Hjördis’ recovery from the shooting accident took place amid two years of intercontinental ping-pong, as she accompanied David Niven time and again on his movie trails between Hollywood and London. “From the moment I married David my life has been hectic – and practically unplanned.”
Christmas 1952 was spent in Hollywood, being entertained at the mock-Tudor home of English actor Ronald Colman. In early 1953 David’s acting profile began to rise. This was due to his performance in the film version of ‘The Moon Is Blue’, made between January and February, which earned him a Golden Globe Award for best actor.
Partly as a reaction to press coverage received in 1952 – a mix of split rumours and Hjördis shot in the face reports – David hired his first post-war personal press agent to coincide with ‘The Moon Is Blue’. Fittingly, the agent used to work for Errol Flynn, meaning that he would be well used to dealing with talk of extra-marital goings-on.
Introducing Philip Prince
Life at the start of 1953, was busy, busy, busy for David. Four Star TV shows were topping the ratings, he was writing a play called ‘The Rule of the Rooster’, and a new movie role meant another long stay in England.
Hjördis was also being kept busy, including a dinner-dance thrown by Jimmy Stewart, but was not yet out of the wars… In February she turned up on the set of ‘The Moon Is Blue’ wearing a plaster cast, after breaking her foot in a fall at Charles K. Feldman’s house. In later years, Hjördis and plaster casts would become regular acquaintances.
In late March, David and Hjördis sailed for Southampton on the Queen Elizabeth to be in London for the coronation of the other Queen Elizabeth (the Queen) on 2 June. Gerard Garrett mentions in ‘The Films of David Niven’ that David waived his fee for the ‘The Love Lottery’ movie in order to be in town for the event. The Nivens had the pleasure of watching the procession with their friends the Bogarts. (‘The Love Lottery’ was filmed at Ealing studios, London, and Lake Como, Italy, in April and May 1953). As with many of her European trips, Hjördis took the opportunity to visit her sisters and brother in Sweden while David was filming.
The coronation inspired a get-rich-quick scheme, which tickled David’s sense of humour: “Hjördis came up with a perfectly marvelous idea for a doll, a Queen Elizabeth doll. What fun it would be for everyone to be able to dress and undress the Queen of England. But she had to get permission from Buckingham Palace. Somehow they didn’t quite go for that idea.”
So, no Elizabeth II doll, but in July 1954 Hjördis did have a brush with English royalty, when Prince Philip spotted David at a palace garden party and strolled over to say hello. David was already an acquaintance, but realised that the prince had never met Hjördis. His hasty introduction was unique: “Hjördis, may I present Philip Prince…”
“Not only did I twist his name,” David later admitted, “but I should have presented my wife to the Prince, instead of vice versa.”
Hjördis’ next (and probably) last contact with the royal family came during a ball at Buckingham Palace when she accidentally slapped the Queen while swinging around in her ball-gown to get up to dance. “My father enjoyed telling that story,” Fiona Niven told Graham Lord. “He said they were never invited back.”
C’est la fronde
During her time in London, Hjördis received regular facial massages, although her English let her down when she tried to arrange a back massage for David. A female masseuse turned up, David stripped in anticipation [uh -huh..], and the girl fled – having only expected to massage his face.
Although she was no longer a model, Hjördis’ style and beauty kept her in the sights of photographers and followers of fashion. In November 1953 she was asked about her adoption of the latest hairstyle, ‘la Fronde’:
“It’s much the easiest style I’ve ever had. It’s not like long hair, when you get the feeling you can’t move your head an inch or it’ll all fall out-of-place. You can run your hands through it and it makes no difference. I just brush it all back off my forehead and comb a few curls forward. You can pull the bits you want forward and they stay there, if you have it cut right and set it forward.”
“My wife experiments constantly,” David said about Hjördis’ fronde. “She had it all cut off. I put up a tremendously brave front, but it took me longer than usual to get used to that one.”
Her looks were still intact and set to stun, even if partly obscured by curls. Actor Peter Finch’s wife, ballerina Tamara Finch, memorably described the effect that Hjördis had on her when she nervously attended a party hosted by the Nivens: “We arrived at our destination, where Hjördis Niven, devastatingly beautiful, greeted us warmly. I snatched one Martini, then said to Peter that I was going back. In spite of all his assurances, I felt I had to rush home.”
David was an undoubted connoisseur of devastating beauty, and as such was a judge at the Miss World competition, held at the London Lyceum in October 1953. (Miss France was the winner). David’s final movie of the year , ‘Happy Ever After’, began filming in September 1953 at Elstree and Braughing, Hertfordshire (which doubled for Ireland). Once done, he and Hjördis made (at first) unhurried plans to return to Hollywood.
Got to keep Mum happyEmbed from Getty Images
David Niven and Hjördis (with a fronde) arrive at the Globe Theatre in London for the first night of Noel Coward’s new show ‘After the Ball’, 11th June 1954
The Golden Globe Awards were held at the Club Del Mar in Santa Monica, on 22nd January 1954. David and Hjördis made it by the skins of their teeth, having only docked in New York the day before, after a week-long voyage in the Queen Mary. The awards evening was both a happy event, with recognition for David’s talent, and also worrying, with the private knowledge that Hjördis was pregnant.
Doreen Hawkins told Sheridan Morley:
“I remember his tremendous anxiety about her: ‘Got to keep Mum happy you see,’ he’d say, time and again. He was desperately keen on the idea of a happy family life, with a home where the boys could grow up secure.”
The couple had actually been booked to sail from Southampton on 31st December (to arrive in New York on 5th January) , but did not embark, and only caught the ship next time around, from Cherbourg on 16th January. Whether Hjördis was really well enough to travel isn’t known, but a snap taken in their cabin mirror during the voyage showed her looking tired and ill.
Sadly, once again the pregnancy ended in heartbreak. On 5th February Hjördis underwent surgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. A news report from 10th March mentioned that she was “recovering from a serious abdominal operation.”
For Hjördis, her yearning to have a baby was taking its toll. “She was always trying, poor darling, and then having terrible miscarriages,” Doreen Hawkins remembered, “and each time that happened she’d go into a deep, deep depression which used to upset David terribly.”
The NHS has this to say about the aftermath of a miscarriage: “Many people affected by a miscarriage go through a bereavement period. It’s common to feel tired, lose your appetite and have difficulty sleeping after a miscarriage. You may also feel a sense of guilt, shock, sadness and anger – sometimes at a partner, or at friends or family members who have had successful pregnancies. Miscarriage can also cause feelings of anxiety or depression, and can lead to relationship problems.”
Next page: I’ve learned to be happy ever after