James David Graham Niven (1 March 1910 – 29 July 1983), known as David Niven, was a British actor and novelist, best known for his roles as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days and Sir Charles Lytton, a.k.a. "the Phantom," in The Pink Panther. He was awarded the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor in Separate Tables.
David Niven was born in London, England. He was the son of William Edward Graham Niven (1878–1915) and Henrietta Julia Degacher. He was named David for his birth on Saint David's Day. Niven often claimed that he was born in Kirriemuir, in the county of Angus in 1909, but after his death, his birth certificate showed this was not true.
Henrietta was of French and British ancestry. She was born in Wales, the daughter of army officer William Degacher and Julia Caroline, daughter of Lieutenant General James Webber Smith. Her father, born William Hitchcock, had assumed his mother's maiden name of Degacher in 1874.
William Niven, David Niven's legal father, was of Scottish descent; his paternal grandfather, David Graham Niven, (1811–1884) was from St. Martins, a village in Perthshire. William served in the Berkshire Yeomanry in the First World War and was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign on 21 August 1915. He was buried in Green Hill Cemetery, Turkey in the Special Memorial Section in Plot F. 10.
David's mother Henrietta then married Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt. Graham Lord, in NIV: The Authorized Biography of David Niven, suggested that Comyn-Platt and Mrs. Niven had been having an affair for some time before her husband's death, and that Sir Thomas may well have been David Niven's biological father, a supposition which has some support from her children. Michael Munn, in his 2009 biography of Niven, claimed that Niven himself confirmed Comyn-Platt was his father in an interview taped in 1982. A reviewer of Lord's book stated that Lord's photographic evidence showing a strong physical resemblance between Niven and Comyn-Platt "would appear to confirm these theories, though photographs can often be misleading." Niven's son, David Niven Junior, commenting on Munn's book in the Daily Mail said, "Why, if Michael Munn was such a good friend, did he never introduce him to us? Everyone featured in these stories is conveniently dead, so we can't ask them to verify them.". Other commentators have queried the authenticity of Munn's alleged interviews with Niven after Munn claimed that the disputed, taped interviews no longer exist because they were mangled by his tape recorder.
David Niven had three older siblings: Margaret Joyce ("Joyce"; born in Geneva 5 January 1900); Henry Degacher ("Max"; born in Buckland, Faringdon, Berkshire 29 June 1902), and Grizel Rosemary Graham (born in Belgrave, London 28 November 1906).
English public schools at the time of Niven's boyhood were marked for their heavy-handed discipline. Niven himself suffered many instances of corporal punishment owing to his inclination for pranks, which finally led to his expulsion from Heatherdown at the age of 10 and a half. This ended his chances for Eton, a significant blow to his family. He was sent to reform school, where the brutality reached Dickensian proportions, Niven later recounted. After cramming and failing to pass the naval entrance exam due to his difficulty with maths, Niven attended Stowe, a newly created public school led by headmaster J.F. Roxburgh. Roxburgh was unlike any headmaster Niven had experienced. Thoughtful and kind, he addressed the boys by their first name, allowed them bicycles and encouraged and nurtured their personal interests. Niven later wrote, "How he did this, I shall never know, but he made every single boy at that school feel that he and what he did were of real importance to the headmaster". He then attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, and graduated in 1930 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the regular Army. He did well at Sandhurst, which gave him the "officer and gentleman" bearing that was to be his trademark.
Niven requested assignment to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders or the Black Watch; then jokingly wrote on the form, as his third choice, "anything but the Highland Light Infantry" (because the HLI wore tartan trews rather than kilts). He was assigned to the HLI, and his comment was known in the regiment. Thus Niven did not enjoy his time in the Army. He served with the HLI for two years in Malta, and then for a few months in Dover. In Malta, he became friends with Roy Urquhart, future commander of the British 1st Airborne Division.
Niven grew tired of the peacetime Army. Though promoted lieutenant on January 1, 1933, he saw no opportunity for further advancement. His ultimate decision to resign came after a lengthy lecture on machine guns, which was interfering with his plans for dinner with a particularly attractive young lady. At the end of the lecture, the speaker (a major general) asked if there were any questions. Showing the typical rebelliousness of his early years, Niven asked, "Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train."
After being placed under close arrest for this act of insubordination, Niven finished a bottle of whisky with the officer who was guarding him - Rhoddy Rose (later Colonel RLC Rose DSO MC). With his connivance, Niven was allowed to escape from a first-floor window. He then headed for America. While crossing the Atlantic, Niven resigned his commission by telegram on 6 September 1933. Niven relocated to New York, where he began an unsuccessful career in whisky sales and horse rodeo promotion in Atlantic City. After subsequent detours to Bermuda and Cuba, he finally arrived in Hollywood in the summer of 1934.
When Niven presented himself at the doors of Central Casting, he found out that he had to have a work permit, to allow him to reside and work in the U.S.
This meant that Niven had to leave U.S. soil, and he left for Mexico, where he worked as a "gun-man", cleaning and polishing the rifles of visiting American hunters. He received his Resident Alien Visa from the American Consulate when his birth certificate arrived from England. He then returned to the U.S. and was accepted by Central Casting as "Anglo-Saxon Type No. 2008."
His first work as an extra was as a Mexican in a Western. This inauspicious start notwithstanding, he then found himself an agent: Bill Hawks. He had several bit parts in 1933, 1934, and 1935, including a non-speaking part in MGM's Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), which led to some fortuitous publicity.
Niven thus came to the attention of independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and established his career. Niven appeared in 19 movies in the next four years. He had supporting roles in several major films: Rose-Marie (1936), Dodsworth (1936), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937); and leading roles in The Dawn Patrol (1938), Three Blind Mice (1938), and Wuthering Heights (1939), playing opposite such famous stars as Errol Flynn, Loretta Young, and Laurence Olivier. In 1939 he co-starred with Ginger Rogers in the RKO comedy Bachelor Mother, and starred as the eponymous gentleman safe-cracker in Raffles.
Niven joined what became known as the Hollywood Raj, a group of British actors in Hollywood. Other members of the group included Boris Karloff, Stan Laurel, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Leslie Howard and C. Aubrey Smith. According to his autobiography, he and Errol Flynn shared a house, which they dubbed "Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea" although in actual fact the co-habitee was Robert Newton, a less well-known actor and thus perhaps less noteworthy for Niven's dinner table anecdotes.
After the United Kingdom declared war in 1939, Niven returned to Britain and rejoined the Army. He was re-commissioned as a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade on 25 February 1940, and was assigned to a motor training battalion. But he wanted something more exciting, and transferred into the Commandos. He was assigned to a training base at Inverailort House in the Western Highlands. Niven later claimed credit for bringing future Major General Sir Robert Laycock to the Commandos.
David Niven commanded 'A' Squadron GHQ Liaison Regiment better known as Phantom.
Niven also worked with the Army Film Unit. He acted in two films during the war, The First of the Few (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). Both films were made to win support for the British war effort, especially in the U.S. His Film Unit work included a small part in the deception operation that used minor actor M. E. Clifton James to impersonate Field Marshal Montgomery.
During his work with the Film Unit, Peter Ustinov, though one of the script-writers, had to pose as Niven's batman. (Ustinov also acted in The Way Ahead). Niven in his autobiography explained that there was no military way that he, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, and Ustinov, who had risen only to the rank of Private, could associate, save as an officer and his servant, hence their strange 'act'. Ustinov later appeared with Niven in Death on the Nile (1978).
Niven took part in the Invasion of Normandy, arriving several days after D-Day. He served in the "Phantom Signals Unit", which located and reported enemy positions, and kept rear commanders up to date on changing battle lines. Niven was posted at one time to Chilham in Kent.
Niven remained close-mouthed about the war, despite public interest in celebrities in combat and a reputation for storytelling. He said once: "I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war." Niven also had special scorn for the newspaper columnists covering the war who typed out self-glorifying and excessively florid prose about their meagre wartime experiences. Niven stated, "Anyone who says a bullet sings past, hums past, flies, pings, or whines past, has never heard one − they go crack!"
He gave a few details of his war experience in his autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon: his private conversations with Winston Churchill, the bombing of London, and what it was like entering Germany with the occupation forces. Niven first met Churchill at a dinner party in February 1940. Churchill singled him out from the crowd and stated, "Young man, you did a fine thing to give up your film career to fight for your country. Mark you, had you not done so − it would have been despicable."
A few stories have surfaced. About to lead his men into action, Niven eased their nervousness by telling them, "Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!" Asked by suspicious American sentries during the Battle of the Bulge who had won the World Series in 1943, he answered "Haven't the foggiest idea . . . But I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother!"
Niven ended the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel. On his return to Hollywood after the war, he received the Legion of Merit, an American military order. Presented by Eisenhower himself, it honored Niven's work in setting up the BBC Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme, a radio news and entertainment station for the Allied forces.
In spite of a six-year absence from the screen, Niven came second in the 1945 Popularity Poll of British film stars.
He resumed his career in 1946, now only in starring roles. A Matter of Life and Death (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947), and Enchantment (1948) are all highly regarded. In 1950 he starred in The Elusive Pimpernel, which was made in Britain and was to be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn. Goldwyn pulled out, and the film did not appear in the U.S. for three years.
Niven had a long and complex relationship with Goldwyn, who gave him his first start. But the dispute over The Elusive Pimpernel and Niven's demands for more money led to a long estrangement in the 1950s.
During this period Niven was largely barred from the Hollywood studios. In 1951 to 1956, he made 11 movies, of which two were MGM productions, and the rest were low-budget British or independent productions. However, Niven won a Golden Globe Award for his work in The Moon Is Blue (1953), produced and directed by Otto Preminger.
In 1955 renowned British photographer Cornel Lucas photographed David Niven whilst filming at the Rank Film Studio in Denham. These images can be seen at The Cornel Lucas Collection. A limited edition of British postage stamps was produced using one of Cornel Lucas' images taken during this portrait sitting.
Niven also worked in television. Niven appeared several times on various short-drama shows, and was one of the "four stars" of the dramatic anthology series Four Star Playhouse, appearing in 33 episodes. The show was produced by Four Star Television, which was co-owned by Niven, Robert Montgomery, and Charles Boyer. The show ended in 1955, but Four Star TV became a highly successful TV production company.
Niven's film career took off in 1956, when he starred as Phileas Fogg in Michael Todd's immensely successful production of Around the World in 80 Days.
He appeared in 13 more TV episodes. Niven won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor for Separate Tables; he was also a co-host of the 30th, 31st and 46th Academy Awards ceremonies.
After Niven won the Academy Award, Goldwyn called with an invitation to his home. In Goldwyn's drawing room, Niven noticed a picture of himself in uniform that he had sent to Goldwyn from England during World War II. In happier times with Goldwyn, he had observed this same picture sitting on Goldwyn's piano. Now years later, the picture was still in the exact same spot. As he was looking at the picture, Goldwyn's wife Frances said "Sam never took it down."
With an Academy Award to his credit, Niven's career continued to improve. In 1959, he became the host of his own TV drama series, The David Niven Show, which ran for 13 episodes that summer.
Over the rest of his career, Niven appeared in over thirty additional movies. These included The Guns Of Navarone (1961), and The Pink Panther (1963), Murder By Death (1976), Death on the Nile (1978), and The Sea Wolves (1980), but also a lot of unmemorable films.
In 1964, he was cast (along with Boyer) in the Four Star series The Rogues. Niven played "Alexander 'Alec' Fleming", one of a family of retired con artists who now fleece villains in the interests of justice. This was his only recurring role on television. The Rogues ran for only one season, but won a Golden Globe award.
In 1967, he appeared as one of seven incarnations of "007" in the James Bond spoof Casino Royale. In fact, Niven had been Bond creator Ian Fleming's first choice to play Bond in Dr. No. Casino Royale co-producer Charles K. Feldman said later that Fleming had written the book with Niven in mind, and therefore had sent a copy to Niven.
Niven was the only James Bond actor mentioned by name in the text of Fleming's novels. In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond visits an exclusive ski resort in Switzerland where he is told that David Niven is a frequent visitor and in You Only Live Twice, David Niven is referred to as the only real gentleman in Hollywood.
While co-hosting the 47th Annual Oscars ceremony, A naked man appeared behind him, "streaking" across the stage. Niven responded "Isn't it fascinating to think, that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life, is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"
In 1974, he hosted David Niven's World for London Weekend Television. This was a series of profiles of contemporary adventurers such as hang gliders, motorcyclists, and mountain climbers. It ran for 21 episodes.
In 1975, he narrated The Remarkable Rocket, a short animation based on a story by Oscar Wilde.
In 1979, he appeared in Escape to Athena, which was produced by his son David Jr.
Also in 1979, Niven starred in the television miniseries A Man Called INTREPID, based on the supposed memoir of Sir William Stephenson, a Canadian master spy for British intelligence. (In fact the book was mostly invented by co-author William Stevenson (no relation), Sir William then being very old.)
In July 1982, Blake Edwards brought Niven back for cameo appearances in two final "Pink Panther" movies (Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther), reprising his role as Sir Charles Litton. By this time, Niven was having serious health problems. When the raw footage was reviewed, his voice was inaudible, and his lines had to be dubbed by Rich Little. Niven was not told of this - he learned it from a newspaper report. This was his last film appearance.
Niven wrote four books. The first, Round the Rugged Rocks, was a novel which appeared in 1951 and was forgotten almost at once. In 1971, he published his autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon, which was well-received, selling over five million copies. He followed this with Bring On the Empty Horses in 1975, a collection of highly entertaining reminiscences from Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the 1940s. It now appears that Niven recounted many incidents from a first person perspective which actually happened to other people, and which he borrowed and embroidered. In 1981, Niven published a second and much more successful novel, Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly, which was set during and after World War II, and drew on his experiences during the war and in Hollywood. He was working on a third novel when his health failed in 1983.
After a whirlwind two-week romance in 1940, Niven married Primula Susan Rollo (18 February 1918, London - 21 May 1946, Beverly Hills, California), the aristocratic daughter of a British lawyer. The couple had two sons, David Jr. and Jamie. Primula, whom he called Primmie, died at age 28, only six weeks after moving to the U.S., of a fractured skull and brain lacerations from an accidental fall in the home of Tyrone Power. While playing hide and seek, she walked through a door believing it led to a closet. Instead, it led to a stone staircase to the basement.
Niven recalled this as the darkest period of his life, years afterwards thanking his friends for their patience and forbearance during this time. He later claimed to have been so grief-stricken that he thought for a while that he'd gone mad. Following a suicide attempt involving a handgun that failed to go off, he eventually rallied and returned to film making. He told his biographer Michael Munn that he needed to remarry quickly for his sons' sake: "I needed someone in my life. I was used to having someone special. And my sons needed someone to be a mother to them."
In 1948, Niven met Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1921–1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model. The moment of his meeting her was recounted by Niven:
I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life — tall, slim, auburn hair, uptilted nose, lovely mouth and the most enormous grey eyes I had ever seen. It really happened the way it does when written by the worst lady novelists...I goggled. I had difficulty swallowing and had champagne in my knees.
They married six weeks later. Unfortunately, Niven's second marriage was as tumultuous as his first marriage was content. The multiple adulteries of both partners were detailed in the 2009 biography, David Niven: The Man Behind the Balloon.
In an unsuccessful effort to bring harmony to the marriage, they adopted two girls, Kristina and Fiona. Kristina later told biographer Graham Lord that she was convinced that she was Niven's secret child by another fashion model, Mona Gunnarson. In 2009, biographer Michael Munn revealed that both Niven and his wife had separately confirmed that Kristina, born in 1960 or 1961, was his child by an 18-year-old Swiss woman, though she was represented as a Swedish orphan. Fiona was adopted as a four-month-old infant in 1963 or 1964.
All four of Niven's children, as well as many of his friends, told Lord that Hjördis, unable to achieve an acting career, had affairs with other men and became an alcoholic. Munn's interviews confirmed that Hjördis had had many affairs, including an extremely brief chlamydia-tainted contact with John F. Kennedy, but his informants revealed that David Niven's affairs both outnumbered and inspired hers, naming Grace Kelly and Princess Margaret among his partners. Munn's book also asserts that Niven refused to allow Hjördis to act because he had married her in part because he specifically did not want a wife who was an actress.
In October 1951, while pheasant shooting with friends in New England, Hjördis was shot in the face, neck and chest by two of Niven's companions. Local doctors wished to operate immediately to remove the buckshot. However, another doctor advised Niven to allow the swelling of the face to go down. In this way his wife avoided disfigurement.
While convalescing in the Blackstone Hotel in New York, Niven and Hjördis were next door neighbors with Audrey Hepburn, who made her debut on Broadway that season. In 1960, while filming Please Don't Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, Niven and Hjördis separated for a few weeks, though they later reconciled.
Hjördis recovered from her alcoholism after Niven's death in 1983, but returned to it before her own death of a stroke in 1997. She was 76. At her specific request, she is not buried next to Niven.
Niven had four grandchildren:
Fernanda and Eugenia, Jamie's daughters
Ryan (b. 1998), Fiona's son
Michael (b. 1990), Kristina's son
In 1980, Niven began experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness, and a warble in his voice. A 1981 interview on Michael Parkinson's talk show alarmed family and friends; viewers wondered if Niven had either been drinking or suffered a stroke. (Another 1981 interview, posted on YouTube, shows Niven on The Merv Griffin Show while publicizing his novel Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly. He blames his slightly slurred voice on the shooting schedule on the film he'd been making; Better Late Than Never.) He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) later that year. He hosted the 1981 American Film Institute tribute to Fred Astaire, which was his final appearance in Hollywood.
In February 1983, using a false name to avoid publicity, Niven was hospitalised for ten days, ostensibly for a digestive problem. Afterwards, he returned to his chalet at Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland, where his condition continued to decline. He refused to return to the hospital, and his family supported his decision. Niven died of ALS on 29 July 1983, at age 73.
Bitter, estranged, and plagued by depression, Hjördis showed up drunk at the funeral, having been persuaded to attend by family friend Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Kristina and Fiona told Graham Lord that Hjördis added insult to injury by forbidding them to bury her alongside her husband in the place left for her in his double grave in Switzerland.
Lord wrote that "the biggest wreath, worthy of a Mafia Godfather's funeral, was delivered from the porters at London's Heathrow Airport, along with a card that read: 'To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls. He made a porter feel like a king.'"
Niven died on the same day as Raymond Massey, his co-star in The Prisoner of Zenda and A Matter of Life and Death.
After Great Britain declared war in 1939, he was one of the first actors to go back and join the army. Although Niven had a reputation for telling good old stories over and over again, he was totally silent about his war experience. He said once: "I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war."
He once asked Greta Garbo whilst under a picnic table (!), why she quit making movies. She answered, "I had made enough faces.".
Contrary to a popular myth, he was not a cousin of actor Patrick Macnee. According to Macnee, in Sheridan Morley's 1985 biography "The Other Side of the Moon,", his elder brother Max and Patrick's mother were friends and Max was described as an "uncle," as opposed to a cousin. However, there was no blood link.
Ian Fleming recommended him for the role of James Bond for Dr. No (1962), but producer Albert R. Broccoli thought that Niven was too old.
In the James Bond novel "You Only Live Twice," by Ian Fleming, he is referred to, and a pet bird in the story was named after him. Three years after the book was released, he played Bond in Casino Royale (1966).
Father, with Primula Rollo, of David Niven Jr. and Jamie Niven; and the father, with Hjordis, of two adopted daughters, Kristina (adopted 1960) and Fiona (adopted 1962).
Interred at Chateau D'Oex, Switzerland.
He often used to say he was born in Kirriemuir, Scotland. It was only after his birth certificate was checked after his death that this was found to be incorrect. David thought it sounded more romantic. He was born in London, England.
His Scottish father was Lieutenant William Niven, who died at Gallipoli on 21st August 1915, aged 25, while serving with the Berkshire Yeomanry. He was reported missing until 1917. He was a landowner and left a widow Henrietta (a three quarter Frenchwoman) and two sons, Max and David and two daughters, Joyce and Grizel.
Once wrote that as a child, he felt superior to others. He attributed this to the fact that when reciting the Lord's Prayer in church, he thought for several years that the correct phrasing was, "Our Father, who art a Niven . . . "
Was originally meant to play the lead role of Charlie Allnut in The African Queen (1951).
Has a grandson Ryan (born in 1998), from daughter Fiona. Grandson Michael (born in 1990) from daughter Kristina. Grandaughters Fernanda and Eugenie from son Jamie.
He knew his wife, Primula Rollo, 17 days before he married her. He knew his second wife 10 days before marrying her.
Is portrayed by Nigel Havers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).
Became friends with Clark Gable during the 1930s. While Gable was serving in England during World War II, Gable used to stay over at the Niven's cottage and spend quality time with Niven's wife and children. When, a few years later, Niven's wife died tragically, Gable did his best to comfort Niven. Niven said "Clark was drawing on his own awful experience (his wife Carole Lombard 's tragic death) to steer me through mine.
His first wife, Primmie, died tragically while attending a dinner at fellow actor Tyrone Power 's house. After dinner while playing hide and seek, Primmie opened what she thought was a closet door but instead tumbled down the basement stairs and onto the concrete floor. She died shortly after.
Died the same day as his The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Stairway to Heaven (1946) co-star Raymond Massey.
After he left the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst he was asked to write down his three preferred regiments, he wrote 'anything but the HLI' (Highland Light Infantry) he was inevitably commissioned into the HLI, later to transferred to the Rifle Brigade
Ex-father-in-law of Barbara Niven.
Was on stage at the 1974's Oscars when a naked man ran behind him.
Was born on St. David's Day, hence his Christian name. St. David was the patron Saint of Wales.
Joined the British Army's Rifle Brigade regiment and served through Dunkirk, joining the commandos and later the secret Phantom Reconnaissance Regiment. He spent most of the time behind German lines with the latter outfit, a rough, tough, hit-and-run group harassing the enemy.
Met director Blake Edwards, when Edwards was writing and directing films for Four Star Television, a production company partly owned by Niven.
Close friend of Michael Trubshawe. They served together in a Highland Regiment in Malta in the 1930s and Trubshawe figures prominently in Niven's biography, "The Moon's A Balloon". Niven states: "He swiftly made a name for himself in television and one of his earliest screen appearances was in The Guns of Navarone - a lovely bonus for me." Niven does not mention Trubshawe's earlier appearance in Around the World in Eighty Days (1956). Trubshawe was Niven's best man on the occasion of his two marriages, and also godfather to Niven's son David, Jr.
As a joke he agreed to celebrate the wedding of two gorillas and to be the godfather of their first son.
Was too ill to attend Grace Kelly's funeral in September 1982.
During his final illness his weight dropped from 230 lbs to just 110 lbs.
I've been lucky enough to win an Oscar, write a best-seller - my other dream would be to have a painting in the Louvre. The only way that's going to happen is if I paint a dirty one on the wall of the gentlemen's lavatory.
[on Separate Tables (1958)] They gave me very good lines and then cut to Deborah Kerr while I was saying them.
[during an Academy Award presentation. responding to the unexpected entrance of a streaker] Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?
I have a face that is a cross between two pounds of halibut and an explosion in an old clothes closet.
Can you imagine being wonderfully overpaid for dressing up and playing games?
I suppose everybody becomes an actor because they want to be liked. I do enjoy being liked, but I don't work hard at it. I try to do the best I can for my age.
In 40 years I've never been late. They pay me enough - so the least I can do is arrive sober, be on time and know all the jokes.
I make two movies a year to take care of the butcher and the baker and the school fees. Then I try to write, but it's not that easy. Acting is what's easy.
I wonder why it is, that young men are always cautioned against bad girls. Anyone can handle a bad girl. It's the good girls men should be warned against.
You can count on Errol Flynn, he'll always let you down.
The hardest thing in the world to do, for a director, is a comedy. If you do a drama, that doesn't quite come off, you may still have a fairly good drama, but if a comedy does not come off, you've got a disaster. Blake [Blake Edwards] takes a big chance every time he does a comedy. There's no covering up with a comedy. They're frightfully hard to write, very difficult to direct, and they're not at all easy to act, as a matter of fact.
[on acting] This isn't work. It's fun. The whole thing is fun. I hear actors say, "I have to go to work tomorrow". Nonsense. Work is eight hours in a coal mine or a government office. Getting up in the morning and putting on a funny mustache, and dressing up and showing off in front of the grown-ups, that's play, and for which we're beautifully overpaid. I've always felt that way. After all, how many people in the world are doing things that they like to do?.
[on Frank Sinatra] So much has been written about Sinatra, of his talent, his generosity, his ruthlessness, his kindness, his gregariousness, his loneliness and his rumored links with the Mob that I can contribute nothing except to say that he is one of the few people in the world I would instinctively think of if I needed help of any sort. I thought of him once when I was in a bad spot; help was provided instantly.
[on Audrey Hepburn] A great lady. It's quite an achievement to spend that long in Hollywood and not become a Hollywood product. She always maneuvered around that -- and that takes intelligence. She was always her own person.
[on Marlene Dietrich] Marlene, the most glamorous of all, she was also one of the kindest.
[on Humphrey Bogart] It took a little while to realize that he had perfected an elaborate camouflage to cover up one of the kindest and most generous of hearts. Even so, he was no soft touch and before you were allowed to peek beneath the surface and catch a glimpse of the real man, you had to prove yourself. Above all, you had to demonstrate conclusively to his satisfaction that you were no phony.
[on Lauren Bacall] 'Betty' Bacall was the perfect mate for Bogey [Humphrey Bogart] -- beautiful, fair, warm, talented and highly intelligent. She gave as good as she got in the strong personality department. Women and men love her with equal devotion.
[on Errol Flynn] Flynn was a magnificent specimen of the rampant male. Outrageously good looking, he was a great natural athlete who played tennis with Donald Budge and boxed with "Mushy" Calahan. The extras, among whom I had many friends, disliked him intensely.
[on Jack L. Warner] He was a generous host, a big gambler at work and at play, and with superb confidence he put his money where his mouth was.
[on Cary Grant] Cary's enthusiasm made him search for perfection in all things, particularly the three that meant most to him -- filmmaking, physical fitness and women.
Actors don't retire. They just get offered fewer roles.
On why he never divorced Hjordis: I would like to be remembered as one Hollywood actor who never got divorced.
I thought it would make Hjordis happy if we adopted a child. We talked to friends about the idea and they thought it would be marvellous. Hjordis said she'd love to adopt a Swedish girl, so we did. Her name was Kristina. [The child was in fact Niven's by an affair with an 18-year-old model. Hjordis had to put up with the pretense.]
In 1980, after 32 years of marriage to Hjordis Paulina Tersmeden, his second wife: She isn't good company, and she can't do anything. What she can do is make herself look very good, and she can arrange flowers. But that's all.
On the costumes while filming Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948): I asked Jack Hawkins to tell me honestly if I looked like a prick. He said, 'Yes, and so do I.' And he did too. We all looked like pricks.
[on Greta Garbo] The longer she stayed away, the stronger and stranger the Garbo myth grew.