So how much did you know about the man, doing his duty here opposite Loretta Young , his costar in The Bishop’s Wife.
David Niven began his movie career in 1932, and one way or another — except for a key six-year interruption during World War II — worked right up until 1983, the year he died age 73.
He was a bona fide member of the “rat pack” auxiliary, a man who faced genuine tragedy in his private life who became an American tv producer of sorts and won a best actor Oscar. As he himself put it, he enjoyed “the good fortune to parlay a minimal talent into a long career.”
We like Niven, and believe you should know more about him. Thus the answers to our Monday’s quiz. We are particularly inspired here by the actor’s superb 1972 autobiography, The Moon’s A Balloon.
1) Question: By simply introducing him around, a short, homely woman was credited by Niven for essentially starting his career. Can you identify this woman? a) Louella Parsons; b) Elsa Maxwell; c) Eleanor Roosevelt; or d) Hedda Hopper.
1) Answer: (b) Elsa Maxwell, author, gossip columnist and voluminous party giver both in New York and in Paris who for decades knew everybody who was worth knowing. A small, dumpy figure of sixty-odd in a sacklike garment relieved by not a single bauble is how Niven described her at first meeting before he became an actor. You should go to Hollywood, Maxwell advised. Nobody out there knows how to speak except Ronald Colman.
2) Question: Which of the following producers was most instrumental in aiding Niven’s Hollywood ascent? a) David O. Selznick; b) Louis B. Mayer; c) Harry Cohn; or d) Samuel Goldwyn
2) Answer: (d) Samuel Goldwyn. He and Niven endured a long, profitable and abrasive relationship. Although Goldwyn often farmed Niven’s services to other producers and other studios, he was the driving force behind the actor’s early Hollywood career.
3) Question: Which of the following classic movie directors provided the most help to an inexperienced, young David Niven? a) William Wyler; b) Edmund Goulding; c) John Ford; or d) Michael Curtiz.
3) Answer: (b) Edmund Goulding, the British-born director who was best known when the actor first met him for directing 1932’s Grand Hotel, which featured an illustrious cast (John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery). Goulding was looking for a “new face” at the time and figured Niven would do just fine despite his lack of acting experience. I owe more to him than to anyone else in the business, Niven wrote.
4) Question: Niven (almost) appeared in the same movie that was the debut of an unknown actor who went on to Hollywood royalty. Who was this actor? a) Errol Flynn; b) James Stewart; c) Ray Milland; or d) Joel McCrea.
4) Answer: (b) James Stewart. Niven wrote that he had a bit part in 1936’s Rose Marie costarring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy and a lanky young actor from New York (who) was making his debut in the same picture. Stewart actually made his debut a year earlier in MGM’s crime drama The Murder Man. (By the way, Niven’s bit part in Rose Marie hit the cutting room floor.)
5) Question: Shortly after World War II ended, Niven suffered a deep personal setback when his war bride of six years took a fatal fall down a flight of stars at the Hollywood home of a famous movie actor. Can you name this actor? a) Tyrone Power; b) Ronald Colman; c) Clark Gable; or d) Gary Cooper.
5) Answer: a) Tyrone Power. Niven’s first wife, Primula (“Primmie”) Rollo, then just 25, took a nasty fall down a cellar stairway and died of head injuries shortly thereafter. The couple wed in 1940, and she died on May 21, 1946 — devastating Niven. Two years later, the actor married Sweden-born Hjordis Genberg, a union that lasted until his death.
6) Question: Did David Niven ever play agent 007 in any of the James Bond pictures? a) Yes (and name the film); or b) No.
6) Answer: Ok, this is a slightly tricky question. Yes, Niven did play James Bond in 1967’s Casino Royale, but the picture was a spoof of the Bond movies and certainly not part of the hugely profitable British series from Eon productions coproducers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. (This, of course, is the series that boasted Sean Connery among others in the 007 role.)
7) Question: Can you name the first movie in which Niven had a speaking part? Can you name the last?
7) Answer: Niven’s first speaking part — saying: Goodbye, my dear to Elissa Landi on a station platform — was in 1935’s Without Regret. His last was in Blake Edwards‘ Curse of the Pink Panther released the year Niven died.
8) Question: Niven was famously barred from the Columbia Pictures lot for which one of the following reasons? a) His political views; b) He deliberately insulted a high executive’s wife at a social gathering; b) He played a practical joke on the studio’s boss, who interpreted it as an insult; d) He made an unwanted advance to Rita Hayworth, Columbia’s biggest star.
8) Answer: b) Niven and Errol Flynn, both pals and experienced sailors, one afternoon rescued Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn’s disabled yacht drifting in a channel off Catalina Island. As prank, Niven then a few days later had his lawyer send Cohn a formal letter claiming his yacht as “salvage.” Cohn failed to see the humor, and Niven never worked again at the studio for as long as Cohn was alive.
9) Question: At one point, Niven shared a house in Malibu with Errol Flynn that they called “Cirrhosis by the Sea.” a) True; or b) False.
9) Answer: (b) False. Flynn and Niven shared quarters for a time at another location but “Cirrhosis by the Sea” was the Santa Monica setup the actor shared with two others.
10) Question: For which movie did Niven win his best actor Oscar? a) Separate Tables; b) Bonjour Tristesse; c) Around the World in 80 Days; or d) Fifty-five Days at Peking
10) Answer: (a) 1958’s Separate Tables.