Mrs Hjördis Tersmeden, 1946

Carl Tersmeden
Hjördis Paulina Genberg and Carl Gustav Tersemden, 1945. Photo of Hjördis by Erik Holmen, Nordic Museum.

In February 1945, shortly after Carl Gustaf Tersmeden‘s engagement to Hjördis Genberg, he left his job at AB Aerotransport and joined his family’s company Graningeverken based in Västernorrland. The business being the production of wood pulp and paper. [“Timber money. In this case it really does grow on trees.” – Frasier] .

Graningeverken was owned by the Versteegh group… Carl Gustaf’s mum’s side of the family, who were also power suppliers in 1940s Sweden. If you’re wondering what happened to them [which you probably aren’t] they are now part of E.ON, who provide the electricity used to write this website. Spooky, huh? […. No.]. Anyway, Carl Gustaf was trained up for travelling to South America on their behalf, and then planned to move on to New York, where he and Hjördis hoped to eventually become permanent residents.

On 22nd August 1945, one week before VJ Day, Carl Gustaf applied for a temporary visa to visit Brazil, and then set out for Rio. By 8th October he had moved on to Miami. The November shooting schedule for Hjördis’ last Swedish movie appearance may account for her belated solo voyage to meet up with him.

Tersan the unshaven

SS Mangarella
SS Mangarella. Not exactly a luxurious liner – but it was brand new in 1945, and Atlantic crossings were heavily oversubscribed at the time.

Hjördis left Sweden for the first time on 7th December 1945, bound for Baltimore on the passenger carrying merchant vessel SS Mangarella. The ship’s manifest listed her mother, living in Sörberge, Västernorrland, as her nearest of kin. (Sörberge is around 4km from Hjördis’ childhood home in Vivstavarv).

Three days later, David Niven began his first journey to the US since 1939.

The Mangarella manifest recorded that Hjördis travelled alone, was able to read and speak Swedish only, paid her own passage, was carrying $1,000 cash, and would be staying with her fiance Carl Gustaf Tersmeden at the Delmonico Hotel in New York, before heading south to Palm Beach, Florida.

“I was due to leave the ship in Baltimore,” Hjördis later wrote, “and my heart was thumping as we approached the quay . There were only twelve passengers, and everyone had been so warm and welcoming to the young Swedish girl who was about to get married in a foreign country. The passengers and the captain were worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage on my own. I calmed them down by saying that Tersan would be there to meet me. But he wasn’t.”

“The ship was there, and I was there, but there was no sign of Tersan. Now I got worried, and I really didn’t know what to do. The captain and the passengers suggested that I stay onboard, and disembark at New York. I had almost decided to do that when Tersan finally showed up… unshaven as always! But, oh was I happy to see him!”

“He told me we were going to spend Christmas with friends in Palm Beach. Naturally, I was crazily excited about everything because I had never been abroad before.”

The disappointing Christmas

Hjordis Genberg-Tersmeden sat in front of a map of the world. 1945-1946
Hjordis Genberg working on fashion sketches while sat in front of a map of the world, c.1945.

Although they did not take up permanent residence in the US, Carl Gustaf and Hjördis still managed to fit a fair bit into what became a four month-long American honeymoon. This included Christmas in Florida, visits to Hollywood, Mexico, and (allegedly but I don’t believe it) Argentina, marriage, and a honeymoon jaunt from Miami to Havana (at the time the nearest equivalent of modern day Las Vegas), before heading back to Sweden at the end of March.

Hjördis was overwhelmed by her new environment, and had difficulty adjusting. One initial shock was the plentiful supply of food. Rationing had been in place in Sweden for over five years.

“The food was wonderful, but there was too much of everything. In the first week I couldn’t eat anything except for eggs. [Eggs were rationed in wartime Stockholm]. It felt really wrong seeing such enormous portions. Everything was too big and too much, and I was unaccustomed to that kind of life.”

The difference in climate was also a shock. “I spent the winter at Palm Beach,” Hjördis said in 1947. “Christmas Day came. Warm sunshine instead of snow. It was not like home. My heart grew so heavy. I cried all day. [Happy Christmas Hjördis!] I did not care for palm trees, flowers and hot sun on Christmas Day. I longed for the clean white snow, the brisk invigorating air, the sleigh bells, the church bells of Sweden. To comfort me, my husband [or fiance as he was at the time] bought me a little fir-tree, I don’t know where he got it but it did help some.”

“Basically I thought it was all a bit disappointing,” she remembered in 1960. “It was Christmas, but there was no Christmas atmosphere at all, not like I was accustomed to.”

Join the club

The Everglades Club, Palm Beach, 1930s
The Everglades Club entrance, Palm Beach.

New Year’s Eve 1945/46 was also spent in Palm Beach, at the hugely exclusive Everglades Club, as guests of Russian nobleman Prince Zalstem-Zalessky, and his wife Evangeline – daughter of the founder of Johnson & Johnson. Coincidentally, another guest at their table, Col. Jacques Balsan, had lived for a time (c. 1922) at ‘Lo Scoglietto’ on Cap Ferrat – Hjördis’ future home with David Niven.

Within two weeks, Carl Gustaf was a member of the club and hosting lunches of his own on the Everglades golf terrace. No mean feat, as illustrated by a New York Times reporter who witnessed some tourists having “Private!” yelled at them by an attendant for stepping on the hallowed driveway:

“‘Maybe if you had $10 million you could get in,’ the attendant says, ‘or if you won the lottery.’ ‘But even then, maybe not?’ ‘Even then, PROBABLY not.'”

While in Palm Beach, Hjördis and Carl stayed at what was essentially an upmarket guest house on Chilean Avenue, located within two avenues of The Everglades Club.

Ther landlady / society hostess was Mrs Ruth McGrath, whose late husband had been president of the Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company. [Nothing to do with breakfast cereal]. Mrs McGrath could provide a quick entry through the doors of The Everglades, with Carl’s wallet also a big help.

Going to California

Hjordis Genberg modelling at Leja in 1944.
Hjordis Genberg modelling a wedding dress in 1944. She never got to wear one on either of her two wedding days. Photo: Holmén, Erik / Nordiska museet

“After the Christmas holidays,” Hjördis wrote in 1960, “we drove to California and married in Azusa. It was quite hot, and it was not as I’d imagined it would be when I was a little girl – when I dreamed of walking up to the altar in my home-town, with my doctor.”

“But I was as happy as can be, young, and in love. I wore a sleeveless pink cotton dress with a small flowery hat, and had a bouquet of cut carnations from Carl Gustaf.”

The wedding date was recorded on their return to Sweden as 18th February 1946.

Azusa is a small city in Los Angeles County. As Hjördis and Carl travelled by car, they possibly used the famous Route 66 highway, which passed through the heart of town. Neat story. However, the marriage did not take place in Azusa, or even in California.

The Tersmedens’ Swedish marriage record lists one “R.H.Luter, Arizona” as their wedding official. Arizona was also mentioned as the venue by a Swedish ladies’ magazine in June 1946, and by a US gossip columnist in February 1947. So far, so contradictory.

The marrying judge

R.H.Lutes
R.H.Lutes, “The Marrying Judge” of Yuma, Arizona, pictured outside his wedding chapel in 1948.

Once the official’s name is amended to “R.H.Lutes, Arizona” [it only took two years] the whole scenario opens up, and is rather less romantic.

From 1941 to 1952 Judge R.H. (Robert Henry) Lutes was Justice Of The Peace in the Arizona border town of Yuma. Simultaneously, he operated a no-questions-asked quickie marriage service. His campaign slogan was: “Vote for me, and I’ll marry you for free.”

In 1927, California became one of many US states to introduce laws requiring a blood test for syphilis (from 1943 onwards just rubella) and a three-day wait before a marriage license could be granted. Neighbouring states Arizona and Nevada did not adopt the same laws, which created lucrative opportunities for border towns such as Yuma to provide a service for Californians who didn’t want to wait.

R.H.Lutes' wedding chapel
“The famous marrying room. Home of Judge Lutes”

In 1942, the town of 9,000 hosted a staggering 22,486 weddings; 97 percent for out-of-state couples. “More than 300,000 couples were married in Yuma between 1928 and 1956,” Yuma librarian Jim Patrick told Phoenix Magazine. R.H.Lutes’ son Bob added: “We’d hustle up customers by waiting at the bridge for cars coming in from California.”

Hollywood stars were also a steady source of income, with one actor said to have paid $500 for his wedding. A short list of actors and actresses to have rushed to Yuma include Claudette Colbert, Loretta Young, Gloria Swanson, Stan Laurel, Bette Davis, Charlie Chaplin, Victor Mature and Errol Flynn.

One reason that celebrities chose to marry in Yuma was that they could do it away from the gaze of the media. Yuma weddings could only be reported in the local newspaper. Another was that the 1930s Hollywood brigade probably helped to make Yuma marriages fashionable in society circles. This may well be why Hjordis was happy to get hitched in this most un-Swedish of venues. That said, she seemed happier to place the event in California when recounting her story in 1960.

Embed from Getty Images


In 1956 a blood-test (with two-day waiting period for the results) was made law in Arizona, causing a lot of the quickie-marriage business to up-sticks and move to Las Vegas. R.H.Lutes hung on, exploiting a loop-hole by opening a lab next door to his wedding chapel, which slashed waiting time down to 45 minutes. If the bride or groom tested positive, they could go to the nearby doctor’s office, get a shot and come back. “You were able to be married as long as you were being ‘treated’ for the disease,” Bob Lutes explained.

As well as an impromptu wedding, the drive was also used by Carl Gustaf to make occasional diversions to visit factories and make business connections. “When Mr Tersmeden came over on business,” a US gossip columnist (who soon sought to ruin the marriage) cheekily reported.”She followed him to Arizona, pounced on him from behind a cactus and married him, not too much against his will, I gathered.”

Next page: Hjördis in Hollywood, 1946

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