David Niven (Lt Col)
(1910 - 1983)
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James David Graham Niven was born on the 1st March 1910. The son a British Army Lieutenant who was killed in the battle of Gallipoli in 1915, he was shipped off to a succession of boarding schools by his stepfather, who didn't care much for the boy. Young Niven hated the experience and was a poor student, but his late father's reputation helped him get admitted to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and he was later commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry. Rakishly handsome and naturally charming, Lt. Niven met a number of high society whilst stationed in Malta, and, through their auspices, made several important contacts while attending parties.

Although he later claimed to have been nothing more than a ‘professional guess’ at this stage of his life, Niven was actually excellent company, a superb raconteur, a loyal friend, and he paid back his social obligations by giving lavish parties of his own once he became famous. Niven also insisted that he fell into acting without any prior interest, although he had done amateur theatricals in college.

Following his military discharge, Niven wandered the world working odd jobs ranging from a lumberjack, to a gunnery instructor for Cuban revolutionaries and finally (by his own accounts) a petty thief. He became a Hollywood extra in 1935, and eventually came to the attention of producer Samuel Goldwyn, who had been building up a stable of attractive young contract players. Having made his speaking debut in 'Without Regret' (1935), Niven quickly learned how to successfully get through a movie scene. After several secondary roles for Goldwyn, he was loaned out for a lead role in the 20th Century Fox feature 'Thank You, Jeeves' (1936). The actor formed lasting friendships with several members of Hollywood's British community, notably Errol Flynn, with whom he briefly lived. He also became quite popular with the American-born contingent as well as with the ladies.

Anxious to do something more substantial than act during World War II he was one of the first Brits to return home and to voluteer for active service when war was declared; re-entering the British army as a Lieutenant Colonel where he served with distimction. His batman (valet) during the war was a Pvt. Peter Ustinov, who was later to become a great British actor himself, and would then be knighted for his services to Queen and country.

During this period he also managed to make some films. He was the pilot who first flies the Spitfire in 'The First of the Few' (1942), and he gave one of his finest performances as Lt Jim Perry in 'The Way Ahead' (1944) where he plays a garage mechanic who is commissioned and put in charge of training a bunch of raw recruits. On an aside he was also a crucial technical adviser to director Carol Reed.

Married by the end of the war, Niven went back to films but found that he still wasn't getting any important roles; despite ten years experience, he was considered too 'lightweight' to be a major name. His life was than momentarily shattered by the death of his wife in 1946, Niven's spirit was restored by his second marriage to Swedish model Hjordis Tersmeden, his wife of 37 years until the actor's death. Once again, Niven took a self-deprecating attitude towards his domestic life, claiming to be a poor husband and worse father, but despite the time spent away from his family, they cherished his concern and affection for them.







 

 




 
 

 

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