Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven’ and writes himself into it. Supposed interviews with Hjördis appear to come straight from his imagination. Check out this Guardian interview with the author.

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