Job Actor, author
Years active 1932-83
Known for Impeccable diction and a pencil-thin moustache; stiff-upper-lip Britons
Top Roles Major Angus Pollock, Sir Arthur Robertson, Cpl. Miller, Jacques Riboudeaux, Leo Cartwright
Top GenresComedy, Drama, Romance, Adventure, War, Action
Top TopicsBook-Based, Romance (Drama), World War II
Top Collaborators (Producer), (Director), , (Director)
Shares birthday with Harry Belafonte, Lionel Atwill, Jack Clayton  see more..

David Niven Overview:

Legendary actor, David Niven, was born James David Graham Niven on Mar 1, 1910 in London, England. Niven appeared in over 110 film and TV roles. His best known films include Wuthering Heights, Raffles, Around the World in Eighty Days, Separate Tables, The Pink Panther, Bedtime Story, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, The Guns of Navarone and Casino Royale (1967). Niven died at the age of 73 on Jul 29, 1983 in Château-d'Oex, Switzerland from ALS and was laid to rest in Chateau D'Oex Cemetery, Chateau D'Oex in Vaud Canton, Switzerland.

Early Life

David Niven was born James David Graham Niven on March 1st, 1910 in London England. He was decedent from a long line of military men. His father, William Edward, nobly served in the Berkshire Yeomanry for the British Army during WWI and would perish in the Gallipolo Campaign of 1915. His maternal grandfather, William Degacher, fought for the British Empire during the Angelo-Zulu Wars and died at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1897. After Niven's father died, his mother, Henrietta, remarried to Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt in 1917. As a child Niven was a something of a rascal; a fun loving boy with a natural inclination for pranks and jokes. This light-hearted disposition did not bode well at the private schools where he was to receive his education as they were revered for their strict disciplinary tactics. His behavior would eventually get him expelled from Heatherdown Preparatory School, a "feeder school" for the prestigious Eton College. With his chances of Eton ruined, he then attended Stowe School. Unlike like the previous private school's Niven had attended, Stowe was far less focused on rigid disciplinary measures and allowed its students to explore their own personal interests. He then attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he did exceedingly well. When he graduated in 1930 it was a second lieutenant.

Although he had hoped to be assigned to the Black Watch, he was put into the Highland Light Infantry, the very place he specifically asked not to be assigned. This information was through out his new regiment and thus his time spent there was not particular enjoyable. He served for two years he served in Malta but would soon tire of the peacetime army. Although he was promoted full lieutenant, he saw no room for advancement. In 1933 he headed for America and along the way sent a telegram stating he resigned his commission. He spent a year living between New York City and Atlantic City before heading west to Hollywood.

Early Career

Upon his arrival to Hollywood, Niven was forced to wait a year until he could start acting due to his lack of a work Visa. When he finally ws granted the right to work in 1935 he received his earliest roles as an extra. His first credited role came in 1935 with Harold Young's Without Regret. He appeared in four more films that year, including Barbary Coast and A Feather in Her Hat. But it would be his last role of the year, an uncredited role in the mega hit Mutiny on the Bounty that would capture the attention of producer Samuel Goldwyn. Niven was then signed to contract with Goldwyn. He was immediately given better roles as supporting actor, appearing six films in 1936 including the box-office hits Palm Springs, Dodsworth and Charge of the Light Brigade. He would remain busy throughout the late 1930s both in his professionally and personal life. Career-wise, Niven continued to appear in successful films The Prisoner of Zenda, The Dawn Patrol, and Wuthering Heights. In most of those films Niven's role was often supporting; rarely in those days was he trusted to lead his own film. Even then, the film he starred in were small to modest productions such as 1937's Dinner at the Ritz and 1939's Raffles. In his personal life, Niven befriended the small group of British actors working in Hollywood such as Basil Rathbone, Rex Harrison, Ronald Colman and especially Errol Flynn, whom he roomed with for a short time. Along with is fellow Brits, Niven became well liked by his American born Hollywood counterparts while also proving to be a hit with the ladies.


Although clearly enjoying his time in Hollywood, Niven felt the call of duty when Britain declared war on Germany. He immediately left the glitz and glamour of his Hollywood lifestyle and volunteered for active service despite the British Embassy advising all actors to stay. He was then re-commissioned as a lieutenant and was first assigned to a motor training battalion before requesting a transfer to the Commandos. During this time, Niven was introduced to British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill, who applauded the actor leaving the behind the privileges and comforts of Hollywood for the harsh realities of war. Niven proved to be quite the soldier and was often behind enemy lines. On one occasion he was nearly shot by American Solider while returning to allied territories during Battle of the Bulge, as they were unaware he was not part of axis troops. During this time he also served in the Army Film Unit and appeared in two films: 1942's The First of the Few and 1944's The Way Ahead. Both films were forms of civic propaganda aimed at raising wartime moral. In 1944 Niven was part of the Invasion of Normandy, although he was not part of the initial forces of D-Day. Upon his discharge from the British military Niven had reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel and received the Legion of Merit honor from the American Military when he returned to Hollywood.

Return to Acting

Before returning to Hollywood, Niven remained in The U.K to star in the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film The Matter of Life and Death. In the film Niven plays Peter Carter, a WWII solider who accidently cheats death and must argue for his life before a heavenly court. It was the first film chosen for the Royal Film Performance in 1946. The picture was also responsible for changing Niven's screen persona from the main hero's best friend to the charming debonair lead he is remembered as today. With the success of The Matter of Life and Death, Niven returned to Hollywood as leading man. Although his first releases, Magnificent Doll, and The Perfect Marriage, were quite forgettable, in 1947 he starred in what is considered his breakthrough leading man role in the film The Bishop's Wife. The next year he starred another success with the wartime romance, Enchantment opposite Teresa Wright.  

By the late 1940's, Niven's relationship with Goldwyn began to deteriorate thanks to his participation in the Goldwyn produced film The Elusive Pimpernel. When Goldwyn pulled out of the film at its distribution phase, causing the film's American release to be delayed by three years, Niven's  grew frustrated with the producer. After Goldwyn refused to give him a pay raise, Niven left his service.


After parting ways with Goldwyn, Niven found himself starring in a series of inconsequential films such as Happy Go Lucky, Soldiers three and Island Rescue. Disappointed in the roles he was being offered, Niven decided to take an active stance on his career and joined with Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, and Ida Lupino to form the television production company Four Star. With unfettered control over his role of choices, Niven quickly made a man for himself in the arena of television. He starred in the production company's weekly series Four Star Playhouse, demonstrating his skill as a dramatic actor, and in the process becoming one of the first prolific and respected stars of the medium. While television was clearly his biggest success of the early 1950s, Niven still appeared films, starring in mostly light comedies or adventure films such as The Moon is Blue, The Love Lottery and The King'sThief. Soon enough, however, his string of forgettable films would come to end with the Michael Todd produced Around the World in 80 Days.

Continued Success

In 1956 Niven starred in big screen adaption of the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days. The film's production was massive, with over 140 sets, 75,000 costume designs, 68,000 extras, and 8,500 animals and costing over six millions to make, double it's original budget. It also feature over 45 cameo appearances from stars such as Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward, and Peter Lorre. The film was a massive hit with both critics and audiences praising Niven for his portrayal of the quintessential 19th century English gentlemen, Phileas Fogg, who bets a friend he can travel the world in an astounding 80 days. It would go on to gross over 40 million at the box office and gain eight Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Picture.

After the success of Around the World in 80 Days, Niven fast became hot property in Hollywood. In 1957 he appeared in three films including the remake of My Godfrey and The Little Hunt. The films were minor successes that put on display Niven's lighthearted charms. The next year, however, proved to be breakthrough for his dramatic skills. In 1958 he starred in two films, the first being Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse opposite Jean Seberg and Deborah Kerr. In the film Niven plays a rich playboy whose close relationship with his daughter costs him his burgeoning relationship with an old flame. The next film was the Delbert Mann ensemble Separate Tables once again pairing him with Deborah Kerr, as well as Burt Lancaster, Rita Hayworth, and Gladys Cooper. In the film he plays a disgraced former major with a dark secret. Although he was only on screen for a total of 16 minutes, Niven would go on to win the Best Actor Academy Award.

Later Career and Life

Niven remained a popular into the 1960's. He continued to star in his comfortable area of light-hearted comedies such as Please Don't Eat The Daisies and best of enemies while still managing to show his dramatic skill in films like Guns of Darkness and 55 Days at Peking. His biggest success, however, came from his participation in the Pink Panther series, beginning in 1963 and starring in its final installment, 1983's Curse of the Pink Panther. As the 1970's rolled in Niven remained busy, taking whatever roll came his way if the money was right. His choice of role was a mixed bag, starring in many sub-par films such as Eye of the Devil, Old Drac, and The Impossible Years. However, he also managed to appear in many well-made film such as Murder by Death and Death on the Nile. In 1974 he was host of the 46th Academy Awards when a streaker appeared behind him and ran across the stage. Showing his natural wit, Niven's immediate response was simply "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?"

As Niven entered the 1980s, his health began to deteriorate. He was quick to fatigue and muscle weakness. The next year he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Despite this, he still continued to act, appearing in 1982's Trail of the Pink Panther. His final role came with the before mentioned 1983 film Curse of the Pink Panther. By February of 1983 his condition was so bad he was hospitalized for ten days before returning home. David Niven died on July 29th, 1983 in is home at Chateau d' Oex, Switzerland.  He was 73 years old. 

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).


Niven wrote two popular light-hearted autobiographies: Moon's a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses.



David Niven was nominated for one Academy Award, winning for Best Actor for Separate Tables (as Major Pollock) in 1958.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1958Best ActorSeparate Tables (1958)Major PollockWon

He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Television and Motion Pictures.

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David Niven Quotes:

[the Mitchells have bumped into Crisp at a Dress Ball]
Reginald J. Mitchell: Well, who's the lucky lady?
Geoffrey Crisp: Don't know, I haven't met her yet!

B.G. Bruno: Where did you meet him?
Janet Jones: What? Oh, we... met at a party, last winter.
B.G. Bruno: I understand he was in Egypt last winter.
Janet Jones: Well... Well, Cairo is in Egypt, isn't it?
B.G. Bruno: Oh yes. Been there a long time.
Janet Jones: Well, that's where we met. On the pyramids.
B.G. Bruno: On the pyramids?
Janet Jones: I mean... near the pyramids, just a little to the left.
B.G. Bruno: [puzzled] Little... er, left?

Peter: [to dead radio operator] So long, Bob. I'll see you in a minute. You'll know what we wear by now - a prop or wings!

read more quotes from David Niven...

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David Niven Facts
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.

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.

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.

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