“We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial—I believe we are lost.”
Like many people, I spend a lot of time on the internet doing what I consider the digital equivalent of dumpster diving. You know how it is — some factoid catches your eye and before you know it you’ve spent hours tracking down a story. Yesterday, my sleuthing uncovered the odd tale of Danish-Dutch singing duo, Nina and Frederik, who topped the European charts several times between in the late ’50s and early ’60s, with their very own brand of pseudo-folk- calypso music — a sound that brings to mind Lawrence Welk and ladies with blue-rinsed hair.
Not all of it is quite so schamltzy. Their version of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” is rather charming, especially when they reverse roles.
To me what makes Nina and Frederik rather interesting is that (1) they were Baron and Baroness van Pallandt (singing aristocrats!), and (2) the way their story unfolds.
They started out conventionally enough. The singing career began as a lark; they would sing for friends or at charity events. But one thing led to another and pretty soon Nina and Frederik became a sensation. The Baron didn’t particularly enjoy the fame and attention, however, so the duo retired to pursue a quiet family life. They had three children, separated and achieved an amicable divorce in 1976. Information on Frederik disappears in the ’70s, while Nina jet sets around.
She made the cover of Life Magazine in 1972 when her testimony proved that her paramour Clifford Irving had committed fraud by publishing an ‘autobiography’ of Howard Hughes without having spoken to the man. In fact, Irving made most of it up. He and his wife (Edith, not Nina) took the $700,000 they received from the publisher to pay Hughes for the story and put it in a Swiss bank account. Irving served 17 months of a 2.5 year prison term. Meanwhile Nina, being innocent of any wrong-doing, parlayed the attention into a brief movie career, appearing in Robert Altman’s 1973 version of The Long Goodbye, starring Eliot Gould as Philip Marlowe (the mind reels), and in the 1980 phenom American Gigolo, with Richard Gere.
The 1980s seem to have been quiet for both Nina and Frederik. Although she leaves the stage at this point, Frederik reappears for his death scene in the early ’90s, when he and his second wife are murdered on their yacht in the Philippines, apparently in a drug deal gone wrong. Frederik was 60 years old. As his obituary in the Independent notes, “It was a measure of their continuing closeness that Nina flew out to the Philippines to bring his body home to Europe.” It’s a sad ending to a story that tells us something about the glittering, feckless lives of celebrities but ultimately very little about the two talented people at its center. It seems that the mark we leave on history — if, indeed, we leave one at all — is always distorted and incomplete. I wonder what Nina and Frederik were really like?
In case you are interested, YouTube has quite an array of Nina and Frederik videos/music available. They must still have some fans out there.
* Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front