A marriage proposal, 1947-1948

Fogbound airplane, 1940s
In 1950, Hjördis tried to describe the intensity of meeting and falling in love with David Niven.

“These sort of things often happen when you are least prepared. As soon as we first saw each other we both had that strange feeling of having known each other all our lives. Everything seemed to be perfectly clear between us at once. There was no doubt in either of us –  we were made for each other.”

“The feeling of meeting the right person is probably the most wonderful thing that can happen to a human being. I still think it’s completely unbelievable that I’ve experienced it.”

David and Hjördis’ relationship deepened, and at speed. “All that week I saw him every day. One of those days he said to me: ‘Come along to see me on the set this afternoon.'”

“There were two little boys in his dressing room when I arrived. They were sweet. David was five, and Jamie nearly three. We played all sorts of silly games together, dressing up in fancy hats and clothes we found about the set. I noticed David watching us quizzically.” [Was he ticking a clipboard Hjördis?]

“Yet somehow it never really sank into my consciousness that these were David’s children. He was the only person in focus for me at that moment. Anything else was blurred and vague and out of focus. It was all like a lovely dream.”

Jazz after midnight

HJordis Genberg-Tersmeden, January 1948
HJordis Genberg-Tersmeden, January 1948

“He asked me down to stay with an elderly woman friend in the country. I think now that he wanted her to look me over for him. I must have met with her approval for about ten o’clock she said: ‘I must go to bed. I hope you don’t mind if I leave you two children alone.'”

“We stayed up until well after midnight, talking and listening to jazz records. As always, David let me do most of the talking. He seemed preoccupied, as if he had something on his mind.”

“While he was away from me, putting on a record, he said: ‘I must go back to California in a few days.’ And then, terribly awkwardly, and terribly shyly, almost off-hand and detached, he said: ‘I don’t want to leave you behind.'”

“Then it all came out in a rush. ‘Darling, will you marry me?'”

“I said ‘Yes, of course,’ and tried to be as restrained about it as he was. Inwardly, I was immensely thrilled and excited, not knowing – or caring – what my answer meant, certainly never realising for a moment what I was taking on.” Or so she said in 1964.

Speaking two weeks later, on her wedding day, Hjördis mentioned that the marriage proposal had come one month after she and David first met.

In her 1960 memoirs, written with Swedish readers in mind, Hjördis mentioned: “I wanted to say ‘Yes’ on the spot, but knew I had other things to resolve first. I asked for a few days of reflection.”

“I called Tersan and talked it over with him. I knew it wasn’t worth us trying again. I knew I had finally met the right man for me.”

“I said, ‘I’m going to get married again’, and he hung up the phone,” Hjördis told Sheridan Morley in 1985, “so I had to call him back because I didn’t want him just to read about it in the papers.”

Fast-forward Wedding preparations

“It was a busy week for us. We had to arrange all the paperwork, for the wedding, the reception… a thousand things.”

David ‘s ‘The Moon’s A Balloon’ best-seller from 1971 describes the red-tape encountered while trying to organise a quick marriage, as well as tightening up the narrative of Hjördis’ activities:

“She was Swedish, which posed all sorts of strange problems with the marriage authorities. Also, she didn’t speak English too well which helped matters not at all when it came to explaining to them that she had landed in England en route from America to Sweden, the plane had been grounded because of sudden fog at London Airport, and a friend on board invited her to visit a film studio.”

“I lost my Swedish nationality on our marriage, which I often think is a pity,” Hjördis remembered. “I learned afterwards that I could have remained a Swedish citizen and had dual nationality if I had pressed for it, but nobody told me then.”

Before the wedding, David showed great sensitivity by bringing Hjördis to meet Primmie’s parents, William and Lady Kathleen Rollo.

“David was first married to an English woman, Primula Rollo, who had a tragic accident in Hollywood when their two boys were very small,” Hjördis wrote in 1960. “David was very fond to Mr. Rollo, an adorable man.”

Cholly Knickerbocker gets it wrong

In addition to contacting Carl Gustaf, Hjördis also called Igor Cassini. In his autobiography he wrote: “Hjördis took a vacation in Europe. The trip turned out beautifully. She met the recently widowed David Niven. Hjördis called me from England to give me the aut-aut [either/or ultimatum], either I got free or she would not be any more. Both she and I did the right thing.” Igor re-married one week after Hjördis and David.

Hjördis most probably called Igor in the week before meeting David Niven. A snippet duly appeared in the 28th December 1947 ‘Cholly Knickerbocker’ column, tacked onto the end of a piece about Swedish blue-bloods partying in New York: “Carl Tersmeden of the wealthy Swedish pulp family, and his estranged wife Hjördis, are back together again in Stockholm.” Wrong and wrong.  [Anyone else feeling sorry for poor old Carl Gustaf?]

“The strange thing is, the last thing on my mind was initiating some kind of love at that time,” Hjördis told Husmodern in 1950. “I had completely different plans for my life, and was eventually going to go back to Sweden. I never did complete that journey.”

“As each day went by, I became increasingly nervous. David promised me that we would have a quiet wedding, joined only by a few friends afterwards. But I knew how difficult it was for movie stars to maintain their privacy.”

A farewell to Carl Gustaf Tersmeden

Carl Gustaf Tersmeden (familysearch.org)

Carl Gustaf doesn’t seem to have remarried. Instead, he pushed the yacht out and lived his rootless millionaire playboy lifestyle to the full. His life seems to have been hedonistic, but not entirely happy.

He was described by Swedish aristocrat Gunilla Von Post as “a charming and generous bon vivant” when he took an interest in her teenage self in the late 1940s. Around the same time he also took an interest in an 18 year-old called Doris Hopp. Carl, described as “sad, and just abandoned by the model Hjördis Genberg,” gave Doris an introduction into society circles, where she quickly saw that there was money to be made. She subsequently became Sweden’s most infamous brothel madam.

Carl continued to winter with American East Coast society, and was spotted by Igor Cassini (probably from a safe distance) in Palm Beach during 1949 with Swedish born actress Elizabeth Berge. In 1950 he was cheekily named by Igor as the possible cause of a divorce between a young New York society couple. Which was a bit rich, considering that Igor had contributed generously towards Carl’s divorce three years earlier.

He entertained at his Palm Beach clubs until 1952, in Paris, and on his yacht in the south of France – with guests including top drawer playboys and playgirls such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Porfirio Rubirosa, Aly Khan, and David Niven’s old cohort Errol Flynn.

After a long exile, Carl returned to Sweden in March 1957 and died on 20th April 1957, aged 40. His death was reported in the US press:

“International society was shocked to hear that wealthy Swedish playboy Carl Tersmeden, an ex-husband of the present Mrs David Niven died of a heart attack in Stockholm.”

Next page: South Kensington Registry Office 1948

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