Thursday 14 November 2019

Niv, a Good Egg

I couldn't resist this picture of David Niven, exuding that characteristic officer-and-gentleman charm even when mounted, improbably, on a bicycle. Niven, readers of the authoritative Me Cheeta might recall, is one of the few Hollywood stars of whom Cheeta – always a very sound judge of character – approves. One of the comic highlights of Cheeta's memoir is an anecdote about Johnny Weissmuller and 'Niv' borrowing Douglas Fairbanks's Rolls-Royce and sending it on its way with Cheeta driving and Jackie, the MGM lion, in the passenger seat (it does not end well).
  Niven, with his irresistible charm and preposterous good looks – and ability to act, should the occasion demand it – was pretty much bound to become a star, once he reached Hollywood. Before he got there, he had been a Lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry, but became bored with life in the peacetime Army. A minor 'act of subordination' got him placed under close arrest, but, having finished a convivial bottle of whisky with the officer who was guarding him, he was allowed to escape from a first-floor window. He was soon on his way across the Atlantic, resigning his commission by telegram.
  In the second spot of bother, however, he returned to England as soon as war was declared – the only British Hollywood star to do so – and ended the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel, having done important undercover work in the Allied invasion of Normandy. He had a 'good war', but, despite being a famous anecdotalist, he spoke little of his wartime experiences, saying on one occasion, 'I will, however, say 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.' Another story emerged that Niven, about to lead his men into action, calmed their nerves by telling them, 'Look, you chaps only have to do this once, but I'll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn.'
  He was a good egg – and there weren't many of those in Hollywood.

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