Hjördis in Hollywood, 1946

Hjordis Tersmeden in 1946
Hjördis Tersmeden displaying a Nordiska Kompaniet suit that reportedly went down a storm during her first visit to America, 1945-1946.

In 1948 David Niven surprised a journalist with a story about Hjördis’ first visit to Hollywood: “My wife and her husband took one of those bus tours through the film colony. Then they met some people and went to a party at the Gary Cooper’s. [As you do]. I was invited to go to the same party, but couldn’t go because I went on a fishing trip to Oregon.”

According to Vårt Hem, Hjördis and Carl Gustaf were not short of invitations to social events in Hollywood and met many of the town’s biggest names. Hjördis was also not short of movie offers and “was tempted several times with first-rate contracts.” She enjoyed the attention, but dutifully brushed all contracts aside: “No thank you. I just want to go home with my husband.”

“After the wedding we drove across the continent,” Hjördis wrote. “It took six days. Everything was new. And overwhelming.”

Passengers boarding C-46
The daily Curtiss C-46 flight from Miami to Havana. $10 one way, 40 minute flight

The newly-weds returned to Florida for a further adventure, flying from Key West to Havana, Cuba on 8th March. And finally, after what Hjördis described as “a wonderful month in New York… we looked forward to spring back in Sweden.” They departed the US on 30th March 1946, aboard the Swedish liner Gripsholm.

The December 1945 – March 1946 American visit was just one of three that Hjördis undertook within the next 18 months. She most probably did not wish to share details of the next two with either David Niven or his curious public.

“I was glad when the spring of 1946 came, and we went back to Sweden. I didn’t care if I never saw America again,” Hjördis said in a 1947 interview, conducted in America. “Subsequently, my husband and I were divorced. And here I am, back in America.” Pardon? Contradictory or what.

Carl-Gustaf and Hjordis Tersmeden, smiling out of a train window, 1946
Carl Gustaf and Hjordis Tersmeden, arriving home from their American visit, 1946

In every previous (and always brief) catch-up of Hjördis’ pre-Niven life, 1947 pretty much ends up on the cutting room floor. Instead, her pre-1946 Swedish modelling career is grafted onto her first encounter with David Niven. Only her divorce from Carl Gustaf warrants a passing mention. So, what happened? Quite a lot.

“Tersan is spoiled, and always has been,” Hjördis let rip in 1953. “He may fall in love with a woman, but he never sees that he must do something to nurture that love, or that it is fragile. I didn’t know a word of English when I went to America, and Tersan always left me alone. But people thought I was sweet. I started going out on my own, and I made new friends.”

Carl-Gustaf and Hjordis Tersemeden. Palm Beach, 1946.
Carl Gustaf Tersmeden and Hjördis Genberg. Palm Beach, 12 January 1946. Even a stroll down the road ended up in Vogue

“It was quite remarkable to see how people flocked to her,” a Swedish woman who befriended Hjördis in Palm Beach recalled. “I remember talking to some other Swedes in the middle of a large hotel lobby. It was very comical: as if Hjördis was a magnet to gentlemen, strangers we didn’t even know. In the end there was a small crowd around us! But Hjördis was utterly unmoved, as if she didn’t notice anything – or at least she pretended not to. I believe that the mannequin profession accustomed her to people looking at her as soon as she made an entrance anywhere.” Hjördis certainly noticed in later years when all eyes fell first on David Niven.

Hjördis’ new friend also described her as not just being beautiful on the outside: “She is kind to everyone, men and women, old and young.”

Pelle Lundgren’s daughter Ritva has kindly shared her memories of the time: “As a young person in Stockholm, Hjördis was rather shy. My parents belonged to the jet-set in Stockholm in the late 1940s, as did Hjördis. My father Pelle Lundgren, together with his brother-in-law Kurt Jacobsson, were the founders of the maison de haute couture NK Franska, where Hjordis was the star model.”

“She was married to Carl-Gustaf Tersmeden and lived in a large apartment on Strandvägen near the Royal Dramatic Theater. I was 10 years old at that time and remember her as a very kind person.”

The new Ingrid Bergman

Hjördis Tersmeden. NK suit, 1945
“The navy blue suit, by NK’s French tailor, gained a lot of admirers in the US.A. The skirt is pleated at the front and back. The jacket is simple classic cut.” Vart Hem, 1946

Although not directly involved in the Second World War, most Swedes were more or less confined to Sweden between 1939 and 1945. Carl Gustaf and Hjördis’ tour of the Americas, which still sounds exotic, was followed back home with considerable interest.

Hjördis also aroused considerable interest in America. I don’t want to just bang on about her beauty and its importance to her, but it has to be said that it was a huge part of her life, and opened doors wherever she went.

Far from being swallowed up in the vastness of the USA, she was quickly noticed and written about by society writers who saw Ingrid Bergman movie star potential in her, and was chased by Hollywood talent scouts waving contracts. All on one holiday.

Back in Sweden, Hjördis was now an ex-model and media darling, required to settle into her new role as a rich man’s glamorous wife.

“After Hjördis’ Genberg married the well-known businessman Lieutenant Carl Gustaf Tersmeden, she stopped modelling and instead increasingly appeared in the social life of Stockholm.” Husmodern, 1948

Unsurprisingly, the opportunities dangled before her in the US beckoned, even as she slipped into Stockholm society, dressed in her wonderful new American clothes (fulsomely admired in a country still suffering post-war shortages of high quality materials), and encircled by fascinated party goers as she described her adventures in the Americas. Hjördis’ cache of American fashions were also shared with Swedish women’s magazine Vårt Hem: Hjördis Tersmeden: Fashion from America, 1946

Hjördis was just home long enough to see her friend, the actress Viveca Lindfors, fly from Sweden to New York’s La Guardia airport in April, having just been signed up by Warner Brothers.

Carl Gustaf’s insistence that Hjördis should give up her career aspirations was already making their fledgling marriage look very unsafe.

Next page: From Stockholm to El Morocc0, 1947