Birthday: March 1, 1910
Died At Age: 73
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: James David Graham Niven, David Nivens, Niv
Born in: London
Famous as: Actor
Spouse/Ex-: Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden, Primula Susan Rollo
father: William Edward Graham Niven
mother: Henriette Julia Degacher
siblings: Grizel Rosemary Graham Niven, Henry Degacher Niven, Margaret Joyce Niven
children: David Niven, Fiona Niven, Jamie Niven, Kristina Niven
Died on: July 29, 1983
place of death: Château-d'Œx
City: London, England
education: 1930 - Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Stowe School
Who was David Niven?
David Niven was an English actor who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in ‘Separate Tables.’ Popular in both Europe and the United States, he was an accomplished actor of stage and motion-pictures. Born in London, he was sent to the prestigious Heatherdown Preparatory School from where he was expelled due to his mischievous nature. He proceeded to attend the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and embarked on a military career as a second lieutenant in the British Army. He did not like the army life and gained notoriety for his rebellious behavior which angered his seniors. Tired of the military, he quit his job and moved to the United States in search of a better future. Venturing into Hollywood in the mid-1930s, he soon established himself as a reliable supporting actor in films such as ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘The Prisoner of Zenda.’ A successful actor by the time the World War II broke out, he chose to return home and rejoin the army. He resumed his acting career after the war and was even more successful than before. He was also the author of four books in addition to being an actor.
Childhood & Early Life
James David Graham Niven was born on 1 March 1910 in London to William Edward Graham Niven and his wife, Henrietta Julia. He had three older siblings. His father was an army man, as were both his grandfathers.
His father was killed during the World War I in 1915. His mother remarried Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt in 1917. It was rumored that his mother had been having an affair with Sir Thomas even before the death of her first husband. Some sources suggest that Sir Thomas may well have been David Niven's biological father.
David grew up to be a naughty boy who loved playing pranks. He was sent to the elite Heatherdown Preparatory School from where he was expelled due to his mischievous behavior.
He then went to Stowe School, following which he attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He graduated in 1930 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the British Army.
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David Niven was assigned to the Highland Light Infantry (HLI). He served with the HLI for more than two years but did not enjoy his job. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1933, but did not see a future for himself in the military. In addition, his rebellious streak was also causing problems in his career.
He quit the army and travelled to different places in search of a more interesting profession. After spending short terms in Bermuda and Cuba, he finally arrived in Hollywood in 1934.
He struggled a lot initially, though eventually he was able to find minor acting roles in films. In 1935, he was cast in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and his performance gained the attention of independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract.
Over the next few years he appeared in several supporting roles in major films like ‘Rose-Marie’ (1936), ‘Dodsworth’ (1936), ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1936), and ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ (1937).
His reputation as a reliable and talented supporting actor led to leading roles in ‘The Dawn Patrol’ (1938), ‘Three Blind Mice’ (1938) and ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1939). A popular actor by now, he shared the screen with legendary performers like Errol Flynn, Loretta Young and Laurence Olivier.
Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, and Niven returned to his homeland to fight in what became the World War II. He was re-commissioned as a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade in 1940 and took part in the Invasion of Normandy. He ended the war as a lieutenant-colonel.
He resumed his acting career after the war and played the leading roles in highly successful films such as ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ (1946), ‘The Bishop's Wife’ (1947) and ‘Enchantment’ (1948).
His career flourished throughout the 1950s as well. In 1956, he starred as Phileas Fogg in producer Michael Todd's ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, and portrayed Major Pollock in ‘Separate Tables’ in 1958 for which he won an Academy Award.
The 1960s saw him acting in ‘The Guns of Navarone’ (1961), ‘The Pink Panther’ (1963), and ‘Where the Spies Are’ (1965). In 1967 he played the role of Sir James Bond 007, a legendary British spy, in ‘Casino Royale.’
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A highly active individual, he continued acting well into the 1970s even though he was aging by now. Some of his later movies were ‘Murder by Death’ (1976), ‘Death on the Nile’ (1978) and ‘The Sea Wolves’ (1980).
David Niven played Major David Angus Pollock in the drama film ‘Separate Tables’ which also starred Rita Hayworth and Deborah Kerr. His role of an army man accused of sexually harassing several young women was well received by the audience and the film critics.
He portrayed Phileas Fogg, a refined and well-dressed Victorian gentleman, in the action adventure comedy film ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’ The movie was a critically acclaimed hit which won five Academy awards.
Awards & Achievements
He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy in 1953 for the film ‘The Moon Is Blue.’
In 1958, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Major Pollock in ‘Separate Tables.’
Personal Life & Legacy
He met and married Primula "Primmie" Susan Rollo in 1940. The happily married couple was blessed with two sons in quick succession. Tragedy struck the family when Primmie died in a freak accident in 1946.
A few years later he married Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden, a Swedish fashion model. The couple adopted two daughters, one of whom was rumored to be David’s secret love child with a teenage girl.
David Niven began suffering from health problems during the early 1980s. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1981 and after ailing for several months he died on 29 July 1983, at the age of 73.