David Niven

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David Niven
David Niven 4 Allan Warren.jpg
Niven in 1973
Born
James David Graham Niven

(1910-03-01)1 March 1910
Belgravia, London, England
Died29 July 1983(1983-07-29) (aged 73)
Château-d'Œx, Switzerland
Resting placeChâteau-d'Œx Cemetery
NationalityBritish
Education Heatherdown Preparatory School
Stowe School
Alma mater Royal Military College, Sandhurst
OccupationActor, author
Years active1932–1983
Spouse(s)
Primula Susan Rollo
(m. 1940;died 1946)

Hjördis Paulina Genberg Tersmeden
(m. 1948)
Children4
Military career
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Service/branchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
Years of service1930–1933
1940–1945
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Service number 44959
Unit Highland Light Infantry
Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own)
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Legion of Merit

James David Graham Niven ( /ˈnɪvən/ ; 1 March 1910 – 29 July 1983) [1] [2] was an English actor, memoirist and novelist. His many roles included Squadron Leader Peter Carter in A Matter of Life and Death , Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days , and Sir Charles Lytton ("the Phantom") in The Pink Panther . He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Separate Tables (1958). He also played James Bond in Casino Royale (1967).

Contents

Born in London, Niven attended Heatherdown Preparatory School and Stowe School before gaining a place at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. After Sandhurst, he joined the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry. Having developed an interest in acting, he left the army, travelled to Hollywood and had several minor roles in film. He first appeared as an extra in the British film There Goes the Bride (1932). From there, he hired an agent and had several small parts in films from 1933 to 1935, including a non-speaking role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Mutiny on the Bounty . This brought him to wider attention within the film industry and he was spotted by Samuel Goldwyn. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Niven returned to Britain and rejoined the army, being recommissioned as a lieutenant. In 1942 he co-starred in the morale-building film about the development of the Supermarine Spitfire fighter, The First of the Few (American title Spitfire), which was enthusiastically endorsed by Winston Churchill.

Niven resumed his acting career after his demobilisation, and was voted the second-most popular British actor in the 1945 Popularity Poll of British film stars. He appeared in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947) with Cary Grant, and Enchantment (1948), all of which received critical acclaim. Niven later appeared in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), The Toast of New Orleans (1950), Happy Go Lovely (1951), Happy Ever After (1954) and Carrington V.C. (1955) before scoring a big success as Phileas Fogg in Michael Todd's production of Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Niven appeared in nearly a hundred films, and many shows for television. He also began writing books, with considerable commercial success. In 1982 he appeared in Blake Edwards' final "Pink Panther" films Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther , reprising his role as Sir Charles Lytton.

Early life

James David Graham Niven was born on 1 March 1910 at Belgrave Mansions, Grosvenor Gardens, London, to William Edward Graham Niven (1878–1915) and his wife, Henrietta Julia (née Degacher) Niven. [3] He was named David after his birth on St David's Day. Niven later claimed he was born in Kirriemuir, in the Scottish county of Angus in 1909, but his birth certificate disproves this. [4] He had two older sisters and a brother: Margaret Joyce Niven (1900 - 1981), Henry Degacher Niven (1902 - 1953), and the sculptor Grizel Rosemary Graham (1906 – 2007), who created the bronze sculpture Bessie that is presented to the annual winners of the Women's Prize for Fiction.</ref>

David Niven's father, William Niven, was of Scottish descent; his paternal grandfather, David Graham Niven, (1811–1884) was from St Martin's, a village in Perthshire. He was killed in the First World War serving with the Berkshire Yeomanry during the Gallipoli campaign on 21 August 1915. He was buried in Green Hill Cemetery, Turkey, in the Special Memorial Section in Plot F. 10. [5]

Niven's mother, Henrietta, who was born in Wales, was of French and Welsh ancestry. Her father was Captain (and acting-major) William Degacher (1841–1879) of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot [6] was married to Julia Caroline Smith, the daughter of Lieutenant General James Webber Smith. He was killed at the Battle of Isandlwana (1879) during the Anglo-Zulu War. [7] Although born William Hitchcock, both he and his brother Lieutenant Colonel Henry Degacher, [8] had followed their father, Walter Henry Hitchcock, in taking their mother's maiden name of Degacher in 1874. [9]

Following the death of her husband, Henrietta Niven remarried Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt in London in 1917. Graham Lord, author and biographer, suggested in Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven, that Comyn-Platt and Mrs Niven had been having an affair for some time before her husband's death. Furthermore, some believe that Sir Thomas may well have been David Niven's biological father. This supposition has some support among Henrietta's children. Hugh Massingberd, reviewing Lord's book in The Spectator , stated that its photographic evidence showing a strong physical resemblance between Niven and Comyn-Platt "would appear to confirm these theories, though photographs can often be misleading." [10]

Stowe School Stowe School - geograph.org.uk - 582994.jpg
Stowe School

When Niven began attending school - as was customary for the time - he received many instances of corporal punishment owing to his inclination for pranks, which finally led to his expulsion from Heatherdown Preparatory School at the age of 10½. This ended his chances for Eton College, a significant blow to his family. After failing to pass the naval entrance exam because of his difficulty with maths, Niven attended Stowe School, a newly created public school led by headmaster J. F. Roxburgh, who was unlike any of Niven's previous headmasters. Thoughtful and kind, he addressed the boys by their first names, allowed them bicycles, and encouraged and nurtured their personal interests. Niven later wrote, "How he did this, I shall never know, but he made every single boy at that school feel that what he said and what he did were of real importance to the headmaster." [11]

Military service

In 1928 Niven attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He graduated in 1930 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the British Army. [12]

He did well at Sandhurst, which gave him the "officer and gentleman" bearing that was his trademark. He requested assignment to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders or the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), then jokingly wrote on the form, as his third choice, "anything but the Highland Light Infantry" (because that regiment wore tartan trews rather than kilts). He was assigned to the HLI, with whom he served for two years in Malta and then for a few months in Dover. In Malta, he became friends with Roy Urquhart, future commander of the British 1st Airborne Division. [11]

Niven grew tired of the peacetime army. Though promoted to lieutenant on 1 January 1933, [13] he saw no opportunity for further advancement. His ultimate decision to resign came after a lengthy lecture on machine guns, which was interfering with his plans for dinner with a particularly attractive young lady. At the end of the lecture, the speaker (a major general) asked if there were any questions. Showing the typical rebelliousness of his early years, Niven asked, "Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train." [11]

After being placed under close-arrest for this act of insubordination, Niven finished a bottle of whisky with the officer who was guarding him: Rhoddy Rose (later Colonel R. L. C. Rose, DSO, MC). [14] With Rose's assistance, Niven was allowed to escape from a first-floor window. He then headed for America. While crossing the Atlantic, Niven resigned his commission by telegram on 6 September 1933. [15] Niven then moved to New York City, where he began an unsuccessful career in whisky sales, after which he had a stint in horse rodeo promotion in Atlantic City. After detours to Bermuda and Cuba, he arrived in Hollywood in 1934.

Early film career

As an extra

When Niven presented himself at Central Casting, he learned that he needed a work permit to reside and work in the United States. This meant that Niven had to leave the US, so he went to Mexico, where he worked as a "gun-man", cleaning and polishing the rifles of visiting American hunters. He received his resident alien visa from the American consulate when his birth certificate arrived from Britain. He returned to the US and was accepted by Central Casting as "Anglo-Saxon Type No. 2,008."

Among the films in which he can be glimpsed are Barbary Coast (1935) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). He had a small role in A Feather in Her Hat (1935) at Columbia and back to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for a bit role, billed as David Nivens in Rose Marie (1936).

Sam Goldwyn

Niven's role in Mutiny on the Bounty brought him to the attention of independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and established his career.

For Goldwyn, Niven had a small role in Splendor (1935). He was lent to MGM for a small part in Rose Marie (1936) then had a larger one in Palm Springs (1936) at Paramount.

His first sizeable part for Goldwyn came in Dodsworth (1936), playing a man who flirts with Ruth Chatterton. He was loaned to 20th Century Fox to play Bertie Wooster in Thank You, Jeeves! (1936), then had a good part as a soldier in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) at Warners, an Imperial adventure film starring his one-time housemate Errol Flynn.

Niven was fourth billed in Beloved Enemy (1936) for Goldwyn, supporting Merle Oberon with whom he became romantically involved. Universal used him in We Have Our Moments (1937) then he had another good support part in David O. Selznick's The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

Fox gave him the lead in a B picture, Dinner at the Ritz (1938) and he had a support part in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) directed by Ernst Lubitsch at Paramount. Niven was one of the four heroes in John Ford's Four Men and a Prayer (1938) at Fox. He remained at that studio to play a fake love interest in Three Blind Mice (1938).

Niven joined what became known as the Hollywood Raj, a group of British actors in Hollywood which included Rex Harrison, Boris Karloff, Stan Laurel, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Leslie Howard, [16] and C. Aubrey Smith. According to his autobiography, Errol Flynn and he were firm friends and rented Rosalind Russell's house at 601 North Linden Drive as a bachelor pad.

Leading man

Niven graduated to star parts in "A" films with The Dawn Patrol (1938) remake at Warners; he was billed after Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone but it was a leading role and the film did excellent business. Niven was reluctant to take a support part in Wuthering Heights (1939) for Goldwyn, but eventually relented and the film was a big success.

RKO borrowed him to play Ginger Rogers' leading man in the romantic comedy, Bachelor Mother (1939), which was a big hit. Goldwyn used him to support Gary Cooper in an adventure tale The Real Glory (1939), and Walter Wanger cast him opposite Loretta Young in Eternally Yours (1939). Goldwyn finally gave Niven a lead part, the title role as the eponymous gentleman safe-cracker in Raffles (1939).

Second World War

The day after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Niven returned home and rejoined the British Army. He was alone among British stars in Hollywood in doing so; the British Embassy advised most actors to stay. [17]

Niven was recommissioned as a lieutenant into the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) on 25 February 1940, [18] and was assigned to a motor training battalion. He wanted something more exciting, however, and transferred to the Commandos. He was assigned to a training base at Inverailort House in the Western Highlands. Niven later claimed credit for bringing future Major General Sir Robert E. Laycock to the Commandos. Niven commanded "A" Squadron GHQ Liaison Regiment, better known as "Phantom".

Film work

Niven also worked with the Army Film and Photographic Unit. His work included a small part in the deception operation that used minor actor M. E. Clifton James to impersonate General Sir Bernard Montgomery. During his work with the AFPU, Peter Ustinov, one of the script-writers, had to pose as Niven's batman. Niven explained in his autobiography that there was no military way that he, a lieutenant-colonel, and Ustinov, who was only a private, could associate, other than as an officer and his subordinate, hence their strange "act". Ustinov later appeared with Niven in Death on the Nile (1978).

He acted in two wartime films not formally associated with the AFPU, but both made with a firm view to winning support for the British war effort, especially in the United States. These were The First of the Few (1942), directed by Leslie Howard, and The Way Ahead (1944), directed by Carol Reed. Peter Ustinov also played a large supporting role as a Frenchman in The Way Ahead.

Europe

Niven took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, although he was sent to France several days after D-Day. He served in "Phantom," a secret reconnaissance and signals unit which located and reported enemy positions, [19] and kept rear commanders informed on changing battle lines. Niven was posted at one time to Chilham in Kent. He remained close-mouthed about the war, despite public interest in celebrities in combat and a reputation for storytelling. He once said:

I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne.
I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war.

Niven had particular scorn for those newspaper columnists covering the war who typed out self-glorifying and excessively florid prose about their meagre wartime experiences. Niven stated, "Anyone who says a bullet sings past, hums past, flies, pings, or whines past, has never heard one—they go crack!" He gave a few details of his war experience in his autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon: his private conversations with Winston Churchill, the bombing of London, and what it was like entering Germany with the occupation forces. Niven first met Churchill at a dinner party in February 1940. Churchill singled him out from the crowd and stated, "Young man, you did a fine thing to give up your film career to fight for your country. Mark you, had you not done so − it would have been despicable." [11]

A few stories have surfaced. About to lead his men into action, Niven eased their nervousness by telling them, "Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!" Asked by suspicious American sentries during the Battle of the Bulge who had won the World Series in 1943, he answered, "Haven't the foggiest idea, but I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother!" [20]

Niven ended the war as a lieutenant-colonel. On his return to Hollywood after the war, he received the Legion of Merit, an American military decoration. [21] It honoured Niven's work in setting up the BBC Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme, a radio news and entertainment station for the Allied forces. [22] [23]

Postwar career

Niven in the 1948 film Enchantment David Niven in Enchantment (1948).jpg
Niven in the 1948 film Enchantment

Niven resumed his career while still in England, playing the lead in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), from the team of Powell and Pressburger. The movie was critically acclaimed, popular in England and was selected as the first Royal Film Performance.

Return to Hollywood

Niven returned to Hollywood, and encountered tragedy when his first wife died after falling down a flight of stairs at a party. Goldwyn loaned him to play Aaron Burr in Magnificent Doll (1946) opposite Ginger Rogers, then to Paramount for The Perfect Marriage (1947) with Loretta Young and Enterprise Productions for The Other Love (1947).

For Goldwyn he supported Cary Grant and Young in The Bishop's Wife (1947). He returned to England when Goldwyn loaned him to Alexander Korda to play the title role in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), a notorious box office flop.

Back in Hollywood, Niven was in Goldwyn's Enchantment (1948). At Warner Bros he was in a comedy A Kiss in the Dark (1948) then he appeared opposite Shirley Temple in the comedy A Kiss for Corliss (1949). None of these films were successful at the box office and Niven's career was struggling.

He returned to Britain to play the title role in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950) from Powell and Pressberger, which was to have been financed by Korda and Goldwyn. Goldwyn pulled out, and the film did not appear in the US for three years. Niven had a long, complex relationship with Goldwyn, who gave him his first start, but the dispute over The Elusive Pimpernel and Niven's demands for more money led to a long estrangement between the two in the 1950s. [24]

Career decline

From the trailer for The Toast of New Orleans (1950) David Niven in The Toast of New Orleans trailer cropped.jpg
From the trailer for The Toast of New Orleans (1950)

Niven struggled for a while to recapture his former position. He supported Mario Lanza in a musical at MGM, The Toast of New Orleans (1950). He then went to England and appeared in a musical with Vera-Ellen, Happy Go Lovely (1951); it was little seen in the US but was a big hit in Britain.

He had a support role in MGM's Soldiers Three (1951) similar to those early in his career. Niven had a far better part in the British war film, Appointment with Venus (1952) which was popular in England. The Lady Says No (1952) was a poorly received American comedy.

Comeback

Niven decided to try Broadway, appearing opposite Gloria Swanson in Nina (1951–52). The play only ran for 45 performances but it was seen by Otto Preminger who decided to cast Niven in the film version of the play The Moon Is Blue (1953). As preparation, Preminger, who had directed the play in New York, insisted that Niven appear on stage in the West Coast run. The Moon Is Blue, a sex comedy, became notorious when it was released without a Production Code Seal of Approval; it was a big hit and Niven won a Golden Globe Award for his role.

Niven also became heavily involved in American TV as a partner in Four Star Television, a company he established with Dick Powell and Charles Boyer. It ended up producing a considerable number of shows, in several of which Niven appeared.

Niven's next few films were made in England: The Love Lottery (1954), a comedy; Carrington V.C. (1954), a drama which earned Niven a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor; Happy Ever After (1954), a comedy with Yvonne de Carlo which was hugely popular in Britain.

In Hollywood he had a thankless role as the villain in an MGM swashbuckler The King's Thief (1955). He had a better part in The Birds and the Bees (1956), playing a conman, and in the British The Silken Affair (1956).

Around the World in 80 Days

Niven's professional fortunes were completely restored when cast as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), a huge hit at the box office.

He followed it with Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957); The Little Hut (1957), from the writer of The Moon is Blue and a success at the box office; My Man Godfrey (1957), a screwball comedy; and Bonjour Tristesse (1958), for Preminger.

Niven worked in television. He appeared several times on various short-drama shows, and was one of the "four stars" of the dramatic anthology series Four Star Playhouse, appearing in 33 episodes. The show was produced by Four Star Television, which was co-owned and founded by Niven, Ida Lupino, Dick Powell and Charles Boyer. The show ended in 1955, but Four Star TV became a highly successful TV production company. [ citation needed ]

Separate Tables

Drawing of Niven commemorating his 1958 Oscar win for Separate Tables. David Niven 1958.jpg
Drawing of Niven commemorating his 1958 Oscar win for Separate Tables.

Niven is the only person to win an Academy Award at the ceremony he was hosting. [25] He won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Major Pollock in Separate Tables , his only nomination for an Oscar. Appearing on-screen for only 23 minutes in the film, this was the briefest performance ever to win a Best Actor Oscar, until Anthony Hopkins' award for his appearance in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs , which is a little over 16 minutes. He was also a co-host of the 30th, 31st, and 46th Academy Awards ceremonies. After Niven had won the Academy Award, Goldwyn called with an invitation to his home. In Goldwyn's drawing room, Niven noticed a picture of himself in uniform which he had sent to Goldwyn from Britain during the Second World War. In happier times with Goldwyn, he had observed this same picture sitting on Goldwyn's piano. Now years later, the picture was still in exactly the same spot. As he was looking at the picture, Goldwyn's wife Frances said, "Sam never took it down." [11]

With an Academy Award to his credit, Niven's career continued to thrive. In 1959, he became the host of his own TV drama series, The David Niven Show , which ran for 13 episodes that summer.

He played the lead in some comedies: Ask Any Girl (1959), with Shirley MacLaine; Happy Anniversary (1959) with Mitzi Gaynor; and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) with Doris Day, a big hit.

International star

Even more popular was the action film The Guns of Navarone (1961). This seemed to lead to him being cast in war and/or action movies: The Captive City (1962); The Best of Enemies (1962); Guns of Darkness (1962); 55 Days at Peking (1963) with Charlton Heston.

Niven returned to comedy with The Pink Panther (1963), another huge success at the box office. Less so was the comedy Bedtime Story (1964) with Marlon Brando.

In 1964, Boyer and he appeared in the Four Star series The Rogues . Niven played Alexander 'Alec' Fleming, one of a family of retired con-artists who now fleece villains in the interests of justice. This was his only recurring role on television. The Rogues ran for only one season, but won a Golden Globe award.

In 1965, he made two films for MGM: Lady L , supporting Paul Newman and Sophia Loren, and Where the Spies Are , as a doctor-turned-secret agent - MGM hoped it would lead to a series, but this did not happen. After a horror film Eye of the Devil (1966), Niven appeared as James Bond 007 in Casino Royale (1967). Niven had been Bond creator Ian Fleming's first choice to play Bond in Dr. No . Casino Royale co-producer Charles K. Feldman said later that Fleming had written the book with Niven in mind, and therefore had sent a copy to Niven. [26] Niven was the only James Bond actor mentioned by name in the text of a Fleming novel. In chapter 14 of You Only Live Twice , the pearl diver Kissy Suzuki refers to Niven as "the only man she liked in Hollywood", and the only person who "treated her honourably" there.

Niven made some popular comedies, Prudence and the Pill (1968) and The Impossible Years (1968). Less widely seen was The Extraordinary Seaman (1969). The Brain (1969), a French comedy with Bourvil and Jean-Paul Belmondo, was the most popular film at the French box office in 1969 but was not widely seen in English-speaking countries.

He did a war drama Before Winter Comes (1969) then returned to comedy in The Statue (1971).

Later career

Niven was in demand throughout the last decade of his life: King, Queen, Knave (1972); Vampira (1974); Paper Tiger (1975); No Deposit, No Return (1976), a Disney comedy; Murder by Death (1976), one of several stars in a popular comedy; Candleshoe (1977), again for Disney; Death on the Nile (1978), one of many stars and another hit; A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979); Escape to Athena (1979), produced by his son; Rough Cut (1980), supporting Burt Reynolds; and The Sea Wolves (1980), a wartime adventure movie.

In 1974, while Niven was co-hosting the 46th Annual Oscars ceremony, a naked man (Robert Opel) appeared behind him, "streaking" across the stage. Niven responded "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" [27]

That same year, he hosted David Niven's World for London Weekend Television, which profiled contemporary adventurers such as hang gliders, motorcyclists, and mountain climbers: it ran for 21 episodes. In 1975, he narrated The Remarkable Rocket, a short animation based on a story by Oscar Wilde.

Last films

Niven's last sizeable film part was in Better Late Than Never (1983). In July 1982, Blake Edwards brought Niven back for cameo appearances in two final "Pink Panther" films ( Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther ), reprising his role as Sir Charles Lytton. By this time, Niven was having serious health problems. When the raw footage was reviewed, his voice was inaudible, and his lines had to be dubbed by Rich Little. Niven only learned of it from a newspaper report. This was his last film appearance.[ citation needed ]

Writing

Niven wrote four books. The first, Round the Rugged Rocks (published simultaneously in the US under the title Once Over Lightly), was a novel that appeared in 1951 and was forgotten almost at once. The plot was plainly autobiographical (although not recognised as such at the time of publication), involving a young soldier, John Hamilton, who leaves the British army, becomes a liquor salesman in New York, is involved in indoor horse racing, goes to Hollywood, becomes a deckhand on a fishing boat, and finally ends up as a highly successful film star.

In 1971, he published his autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon , which was well received, selling over five million copies. He followed this with Bring On the Empty Horses in 1975, a collection of entertaining reminiscences from Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the 1930s and 1940s. It now appears that Niven recounted many incidents from a first-person perspective that actually happened to other people, especially Cary Grant, which he borrowed and embroidered. [4]

Niven's penchant for exaggeration and embroidery is particularly clearly demonstrated when comparing his written descriptions of his early film appearances (especially Barbary Coast and A Feather in her Hat), and his Oscar acceptance speech, with the actual filmed evidence. In all three examples, the reality is significantly different to Niven's heavily fictionalised accounts as presented in The Moon's a Balloon and related in various chat show appearances.

In 1981 Niven published a second and much more successful novel, Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly, which was set during and after the Second World War, and which drew on his experiences during the war and in Hollywood. He was working on a third novel at the time of his death.[ citation needed ]

Personal life

Niven with his family at Copenhagen Airport (5 August 1958) David Niven at CPH.jpg
Niven with his family at Copenhagen Airport (5 August 1958)
Niven with his wife Hjordis Genberg (Hjordis Tersmeden), 1960 David Niven with his wife Hjordis Genberg, 1960.jpg
Niven with his wife Hjördis Genberg (Hjördis Tersmeden), 1960

While on leave in 1940, Niven met Primula "Primmie" Susan Rollo (18 February 1918, London – 21 May 1946), the daughter of London lawyer William H.C. Rollo. After a whirlwind romance, they married on 16 September, 1940. A son, David, Jr., was born in December 1942 and a second son, James Graham Niven, on 6 November 1945. Primmie died at the age of 28, only six weeks after the family moved to the US. She fractured her skull in an accidental fall in the Beverly Hills, California home of Tyrone Power, while playing a game of hide-and-seek. She had walked through a door believing it to be a closet, but instead it led to a stone staircase to the basement. [28] [29]

In 1948, Niven met Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1919–1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model. He recounted their meeting:

I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life—tall, slim, auburn hair, up-tilted nose, lovely mouth and the most enormous grey eyes I had ever seen. It really happened the way it does when written by the worst lady novelists ... I goggled. I had difficulty swallowing and had champagne in my knees. [11]

In New York, Niven and Hjördis were next-door neighbours with Audrey Hepburn, who made her debut on Broadway that season. In 1960, while filming Please Don't Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, Niven and Hjördis separated for a few weeks, but later reconciled, although their alcoholism, his frequent adultery and her violent temper made the marriage rather miserable.

In 1960, Niven moved to Château-d'Œx near Gstaad in Switzerland for financial reasons, living near close friends in that country including Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov, and Noël Coward. [30] [31] Niven's status as a tax exile in Switzerland is believed to have been one of the reasons why he never received a British honour. [32] He divided his time in the 1960s and 1970s between Château-d'Œx and Cap Ferrat on the Côte d'Azur in the south of France. [30]

A 2009 biography of Niven contained assertions, based on information from his widow and a good friend of Niven, that he had an affair with Princess Margaret, who was 20 years his junior. [33]

Illness and death

In 1980, Niven began experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness, and a warble in his voice. His 1981 interviews on the talk shows of Michael Parkinson and Merv Griffin alarmed family and friends; viewers wondered if Niven had either been drinking or suffered a stroke. He blamed his slightly slurred voice on the shooting schedule on the film he had been making, Better Late Than Never. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease") later that year. His final appearance in Hollywood was hosting the 1981 American Film Institute tribute to Fred Astaire.

In February 1983, using a false name to avoid publicity, Niven was hospitalised for 10 days, ostensibly for a digestive problem; afterwards he returned to his chalet at Château-d'Œx. His condition continued to worsen, but he refused to return to the hospital, and his family supported his decision. He died at his chalet from ALS on 29 July 1983, aged 73. [34] [35] [36] Niven's body was buried in Château-d'Œx cemetery, Switzerland. [37]

Legacy

A Thanksgiving service for Niven was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 27 October 1983. The congregation of 1,200 included Prince Michael of Kent, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, Sir John Mills, Sir Richard Attenborough, Trevor Howard, David Frost, Joanna Lumley, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Lord Olivier. [38]

Biographer Graham Lord wrote, "the biggest wreath, worthy of a Mafia Godfather's funeral, was delivered from the porters at London's Heathrow Airport, along with a card that read: 'To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls. He made a porter feel like a king.'" [39]

In 1985, Niven was included in a series of British postage stamps, along with Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Charles Chaplin, Peter Sellers and Vivien Leigh, to commemorate "British Film Year". [40]

Niven's countenance appears to have been used as inspiration for the character and puppet of Commander Norman in the Thunderbirds franchise, as well as for Sinestro, the DC Comics supervillain in Green Lantern comic books and film.

Filmography and other works

Books

See also

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Ronald Charles Colman was an English-born actor, starting his career in theatre and silent film in his native country, then emigrating to the United States and having a successful Hollywood film career. He was most popular during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He received Oscar nominations for Bulldog Drummond (1929), Condemned (1929) and Random Harvest (1942). Colman starred in several classic films, including A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). He also played the starring role in the Technicolor classic Kismet (1944), with Marlene Dietrich, which was nominated for four Academy Awards. In 1947, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for the film A Double Life.

John Mills British actor

Sir John Mills, was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. He excelled on camera as an appealing British everyman who often portrayed guileless, wounded war heroes.

Peter Ustinov British actor, writer, and filmmaker

Sir Peter Alexander Ustinov was an English actor, writer, and filmmaker. He was a fixture on television talk shows and lecture circuits for much of his career. An intellectual and diplomat, he held various academic posts and served as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and president of the World Federalist Movement.

George Sanders British film and television actor

George Henry Sanders was a British film and television actor, singer-songwriter, music composer, and author. His career as an actor spanned over forty years. His upper-class English accent and bass voice often led him to be cast as sophisticated but villainous characters. He is perhaps best known as Jack Favell in Rebecca (1940), Scott ffolliott in Foreign Correspondent, Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe (1952), King Richard the Lionheart in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954), Mr. Freeze in a two-parter episode of Batman (1966), the voice of the malevolent man-hating tiger Shere Khan in Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), suave crimefighter, The Falcon during the 1940s, and as Simon Templar, The Saint, in five films made in the 1930s and 1940s.

Gig Young American actor

Gig Young was an American actor. He was thrice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances in Come Fill the Cup (1952), Teacher's Pet (1959), and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), winning for the last of these.

<i>Trail of the Pink Panther</i> 1982 film by Blake Edwards

Trail of the Pink Panther is a 1982 comedy film directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers. It was the seventh film in The Pink Panther series, the first film in the series following Sellers' death and also the last in which he appeared as Inspector Clouseau. Sellers died before production began; his performance consists only of deleted scenes from previous films.

C. Aubrey Smith English cricketer and actor

Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, CBE was an English Test cricketer who became a stage and film actor, acquiring a niche as the officer-and-gentleman type, as in the first sound version of The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). In Hollywood, he organised British actors into a cricket team, much intriguing local spectators.

Michael Anderson (director) English film director

Michael Joseph Anderson was an English film director, best known for directing the World War II film The Dam Busters (1955), the epic Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and the dystopian sci-fi film Logan's Run (1976).

<i>The Return of the Pink Panther</i> 1975 film by Blake Edwards

The Return of the Pink Panther is a 1975 comedy film and the fourth film in The Pink Panther series. The film stars Peter Sellers, returning to the role of Inspector Clouseau, for the first time since A Shot in the Dark (1964), after having declined to reprise the role in Inspector Clouseau (1968). The film was a commercial hit and revived the previously dormant series.

<i>The Pink Panther</i> (1963 film) 1964 film by Blake Edwards

The Pink Panther is a 1963 American comedy film directed by Blake Edwards and distributed by United Artists. It was written by Maurice Richlin and Blake Edwards. It is the first installment in The Pink Panther franchise. Its story follows inspector Jacques Clouseau as he travels from Rome to Cortina d'Ampezzo to catch a notorious jewel thief known as "The Phantom" before he is able to steal a priceless diamond known as "The Pink Panther". The film stars David Niven, Peter Sellers, Robert Wagner, Capucine and Claudia Cardinale.

<i>The Way Ahead</i> 1944 film by Carol Reed

The Way Ahead (1944) is a British Second World War drama film directed by Carol Reed. The screenplay was written by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov. The film stars David Niven, Stanley Holloway and William Hartnell along with an ensemble cast of other British actors, including Ustinov in one of his earliest roles. The Way Ahead follows a group of civilians who are conscripted into the British Army and, after training, are shipped to North Africa where they are involved in a battle against the Afrika Korps.

<i>Thank You, Jeeves!</i> 1936 film by Arthur Greville Collins

Thank You, Jeeves! is a 1936 comedy film directed by Arthur Greville Collins, written by Stephen Gross and Joseph Hoffman, and starring Arthur Treacher, Virginia Field, David Niven, Lester Matthews, Colin Tapley and John Graham Spacey. It was released on October 4, 1936, by 20th Century Fox.

Daniel Kaluuya British actor and writer

Daniel Kaluuya is a British actor and writer. Kaluuya began his career as a teenager in improvisational theatre. He subsequently appeared in the first two seasons of the British television series Skins, in which he co-wrote some of the episodes. Playing the lead role in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Kaluuya was particularly praised for his performance and he won both the Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer.

<i>Bonnie Prince Charlie</i> (1948 film) 1948 film

Bonnie Prince Charlie is a 1948 British historical film directed by Anthony Kimmins for London Films depicting the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion and the role of Bonnie Prince Charlie within it. Filmed in Technicolor, it stars David Niven, Jack Hawkins, and Margaret Leighton.

Alec Guinness British actor

Sir Alec Guinness, was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played nine different characters, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination, and The Ladykillers (1955). He collaborated six times with director David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Yevgraf Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984). He also portrayed Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy; for the original 1977 film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards.

Rudy Robles actor, director, producer

Rudy Robles born Pastor Lluviosa Robles was a Filipino film and television actor. He was one of the first Filipino actors to appear in Hollywood movies.

David Niven on screen, stage, radio, record and in print Beloved actor

The British actor David Niven (1910–1983) performed in many genres of light entertainment, including film, radio and theatre. He was also the author of four books: two works of fiction and two autobiographies. Described by Brian McFarlane, writing for the British Film Institute (BFI), as being "of famously debonair manner", Niven's career spanned from 1932 until 1983.

References

  1. Niven, (James) David Graham (1910–1983), actor and author. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  2. "Obituaries". The Times . 30 July 1983.
  3. Morley, Sheridan (1997). David Niven, Brief Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 413. ISBN   0198600879.
  4. 1 2 Morley, Sheridan (1985). The Other Side of the Moon. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN   0-340-39643-1.
  5. "Casualty details—Niven, William Edward Graham". Commonwealth War Graves Commission . Retrieved 4 September 2009.
  6. "CPT William Degacher". www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  7. The Times, "Marriages", 26 October 1888
  8. "Henry James Degacher CB". www.britishempire.co.uk. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  9. The Times, 18 February 1874, p. 1
  10. Massingberd, Hugh. It's being so cheerful that keeps me going. 15 November 2003. Spectator Book Club. Accessed 25 May 2009
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 David Niven (1971). The Moon's a Balloon . London: Hamish Hamilton. ISBN   0-340-15817-4.
  12. "No. 33575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 January 1930. pp. 651–652.
  13. "No. 33907". The London Gazette . 31 January 1933. p. 674.
  14. "Lieutenant-Colonel David Rose". Daily Telegraph. 26 October 2010.
  15. "No. 33975". The London Gazette . 5 September 1933. p. 5801.
  16. Eforgan, E. (2010) Leslie Howard: The Lost Actor. London: Vallentine Mitchell; p. 94 ISBN   978-0-85303-971-6
  17. Friedrich, Otto (1986). City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 28. ISBN   0-520-20949-4.
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  20. "David Niven was the only British star in Hollywood to enlist during WWII". 18 August 2016.
  21. "No. 37340". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 November 1945. p. 5461.
  22. "Recommendation for Award for Niven, John David Rank: Lieutenant Colonel" (fee usually required to view full pdf of original recommendation). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives . Retrieved 7 April 2009.
  23. "No. 37340". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 November 1945. p. 5461.
  24. "David Niven's Own Story". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 15 September 1971. p. 15. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  25. Keegan, Rebecca (20 February 2019). "The Politics of Oscar: Inside the Academy's Long, Hard Road to a Hostless Show". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 25 February 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
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  27. "Oscar streaker". YouTube. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  28. Karin J. Fowler (1995) David Niven: a Bio-Biography, Greenwood Press. ISBN   978-0313280443
  29. Sunday Times (Perth, WA: 1902–1954) "David Niven's wife in death crash" 26 May 1946, P.3 Retrieved 12 January 2016
  30. 1 2 Michael Munn (20 March 2014). David Niven: The Man Behind the Balloon. Aurum Press. pp. 197–. ISBN   978-1-78131-372-5.
  31. Karin J. Fowler (1 January 1995). David Niven: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 167–. ISBN   978-0-313-28044-3.
  32. George Greenfield (1 January 1995). A Smattering of Monsters: A Kind of Memoir. Camden House. pp. 187–. ISBN   978-1-57113-071-6.
  33. Munn, Michael (24 May 2009)."Oh God, I wanted her to die", Archived 6 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine The Sunday Times, Retrieved 29 May 2009.
  34. Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 522. ISBN   0-711-99512-5.
  35. Pace, Eric (30 July 1983). "David Niven Dead at 73; Witty Actor Won Oscar". The New York Times. p. 1.
  36. Pace, Eric (30 July 1983). "David Niven Dead at 73; Witty Actor Won Oscar". nytimes.com. p. 2.
  37. Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). Laid to Rest in California: A Guide to the Cemeteries and Grave Sites of the Rich and Famous. Globe Pequot. p. 522. ISBN   0-762-74101-5.
  38. Niv by Graham Lord, Orion, 2004, p. 420
  39. "In Thespian Praise of: David Niven". Paulburgin.blogspot.com. 25 January 2006. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
  40. Walker, Alexander. Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh, pp. 303, 304. Grove Press, 1987.