David Niven’s Wife Primmie dies in tragic accident – and life with his second wife

This was a tragedy that would sadly put an end to the days of star-studded partying at the home of Tyrone Power. For years, a select few would meet at his house usually on a Sunday to drink and play games.

In this group were J. Watson Webb, Cesar Romero, Rex Harrison (shortly after his own scandal with the death of Carol Landis) Oleg Cassini, Gene Tierney and David Niven and his twenty-eight year old wife, Primula Rollo.

On the afternoon of May 21, 1946, the group had enjoyed a barbecue and during the evening some of them started playing a game of hide-and-seek known as “Sardines”.

Primmie, was opening doors in search of the hiders in this game

She had just moved to the USA from Britain, where she had been living with her husband David Niven and their two small sons

David Niven had made the film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ in England and then looking to Hollywood, he renewed his association with Samuel Goldwyn. He had gone over to Hollywood and acquired an older rambling mansion The Pink House which was next door to Douglas Fairbanks. After Primmie and the boys joined him they all settled well into the California lifestyle with film star friends.

This party at Tyrone Power’s house, I have since read, was a welcoming one for Primmie

This was her first time playing Sardines and she was not familiar with the game or the layout of the house.

She opened a dark door that she assumed was a cupboard and rushed in – she plunged down a steep flight of concrete steps that led to the basement. She gashed her head and was knocked unconscious.

Instead of immediately taking her to the hospital, Tyrone Power suggested that everyone keep on playing, so as not to frighten her when she woke up – absolutely unbelievable in my book – she needed urgent attention. After half an hour, her husband David Niven and the doctor finally carried the unconscious Primmie out to a car and drove her to a hospital.

There, she was misdiagnosed with slight concussion. The following morning a clot to the brain was found – then followed an unsuccessful operation in an attempt to alleviate swelling – but she died on the operating table. She left two sons and a grief stricken husband who never fully recovered.

The death of Primula Niven was the beginning of the end of the golden years for Tyrone Power – and for David Niven

David Niven with his first wife, Primula, and their children.

ABOVE – They had two sons, David Jr. and Jamie

After they were married there first home was a Thameside Cottage ABOVE

Relaxing at home in England
With there TWO boys pictured as they arrive in the USA

ABOVE – A Reporter looks down the flight of stairs where Primmie fell

David Niven, after this tragedy returned to Britain to play the title-role in Bonnie Prince Charlie. During the filming at the Studios he walked off the set to find a 28-year-old woman he had never seen before sitting in his reserved chair.

As he admitted later: ‘I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life — tall, slim, auburn hair, uptilted nose, lovely mouth and the most enormous grey eyes I had ever seen … I goggled. I had difficulty swallowing and I had champagne in my knees.’

The name of his uninvited guest was Hjördis Tersmeden, a divorced Swedish model.

That same day, Niven took her to a riverside pub. The next day, he took her to his London Club Buck’s for lunch.

She was ten years his junior and had never seen any of his films, but he was rapidly becoming, by his own admission, ‘quite besotted’.

One afternoon soon after they started dating, she was introduced to Niven’s young sons, David Jr, five, and Jamie, two. It was an awkward meeting.

Even David Niven had doubts, telling friends that he was ‘quite possibly making the greatest mistake of my life’. Those words were to prove horribly prophetic.

In a display of appalling judgement – and seemingly with no thoughts for his sons, they married six weeks later at South Kensington Register office, on January 14, 1948.

The new Mrs Niven had been born Hjördis Paulina Genberg in Sweden, and raised in the extreme north of that country at Kiruna, within the icy Arctic Circle.

At the end of the war, she had married an extremely rich yacht-owning Swedish businessman, Carl Tersmeden, but had divorced him after only 18 months

She may have been a successful model in Sweden, but she was completely unknown outside her home country. Her English was poor, and she soon discovered that marriage to a movie star did not provide her with the celebrity status she craved.

Hjordis always seemed resentful of her husband’s star status

I do remember David Niven coming on the Michael Parkinson Chat Show and giving a wonderful performance, regaling us with those stories of the Hollywood Golden Age.

A couple of years later, he again appeared on the same show and seemed to stumble over his words – he certainly was not the same. It was later explained that his hectic filming schedule had much to do with this but I dont think many people were fooled – he was a sick man.

We later learned that he had the onset of Motor Neurone disease – and that was the first time I had ever heard that term

His final appearance in Hollywood was hosting the 1981 American Film Institute tribute to Fred Astaire.

David Niven news:

David Niven news: Niven with Hjordis

Back to his marriage to Hjordis – they maybe were happy in their early days but they certainly weren’t by 1970 when this happened :

By 1970, Hjördis was drinking heavily and seemed intent on undermining her husband. During an interview at London’s Connaught Hotel, she repeatedly interrupted and corrected his version of events, adding: ‘I’ve heard all these stories a thousand times and they bore me to death.

David Niven, plainly furious, replied: ‘Then please go away and die, darling.’

In 1980, after 32 years of marriage, Niven said of Hjördis: ‘She isn’t good company and she can’t do anything. What she can do is make herself look very good and she can arrange flowers. But that’s all.’

As James Bond icon Roger Moore says in his 2008 book ‘My Word is My Bond’, he was not impressed with the way David’s wife was treating him.

Struggling with his condition, David told his wife Hjördis that he had managed to “swim two lengths” of their swimming pool.

Roger said he watched on as Hjördis snapped at her dying husband in “a cutting voice”.

She said sneeringly: ‘Aren’t we a clever boy.’

Two weeks later David Niven was dead

Roger observed: “She was a bitch to him. David was a dear, dear friend of mine who did nothing but try to please her. In return, Hjördis showed him nothing but disdain.”

Speaking from his office at Sotheby’s in New York, David’s son Jamie said: ‘I always sensed a great deal of anger in her. She was angry with him, angry at his fame and success. It was jealousy, I think. She wanted to be someone in her own right, and not merely Mrs David Niven. And when she drank, that anger intensified.’

In an easlier article I read :-

“She told the boys to stop calling her Mummy,” Patricia Medina told Graham Lord. “She said ‘You have to call me Hjördis, you can’t call me Mummy.’ Jamie was so upset that he locked himself in his bedroom.”

“Hjördis was more of a companion rather than a mother,” Jamie told Sheridan Morley. “There were moments when we had a lot of fun together and other moments when it got very tricky. She didn’t act like a mother and she made it very clear that she never wanted to be our mother.”

I feel sad for those young boys

posted by Movieman in Uncategorized and have No Comments

Place your comment

Please fill your data and comment below.
Your comment