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.”

The same may have been true for David.

Modern Screen magazine repeated a story that had just been added to his repertoire: “There’s a story he likes to tell about the painter, Vasco Lazzolo (who specialised in painting beautful women) , who was strolling down Curzon Street, London, on his way to a party at Sir Alexander Korda’s. An old flower-seller on the first corner stopped him, and offered her first bunch of early spring flowers. He bought them, smiling. ‘I shall give these to the first really beautiful woman I meet…’  Later, at the party, some of the guests noticed Hjördis holding flowers, but only a few knew why.”

Jazz after midnight

“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?'”

Speaking on 13th January 1948, the day before her wedding day, Hjördis mentioned that the proposal came one month after she and David first met.

“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.”

In her 1960 memoirs, written with her 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.”

“(Intially) 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

HJordis Genberg-Tersmeden, January 1948
Hjordis Genberg-Tersmeden, 13th  January 1948. “Mr Niven and Mrs Tersmeden have been seen dancing in the West End recently.”

“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’ recent 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.”

The day before the wedding, David showed great sensitivity by bringing Hjördis to meet Primmie’s parents, William and Lady Kathleen Rollo at their London residence in Farm Street, Mayfair.

“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 of Mr. Rollo, an adorable man.”

Cholly Knickerbocker gets it wrong

In addition to contacting Carl Gustaf, Hjördis called Igor Cassini, according to Igor. In his 1977 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.”

Hjördis most probably called Igor before meeting David Niven, as a snippet appeared in the 28th December 1947 ‘Cholly Knickerbocker’ column, tacked onto 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.  [Before you feel too sorry for poor old Carl Gustaf, bear in mind that with Hjördis there were consequences for infidelity.]

On Thursday 4th December 1947, the likely date that Hjördis met David Niven, US newspapers announced that Igor Cassini was set to wed a young US socialite, Elizabeth Darrah Waters. He had obviously been active in her absence [and most probably before]. The marriage took place on 22nd January 1948, one week after Hjördis and David. All of these shiny new marriage certificates flying around high society certainly put David’s “why wait?” wedding plans into perspective. In short, it was a case of marry her before someone else does.

“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 Tersemeden sailing on Symfoni, in August 1949
Colonel von Schinken, air attache of the Swedish embassies in the US and Canada (not John Wayne), sailing with Carl-Gustaf Tersemeden, August 1949.

Although an imminent third union was reported from the French Riviera in 1956 (to a rich American woman called ‘Mrs Hudson’), Carl Gustaf doesn’t seem to have remarried.

Instead, he pushed the yacht out and lived a rootless millionaire playboy lifestyle. His post-Hjördis life looks as if it was hedonistic, but not entirely happy.

Carl Gustaf Tersmeden in 1945. (familysearch.org)

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 recently abandoned by the model Hjördis Genberg” gave Doris an introduction into Stockholm society, where she quickly saw that there was money to be made. She subsequently became Sweden’s most infamous brothel madam.

In 1949 he was referred to in the Swedish press as “Sweden’s Bertie Wooster” (not exactly a compliment) and in the 1950s as Sweden’s undisputed number one playboy.

A Newsday article in August 1949 labelled him: “a dashing Swedish pulp paper prince [try saying that with a mouthfull of tacks] temporarily at liberty after shedding his second wife Hgordes Jenberg [who?]”

“He spends about six months a year in the United States selling wood pulp to US newspaper publishers.” Ironically, some of the resulting paper was used to tattle on his playboy lifetsyle, ultimately just to call him fat and sad.

As well as selling pulp, Carl had Symfoni shipped across the Atlantic for rectreational sailing around Long Island, and provided the gossip columnists with ammunition by continuing his wintering with American East Coast society.

In 1949 he was spotted in Palm Beach by Igor Cassini (probably from a safe distance) with Swedish-born actress Elizabeth Berge, and in 1950 with ex-model socialite Mildred ‘Brownie’ Schrafft, the wife of a business associate, chocolate baron George Schrafft. [Disappointingly, ‘Brownie’ came from her maiden name, Brown, and was nothing to do with chocolate brownies.]

Also in 1950, Igor cheekily named Carl as the possible cause of a divorce between an un-named young New York society couple. Which was a bit rich, considering that he had contributed generously towards Carl’s divorce three years earlier.

In May 1951 Igor reported that Carl had “a new sweet tooth”, this time with Cary Grant’s 1947 fling, the John Powers model Betty Hensel.

Scrolling forward to May 1952, Carl was listed in another short-term Palm Beach relationship, this time with Eve Wolfe, the estranged wife of Ohio newspaper publisher Ed Wolfe. In her report of the romance, Miami society columnist “Suzy” described Carl as a “stout Swedish socialite.” Suzy had already well and truly skewered poor old Carl early in the year, with an acidic piece that can’t have been easy for him to shrug off:

Carl-Gustaf Tersmeden
Carl-Gustaf Tersmeden

“Carl Tersmeden, the blonde portly man-about-town may wander along Gold Coast smart spots with various and sundry good looking gals, but he’ll never find one as lovely as his ex-wife, the former Hjördis Tersmeden, who is now married to David Niven. Carl knows it too.” [Big ouch]

Suzy’s real name was Aileen Mehle. In 1963 she took over Igor Cassini’s ‘Cholly Knickerbocker’ column in The New York Journal-American and changed her writing name to Suzy Knickerbocker.

After 1952 Carl retreated to Paris, and then 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.

Carl returned to Sweden in March 1957, where he died on 20th April 1957 aged just 40, ten years after his divorce from Hjördis. His death was reported in the US press, ironically by Igor Cassini:

“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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