Cholly Knickerbocker observes: Hjördis Tersmeden, 1947

HJordis Tersmeden
Hjordis Genberg-Tersmeden, and the Everglades Club dining room

Carl Gustaf and Hjördis Tersmeden moved on from New York, following the yearly cafe society winter migration to Palm Beach, Florida, and by 21st January 1947 were entertaining and being entertained in the opulent surroundings of the Everglades and Coral Beach clubs.

“We went back to Palm Beach,” Hjördis wrote. “There, Tersan devoted himself to golf so intensely that I hardly saw him. Day after day I sat alone and had nothing to do.”

Igor Cassini had tennis rather than golf on his mind, and accompanied by his wife and brother flew down to Palm Beach in early February to take part in the annual ‘Bath & Tennis Club’ tennis championship (where he was reigning champion), and to dabble in the affairs of society: “One could always find enough material to file a column from there, and it gave me a chance to play a lot of tennis.”

On 12th February, Igor filed his first Palm Beach dabble of the year, describing events at an Everglades Club party hosted by Prince Artchil Gourielli, an emigre Georgian nobleman with a “cloudy” title borrowed from his maternal grandmother. (Cloudy enough for titled Count Igor to just refer to him as Artchil Gourielli). The evening provided Igor with plenty of opportunity to get facetious about the venue and the mainly Russian guests:

“The Everglades Club, where the atmosphere is drenchingly opulent, and the members unflinchingly applaud any songs containing the words ‘grouse for breakfast’ and ‘chinchilla coat’. Artchill, gray and glittering like an ersatz diamond [ouch!], injected, as usual, the proper proportion of mad Caucasian abandon, laughter, tears and broken glasses.”

However, the undoubted highlight for Igor was running into one of the non-Russian guests, Hjördis Tersmeden. He grasped the opportunity to ask her both about herself and her marriage, and then cheekily (especially knowing his intentions) dropped her into the middle of his column, among all of the princes and princesses:

“Mrs Tersmeden (she has the unpronounceable name of Hjondis) [yes, Hjondis…] is vivid, many-ringed and rather beautiful and used to be a model in Stockholm. When Mr Tersmeden came over here last year on business she followed him to Tucson, Arizona, pounced on him from behind a cactus and married him, not too much against his will, I gathered.”  Cheeky sod.

The Everglades golf widows

Everglades Club golf clubhouse.
The Everglades Club golf clubhouse.

Carl Gustaf Tersmeden’s Miami golf and club mania reached its peak in the following days. On 12th (the day that Igor Cassini’s gush was published), Hjördis had to kill time at the Everglades tombola, on the 13th she and Carl hosted dinner for twelve guests in ‘The Gray Room’, and on Friday 14th they threw a luncheon on the golf terrace. Following a Saturday to Monday “Mixed Foursomes” golf tournament (from 15th-17th) where Carl was paired with a Mrs James E. Martin of Toledo, Ohio, there was a sudden two-week tee-break.

The situation may have come to a head on 18th February, the Tersmedens’ first wedding anniversary, a rare golfless day in Carl Gustaf’s calendar.

“I wanted to go back to New York,” Hjördis wrote of her frustration, “but instead we agreed to go to Key Largo. There we found our community again, and one day of sunshine followed another.” For a short time.

Carl’s agreement to move 150 miles further south to The Keys may have been part-influenced by a freak cold spell that had just hit Florida, during which The Everglades golf widows had to sit around wearing fur coats, with more fur coats draped over their laps. The local authorities desperately asked people not to blow the local electricity supply by plugging in their domestic heaters.

How to kiss the hand of a married lady

Barbara Hoge with Ivan Peter Obolensky, 1949
Barbara Hoge with future husband Ivan Peter Obolensky.

Things were not looking too good for Carl Gustaf, but his luck really took a nose-dive during a return to Palm Beach on 25th February, thanks to the seating arrangement at a party thrown by young New York socialite Barbara Hoge (who married another of Igor’s White Russians, Prince Ivan Peter Obolensky, in 1950). A local newspaper listed the guests – including “Mr & Mrs Carl Tersmeden” beside “Mr & Mrs Igor Cassini.” A coincidence?

Some of Count Igor’s courtly training could now come into its own, including: 1/ How to bow, 2/ How to kiss the hand of a married lady [no tongues I suppose],  3/ Which fork to use for what, and 4/ When a royal princess asks to dance, wear your white gloves. (The latter was most probably not needed, but white glove wearing will re-appear further on in Hjördis’ story)

“I was sat beside her at a Palm Beach dinner party,” Igor Cassini enthused to journalist Marian Christy in 1977 while promoting his autobiography. “I was totally mesmerized. I danced with her most of the evening, and during a slow dance asked her to meet me for lunch the next day. We talked. Oh, did we talk…”

Hjördis airbrushed Igor out of her Swedish magazine memoirs. However, she did mention him to a Swedish journalist in 1953, although without giving a name.

“There was a man who started courting me feverishly,” she revealed. “I was still in love with Tersan, so I didn’t want anything to do with the fellow, but I thought that maybe I could make Tersan jealous. So, I told him about the other man. Tersan didn’t care. ‘That’s all right,’ he said. I was disappointed, so I asked him for a divorce. I said I would marry the other man. The wonder happened. Tersan became a different character, he didn’t leave my side for a second. But, somehow my great love for him was over.”

Next page: A rootless and insecure marriage, 1947

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