skip navigation
David Niven

David Niven

Up
Down

| VIEW ALL

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here
ADD YOUR COMMENT>

share:

TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (6)

Recent DVDs

 
 

David Niven - NOT AVAILABLE

Find what your looking for faster use the search field below to shop for titles.

SEARCH TCM.COM/SHOP


OR ... Click here to VOTE > for this person to be released on Home Video

Also Known As: James David Graham Niven Died: July 29, 1983
Born: March 1, 1910 Cause of Death: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease)
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, author, comic, laundry messenger, newspaper writer, liquor salesman, road builder, lumberman

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Handsome, debonair leading man David Niven was the very essence of "good breeding" throughout his career, though the screen never quite captured his actual vigor, epitomized by his service in first the Highland Light Infantry and later the Commandos, or his wit displayed as a writer of two novels and two amusing autobiographies. The son of a British Army captain, he followed in his father's footsteps but found the routine of military life between the wars so dreadfully boring that he resigned his commission and crossed the pond in search of adventure. Once in Hollywood, he worked as an extra and came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn who signed him to a contract with MGM, and he rapidly graduated from bit parts to supporting and lead roles which showcased his polished British diction and his lighthearted yet sincere manner. Niven's first major success came with Edmund Goulding's "The Dawn Patrol" (1938), in which he played a courageous, devil-may-care WWI pilot friend of Errol Flynn. Niven's years with MGM were sometimes stormy, as when he initially refused to take the thankless role of Edgar Litton, second-fiddle to Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) for the affections of Cathy (Merle Oberon) in...

Handsome, debonair leading man David Niven was the very essence of "good breeding" throughout his career, though the screen never quite captured his actual vigor, epitomized by his service in first the Highland Light Infantry and later the Commandos, or his wit displayed as a writer of two novels and two amusing autobiographies. The son of a British Army captain, he followed in his father's footsteps but found the routine of military life between the wars so dreadfully boring that he resigned his commission and crossed the pond in search of adventure. Once in Hollywood, he worked as an extra and came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn who signed him to a contract with MGM, and he rapidly graduated from bit parts to supporting and lead roles which showcased his polished British diction and his lighthearted yet sincere manner. Niven's first major success came with Edmund Goulding's "The Dawn Patrol" (1938), in which he played a courageous, devil-may-care WWI pilot friend of Errol Flynn.

Niven's years with MGM were sometimes stormy, as when he initially refused to take the thankless role of Edgar Litton, second-fiddle to Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) for the affections of Cathy (Merle Oberon) in "Wuthering Heights" (1939). He was also loathe to suffer the dictatorial ways of director William Wyler, experienced first-hand during the filming of "Dodsworth" (1936), but acquiesced rather than suffer MGM's threatened suspension. Niven, who returned to military service during World War II, eventually becoming a lieutenant-colonel, was at the bottom of MGM's list after the war, and Goldwyn's loaning him out to other studios boded well for the actor. Before the war, audiences knew him primarily as the "hero's best chum", but the British directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger finally nailed down the charming Niven persona in his best starring performance to that time, "A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven" (1946). Although he continued to star in films, it would be another decade before his career would receive a comparable bump.

Playing intrepid traveler Phileas Fogg in the Oscar-winning "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), Niven came off as the perfect stereotype of the unruffled English gentleman, and quite intentionally a caricature of 19th Century British propriety, his star quality enhanced exponentially by the 46 stars providing able support in the Mike Todd-produced extravaganza. By this time, he had also become a TV executive, having formed Four Star with Dick Powell, Charles Boyer and Ida Lupino, and the success of its projects probably had as much to do with his ever-present smile as anything. 1958 saw him star opposite Deborah Kerr in two movies that revealed the inadequacy beneath the charm and banter (a frequent theme running through his movies). "Separate Tables" earned him the Best Actor Oscar for his phony British major, with a made-up Sandhurst background and boring lies of WWII adventures, exposed when he's caught molesting a woman in a theater. Niven definitely profited from arguably the best script of his career and a more sympathetic role than his character in "Bonjour Tristesse", who proposes marriage to Kerr but continues to philander, ultimately driving her to an apparent suicide.

Much of Niven's work over the last two decades of his career was slight, particularly during the period between 1965 and 1975 when he continued to cash paychecks for forgettable nonsense (i.e., "Prudence and the Pill" 1969, "Vampira" 1975), but movies like "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960, opposite Doris Day) and "The Pink Panther" (1964, with Peter Sellers), in which he played one of his many ultra-sophisticated thieves, enhanced his reputation as a fine comic actor. As for drama, "The Guns of Navarone" (1961), in which he played an explosives expert, and "55 Days in Peking" (1963), as the unusually observant British ambassador quietly stealing the show, helped dispel his image as weak and morally unreliable, casting him for the popular consciousness in the heroic mode. Maintaining his blend of politeness, stoicism and good humor to the end, Niven delivered some late gems to enliven average Disney projects, essaying the granddad in "No Deposit, No Return" (1976) and sparkling as the butler of many disguises in "Candleshoe" (1978), though the trademark charm was also solidly on display in the ensemble of slightly better movies (i.e., "Murder by Death" 1976; "Death on the Nile" 1978).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Better Late Than Never (1983) Nick Cartland
2.
 Trail of the Pink Panther (1982) Sir Charles Litton
3.
 Sea Wolves, The (1980) Colonel Bill Grice
4.
 Rough Cut (1980) Chief Inspector Cyril Willis
5.
 Escape To Athena (1979) Professor Blake
7.
 Death on the Nile (1978) Colonel Race
8.
 Candleshoe (1977) Priory
9.
 No Deposit, No Return (1976) J W Osborne
10.
 Murder By Death (1976) Dick Charleston
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1930:
Entered the Highland Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant
:
Stationed for two years in Malta
1933:
Had a bit part as a man at race course in British film "Eyes of Fate"
1933:
Grew bored with the dull routine of military life; after a leave in NYC, returned to service but soon went AWOL, resigning his commission and moving first to Canada, then to NYC where he worked as a whiskey salesman
1934:
Moved to Hollywood and worked as movie extra, eventually coming to the atention of Samuel Goldwyn who signed him to MGM
1935:
First speaking part in "Without Regrets"
1936:
Acted in William Wyler's "Dodsworth", a superb adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' novel
1936:
Loaned out to 20th Century-Fox for his first leading role in "Thank You, Jeeves"
1938:
First major success in Edmund Goulding's "The Dawn Patrol" as WWI pilot buddy of Errol Flynn
1939:
Unwillingly reteamed with Wyler (a director he deemed too dictatorial behind the camera) to play Edgar Litton, a part he felt was a bad one for any actor, in "Wuthering Heights"; initial refusal to appear in film nearly earned him a suspension from studio
1939:
At outbreak of WWII, feeling obligated to return to military service, joined the Rifle Brigade, a Light Infantry Regiment in the British Army, working his way up to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Commandos; spent time in Normandy during the invasion; after D-Day, appointed Chief of Allied Forces Broadcasting Network
1946:
Starred as WWII pilot who jumps out of his plane without a parachute and, after somehow surviving what should have been his death, must plead for his life before a heavenly court in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven"
1949:
MGM contract terminated; freelanced thereafter
1950:
Reteamed with Powell and Pressburger for "The Elusive Pimpernel"
1951:
Sole Broadway appearance opposite Gloria Swanson in "Nina"
1952:
Had three-month run in San Francisco stage production of "The Moon Is Blue"
1952:
Aligned with Dick Powell, Charles Boyer and Ida Lupino to form Four Star, a television production company, becoming one of TV's first and most prolific stars
:
Was both a producer and regular (with Powell, Boyer and Lupino) in "Four Star Playhouse", a CBS anthology series; first worked with director Blake Edwards in 1954 episode ("The Bomb")
1953:
Acted in Otto Preminger's "The Moon Is Blue" (adapted from the play)
1956:
Gained stardom as Phileas Fogg in "Around the World in 80 Days"
1956:
Assets of Four Star bought by Official Films for $10 million
:
Was regular on NBC series, "Turn of Fate"
1958:
Won Best Actor Oscar for his turn as an elderly disgraced military officer in "Separate Tables"; also starred Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth and Burt Lancaster
1958:
Played playboy widowed father in Preminger's superb "Bonjour Tristesse", also starring Kerr
1959:
Host and performer of "The David Niven Theater", a short-lived NBC series of original dramatic presentations
1960:
Acted opposite Doris Day in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies"
1960:
Left Hollywood; thereafter based in Europe
1961:
First film with director J Lee Thompson, the explosive action film "The Guns of Navarone"
1964:
Starred as Sir Charles Litton alongside Peter Sellers in Edwards' "The Pink Panther"
:
Returned to series TV in "The Rogues" (NBC), playing British head of a family of con artists
1967:
Played James Bond in John Huston's overdone spoof of the genre, "Casino Royale"
1967:
Reteamed with Thompson for "Eye of the Devil"
1968:
Third and last film with Thompson, "Before Winter Comes"
:
Hosted and narrated "David Niven's World", a sydicated series of 21 documentary-style presentatons
1976:
Appeared as part of the all-star cast of "Murder By Death", a spoof of such characters as Charlie Chan, Miss Marple and Sam Spade written by Neil Simon
1976:
Narrated CBS documentary, "Balloon Safari"
1976:
Ventured out as a granddad for Disney in "No Deposit, No Return"
1977:
Portrayed disguise-laden English butler in entertaining Disney comedy "Candleshoe"
1979:
Cast as the Mastermind of a bank heist in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square"
1980:
Returned to the other side of the law as Chief Inspector Cyril Willis in "Rough Cut", starring Burt Reynolds as a world-class jewel thief
1982:
Reprised his role as Sir Charles Litton for Edwards' "Trail of the Pink Panther"
1982:
Acted in Bryan Forbes' "Better Late Than Never", produced by son David Niven Jr
1983:
Last film appearance in Edwards' "Curse of the Pink Panther"; cameo shot at same time as "Trail of the Pink Panther" (voice dubbed by Rich Little)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Stowe School: - 1923 - 1926
Royal Military College: - 1927 - 1929

Notes

The fruit of Four Star included such hits as "Zane Grey Theatre" (CBS, 1956-62), "The Rifleman" (ABC, 1958-63), "Burke's Law" (ABC, 1963-65) and "The Big Valley" (ABC, 1965-69).

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Primula Niven. Married from 1940 until her accidental death in 1946 when she fell down a flight of stairs at a dinner party while the guests were playing a "Hide and Seek" type of game; she was a member of the Royal Air Force when they met.
wife:
Hjordis Niven. Married in 1948; adopted two daughters with Niven.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Graham Niven. British Army captain. Died at Gallipoli in 1915.
mother:
Lady Cmyn Niven.
son:
David Niven Jr. Agent, producer. Born c. 1942; mother, Primula Niven.
son:
James Niven. Auctioneer, former investment banker. Born c. 1946; works at Sotheby's; mother, Primula Niven; born shortly before mother's death.
daughter:
Kristina Niven. Adopted with second wife Hjordis Niven.
daughter:
Fiona Niven. Adopted with second wife Hjordis Niven.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Round the Rugged Rocks/Once Over Lightly"
"The Moon's a Balloon"
"Bring on the Empty Horses"
"Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly"
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute