On this day in history : 1st March 1910 – The birth of English actor and writer David Niven – who’s many films include Casino Royale, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guns of Navarone….
James David Graham Niven was born in Belgrave Mansions, London, into a military family – he was the youngest of four children and he was named for the day on which he was born – St. David’s Day…. He studied at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire before taking his place at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst – where he gained a Commission as Second Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry….
Niven was keen to try his hand at acting – so he left his post in the army and travelled to Hollywood, where he managed to secure several minor roles…. He then appeared as an extra in British film There Goes the Bride in 1932 which subsequently got him more small parts….
At the outbreak of World War 2 he rejoined the army, being recommissioned as a lieutenant…. During this time he made a couple of war propaganda, morale boosting films:- The First of the Few, about the Spitfire aircraft, which greatly pleased Winston Churchill and The Way Ahead in which he starred with Peter Ustinov….
After the War Niven resumed his acting career making A Matter of Life and Death in 1946 before returning to Hollywood to star in the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife alongside Cary Grant…. Niven had only been back in Hollywood six weeks when tragedy was to strike…. During a party at the Beverley Hills house of American actor Tyrone Power, a game of hide and seek had been taking place…. Niven’s wife, Primula, had opened the door to what she thought was a cupboard – only it was in fact a stone staircase leading to the basement…. She fell and sustained a fractured skull, dying from her injuries…. She was 28-years-old – the couple had two young sons….
In 1948 Niven met Swedish fashion model Hjordis Pauline Tersmeden – he was instantly smitten…. The pair married and had two children – but it was to be a stormy marriage, with her violent temper and his numerous affairs, including a rumoured one with Princess Margaret….
During the late 1940s and early 50s Niven’s career declined for a while…. However, in 1951 he made Happy Go Lovely, a musical with Vera-Ellen which was a big hit at the British Box Office…. He then went on to do a stint on Broadway which landed him a part in the film version of the stage play The Moon is Blue in 1953 – for which he won a Golden Globe….
With his career now well and truly back on track a string of successful films were to come…. One of his biggest roles was as Phileas Fogg in the 1956 hit Around the Word in 80 Days…. With his dry British wit Niven had never been more in demand…. He also did work for television with several TV dramas to his name, even hosting his own drama series The David Niven Show in 1959….
He still continued with light hearted movies such as the 1960 film Please Don’t Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, which was highly successful – but he was soon to show his versatility…. In 1961 he starred in the massive film The Guns of Navarone….which was then to see him cast in a run of war movies….
He returned to comedy in 1963 with The Pink Panther…. 1966 saw him in the horror film Eye of the Devil and then in 1967 he played the part of James Bond 007 in Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale….
He carried on working on various films during the 1970s – but by 1980 ill health was beginning to show…. During a couple of TV interviews his slurred speech left audiences wondering if he had been drinking – but it was actually a symptom of his illness, motor neurone disease…. He died at his chalet in Switzerland in July 1983….
As well as being such an accomplished actor Niven also wrote four books…. His autobiography The Moon’s a Balloon in 1971, which was very well received….and in 1975 a collection of humorous reminiscences of Hollywood…. He also wrote two novels and was working on a third at the time of his death….