David Niven (Lt Col)
(1910 - 1983)


After his Goldwyn contract ended in 1949, Niven marked time with inconsequential movies before joining Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, and Ida Lupino to form Four Star, a television production company. Niven was finally able to choose strong dramatic roles for himself, becoming one of TV's first and most prolific stars, although his public still preferred him as a light comedian.

The actor's film career also took an upswing in the '50s with starring performances in the controversial 'The Moon Is Blue' (1953), a harmless concoction which was denied a Production Code seal because the word "virgin" was bandied about, and the mammoth 'Around the World in 80 Days' (1956), in which Niven played his most famous role, erudite 19th century globetrotter Phileas Fogg. When Laurence Olivier dropped out of the 1958 film ;Separate Tables', Niven stepped in to play an elderly, disgraced British military man. Although he was as flippant about the part as usual - telling an interviewer,

"They gave me very good lines and then cut to Deborah Kerr while I was saying them"

.. he won an Oscar for this performance. This perhaps sums up David Niven more than anything else you're likely to read.

Niven continued his career as a high-priced, A-list actor well into the '60s. He played the amiable comic thief Sir Charles Lytton in 'The Pink Panther' (1963) and returned to television in the stylish "caper" series 'The Rogues' in 1964. He than played Sir James Bond in the 1967 version of 'Casino Royale'.

He revisited his hobby of writing in the early '70s; an earlier novel, Round the Ragged Rocks, didn't sell very well, but gave him pleasure while working on it. But two breezy autobiographies did better: The Moon's a Balloon (1972) and Bring on the Empty Horse (1975). Working alone, without help of a ghostwriter (as opposed to many celebrity authors), Niven was able to entertainingly transfer his charm and wit to the printed page (even if he seldom let the facts impede his storytelling).

At the start of the 1980's he played a real military hero in Andrew V. McLaglens 'The Sea Wolves' with Gregory Peck and Roger Moore. A very unusual and enjoyable war time romp – the details of which will be found elsewhere on the website.

In 1982, Niven discovered he was suffering from a neurological illness commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which would prove fatal within a year. Courageously keeping up a front with his friends and the public, Niven continued making media appearances, although he was obviously deteriorating. While appearing in his last film, Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), the actor's speech became so slurred due to his illness that his lines were later dubbed by impressionist Rich Little.

Refusing all artificial life-support systems, Niven died in his Switzerland home later that year. Niven was unsure of how worthwhile his life had been, believing that perhaps he had not completed all that he wanted to achieve. But perhaps the legacy of leaving behind countless friends and family members who adored him should have been enough. In terms of a suitable epitaph a lovely story springs to mind.

After his death journalists were trying to "dig up dirt" following the actor's death. They came back surprised and perhaps secretly pleased that none of them could find anyone who would have a bad word to say about David Niven.

Quotes

‘Going to war was the only unselfish thing I have ever done for humanity’

’I have a face that is a cross between two pounds of halibut and an explosion in an old clothes closet’

‘I see my purpose in life as making the world a happier place to be in’


Autobiographies:
'The moons a ballon' (1971)


Suggested films to see:
The Sea Wolves (1980)
Seperate Tables (1959)
Carrington VC (1955) TV
A Matter of life and death (1946)

 




 

 

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