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. (As usual, scroll down just a bit to review the questions.) We are particularly inspired here by the actor’s superb 1972 autobiography, The Moon’s A Balloon.
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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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, for example, is the series that boasted Sean Connery among others in the 007 role.)
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) 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) 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) Answer: (a) 1958’s Separate Tables.
Niven is pictured above with Cary Grant and Loretta Young his co-stars in The Bishop’s Wife.