David Niven


Actor
David Niven

About

Also Known As
James David Graham Niven
Birth Place
London, England, GB
Born
March 01, 1910
Died
July 29, 1983
Cause of Death
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Biography

Handsome, debonair leading man David Niven was a strong actor. 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 ...

Photos & Videos

The Bishop's Wife - Lobby Cards
Spitfire - Movie Posters
Bachelor Mother - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

Primula Niven
Wife
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.
Hjordis Niven
Wife
Married in 1948; adopted two daughters with Niven.

Bibliography

"Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly"
David Niven (1981)
"Bring on the Empty Horses"
David Niven (1975)
"The Moon's a Balloon"
David Niven (1971)
"Round the Rugged Rocks/Once Over Lightly"
David Niven (1951)

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).

Biography

Handsome, debonair leading man David Niven was a strong actor. 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).

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Better Late Than Never (1983)
Nick Cartland
Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)
Rough Cut (1980)
The Sea Wolves (1980)
Escape to Athena (1979)
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979)
Death on the Nile (1978)
Colonel Race
Candleshoe (1977)
Murder By Death (1976)
No Deposit, No Return (1976)
Paper Tiger (1975)
Walter Bradbury
Old Dracula (1975)
King, Queen, Knave (1972)
Charles
The Statue (1971)
Alex Bolt
The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)
Lieutenant Commander Finchhaven
The Brain (1969)
The Brain
Before Winter Comes (1969)
Major Burnside
Prudence and the Pill (1968)
Gerald Hardcastle
The Impossible Years (1968)
Jonathan Kingsley
Eye of the Devil (1967)
Philippe de Montfaucon
Casino Royale (1967)
Sir James Bond
Lady L (1966)
Lord Lendale
Where the Spies Are (1966)
Dr. Jason Love
Conquered City (1965)
Maj. Peter Whitfield
The Pink Panther (1964)
Sir Charles Lytton
Bedtime Story (1964)
Lawrence Jamison
55 Days at Peking (1963)
Sir Arthur Robertson
The Road to Hong Kong (1962)
Guns of Darkness (1962)
Tom Jordan
The Best of Enemies (1962)
Major Richardson
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Miller
Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)
Lawrence Mackay
Ask Any Girl (1959)
Miles Doughton
Happy Anniversary (1959)
Chris Walters
Separate Tables (1958)
Major David Angus Pollock
Bonjour Tristesse (1958)
Raymond
The Silken Affair (1958)
Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957)
Dr. Alan Coles
The Little Hut (1957)
Henry Brittingham-Brett
My Man Godfrey (1957)
Godfrey
The Birds and the Bees (1956)
Patrick Henry "Handsome Harry" Harris, as known as Count Pierre
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Phileas Fogg
The King's Thief (1955)
[James] Duke of Brampton
The Fighting Pimpernel (1954)
Sir Percy Blakeney [also known as The Scarlet Pimpernel] by arrangement with Samuel Goldwyn
Tonight's the Night (1954)
Jasper O'Leary
Carrington V.C. (1954)
The Moon Is Blue (1953)
David Slater
The Love Lottery (1953)
The Lady Says No (1952)
Bill Shelby
Happy Go Lovely (1951)
B. G. Bruno
Soldiers Three (1951)
Captain Pindenny
The Toast of New Orleans (1950)
Jacques Riboudeaux
A Kiss for Corliss (1949)
[Kenneth] Marquis
Enchantment (1949)
General Sir Roland Dane
A Kiss in the Dark (1949)
Eric Phillips
The Bishop's Wife (1948)
Henry Brougham
Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948)
The Perfect Marriage (1947)
Dale Williams
The Other Love (1947)
Dr. Antony Stanton
A Matter of Life and Death (1947)
Peter D. Carter
Magnificent Doll (1946)
Aaron Burr
Immortal Battalion (1944)
Lieutenant Jim Perry
The First of the Few (1942)
The Real Glory (1939)
Lieut. [Terrence] McCool
Eternally Yours (1939)
Tony [Halstead, also known as the Great Arturo]
Bachelor Mother (1939)
David Merlin
Raffles (1939)
[A. J.] Raffles
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Edgar [Linton]
Three Blind Mice (1938)
Steve Harrington
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
[Lieutenant] Scott
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
Albert De Regnier
Four Men and a Prayer (1938)
Chris [Leigh]
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
Fritz von Tarlenheim
We Have Our Moments (1937)
Joe Gilling
Dinner at the Ritz (1937)
[Carl-]Paul de Brack
Rose-Marie (1936)
Teddy
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Captain Randall
Dodsworth (1936)
Capt. Locket
Palm Springs (1936)
George Brittel
Beloved Enemy (1936)
Gerald Preston
Thank You, Jeeves! (1936)
Bertie Wooster
Splendor (1935)
Clancey Lorrimore
Without Regret (1935)
Bill Gage
A Feather in Her Hat (1935)
Leo Cartwright
Barbary Coast (1935)
Cockney sailor
Eyes of Fate (1933)
Man

Cast (Special)

The Forbidden Desert of the Danakil (1988)
Narrator
Errol Flynn: Portrait of a Swashbuckler (1987)
The American Film Institute Salute to Fred Astaire (1981)
Host
Balloon Safari (1976)
Narrator

Cast (Short)

ALL EYES ON SHARON TATE (1966)
Himself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

A Man Called Intrepid (1979)

Life Events

1930

Entered the Highland Light Infantry as a Second Lieutenant

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

1933

Had a bit part as a man at race course in British film "Eyes of Fate"

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

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

1952

Had three-month run in San Francisco stage production of "The Moon Is Blue"

1953

Acted in Otto Preminger's "The Moon Is Blue" (adapted from the play)

1956

Assets of Four Star bought by Official Films for $10 million

1956

Gained stardom as Phileas Fogg in "Around the World in 80 Days"

1958

Played playboy widowed father in Preminger's superb "Bonjour Tristesse", also starring Kerr

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

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"

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"

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

Ventured out as a granddad for Disney in "No Deposit, No Return"

1976

Narrated CBS documentary, "Balloon Safari"

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)

Photo Collections

The Bishop's Wife - Lobby Cards
The Bishop's Wife - Lobby Cards
Spitfire - Movie Posters
Spitfire - Movie Posters
Bachelor Mother - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills taken for Bachelor Mother (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Bachelor Mother - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Bachelor Mother (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Bachelor Mother - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from RKO's Bachelor Mother (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven.
The Bishop's Wife - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Bishop's Wife (1948), starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Please Don't Eat the Daisies - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), starring Doris Day and David Niven.
The Dawn Patrol (1938) - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Warner Bros' The Dawn Patrol (1938), starring Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Basil Rathbone.

Videos

Movie Clip

Wuthering Heights (1939) - I'm Neither Thief Nor Stranger Returned from America, making an obscured reference to their childhood romance, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) tells Cathy (Merle Oberon), her husband Edgar (David Niven) and his sister Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald) he's home to stay, in Wuthering Heights, 1939, the Samuel Goldwyn production directed by William Wyler, from the Emily Bronte novel.
Impossible Years, The (1968) - You Belong On The Couch Psych professor Kingsley (David Niven), his house overrun by his kids’ party, entertains his editor Merrick (Chad Everett), joined then by Jeff Cooper as motorbiker artist Smuts (Jeff Cooper), broken up by his daughter (supermodel Cristina Ferrare in her first movie) and buddy (Mike McGreevey) in The Impossible Years, 1968.
Impossible Years, The (1968) - A Nymphomaniac I Met At A Party Vexed psych professor and author Kingsley (David Niven) waylaid by his editor Merrick (Chad Everett), who’s heard of his daughter (Christina Ferrare) being arrested in the campus protest, inter-cut with her on the beach with hormonal boyfriend Freddie (Rich Chalet), in The Impossible Years, 1968.
Impossible Years, The (1968) - Teeny-Bopper Hippie Offspring End of the credits over an MGM version of a 1960’s college riot, landing on David Niven as a psychology professor in class, queried by a campus reporter before taking an unwelcome call from his wife (Lola Albright) about his daughter (Cristina Ferrare), in The Impossible Years, 1968.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Camera Obscura Clever Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) shows off his "Camera Obscura" for American friend June (Kim Hunter) in a moment of gratuitous razzle-dazzle in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven, directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Full Dress Affair June (Kim Hunter) and Dr. Reeves (Roger Livesey) enter suspended animation as "Conductor 71" (Marius Goring) visits Peter (David Niven) in Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - This Is A Story Of Two Worlds Ambitious celestial animation and narration by John Longden in this framing piece from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - Court Of Appeal The Judge (Abraham Sofaer) and the set take center stage in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - All These Great Men To Choose From Brit flier Peter (David Niven) and heavenly escort "Conductor 71" (Marius Goring), himself an executed French aristocrat, on director Michael Powell's famous 266-step staircase, discuss possible advocates for his death-sentence appeal, in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Matter Of Life And Death, A (1947) - G For George Following credits, from the filmmaking partners known as "The Archers" (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), David Niven as a British bomber pilot and Kim Hunter the American radio operator receiving his signal, in A Matter of Life and Death, 1947, a.k.a. Stairway to Heaven.
Bachelor Mother (1939) - Pay The Fiddler, Man! Department store scion David (David Niven) ambushes employee Polly (Ginger Rogers), just home from a dance contest, whom he wrongly thinks is the mother of a baby left in his custody, causing her to change tactics on the fly, early in RKO's Bachelor Mother, 1939.
Dodsworth (1936) - Americans Are Always Such Snobs Newly retired American auto magnate Samuel Dodsworth (Walter Huston, title character) and wife (Ruth Chatterton) have just set sail for Europe, their attitudes not in synch, meeting English Locket (David Niven), in William Wyler's film from the Sinclar Lewis novel, Dodsworth, 1936.

Trailer

Rose-Marie (1936) - (Original Trailer) An opera singer goes undercover in the Canadian wilderness to hunt for her criminal brother in Rose Marie (1936) starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
Moon is Blue, The - (Original Trailer) Two womanizers (William Holden, David Niven) fall for a woman determined to keep her virginity in The Moon is Blue (1953).
Guns of Navarone, The - (Original Trailer) A team of Allied saboteurs fight their way behind enemy lines to destroy The Guns of Navarone (1961) starring Gregory Peck and David Niven.
Enchantment - (Original Trailer) Handkerchiefs at the ready as a British general (David Niven) finds the adoption of a beautiful orphan (Teresa Wright) leads to Enchantment (1948).
Death on the Nile - (Original Trailer) Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) investigates the murder of an heiress during an Egyptian tour in Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile (1978).
Bonjour Tristesse - (Original Trailer) A jealous teenage girl (Jean Seberg) plots to end the remarriage of her father (David Niven) in Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse (1958).
Bishop's Wife, The - (Original Trailer) Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, stars of the romantic fantasy The Bishop's Wife (1947), introduce the...we'll let them explain.
Bachelor Mother - (Re-issue Trailer) Ginger Rogers is a fun-loving shop girl who is mistaken for the mother of a foundling in Bachelor Mother (1939) co-starring David Niven.
Casino Royale (1967) - (Pan-and-scan Trailer) The first movie version of the first James Bond novel Casino Royale (1967) was this wild 60's farce with 16 stars and 6 directors.
Murder By Death - (Original Trailer) An all-star cast parodies famous detectives in the Neil Simon whodunit spoof Murder By Death (1976).
Kiss in the Dark, A - (Original Trailer) Concert pianist David Niven inherits an apartment house full of loony tenants in A Kiss in the Dark (1949) co-starring Jane Wyman.
Prisoner of Zenda, The (1937) - (Re-release Trailer) An Englishman (Ronald Colman) who resembles the king of a small European nation gets mixed up in palace intrigue when his look-alike is kidnapped in The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

Family

William Graham Niven
Father
British Army captain. Died at Gallipoli in 1915.
Lady Cmyn Niven
Mother
David Niven Jr
Son
Agent, producer. Born c. 1942; mother, Primula Niven.
James Niven
Son
Auctioneer, former investment banker. Born c. 1946; works at Sotheby's; mother, Primula Niven; born shortly before mother's death.
Kristina Niven
Daughter
Adopted with second wife Hjordis Niven.
Fiona Niven
Daughter
Adopted with second wife Hjordis Niven.

Companions

Primula Niven
Wife
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.
Hjordis Niven
Wife
Married in 1948; adopted two daughters with Niven.

Bibliography

"Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly"
David Niven (1981)
"Bring on the Empty Horses"
David Niven (1975)
"The Moon's a Balloon"
David Niven (1971)
"Round the Rugged Rocks/Once Over Lightly"
David Niven (1951)

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).