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David Niven

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

James David Graham Niven (March 1, 1910 – July 29, 1983) was a British actor, memoirist, and novelist. He appeared in many shows for television and nearly 100 films. In his older years, he also began writing books, with considerable commercial success.


Separate Tables (1959)


In the James Bond novel "You Only Live Twice," by Ian Fleming, Niven 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 (1967).

He knew his first wife, Primula Rollo, 17 days before he married her. He knew his second wife, Hjördis Genberg, 10 days before marrying her.

Although Niven had a reputation for telling good 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 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..."

He was the visual inspiration for the original illustrations of super-villain and archenemy of the Green Lantern Corps, Sinestro.

He appeared in one film produced by his son David Niven Jr.: Escape to Athena (1979).

He was attached to the role of Captain Phillip Blumburtt in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), but died before filming began. The role was meant to be a tribute to his work in The Guns of Navarone, which was one of the inspirations for the film.

He'd raced yachts for England and won the Cumberland Cup competition against France.

His favorite film was Around the World in 80 Days, as it gave him the opportunity of meeting up with old friends.

He was close friends with Clark Gable and Robert Wagner. Niven, Gable and Wagner all lost their wives in tragic incidents and Niven was a comfort to Wagner during the loss of Natalie Wood just as Gable was to him when Niven's wife tragically died after a fall. Gable was also going through the tragic loss of his wife at the time, Carole Lombard.

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