James David Graham Niven was born on March 1, 1910 in Scotland. His father, a British Army captain, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and he grew up on the Isle of Wight with his brother and sister and his widowed mother, who later married again to a prominent 'behind the scenes' politician. On the Isle of Wight, he developed a passion for sailing which was to bring him later into contact with influential figures in Hollywood, such as Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and Clarke Gable.

A self-confessed "thoroughly poisonous little boy" he attended several schools before finding his niche at Stowe, a newly formed and progressive public school. He trained at Sandhurst Military Academy and served several years as a lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry but grew bored with the routine of Army life. While on leave Niven fell in love with America. Shortly after returning to the service he resigned his commission and moved there.

Niven moved to Hollywood after short-lived careers as the co-founder of the Pony Express Racing Association, and running booze during prohibition. He was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and slowly began to work his way into better roles and more popular films. His debonnaire good looks, and upper-class accent made him the archetypal "English Gentleman" and he became a polished light comedian and "gallant hero".

Whilst he was a womaniser and a drinker, Niven's charm ensured he remained popular. He had a string of affairs, and shared a home in Hollywood with Errol Flynn, which the pair called "Cyrrhosis by the Sea"

At the outbreak of World War II, although a headlining film star, he felt obligated to return to England to serve in the forces. He joined the Rifle Brigade, and finished the war as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Commandos, spending time in Normandy during the invasion. His batman durning this period was Private Peter Ustinov. He also met and married Primmie, a member of the Royal Air Force, and the pair had two sons, David Junior and Jamie.

He made two films during the war, both of strong propaganda value, The First of the Few (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). When he returned to Hollywood after the war, he was made a Legionnaire of the Order of Merit (the highest American order that can be earned by a non-citizen). This award was presented to Niven by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Niven resumed his Hollywood career, spending 30 years as a leading man, starring in A Matter of Life and Death the film chosen for the Royal film performance in 1946, perfectly cast as the gentlemanly voyager Phineas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), and winning an Academy Award for Separate Tables (1958).

Primmie died in an accident while the couple were living in Hollywood, and a couple of years later Niven married again to Hjordis, a Swedish model, with whom he adopted two daughters.

A polished racounteur, Niven published a novel Round the Ragged Rocks in the early seventies, which he enjoyed writing, though it was not a massive success, and two hugely successful lighthearted autobiographies: The Moon's a Balloon(1972) and Bring on the Empty Horses(1975) which made him almost as well known an author as he was an actor. Whilst it is doubtful if all the stories he tells in these books are strictly accurate, they certainly show Hollywood, and his life, as it ought to have been. Both are great fun to read. After these, he published a second, more successful novel Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly in the early eighties.

David Niven died in Switzerland of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, in 1983.

Filmography (most recent first)

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