Stockholm to El Morocco, 1946-1947

Hjordis Tersmeden 1946
Hjordis Tersmeden admiring Christmas decorations in Stockholm, December 1946.

“I enjoyed being back home,” Hjördis wrote. “It was a beautiful spring, followed by a fabulous summer which we spent almost exclusively on my husband’s yacht ‘Symfoni’. I know almost nothing better than sailing, and ‘Symfoni’ was a fantastic yacht, something that even the worst ‘land crabs’ could enjoy.”

Hjordis and Carl Gustaf Tersmeden, 1946
Hjordis and Carl Gustaf Tersmeden, on ‘Symfoni’, 1946

Allas magazine’s modern-day Cinderella story described Hjördis’ “everyday life” in Sweden during the first half of 1946:

“When the Tersmedens returned to Stockholm, they rented one of the most elegant flats on the whole of Strandvägen. One party followed another, champagne corks popped, they sailed in a fleet of yachts, and drove around in their handsome car.”

Hjördis’ marriage had changed her from being “Stockholm’s most beautiful star mannequin” into a highly visible star socialite, something that she soon became uncomfortable with.

As the story entered the second half of 1946, any potential “and they lived happily ever after…” conclusion began to unravel.

“Marriage with Lieutenant Carl-Gustaf Tersmeden gave Hjördis an apartment on Strandvägen, cars, sailboats, trips abroad … everything she could ask for. But apparently it was not enough.” Filmjournalen 1950

Following the 10th January 1945 announcement of her engagement to Carl Gustaf, Hjördis increasingly began to receive press attention outside her work as a fashion model. She was named as one of Sweden’s most well-known women in the spring of 1946, along with fellow society girl Margareta Widengren (wife of racing driver Henken Widengren) and magazine editor Kerstin Wijkmark, who caused controversy by marrying King Gustav VI’s youngest son Carl Johan in New York. [Three days after Hjördis and Carl’s wedding].

By mid 1946 Hjördis was being regularly name-checked and scrutinised at society gatherings. Such as: “Hjördis Genberg-Tersmeden wore an American black velvet dress with a gold embroidered scallop collar and a wreath of carnations in her hair.” (September 1946)

The mentions reached a crescendo in September. Although Hjördis was naturally quite shy, her discomfort must have been intensified by a simultaneous rise in gossip about her private life.

Allas starkly reported that “Carl-Gustaf Tersmeden could not be faithful to her.” (Surprisingly the first mention of this unsurprising statement to come to light…  over three years since I started putting together her life-story).

Hjördis Tersmeden, 1946
Hjördis Tersmeden photographed at home, 1946

Perhaps as a reaction, Hjördis’ actions became more extreme.  She “carelessly sprinkled money around” and was involved in a high-profile incident when she crashed a car into a lamp-post in Stockholm. She received only minor injuries, but “was not quite sober” according to Allas.  [Lovely subtle description, can’t have a pissed Cinderella…]

One newspaper report said that she persuaded a professor to let her drive his car: “The learned man could not resist her begging so beautifully,” leading to the accident and a positive blood-test at a Stockholm police station.

Hjördis Tersmeden’s “life of considerable Stockholm luxury” (as described by David Niven’s biographer Sheridan Morley) was further blemished on 2nd November 1946 by the death of her mother Gerda Paulina Genberg.

Carl Gustaf Tersmeden's advert to sell his Buick 80, in September 1946
September 1946. Carl Gustaf Tersmeden’s advert to sell his Buick 80 automobile. Only 6,900 miles on the clock, two seats, four new tyres, and one not-very-careful lady owner.

On 26th November visas were secured for Hjördis, Carl Gustaf, and their rather bruised marriage to return (or escape) to America, this time for a planned twelve month stay based in New York and Palm Beach.

Homesickness was avoided by opting for Christmas in Sweden, before they set sail on the ‘Gripsholm’ from Gothenburg on 3rd January 1947. They were joined by another famous woman from the spring of 1946 – Margareta Widengren, and her husband.

One part chic, the other Lower Slobdovia

After arriving in New York on 14th January, the Swedes spent a few days at the exclusive Drake Hotel, located a short distance from the El Morocco nightclub, one of the prime society destinations to see, and be seen.

And Hjördis certainly was seen, by a powerful society gossip columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain, the aristocratic White Russian émigré Igor Cassini:

“Hjördis, grey-eyed, auburn haired, and with a body to take your breath away. In fact, when I first saw her at El Morocco, I was still gasping as I made discreet inquiries, only to be told that she was on honeymoon with Carl Tersmeden, the young and handsome, rich Swede at their table. I was terribly struck with this creature, curves… very, very beautiful. They all told me ‘forget her Igor, she’s a bride.'”

Originally Igor Alexandrovich Loiewski-Cassini, he had his name shortened in the newspaper office to Igor Cassini (and even then was referred to as “that guy who sounds like a sneeze”). In 1945 he inherited a massively popular syndicated society gossip column written under the totally ridiculous by-line Cholly Knickerbocker, where his mix of “acid and froth” had the power to make or break careers.

Igor Cassini's byline, 1947

As author William Stadiem points out: “He wasn’t some ink-stained outsider looking in; he was a titled European count looking down, and America ate up every word.”

The Champagne Room at El Morocco
Igor Cassini’s favourite New York hang-out, the Champagne Room at El Morocco. (Unknown revelers, but Igor was probably nearby. Well, maybe….)

Igor’s main west coast connection came through his brother Oleg, who was a successful Hollywood costume designer married to the film star Gene Tierney.

His widely syndicated ‘Worst dressed men’ list in January 1947 included a description of conductor Leon Stokowski’s attire: “pink shirt, yellow tie embellished with hand-painted nudes, red socks, moccasins and a plaid jacket.”

The other nominees were a selection of senators, ambassadors, mayors, very very rich people (ie. Howard Hughes) and Bing Crosby. No one was immune.

A backlash from male readers resulted in a staggeringly bold ‘Worst dressed women’ follow-up in February: headed by Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands, and the late President’s widow Eleanor Roosevelt (!) And Igor got away with it: “I instinctively enjoyed the shooting down of sacred cows.”

Igor Cassini with his wife, Austine. 1947
Igor Cassini with his wife, Austine ‘Bootsie’ McDonnell. 1947. TIME magazine described his rapid ascent to prominence as having “hit Manhattan like a ton of marshmallows.”

“My evening haunt was El Morocco,” Igor explained. “That is where one found the beautiful girls along with celebrities and society. Placement was vital. One part was chic and the other, Lower Slobdovia.”

At the time that Igor was on the prowl at El Morocco with his sights set on Hjördis, he had been married for over six years to landowner’s daughter Austine “Bootsie” McDonnell. By 1947 their relationship had entered what he described as its “weekend commuter stage”, with him based in New York and her in Washington, also working as a society gossip columnist.

“Left to my own devices during the week,” Igor admitted, “and invited everywhere because of my by-line, there was a sharp increase in my sex life. Such are the gains of power; glamour girls suddenly grew on trees.”

“I entered my smorgasbord phase, first with model Inga Lindgren. Inga was a stunning Swede who had worked as a model and had been married to a German millionaire.”

Inga divorced her husband Alfred E.Goldschmidt in Reno, Nevada (more about there later) on 2nd July 1946 because: “Our marriage was a terrible mistake from the beginning.” They had originally fled France together in 1940.

Inga Lindgren in 1947
Inga Lindgren in 1947

Igor signalled his interest in Inga by gushing in the “Cholly Knickerbocker” column on 22nd September 1946: “The most beautiful sight around Manhattan in months, Inga Lindgren, Swedish beauty recently divorced from a millionaire refugee.”

“For a while it looked serious,” Igor wrote in his autobiography, ” but not enough for me to break with Bootsie, who wisely kept a closed eye.”

“Gianna Agnelli [the multi-millionaire head of Fiat], still in his roaring playboy stage, met Inga through me and invited her to Italy. She went, secure that I would follow. I never joined her in Europe, because by then I had fallen in love with another Swede.” Shallow or what.

As an aside: Agnelli’s 1948 conquest was Pamela Churchill, the former wife of Winston’s son Randolph. “I’m a great friend of your ex-daughter-in-law Pamela,” an acquaintance is said to have told Winston Churchill. “I understand she’s going around with a fellow who owns a garage in Turin.”

Next page: Cholly Knickerbocker observes: Hjördis Tersmeden, 1947

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