Behind the Mic

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: David Niven’s Early Years

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For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.   Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.

As we approach the anniversary of the passing of one of cinema’s classic actors, we salute the talented career of David Niven.

If a movie watcher was asked to identify one of the most suave and sophisticated actors in the first 100 years of cinema, the name David Niven most certainly would have to be included in the conversation.

Although he claimed throughout his life that he was born in Scotland, records indicate that James David Graham Niven was born in Grosvenor, London on March 1st, 1910.

Losing his father before his seventh birthday, Niven was kicked out of school at the age of 10 because of the incessant practical jokes he would play on his schoolmates.  According to his autobiography, “The Moon’s A Balloon,” he received many acts of corporal punishment throughout his childhood, but finally found some solace while attending the newly created public Stowe School, due to the kindness of its headmaster.

He then enlisted in the British Army but quickly grew tired of the experience.  His ultimate decision to resign came after a lengthy lecture on machine guns, which was interfering with his plans for dinner with a young lady. At the end of the lecture, the speaker (a major general) asked if there were any questions. Showing the typical rebelliousness of his early years, Niven asked, “Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train.”

After being placed under close-arrest for this act of insubordination, Niven shared a bottle of whisky with the officer who was guarding him and was allowed to escape from a first-floor window and set sail for America. After failed attempts at being a whisky salesman and a rodeo promoter, David tried his hand at acting.

Niven’s acting career quickly grew with bigger and bigger roles in “B films” and then a few small parts in major motion pictures.  His early highlights in the mid-1930s included Mutiny On The Bounty, Barbary Coast, Palm Springs and The Charge Of The Light Brigade, starring Errol Flynn.

From there, David began receiving larger roles in films and soon became a major star with flicks like Bachelor Mother, Wuthering Heights, Eternally Yours, Raffles and The Real Glory…all in 1939 alone!

And then…World War II broke out.  Like many in Hollywood — and around the world, Niven’s career was put on hold. And, like a good number of soldiers, he didn’t have the smoothest return to a “normal” life after the war.

We’ll explore the roller coaster that made up David’s “second act,” next week here at The Showplace.

In the meantime, you can see David Niven in one of his earliest leading roles in Eternally Yours on RCN-TV.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.