Distinguished, debonair and a bit roguish, that would describe actor David Niven.
Niven had a very long acting career on both sides of the Atlantic and even found acclaim as an author, late in life as he described his rather colorful career.
Even late in life, Niven was in demand as a featured actor, even though he ceased being a leading man years before. The trim, good looking actor exuded charm and was distinguished. His name lent credibility and marquee values to international films.
Niven’s career went up and down. After World War II, Niven’s star rose as he appeared in some very popular films like The Bishop’s Wife. In the 1950s, Niven’s fortunes sank with a number of poor received films and he sometimes took supporting roles.
Two things turned around his career. He played Phileas Fogg in the hit, Around the World in 80 Days. The film was a huge box office success and also received five Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Niven also became a partner in Four Star Television, which produced numerous series, including The Rifleman and Wanted: Dead or Alive.
During this period, Niven is probably best remembered for his Best Actor performance in Separate Tables (1958), Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960, The Guns of Navarone (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Pink Panther (1963) and Casino Royale (1967).
Niven was Ian Fleming’s choice as James Bond, and he finally got to play him in this comedy version of the Fleming’s Casino Royale.
From the late 1960s on, Niven found work, often as part of a large cast in films Murder By Death (1976) and Death on the Nile (1978). Now an elder statesman, his name lent charm and old Hollywood.
Niven had a side career, writer. In his lifetime he wrote two novels, and two autobiographies, The Moon’s a Balloon (1971) and Bring On the Empty Horses (1975). These books sold quite well as the public was embracing the nostalgia craze, including old Hollywood. Niven’s stories were quite popular and raised his own popularity.
I never thought Niven received the praise he was owed. Urbane and distinguished, he was likely to enter the room in a tuxedo and suddenly liven up the affair. Not as handsome or prone to slapstick comedy as Cary Grant, but Niven had the same dry humor and attraction from women as Grant. Both had an easygoing charm and twinkle in the eye, as if they were picking your pocket while helping you across the street.
As likely as he was to show up at a dinner party, Niven often appeared in action and war films. Given his long military service it was believable seeing in uniform or as an action figure.
In the early 1980s, Niven worked on Blake Edwards’ Pink Panther film. This would represent Niven’s last acting roles. He was ill at the time and it effected his voice, his dialogue was dubbed by comedian Rich Little.
The next time you see David Niven in an old film, take a moment to see how effortlessly he is onscreen, almost like he’s having a talk with someone in the audience.