Saturday, March 7, 2015

Who Is Nina Van Pallandt?

In the Ellery Queen episode "The
Adventure of Colonel Nivin's Memoirs."
Recently, we were watching an episode of Jim Hutton's TV series Ellery Queen (1975-76) and one of the guest stars was Nina Van Pallandt. I remembered her instantly, but wondered how many people were familiar with the occasional actress's intriguing life story.

Born Nina Moller in Denmark in 1932, she first gained fame as half of Nina & Frederik, a singing duo. The two specialized in folk and calypso songs, though their first big hit was the Christmas carol "Little Donkey." It reached #3 on the United Kingdom record charts in 1960 and their debut album, Nina & Frederik, hit #9 in the UK. While the duo was popular in Europe, they failed to find an audience in the U.S.

Frederik van Pallandt was a baron, so when the couple wed in 1960, Nina became Baroness van Pallandt (she later capitalized the "V"). Nina and Frederik had three children, but separated in 1969 and eventually divorced in 1975. In the meantime, Nina became romantically involved with author Clifford Irving.

Irving had gained some fame with a 1969 book called Fake!, which was appropriately subtitled The Story of Elmyr De Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time. That may have given him the idea for one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century. In the early 1970s, Irving convinced his publisher McGraw-Hill that he was working with Howard Hughes on an autobiography. Irving had forged documents which backed up his claim--and which were confirmed as genuine by handwriting experts. The hoax eventually unraveled and Irving and his accomplices, to include his wife Edith, confessed and were sentenced to prison. (Interestingly, both Irving and De Hory appeared in Orson Welles' pseudo-documentary, and final film, 1973's F for Fake.)

Nina Van Pallandt was not involved with the hoax, but her connection with Irving thrust her into the public spotlight. A 1972 article in LIFE magazine called her the "radiant survivor of the Hughes hoax." It also noted: "When the Hughes storm broke, she blushed becomingly and agreed with her manager who called it the 'opportunity of a lifetime.'" She wrote a 1973 autobiography, starred in her own nightclub act, and revived her acting career (she had appeared previously in a handful of Danish films and on British television).

With Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye.
Her most substantial role was as the female lead in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973). She played Sterling Hayden's trophy wife, with Elliott Gould on hand as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. She followed it with TV guest star roles, to include Ellery Queen.  Her later film appearances included Quintet (1979), another Altman film that starred Paul Newman and Bibi Andersson, and American Gigilo (1980), with Richard Gere. She retired from films in the late 1980s.

It's worth noting that in 2006, Gere played Clifford Irving in The Hoax, a film adaptation of Irving's book about his Hughes scam. Julie Delpy played Nina Van Pallandt in the film.

Nina Van Pallandt, who turned 82 last year, keeps a low profile these days. In researching this article, I was surprised to learn that comedian Richard Lewis had a four-year relationship with her. In his 2000 autobiography The Other Great Depression, he calls her "the most stunning, sensual, earthy-looking woman I had ever seen."

Sadly, life didn't turn out well for Frederik van Pallandt. He and his second wife were murdered in the Philippines in 1994. According to some sources, he had become involved with an Australian crime syndicate.


  1. Fascinating. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

  2. Only a footnote, but Orson's last film's The Other Side of The Wind, due to be released in May. Have no idea how "complete" it is.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Fine article. She was terrific in The Long Goodbye, and did a nice turn in Cutter's Way.

  4. An interesting and sad story.

  5. Found an old vinyl record of Nina and Frederik. I love it....have become addicted especially to their French calypso type songs like Maladie de la Jeunesse and their big Hit Listen to the Ocean. I have ordered some more of their songs from ebay as I play them in the car and the music keeps me calm when driving.

  6. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Nina van Pallandt~~~
    Even as an elderly woman, she is still stunningly beautiful... I mean, of course, for being stunningly elderly! F'n amazing and talented ex-baroness~