OF HIS LIFE
IN May, 1945, the
war in Europe was officially over, but Hitler's
werewolves were still
on the prowl.
After the Normandy land- ings, in June, 1944, and the Belgian campaign, the last great German offensive of the war erupted.
General Skorzeny's German "Trojan Horse Brigade" – American-speaking and wear- ing American uniforms – infil- trated behind U.S. Army lines, killing and sabotaging as they went.
I was still under direct
orders from U.S. General Ray Barker, though I was in the British Army. I had been
sent to work for General Barker on liaison in the field between the Allied armies.
DAVID with his two sons, Jamie (foreground) and David, shortly after his first wife's accident.
In my British uniform and jeep, I had some anxious
moments at the hands of
understandably trigger-happy GIs, as the Allies advanced.
Identification papers meant nothing. "Hands above your head, buddy - all right ? – so
who won the World Series in 1940?"
"I haven't the faintest idea, but I do know I made a pic- ture with Ginger Rogers in
"OK. Beat it, Dave, but watch your step . . ."
Time and again I was stopped, and, thanks entirely to Sam Goldwyn having made my face familiar, I
I crossed the Rhine at Wesel and I had never seen such destruction – the
smoking town had ceased to exist. At Munster nothing
was left standing except a
bronze statue of a horse.
Hitler had started the
whole horrible shambles, but, looking at the places where
his chickens had come home to roost, I watched the miserable survivors picking
around in the ruins of their towns and was unable to
raise a glimmer of a gloat.
I cannot claim to have
exerted much pressure on squabbling field - marshals and generals, but way down the scale, attached to various units, I must have done what General Barker wanted. At
any rate, in September, 1945, he pinned the American Legion of Merit on me, and the British Army gave me 1 suit, worsted grey
1 hat, Homburg, brown
2 shirts, poplin, with collars 1 tie, striped
1 pair shoes, walking, black – and, above all, my FREE-
It was an unbelievable
feeling to be free again.
Primmie, my wife, was due to have a second baby in November, so we took little David, our first child, then nearly three, and treated ourselves to a holiday.
Then I sent a cable to America to Samuel Goldwyn, who had me under contract
up to the outbreak of war,
to the effect that I was "available."
Goldwyn generously replied that he was giving me a new five-year contract at a mouth-watering figure, and meanwhile was loaning me to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger to star in "A Matter of Life and
Death" in England.
This was a huge relief because although I had been disguising it from Primmie I was extremely nervous about my future.
It was six years since I had left Hollywood. Six months is too long for an actor to be out of business –
six years is almost certain
A whole new breed of stars had taken over movie audi-
ences, and at 35 I had good
reason to be worried.
Powell and Pressburger wrote a brilliant screenplay. Their picture was a big success on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Britain was chosen as the first Royal
Primmie produced our second son, Jamie, and we set about planning our new
She was wildly excited at the prospect of going to Hollywood, but nervous about the people she would
"I'm not nearly beautiful enough," she would say.
"I'll be lost in all that
She knew exactly what she wanted — "an old house, falling down, that we can do over, a big rambling garden for the children and dogs,
and a view of the mountains or the ocean."
She started buying old furniture, Regency mostly,
THIRD and FINAL PART
of 'The Moon's a Balloon," by David Niven, published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd., London.
for the house she could visualise.
The problem of transport
to the United States appeared insurmountable.
With two million American
servicemen champing to get home, there was obviously no room for a family of foreigners.
General Barker came to the rescue and told me he had secured a berth for me, alone, with 101 Airborne Division, leaving in a week's time in the Queen Mary, but
Primmie and the children would have to wait at least three months.
We decided that I should
go ahead to take up my con-
tract and find our dream house.
I gave myself a farewell party for 200 at Claridges. So nobody could be wrongly dressed, Primmie borrowed a tiara and a ball gown, and I wore an open-necked shirt and trousers, worsted grey.
The guests had one thing
in common. At some time
in our lives they had all been specially nice to us. It was a funny mixture – duchesses, policemen, actors,
DAVID NIVEN and his second wife, Hjordis, a top model in Sweden before marriage.
generals, privates, hospital nurses, taxi-drivers, country squires, and Mrs. Wisden, an
evacuee from the London docks who had been billeted on Primmie at our cottage.
I took a sadistic delight in standing at the door and personally winkling out the gatecrashers.
"Please go away . . . you've
never been nice to me in
The evening cost a fortune – but no matter, we could save later.
Next morning I went to collect my sailing permit.
"Sorry, old man," said the official, "can't give you that till you show us your income
Off I went to another office.
The man who interviewed me was a thin, self- important civil servant with a particularly active Adam's apple.
"Now, let's see, you want
to leave the Old Country, do you – emigrating are you?"
"No, I'm going back where I came from – to the United States. I have a contract to work there."
He produced a file.
"In 1939 you left the United States and came back to this country. Why was
"To join up . . . for the
"Yes, we all know that, we read the papers at the time, but nobody asked you to come, did they? It's not as if you were called up, is it? You paid your own way, didn't you?"
"Well, then, obviously you came here intending to reside in Great Britain, so that con- firmed you a resident of Great Britain for tax pur- poses and we are back-taxing you on your world earnings from the time you left here
The Queen Mary was sail- ing in two days. I had to have that sailing permit.
He was generous. He allowed me three years to pay, provided I did not
come back to Britain during
that time. But it cost me
several thousand pounds for my six years in the British Army.
I caught the ship – packed like a sardine-tin with 15,000 troops.
From New York, I took a sleeper on the trans-
continental train for Cali-
fornia. I was very tired.
David Selznick was on the
train and he brought me up to date on Hollywood. David was a friend who never minced words.
"It's going to be tough for you," he said. "It's a whole new ball game now
– a lot of new stars and
new directors have come up. You're lucky to have Gold- wyn behind you."
At Chicago, a telegram
was delivered from Edmund
Goulding (the film director who got me my first Holly- wood contract) saying that he was giving me a welcome- home bachelor party. Another came from Goldwyn saying there was to be a big
I looked forward to it all, but I also dreaded it –
I really was very tired and coughed a lot.
A big banner was strung across the studio gate. Stage 8 had been trans-
formed into a restaurant and several hundred employees and members of
the Press listened to
speeches of welcome by Goldwyn, columnist Hedda Hopper, head prop man Dave Chasen, and others.
The room was spinning, I was sweating, and I had a terrible headache. I wondered how I was going to get through it.
After luncheon, actor Nigel Bruce said, "I'm taking you home, putting you to bed, and getting you a doctor – you look
"I can't let Goulding down," I said. "He's asked a hundred people tonight."
"Nonsense. If the doctor
says you can go — all right — otherwise, bed."
The doctor took my tem- perature — it was 104 degrees — and said I had bronchial pneumonia.
To page 43
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
Eddie Goulding was mar- vellous. He came to see me, and insisted on going through with the party
"I'll have a direct line to your room and an amplifier. You'll be able to hear what's going on and you can talk to old pals on the phone."
Among the 100 bachelors, Goulding rounded up most of my actor friends, includ- ing Clark Gable, Doug Fairbanks, jun., Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, and Tyrone
From the book of photo- graphs Eddie sent me later, I saw a good number of the Hollywood super-brass had also dusted off their dinner jackets, including Goldwyn, Selznick, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Mervyn Le Roy, and Hal Wallis.
There was a pipe band. My name was carved in a huge block of ice and the place was festooned with American and British flags.
It was extremely generous of Goulding, highly flatter- ing, and completely unwar-
I convalesced in the desert at Palm Springs. Primmie cabled that she
hoped to get passage soon and I went, frantically, house-hunting.
The Fairbanks found it for me, right next door to theirs, exactly what Primmie had always wanted — old and rambling, with a big garden and a view of both the Santa Monica Moun- tains and the ocean.
The basement had about 3ft. of water in it, so I was able to buy it very cheaply. Vicki Baum, author of "Grand Hotel," had built it 40 years earlier.
"The Pink House," as it was known, became of tre- mendous importance to me. It was the first home I had ever owned, and with my adored family I longed to
settle down at last.
I decided to give the place to Primmie as a surprise when she arrived, then let her decorate it in her own good time — meanwhile, I rented a big Spanish-style monstrosity in Beverly Hills.
I flew to New York to
meet my family. They had taken 18 days in terrible storms to cross the Atlantic in an old Liberty ship.
Primmie looked radiant as she came running down the gangplank. Little David was full of chatter. A typical war baby, he saw the skeleton of a house being built, "Look, Daddy," he said, "a bomb."
Jamie, five months old, slept all the time in a carry- cot. The handle broke in New York and I dumped him on his head in the middle of Penn Station, which may account for the fact that he became an efficient merchant banker.
Primmie fell in love with California on sight, and was over the moon when she saw "The Pink House."
"The furniture will be perfect in it," she cried, her eyes shining like a little girl's. "I'm going to make it so beautiful for you!"
THE King and Queen of Greece, and the Queen of Romania (all seated) on a visit to the island of Rhodes during filming of 'The Guns of Navarone." David Niven and Gregory Peck are in uniform for their roles, centre.
It was decided that she would do the house herself, without telling me anything, and then, when it was all finished, she would let me carry her through the door.
She had brought "Pinkie"
with her — a fresh-faced
English girl who had spent
the war in an anti-aircraft battery in London. Pinkie adored the children, and she soon made the Spanish dun- geon shine like a new pin.
Goldwyn loaned me to Universal to make a his- torical film with Ginger Rogers. I was to play Ameri- can revolutionary leader Aaron Burr and Ginger political hostess Dolly Madi- son — the two most unlikely bits of casting of the century.
The script was gibberish, but I was far too happy to care. The prospect of settling with my family in my own home was too good to be ruined by quarrels with Goldwyn, or suspensions I
With Clark Gable, Rex Harrison, Ida Lupino, and Nigel Bruce, we set off for a week of golf and fishing. They were golden days, and
Primmie showed me a letter she wrote to her father, Bill Rollo, saying that she never imagined she could be so happy.
When we got back to Beverly Hills, Tyrone Power and Annabella gave a small party for Primmie. All my
closest friends were there. As I looked around at them, and at Primmie's radiant face, I wondered how it was possible for one man to have
Nearly everyone was work- ing the next day, which meant being up by five or six, so we had an early bar- becue round the pool. "Ty"
Afterward, we went indoors and played some games. Someone suggested "Sar-
dines"— an old children's
game of hide-and-seek played in the dark. I was hiding under a bed upstairs when I heard Ty calling me.
"Come down, quick, Primmie's had a fall!"
I rushed down.
In the dark she had
opened a door, thinking it
was a coat closet — it was the door to the cellar and she had fallen down a dozen
steps. She was unconscious.
We dabbed her head with
water and she started moan-
ing and moving a little.
In 20 minutes the doctor arrived, and within another half hour she was tucked in
bed in hospital.
"She's very concussed," the doctor told me, "but it's nothing to worry about. She'll have to stay absolutely quiet for a few days — she'll
I went back to Ty's house and told everyone the good
news. Then I went to the
Spanish house and Pinkie helped me pack a few things Primmie might need.
Back at the hospital they repeated that she was fine, said there was no good I could do by staying. I could drop by before I went to work in the morning.
I was back about six next
morning. They let me see
her. She looked beautiful but very pale. Her eyes were still
"She's had a good night,"
said the nurse.
All during the day I called from the studio.
"Nothing to worry about
— it's a bad concussion — all
she needs is complete rest and quiet."
After work I went back to
the hospital. They were most reassuring. I sat with her a long time, holding her hand. She was very still.
Suddenly, she opened her eyes, looked right at me, smiled, and gave my hand a little reassuring squeeze. It was the first time she had recognised me.
The matron said, "Why don't you go home and get some sleep. There's nothing you can do. Don't worry."
A close friend, English actor Robert Coote, was in the house when I got back, waiting for news. I told him everything was going well,
and we raided the ice-box for a snack.
About 11 p.m. the phone rang. It was the doctor.
"I think you'd better come down," he said. "There are certain symptoms we don't like. I've alerted the best
brain surgeon there is. We may have to operate."
Bob Coote went with me.
An hour later they started the operation. Two hours passed before the doctors came down.
I knew as soon as I saw them come out of the elevator.
I knew by the way they
I knew by the way they stood murmuring together without looking at me as I waited across the hall.
She was only 25 . . .
Somehow the dreadful
days dragged by — some- how, into weeks and months.
Friends tried valiantly to cushion the despair and I was infinitely lucky to have
Ronnie and Benita Col- man took me into their
home, for I never again set foot in the Spanish mon- strosity; then Douglas and Mary Lee Fairbanks gave
Joan Crawford took the children, with a stunned Pinkie, till they were settled on the Colmans' ranch at Montecito.
Everyone tried to help, but there comes a time when friends must be allowed to get on with their own lives, so I went back to work at
Universal. Occupying myself
with a disastrous film was some sort of relief from the real disaster.
Even so, after work I walked for hours alone on the darkened beach. Then I went to bed to toss in tor- ment till dawn, when exhaustion took over.
A couple of hours' sleep would be brutally ended by an alarm clock, and smash- ing down once more came the awful realisation that it had not been a dream.
Work on "The Pink House" continued. Not because I wanted to trans- form it into a shrine: it held no memories. We had never lived in it.
After a while, with the rest of the house still gutted,
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
From previous page
one room, the cook's, and the kitchen were finished.
With a few belongings, I moved in among the cement and sawdust, coils of wire, unattached radiators and
toilets, buckets of paint —
utter desolation that seemed somehow symbolic.
The carefully collected
furniture and china arrived
from England, but some-
where the container had been dropped and most of the contents were smashed beyond repair.
I had with me, for com- fort, in the cook's room, a little case full of Primmie's most private things, child- hood treasures, some photo- graphs of our wedding and of the children's christenings, my letters written during the war, and her tiny cache of inexpensive jewellery. While I was away at work one day
the case was stolen.
That night I nearly gave
"The Pink House" was
finally finished, and upstairs a white carpet was laid.
That day, Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer gave me a boxer puppy to keep me company. Within the hour, Phantom had changed the color of the carpet.
On Sundays the house was full of people from morning till night.
Every week Gable arrived, accompanied by some gorgeous creature, while Lana Turner, Anita Colby, Rita Hayworth, Deborah Kerr, Ava Gardner, Ida Lupino, and Patricia Medina
set an unassailable standard of beauty and fun.
Primmie's uncle, Robert Laycock, was stunned when he saw them. In his capacity
as Chief of British Com-
bined Operations, he came to California as the guest of
the American Pacific Fleet at
San Diego, and stayed with me for several days.
It cheered me a lot to think that he took back to Primmie's father and mother, Bill and Kathleen Rollo, good reports of their grand-
I had introduced Bob Lay- cock to the Commandos in 1941, when he was a captain in the Royal Horse Guards.
The military, in my opinion, has never rewarded me adequately for this. He promptly embarked on a career of legendary gallantry, including his famous effort to blow up Field-Marshal Rom- mel, some 200 miles behind the German lines in Libya.
The weeks went by. Gold- wyn kept me busy.
Pinkie would relentlessly keep the children up each night till I came home from work, so they could have half an hour's play with their
father. It was torture for me
and I dreaded seeing their gay, trusting little faces.
After they had gone to bed it was worse — a lonely meal and then pacing about the house like a caged lion till
One day someone said that Lauren Bacall was giv- ing a surprise party for Humphrey Bogart's birthday. Friends insisted, "You'd bet- ter go. It's time you got out of your house."
Protests were brushed aside and I found myself, with 40 others, hidden in Bogart's house.
"Betty" Bacall was the perfect mate for Bogie. Beautiful, gay, warm, and highly intelligent, she gave as good as she got in the strong personality depart-
When Bogie got home, he was loudly abusive, and cries of "Who needs these bums?'" and "Get them outa here!'" reverberated from the door.
For a few nervous minutes it was touch and go whether he would throw all 40 of us into the street, but Betty answered him loudly in the same vein, and the party
became a success after all.
Bogart was quite alarm- ing to meet for the first time.
It took a while to realise
that he had perfected an elaborate camouflage to
cover the kindest of hearts.
Even so, he was no soft touch, and before you were allowed to catch a glimpse of the real man you had to prove that you were no phony.
My test came soon. He asked if I liked to sail.
"Done it all my life," I said blithely. "In fact, I
once represented my coun-. try in eight metres."
Bogie looked at me reflec- tively and sucked his teeth.
"OK, come aboard San- tana Sunday."
Women were only infre- quently made welcome aboard Santana, so Betty was not there when I boarded the 65ft. ketch.
Tough and often argumen- tative ashore, I expected Bogie to be a veritable Cap- tain Bligh afloat. Far from it – he was perfectly relaxed
I was lulled into a sense of false security, and had no idea this was the day of my
We were sailing along in a good stiff breeze. Bogie was at the helm, I was beside him, the solitary crew — a Dane he called Dumbum —
was forward keeping a sharp lookout, because the stiff breeze was doing nothing to dispel a thick mist.
"Tuna boats ahead," yelled Dumbum suddenly.
Sure enough we were run- ning fast toward a dozen big drifters, each with its net trailing astern. It was a tricky situation that called for immediate action.
Because of the direction of
the wind, there were only
three solutions: one was cor- rect, the second risky, and the third would have led to losing the mast.
Dumbum was looking apprehensively at Bogie, and I was just thinking he was leaving things dangerously late when he let go of the wheel, gave me a wolfish grin, and said, "Take over, Big Shot — I'm going below."
Luckily, I knew what I was doing. I yelled a few orders which Dumbum
instantly obeyed, spun the wheel, and the danger was
Christmas alone with the
children was something I dreaded. Although they never ceased asking others
DAVID NIVEN (left), in "Around the World in 80 Days," plays a scene with an old friend — Ronald Colman, appearing as a railway official.
when their mother was coming back, some extra- ordinary radar system prevented them from men- tioning her to me.
I knew one day they would ask me the direct question, so until then I resolved not to broach the subject.
On Christmas Eve, with the lighted tree in the window and a mountain of
presents from kind and even anxious friends beneath it, I was sitting on the patio steps swept suddenly by a wave of despair. A little arm went round my neck: they
stood there hand-in-hand.
"Are you very lonely?" asked the elder, and when I just nodded he said, "Mummy's never coming back, is she?"
"No, she's not," I said . . . When a man is deeply unhappy, he brings out the gentlest instincts in the nicest women. They want to look after him, but he, inoculated by his unhap- piness, rides roughshod far
This happened to me in full measure, and I also believe I went a little mad. I began to resent and avoid the married friends who had showered me with kindness and protection when I so badly needed it.
This phase lasted several months, and, bewildered and hurt, some wonderful people must have found my cold- ness difficult to understand.
"The Pink House" in spring was a dream place for the children. They took swimming lessons in the pool. Peach trees, avocados, pomegranates, cherries, oranges, limes, lemons, and guavas were in full blossom.
The boxer pup, Phantom, dashed about chasing hum- mingbirds, the bantams clucked, and the rabbits bred in great profusion.
I planted 100 rose bushes, and at last, I, too, began to feel roots going down and some happiness seeping back up again.
The boys were settling down marvellously, so I was appalled when Goldwyn told me he had loaned me to Alexander Korda to make
"Bonnie Prince Charlie" in England.
"You'll be away at least eight months," he said.
I begged him not to send me, and pointed out that not only would it disrupt the children's lives, it would also make new and hideous problems for me with the Inland Revenue.
He was adamant, so I refused to go. Immediately I was put on suspension.
Knowing that I was up to
my ears in debt because of the house, Goldwyn sat back
and waited for me to crack.
It didn't take long, and in
the autumn Pinkie and I
packed up two resentful and mystified little boys and started the long trek back to England.
"Bonnie Prince Charlie"
was one of those huge, florid extravaganzas that reek of
disaster from the start.
There was never a com-
pleted screenplay, and never during the eight months we were shooting were the writers more than two days
ahead of the actors.
We suffered three changes of directors, with Korda himself desperately taking over, and at one point I cabled Goldwyn: "I have now worked every day for five months on this picture and nobody can tell me how story ends. Advise."
He didn't. He didn't even bother to answer.
I loved Alex Korda, a bril- liant, generous creature, but
with this film he was wallow- ing in confusion.
I felt sorry for him, but sorrier for myself as the Bonnie Prince who would assuredly bear the blame for the impending debacle, and for Margaret Leighton and Jack Hawkins, gallantly try- ing to infuse some semblance of reality into Flora Mac- Donald and Lord George Murray.
After nine frustrating months, the "Bonnie Prince" clanked to a close. One more week, one more battle, one last charge and I would be
rid of him.
Sword in hand, I was skimming over the studio heather at the head of my Highlanders, pursuing the fleeing Redcoats, when I found myself flying through
I still believe Jack Haw- kins tripped me. In any event my sword sank deep into the leg of the Redcoat in front of me. It went in just behind the knee and pinned him to the ground.
I pulled out the blade, feeling sick. The man got up and ran off with a limp. I
chased after him.
"Are you all right? . . . I'm terribly sorry! . . . We'll get a doctor!"
To page 48
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
Continued from page 44
"Wot's the matter, mate?"
asked the man.
"Your leg," I blabbered, "my sword! ... It went in!"
"Oh," he said, "thought I felt something. Not to worry, David." He had lost the leg at El Alamein.
I was dismissed early that evening and hurried off to get changed so I could go and play with the children.
Because of the hours we had been working, I hadn't seen them for days. The gateman stopped me.
"Sorry, David — they just phoned up — they need you for one more shot."
Furious, I stalked back into Make-up. Sullenly, I sat while the yellow wig was pinned on, glowered my way on to the set, and snarled at the prop man.
"Where the hell's my
"Over there, David. There's a lady in it"
"Then get her out of it!" I snapped.
"Take a look," whispered Hawkins. "Take a look."
I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life — tall, slim, auburn hair, uptilted nose, lovely month, and enormous grey eyes.
It really happened the way it does when written by the worst novelists ... I goggled.
I had difficulty swallowing, and I had champagne in my
Ten days later we were
During the intervening time, there was a lot of activity. First, it turned out she was Swedish, which posed problems with the marriage authorities.
She didn't speak English too well, which made it hard for her to explain that she had landed in England en route from America to Sweden, as the plane had been grounded by fog at London Airport, and a friend on board had invited her to visit a film studio.
I had my problems, too. I had to complete the "Bonnie Prince,'' find gifts for the crew, present Hjordis to Primmie's father, Bill Rollo, who loved her on sight and was happy for me through his own sadness.
I also had to submit to a series of loathsome meet-
ings with the Inland Revenue, because I had not stayed away for three years.
"But I was sent, dammit, by the American company that employs me. If I had refused, I would have broken my contract."
"Well, we should read the small print before signing these foreign things,
Also, I had to find a ring, track down Trubshawe, my oldest friend, who was to be best man, and return quickly to California, where Gold- wyn was holding up the start of my next picture.
Small wonder that I had a mini-collapse, and when the official at Chelsea Register office warned me pompously against the dangers of marry- ing a foreigner I could barely croak at him to "get
on with it."
The number-one model of Sweden found herself married to a man with red
eyes, a running nose, and a 103-degree fever.
Next day we drove to Southampton to board the Queen Elizabeth.
Hjordis still swears that on the way there I suddenly said, "Oh, I nearly forgot, there are a couple oí little things I have to pick up."
According to her, I dis- appeared into a country hotel and emerged with two small boys.
On the trip to California we got to know each other a little better and the boys
She loved "The Pink House" and rose magnifi- cently to the occasion of being pitchforked into the middle of all my old friends. Her gaiety and beauty capti- vated everyone.
"Life" magazine had a
spread of the ten most beautiful women in Holly- wood and Hjordis appeared
on the cover.
This generated a stampede of producers with offers of contracts — but, mercifully, she just laughed and said she was too busy getting to
know her husband.
"The Pink House" came alive under her hand and
became everything I had
dreamed about as a home.
At night, the coyotes hunted in weirdly yelping packs in the canyon below: in the morning, the deer grazed on the hills opposite, and the sunsets over the
Pacific might have been ordered by the Chamber of
Goldwyn had great dignity, but when thwarted tended to shout.
After three months of my new-found happiness, he called me to his office and said he had great news.
"I'e just loaned you to Alex Korda to make "The Elusive Pimpernel' in Eng- land — you'll be away six
Aghast, I told him that I didn't mind what he loaned me out for in Hollywood, but I had no intention of uprooting again so soon.
Then the shouting began. He said he had given me my first break . . . True.
I riposted that with the enormous fees he was charg- ing others for my services I had already repaid him a thousand times . . . True.
Goldwyn said it would mean months of suspension if I refused . . . True.
I said I looked forward to
a good holiday, anyway, and I had plenty of money in the bank . . . UNTRUE.
Goldwyn flicked a switch and said, "Find out how much money Niven has in
In three minutes a voice came back: "One hundred and eleven dollars."
Defeated, I prepared, once
more, to travel.
I lived in Hollywood for nearly 20 years without visit- ing a psychiatrist, but my behaviour in the next few weeks was crazy.
I decided to make life
To page 57
MIKE TODD collected an Oscar for "Around the World in 80 Days," judged best film of 1956, and Elizabeth Taylor congratulated him.
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
From page 48
unpleasant for Goldwyn — which was like an eight year-old with a pea-shooter assaulting Fort Knox.
Everyone, from Hjordis down, warned me. My agent was horrified, and said one word from Goldwyn could sink me. I knew better, of course, and proceeded
methodically to wreck my
At the last minute, I refused to fly to London and insisted on being sent by
train and boat.
From London, I cabled Goldwyn that under my con- tract I had six weeks' holiday a year and unless I was given my holiday at once, before "Pimpernel" started, thc con- tract would be broken, as there would be no time left after the picture.
Goldwyn cabled me to take six weeks immediately. I replied, "Will take holiday from time you return me to my home in California."
Poor, blameless Alex Korda, who wanted only to see his picture started, found himself in the middle of this lunacy.
He offered me his yacht to go anywhere at his expense, but my mental imbalance
was such that I forced Gold- wyn to return me to "The Pink House" by boat and train; then, the next day, I flew with Hjordis to Bermuda for a delayed honeymoon.
Honeymoons are a great institution for getting to know one's spouse, and the more I saw of Hjordis the more amazed I was at my good fortune. The unbeliev- able luck that one man should fall in love, marry within ten days, and be bliss- fully happy — twice in a
I revelled in Hjordis' forth- rightness, honesty, and laugh- ter, and the holiday sped by.
Six weeks from the mom-
ent I had been brought back to California, I reported to
the studio for work.
Rather naturally, Goldwyn
did not wish to see me. Con- duct such as mine, spoiled brat behaviour, was idiotic, conceited, and unforgivable; the sort of thing that helped bring Hollywood to its knees.
Goldwyn had no further use for me and all the direst
predictions came true. When we came back from England after "Pimpernel," I was loaned to play the "heavy" in a Shirley Temple picture, a disastrous potboiler.
"Big shots" at other studios counselled me to break my contract with Goldwyn. "Tell him you want OUT — then come and join us." I fell for that — it was not my finest
I asked to see Goldwyn. He sat expressionless behind
I said, "Look, Sam, we don't see eye to eye any more. I have two years left of my contract — how about releasing me?"
He never took his eyes off me as he flicked his inter- com lever.
"Give Niven his release as from today. He's through."
Hjordis sounded doubtful when I told her the good
"Where will you work
now?" she asked.
Where indeed? There is
no question that the Black List existed in Hollywood, but I have absolutely no proof Goldwyn invoked it.
On the other hand, the studio "big shots," who had painted such glowing pic- tures of my future with them, were suddenly unob-
When I called their offices, their secretaries' voices had
changed from fawning to evasive, even faintly hostile.
Headlines put out by the Goldwyn Publicity Depart- ment were no help
"Goldwyn drops Niven" and "British actor no longer Goldwyn's cup of tea."
Hjordis was nothing short of stoic, because soon there was a shortage of cash.
Friends such as the
Astaires tried to cheer me by reporting that my photo- graph was still on Goldwyn's piano at home, but nobody suggested reconciliation.
Bogart, as usual, was down
"Let's face it, kid — you've blown it! Keep going some- how, mortgage the house, sell the kids, dig a ditch, do any- thing, but never let them think they've got you run- ning scared."
Bogie's life was black or white, he had no patience with the greys, so he couldn't understand when I accepted
the first offer that came along — after months of near-panic.
The film, "The Toast of New Orleans," was a suc- cess only because it launched Mario Lanza's golden voice. With the proceeds, Hjordis happily paid the bills one step ahead of the sheriff.
The next picture was even worse — an appalling travesty of a costume thriller.
"Get outta town, kid," growled Bogart. "They gotta have time to forget that."
I took his advice, let "The Pink House" for a year, took the whole family to England,
and moved into a haunted manor house in Wiltshire.
Hjordis somehow remained calm, but my new role as country squire was hard for her to digest.
I had a "gun" in the local syndicate for the pheasant shooting and a "rod" on the River Kennet for trout, and a pew in the village church for the good of my soul.
In autumn, she came rushing to find me –"Hurry! Hurry! The garden is full of dogs and men blowing trumpets!"
The joint Masters of the local foxhounds were merely following tradition. The opening meet was held each year at our house.
Hjordis, in tight blue jeans and a white T-shirt with "Palm Springs Rodeo" written across her bosom, was a welcome if incongru- ous sight when I sent her out with bottles of port and
slices of fruit cake.
In England, we were able to catch up with old friends — among them Trubshawe, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh.
Friends were always cham- pioned to the death at the Oliviers'. One weekend, Larry, Vivien, Bobby Help- man, and Noel were trying to put Hollywood into its proper perspective for me.
"It's all very fine for you," I argued, "you are all theatre people who occa- sionally make a movie. I have nothing but movies."
Everyone started shouting at once. It was obvious steps were to be taken to get me into the theatre.
Within a week John C. Wilson, Broadway producer and a longtime friend and associate of Noel's, offered me a play — "Nina."
Gloria Swanson had
already been signed for the lead, and the cast of three was to be rounded off by excellent English character
actor Alan Webb.
Hjordis and I flew to the
First stop was to spend a weekend, pheasant shooting, with New England friends.
I had by now realised that one of the joys of being married to a "foreigner" is being surprised — nothing is automatically predictable.
I was not thrown off balance, therefore, when Hjordis came down on the first morning, dressed not for the chase but for spending the day with a good book.
"I am not coming to watch you shoot," she announced, "because I don't want to be shot."
The high-powered hunters and their wives tried to per- suade her that it was per- fectly safe, but she insisted.
"I know I am going to be shot — so I stay home."
Finally, after much badin- age about Scandinavian sixth sense, trolls, and spooks, she joined us. "But I will be shot," she said sadly.
Less than an hour later, two guns turned to fire at a bird that was going back low and Hjordis fell, hit in the face, neck, and chest.
I rushed over, and as I cradled her, moaning, in my arms, a terrible thought went through my head — it's hap- pened again.
Her beautiful face was a swollen mask: when she
asked for a mirror, we pre- tended nobody had one.
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
From previous page
Within half an hour she was in the local hospital,
where it was found she had
more than 30 pieces of lead
She was given an anaes- thetic, and they were pre- paring to remove the pellets when some strange force propelled me, uninvited, into the operating-room.
"Stop, please!" I said to
the astonished white-clad
group. "I'm sorry —I want another opinion."
I don't know what made me do it — some half-
forgotten wartime whisper about shrapnel wounds, per- haps. White gauze masks
were lowered and I was
asked, icily, if I wanted to accept full responsibility.
My host produced an ex- navy surgeon friend who was
paged at the local football game. His opinion was that if the swollen tissues were operated on at that time she would be scarred for life.
"Some pellets will work their way out," he said. "Others we can get later."
Today, Hjordis is un- marked, but when she hears those little northern voices I listen, too.
We went to New York, and I shook with fear as my opening night drew near.
"Nina" was a translation from a French success by Andre Roussin. In English, it was pretty bad.
Gloria Swanson believed every actor should have some other profession to pad out the lean times. "I have a clothing business," she
said. "They will make my
clothes for this show."
We opened in Hartford, Connecticut, in front of a heavily partisan audience, who had mostly come up from New York to cheer us
on. (With the usual sprink- ling of carrion crows sniff- ing for disaster.)
The show went over quite well, and famous director Otto Preminger, never a man to mince words, said he liked my efforts.
Half as good
By the time we arrived in New York several scenes had been rewritten and the show was half as good. The carrion crows had every reason to be delighted.
The big night came. Alan Webb and I played the first scene, then the doorbell rang for Swanson's entrance.
Webb, as her husband, hid
behind a curtain. I, her lover, opened the door.
I was ill prepared for what I saw. She had, I thought, worn some rather odd gar- ments in Hartford, but now the clothing company had
A black taffeta Bedouin tent, with Swanson's head sticking out, flung itself into my arms. A gasp of horror mingled with the applause.
Swanson is, to put it mildly, petite, so the top of her head nestled on my
Unfortunately, in my terror, I squeezed too hard in
that initial clinch. There was a loud twang, and eight
inches of white whalebone shot out of Swanson's chest, straight up my nose.
The audience was delighted — something new at last — they roared with laughter.
Tears of pain streamed
down my face, but in my innocence of things theatrical I thought maybe it didn't show, and carried bravely on
with the scene.
The audience hooted, and sweat broke out all over me like dew. Down in thc area of my navel, Swanson hissed, "What's going on?"
In the morning, Walter Kerr, critic for the "Herald Tribune," wrote: "Miss Swanson designed her own clothes . . . like the play, they fell apart in the first
"Nina" trailed on for three months, but soon we were mercifully back in "The Pink
The movie business still wanted no part of me.
Television, in the early 'fifties, had begun to raise its ugly head. The major film studios, instead of grabbing it and making it their own, decided first to ignore it, then to fight it — and wound up a few years later being swallowed by it.
I picked up some sparse but badly needed dollars as a guest on the Bob Hope and Jack Benny shows.
Many people thought it
was suicide for a film star to fly in the face of the movie bosses and align him- self with the enemy. I had no alternative. I was already
A well-known zany red- head did a show with me, and confided that she was even more strapped for cash
than I was.
Within four years Lucille Ball had bought both the RKO studios.
By Easter "The Pink House" was mortgaged to
In October, I was offered a live TV show of "Petrified Forest" in New York. Hjordis and I worked it out, and after deducting air fares and three weeks' hotel expenses we looked like clearing $300, so we took off in a hurry.
It was a good show and thirty million people saw it — a record at that time. But by the end I was so exhausted by the tension that we decided to blow the $300 on a trip to Barbados.
Live television plays, now mercifully superseded by film and tape, were the most ghastly torture ever invented
The day after we returned to "The Pink House," Otto Preminger called up and offered me the best part in his picture "The Moon is Blue." Something he had seen in my performance in "Nina" at Hartford had persuaded him that I was the actor he wanted.
Hjordis and I were beside ourselves with excitement, but Otto had a great deal of opposition from United Artists, who were financing the picture.
"Niven is washed up!" they told him. "Get some- body else." But Otto is immensely determined, and what he wants he usually gets. He got me — bless him !
Many actors don't like working with Otto because he shouts even louder than Goldwyn, and can be very
sarcastic. I love it.
The directors I dread are the ones who say, "You've played this sort of thing before — do anything you
"Thc Moon is Blue" turned out to be a big success all over the world.
Charles Boyer told me he and Dick Powell were think- ing of forming a company to
make films for television.
In view of the film studios' attitude to TV, I was surprised two big names were prepared to risk so much, but I had little to lose.
The result was Four Star Television Inc., which to date has made between 2000 and 3000 films for home consumption.
The idea of our "Four Star Playhouse" was to have four well-known movie stars each appearing once a month. But we could not
persuade a fourth to join us.
The studio bosses uttered the direst threats against "blacklegs."
A few staunch friends
helped out during the first season by doing guest shows — among them Ronald Colman, Joan Fontaine, Merle Oberon, and Ida Lupino.
The three of us took no
salaries, and with the pro-
ceeds at the end of the first year we bought rights to Somerset Maugham's short stories, and started a second series with Henry Fonda as host. (He even had the courage to blow froth in beer commercials. )
The third year we bought the Zane Grey stories and launched a third series —
"Zane Grey Theatre." This, in turn, spawned "The Rifle- man," which spun off another series, "Wanted, Dead or Alive." Into this we
put an unknown, Steve McQueen.
It was not all smooth sail-
ing by a long shot. We overspent, or underplanned. Often sponsors were weeks behind with payments.
One Friday I pulled all my savings out of the bank to meet the studio payroll.
Several of today's biggest names started their careers with us as actors or direc- tors, and Jack Lemmon, Barbara Stanwyck, Steve McQueen, David Janssen, Chuck Connors, Robert Ryan, Robert Taylor, June Allyson, Gig Young, Ida Lupino, and many, many
others made series for us.
One year we were turning out 14 different series at the same time — as big an output of film as any of the major
studios had made in their heyday. We had become nerve-racking big business.
My film career after "The Moon is Blue" also climbed back on to a most satisfac-
tory plateau of good pictures.
The boys were growing
fast and had settled down
well in California, though I always felt a bit out of place with my polite Hollywood Cricket Club background when I found myself wedged between two cap-wearing, gum-chewing, mitt-thumping
little baseball fans.
The days were full of promise, and friends with whom I could savor them were nearby.
To celebrate the Fourth of
July, Independence Day, Bogart broke all his rules and invited women aboard his yacht Santana.
Betty Bacall came along to keep Hjordis company.
We dropped anchor along the coast in Cherry Cove,
To page 60
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
From page 58
and Frank Sinatra moored alongside, in a chartered
motor cruiser with several
beautiful girls and a piano.
After dinner, Sinatra began to sing. He sang all night.
There were many yachts in Cherry Cove that weekend and by 2 a.m., under a full moon, Santana was sur- rounded by an audience in dozens of dinghies.
Frank sang as only he can till the dew came down, and the boys in the listening fleet
fetched blankets for their
He sang till the moon and the stars paled in the pre- dawn sky-and only then did the grateful audience paddle
So much has been written about Sinatra, his talent,
generosity, ruthlessness, gre- gariousness, and loneliness that I can contribute nothing except to say that he is one of the few people in the world I would instinctively think of if I needed help of any sort.
I thought of him once when I was in a bad spot: help was provided instantly, without a question. (It was not, incidentally, money.)
One Sunday afternoon the phone rang in "The Pink
"This is Mike Todd. I'm over at Joe Schenck's. I wanna see you. Get over
I was halfway through a polite excuse before I realised he had hung up.
I had never met Todd,
but had heard a hundred
stories about the legendary showman, gambler, pro- moter, or con man — every- one saw him differently.
We had a houseful of friends, but the general opinion was that Todd was always interesting and I should indeed get over there.
Todd was by Schenck's pool. He was tanned dark mahogany. He wore the
briefest trunks. On his head was a white ten-gallon hat, in his mouth a cigar of gro- tesque proportions.
He had no time for pre-
"Ever heard of Jules
"Yes, of course."
"Ever read 'Around the World in 80 Days'?"
"I was weaned on it."
"I've never made a pic- ture before, but I'm gonna
make this one. How'd you like to play Phileas Fogg?"
My heart bounded. "I'd do it for nothing."
Todd tossed aside his hat and cigar.
"You gotta deal," he said, and disappeared into the pool.
From that moment till the
picture was finished, six months later, I lived in an atmosphere of pure fantasy.
Nobody knows where Todd raised the necessary seven million dollars, and he certainly didn't raise it all at once, because several times production stopped while strange gentlemen arrived from Chicago for urgent consultations. For weeks we went unpaid.
Todd induced S. J. Perel- man to write the screenplay and John Farrow to direct.
Mexican bullfighter comedian Cantinflas arrived to play my valet, Passepar- tout, and Shirley MacLaine
was signed as Princess Aouda, Robert Newton as Mr. Fix the detective.
If Todd had difficulty raising money for his epic, he seemed to have none per- suading the biggest names in showbusiness to play small
cameos for fun.
We started shooting in Spain with Louis Miguel Dominguin playing himself in the bullring, and there, after a falling out, Todd replaced the director, John Farrow, with young English-
man Michael Anderson.
In London, more cameo parts were played by Noel Coward, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, Robert Morley, John Mills, Beatrice Lillie, Hermione Gingold, Hermione Baddeley, and Glynis Johns.
Back m California for the
major portion of the work, I became inoculated against surprise when I found myself playing scenes almost daily with different distinguished
visitors — Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer, Marlene Diet- rich, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Red Skelton, Victor MrLaglen, Andy Devine, Joe E. Brown, Cedric Hardwicke, and Buster Keaton.
Somehow Todd also found time to collect someone
specially for himself and, radiant with happiness, Eliza- beth Taylor became a per-
With gorgeous Elizabeth by his side, Todd remained
undefeated even when the sheriff of Los Angeles locked up the finished footage of his picture, thus immobilising his only asset until various
creditors in California had been mollified.
Todd was allowed to assemble the film during the day, under the eye of a sheriff's deputy, but at night back it went into the vault.
Somehow, Todd staved off the enemy and, at last, the picture was ready. The sheriff was persuaded to allow it to go to New York for its gala opening.
"You gotta get back east," Todd told me. "You gotta be there at the pay-out
He installed Hjordis and me in a most expensive hotel suite. There was a present for Hjordis and the rooms
were full of flowers.
The opening was a Todd bonanza. Mounted police held back screaming crowds as the invited audience of
1000 famous people filed into the theatre. Each received a beautifully bound and illus- trated program, with the recipient's name embossed in gold.
To the post
After the show Todd gave a champagne supper for
Where did he get the money for all this? The answer, according to Bennett Cerf, who produced the souvenir programs, was that he didn't. The morning after the opening, his cheque to the publishers bounced.
No matter. Gambler Todd had got right to the post with his last penny, and when
the audience had finished cheering and the ecstatic reviews were being read, there he was standing happily at the pay - out
The picture won the Academy Award as best pic- ture of the year and became
one of the biggest money spinners of all.time.
Todd married Elizabeth
and gave her a diamond the size of a skating rink. He bought himself a twin- engined plane.
Hjordis and I, with pecu- liar logic, decided that with a lot of good pictures now being offered to me it was the ideal moment to go away from Hollywood for a few months, so we flew off around the world.
Elizabeth Taylor has always fascinated me. I met
her first when she was 15.
Her beauty, talent, and violet eyes have often been praised. Less well known are her courage, her down-to- earthness, and her staunch defence of friends.
Shortly after that New York opening, she and Todd
invited us for a weekend to
their Palm Springs house. Elizabeth made no secret of her annoyance that she would have to stay and work in Hollywood while Todd flew
back to New York.
It was on that flight that his plane crashed in New
The word "playwright" is spelled that way for good reason. Shipwrights build ships, playwrights construct plays. If they construct them
badly, they fly apart.
Terence Rattigan is an actor's playwright. To per- form his characters is a joy.
"Separate Tables" is one of Rattigan's best plays and "the Major" is one of his best-written characters, so I was, naturally, overjoyed when I was offered the part
in the film version.
Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, Wendy Hiller, Gladys Cooper, Cath- leen Nesbitt, Rod Taylor, and myself rehearsed for two weeks under the expert eye of Delbert Mann — one of the best of the directors who had been making names for themselves in live television in New York.
This part gave me an Academy Award.
Winning is supposed to
add a million dollars to the
receipts of the picture with the top performance.
So many ingredients go into an individual winning an Oscar — material, direc- tion, other actors, photog- raphy, editing — that it's
a team effort. But it's a
lovely feeling to accept first prize.
Cables, messages (and scripts) poured in from all over the world. King for a day? Certainly! After that, it's back to the old drawing-
The message I cherished most was an invitation to go and see Samuel Goldwyn at his home. He opened the door himself and put his arm around my shoulders. It had been eight long years since we parted company.
"I don't give a damn about your award," he said. "I've seen the picture and I want you to know I'm proud of you."
In the drawing-room, his wife, Frances, caught me looking surreptitiously at the piano: there in its silver frame stood my photograph in uniform sent from Eng- land during the war.
"Sam never took it down," she said with a smile.
Off I flew to New York for a television series — and stayed on to make a film.
DAVID NIVEN'S OWN STORY
DAVID NIVEN (right) and his two sons. David (left) and Jamie, his wife, Hjordis, and the two little girls they have adopted.
Thc picture finished, I returned to "The Pink House" in time for the boys' summer holidays. I had many offers. Four Star Tele- vision was mushrooming, the mortgage was paid off, and the Oscar was gleaming on the mantelshelf. I should have known from experience that I was headed for trouble.
I had fallen into the well- known trap of becoming so wrapped up in my career, myself, and, lately, my success that I had been taking the most important thing in my life for granted.
Hjordis told me she was leaving me.
With complete honesty she explained that she had
to find out if she was still
an individual or just the trappings of someone else.
It was very painful. Once Hjordis makes up her mind
— that's it! She rented a
small house nearby and
moved in to live alone and find out if she "existed."
The boys refused to believe it had happened. Irreverently, they named her new residence "The Summer Pink House," and visited it daily on their bicycles.
Looking sadly at an empty chair was no way of spend- ing the summer holidays, so I took the boys to Honolulu to try our luck on surfboards.
Two days later, the Los Angeles papers had pictures of me being helped from the sea with blood streaming
down my face — the result
of a collision with a rock.
Urgent inquiries from Hjordis — a good sign.
After six weeks, I returned to "The Pink House" and diplomatic relations were reopened, mostly SOS mes- sages, relayed by the boys.
"The boiler's burst — she wants to know what to do."
"Somebody's stolen the mowing machine — who
does she call?"
I went to work with Doris Day in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," and three months from the start of our trial separation I took my lunch-box at midday and paid my first visit to "The
Summer Pink House."
Hjordis was in the garden when I walked in demanding beer to wash down my sandwiches.
By the time I went back to the studio, the war was blessedly over.
As soon as I was through with the picture, we took off on a second honeymoon.
In the spring of 1960, we had an overpowering urge to move. When I told my agent and my business manager that we were thinking of moving back to Europe to live, they were dumbfounded.
Hollywood had changed completely. The old camar- aderie of pioneers in a busi- ness controlled by the people who created it was gone.
The lovely joke was over.
The asphalt jungle was pro- liferating through the once- lovely Californian country- side, the famous sunshine was dimmed by cars and industry,
and the scent of fear was
attacking thc smog-filled lungs of film-makers — already resigned to the fact
that their audience was brain-
washed by television.
It was time to go, but even with our European roots tugging at us it was a tough decision.
Los Angeles is a violent city. A neighbor's child was shot by "junkies." This tip- ped the scales.
We had lately decided to adopt two children, and wanted to bring up a new family in peace and quiet.
First stop Switzerland. There my agent trapped me after days of frantic search, offering me several months in Greece and England making "The Guns of Nava- rone," by Alistair Maclean.
I left for the island of Rhodes, and Hjordis stayed behind, combing the Alps for
a suitable chalet.
"The Guns of Navarone"
was a long and very arduous picture, culminating with five weeks ini England in November, simulating a storm at sea by working nine freezing hours a day in a huge tank of filthy water.
With three days' work to go, I picked up a fearsome infection, and at two o'clock one morning was carted away to hospital.
I lay dangerously ill for days while experts struggled to identify the bug.
picture ground to a halt, and the Big Brass arrived from America, to hold meet- ings with the producer, insurance company, and finance department.
I heard later the Brass
said: "We gotta problem,
fellers ... so David is
very, very sick. That's tough
on him — and we all love him - but wadda we do if he dies?''
Pumped full of drugs I went back to work against
doctor's orders far sooner
than was prudent, completed the crucial three days' work, and suffered a relapse that lasted seven weeks.
The Big Brass never sent me a grape — but one bonus
in "The Guns of Navarone"
was that Trubshawe appeared
in it. He has become an
actor, and a very good one.
While I was recuperating, Hjordis busied herself look- ing for the baby girl we had both set our hearts on.
One day, a little round bundle, a few weeks old, was put in her arms. It promptly went purple with rage and
tried to scream the house down, but one look at Hjordis' face was all I needed. We were entering a period of pure joy.
Two years later, another little creature appeared. Relentless competition for
the affection of these two diminutive blonde bomb-
shells set in between myself and my two sons.
After a while in Europe
the calls of sun and sea increased.
Hjordis combed the Medi- terranean until she found, in France, an old house perched on a little promontory of its own on Cap Ferrar. There
The boys completed their education in Switzerland, France, England, and Italy.
Jamie returned to the U.S. and married a very special girl from Philadelphia. He works in New York, David
in London. I have made films in 13 countries since
That about rounds it off. Orson Welles once said to me, "We have now acted in theatres, radio, films, and live television — they can't think of anything else, can they?"
I hope not.