Dorian Elizabeth Leigh Parker (April 23, 1917 – July 7, 2008), known professionally as Dorian Leigh, was an American model and one of the earliest modeling icons of the fashion industry. She is considered one of the first supermodels, and was well known in the United States and Europe.
Dorian Leigh Parker was born in San Antonio, Texas, to George and Elizabeth Parker. Her parents married when they were very young and Elizabeth promptly gave birth to three daughters in quick succession: Dorian, Florian "Cissie" (1918–2010), and Georgiabell (1921–1988). Thirteen years after the birth of her third daughter, Elizabeth believed she was going through menopause and was shocked to discover that she was pregnant. She gave birth to her fourth daughter, Cecilia (1932–2003), who became known as model and actress Suzy Parker. The family moved to Jackson Heights, Queens, soon after Dorian's birth and later to Metuchen, New Jersey where George Parker invented a new form of etching acid, the production of which gave him enough income to retire.
Dorian graduated from Newton High School in Queens, New York, in 1935 and enrolled at Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. At college, she met her first husband, Marshall Powell Hawkins, whom she married on a whim in North Carolina in 1937. They had two children: Thomas Lofton ("TL") Hawkins (1939–2014) and Marsha Hawkins (born 1940). The couple separated in the 1940s.
Dorian worked as a file clerk at a department store in Manhattan and as a tabulator, where she found that she had an aptitude for math, mechanical engineering, and drawing.
Dorian then worked at Bell Laboratories, and was a tool designer during World War II at Eastern Air Lines (with their Eastern Aircraft division) where she assisted in the design of airplane wings. While working Republic Pictures as an apprentice copywriter, she was encouraged by a Mrs. Wayburn to try modeling.
In 1944 Dorian went to the Harry Conover modeling agency. At 27, Dorian was not only old by modeling standards, but at barely 5'5", she was shorter than the other models at the agency. Conover immediately sent her to see Diana Vreeland, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. Dorian met with Vreeland and fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe, who were intrigued by her zig-zagged eyebrows. Dorian was photographed for the cover of the June 1944 issue of Harper's Bazaar, her very first modeling assignment. Later the magazine was shocked to discover her real age was 27(not 19 as she said), and that she already had two children.
Dorian's parents thought modeling was not respectable, so Dorian used only her first and middle name during her career. When Dorian became an enormous success though, they thought it was acceptable that their youngest daughter Suzy use the Parker last name when she also became a famous model. Their other daughter, Florian, also had modeling photos in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but quit when she married a man in the military.
Dorian instantly became busy with modeling assignments, landing on the covers of major magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Paris Match, LIFE, and Elle. Because of her schedule, Dorian's two children were sent to live with her parents in Florida, while she was based in New York City and traveling to Europe.
In 1946, Dorian appeared on the cover of six American Vogue magazines. She worked with famous fashion photographers Irving Penn, John Rawlings, Cecil Beaton, and Paul Radkai. She dated Irving Penn, who later married another model Lisa Fonssagrives.
On one assignment of Vogue, Dorian argued with photographer Paul Radkai's wife Karen, who wanted to be a fashion photographer and wanted to take many free extra photos of Dorian for her portfolio. When Dorian refused, Karen warned Dorian she would "ruin her." Indeed, Vogue never used Dorian again, and Karen became a Vogue photographer for many years.
Dorian easily transitioned to working with Harper's Bazaar's new, young photographer, Richard Avedon(who would become one of the most famous photographers in history).
While living in her apartment in New York, Dorian struck up a friendship with a young author, Truman Capote who was fascinated by Dorian's lifestyle of non-stop men, coming-and-goings, and having a store across the street handle her phone calls, and called her "Happy-go-lucky." Capote's character Holly Golightly in his famous 1958 novel Breakfast at Tiffany's is said to be largely based on Dorian's life, as well as socialite Gloria Vanderbilt's.
After being fed up with Harry Conover's agency, Dorian decided to start her own modeling agency called the "Fashion Bureau". She came up with the idea of the "voucher system." With this innovative system, the modeling agency would pay the models weekly, instead of the models' having to wait to be paid directly by the clients. Often it took companies weeks, months, or even years to pay models for their work.
Her modelling agency inspired a young fashion stylist named Eileen Ford, who, along with her husband Gerard W. Ford, started what would become one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, Ford Models.
Around 1947, Dorian's sister Cissy introduced her to Roger Mehle who was divorced from Aileen Mehle(who later became the very famous gossip columnist known as "Suzy"). Cissy was married to an army officer and Mehle was the youngest Navy commander and fighter ace during WWII.
In August 1948, Dorian was two months pregnant when she married Mehle. Dorian's bridemaids were her teen sister Suzy Parker and Suzy's teen model friend Carmen Dell'Orefice. Dorian's two older children, who were being raised by her parents in Florida, came to live with the couple in Pennsylvania.
Dorian closed her agency when she married. She then telephoned Eileen Ford and told her that she would join the Ford Agency if they also signed her 15-year-old sister, Suzy Parker, sight-unseen. Suzy, 15 years younger than Dorian, had already been working for the Huntington Hartford agency making $25 per hour. Dorian told Ford she believed Suzy should be making $40 per hour. The Fords' agency was only two years old so they were anxious to represent a famous model like Dorian. The Fords were shocked during their initial meeting to see that Suzy was completely different from her sister Dorian who was thin, had an extremely small waist, and had black hair and bright blue eyes. Suzy was almost six inches taller than Dorian, had a very large frame, and had bright red hair, freckles, and green eyes. (In the 1950s, Suzy would become even more famous than Dorian, and would go on to be a movie and television actress.
Dorian gave birth to her daughter, Young Eve Mehle, on March 27, 1949. The couple had a house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania but rarely saw each other. Roger Mehle's naval career stationed him in Atlantic City, and Dorian commuted to New York City and Paris for modeling work.
In 1952, when she was 35 years old, Richard Avedon photographed her for Revlon's most famous advertising campaign, Fire and Ice. In this two-page advertisement, Dorian is wearing a very tight, silver sequined gown wrapped in a huge red wrap that was copied from a Balenciaga original. The dress had hand-sewn silver sequins on it, and it took so long to create that only the front of the dress was finished in time to be photographed for the ad. The back was non-existent and held in place with safety pins. Dorian also had a silver streak put in her black hair. The original ad had Dorian holding her hand in front of her breast. The agency considered the photo too risqué, and the ad was re-shot. This ad was accompanied by a provocative quiz written by Kay Daly. The ad became an enormous success, winning Advertising Age's "Magazine Advertisement of the Year" award.
That same year, Dorian also played the part of a model in the play The Fifth Season. Her job as model, mother, and actress was featured in Look magazine's June 2, 1953, cover story. By then, Dorian had appeared on the covers of more than 50 magazines. On the Look cover, Dorian is quoted as saying, "I would rather have a baby than a mink coat.".
In the 50s, Dorian began to work more often in Europe with Richard Avedon.
While in Paris, Dorian met the married Spanish athlete Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca, Marquis of Portago (Alfonso de Portago)nicknamed Fon, who was 11 years younger than her, was married with a three-year-old daughter. Dorian and Fon were both reluctant to divorce their spouses, but carried on an affair all summer in Paris and Biarritz. Dorian became pregnant by him, but chose to have an abortion because she feared Roger Mehle would divorce her and take full-custody of their daughter Young Eve. Only weeks later, at the end of the summer, Fon told Dorian that his wife Carroll was pregnant with their second child. Dorian returned to the United States and divorced Roger Mehle on November 24, 1954, in Mexico. Fon then married Dorian in Mexico right away, but since de Portago was not divorced, the marriage was not legal.
Coco Chanel, great friend of her sister Suzy, warned Dorian against the affair, but Dorian continued it with Fon even though his wife Carroll gave birth to their son Anthony de Portago around 1954. When she got pregnant by de Portago again, Dorian left her three other children with her parents in Florida, fled to Paris and Switzerland, and gave birth to her son Kim Blas Parker on September 27, 1955 in Switzerland.
After the birth of her baby son Kim, Dorian began the first legal modeling agency in France to support her son. She also had lent about $15,000 to the financially irresponsible de Portago , with whom she continued an on-and-off relationship in 1956 and 1957.
In early 1957, De Portago, still married, was also openly dating actress Linda Christian, the ex-wife of actor Tyrone Power.
On April 23, 1957, Dorian's 40th birthday, de Portago told Dorian that he was supposedly finally divorcing Carroll so they could be legally married. He told her that he was entering the famous Mille Miglia car race in Italy on May 8, 1957 and Carroll was supposed to sign their divorce papers on May 9.
Instead, on May 8, de Portago was seen at the site of car race with Linda Christian who kissed him famously before his race. The same day, Dorian received a phone call from de Portago's mother Olga, informing Dorian that Fon's tire on his Ferrari race car had blown up because he did not stop in time for a tire change. He was killed with his co-driver as well as nine spectators, including five children. This catastrophe ended the Mille Miglia forever.
A few days after Alfonso de Portago was killed, Dorian's sister Suzy, making a movie with Cary Grant, told famous gossip columnist Louella Parsons that Dorian had a son with de Portago and she was estranged from her sister because of it. Dorian was shocked that Suzy leaked this secret, Dorian's parents were furious and told Dorian that she would never have custody of her children. They also refused to accept Kim.
In 1957, Dorian returned to Florida and visited her daughter Young at her parents’ home. Dorian then took Young and fled to Paris where she remained mostly for the next twenty-one years. The next year In 1958 she became pregnant by another man, had an abortion and married Bordat days later.
Although Dorian already had four children by three different men, she wanted another baby. When her husband Bordat claimed he was too young, Dorian moved out of their apartment, but they remained legally married.
Dorian was so busy with her Paris modeling agency that she now had branches in Hamburg, Germany, and London to which she often traveled.
During a solo ski vacation to Klosters, Switzerland over Christmas 1960, 43-year-old Dorian craved a baby and slept with four men in one week. In September 1961, Dorian gave birth to her fifth child, Miranda, in France. Dorian thought that a young ski instructor at Klosters was the father. Dorian then divorced Bordat but she did not tell her daughter Miranda that Dr. Bordat was not her father until she was a teenager, and despite never meeting her biological father, Miranda kept his last name.
In 1964, 47-year-old Dorian met 23-year-old Israeli writer Iddo Ben-Gurion and they were married. But after she discovered Iddo was a drug-addict embezzling money from her modeling agencies, she divorced him in 1966. But she eventually had to close her agencies because so much money was stolen by Iddo. Most of her modeling fortune had been spent recklessly or stolen.
Living in Paris, Dorian studied at Le Cordon Bleu and opened her own restaurant, Chez Leigh, from 1973 to 1975. She tried to get cooking jobs in Corsica and Orleans as well. By 1976, Dorian was broke.
In 1977, Dorian received a phone call from the New York City modeling agency Stewart Cowley asking her to work as his office manager. Dorian agreed to return to New York where her son Kim was living. Kim's half-brother Anthony de Portago also lived in New York City and the two actually had become good friends. Dorian soon discovered that her 21-year-old son Kim was a serious drug addict, and sent him to live with her sister Suzy in California briefly. Only six months after Dorian re-settled and reunited with Kim in New York, he jumped 33 floors from his apartment window to his death, leaving a suicide note behind.
After Kim's death, Dorian lived in Pound Ridge, New York, where she made pâtés for delicatessens and specialty food shops, according to a profile in The New York Times by Enid Nemy. She also worked with Martha Stewart in the early 1980s.
Dorian wrote two cookbooks, Pancakes: From Flapjacks to Crepes (1987) and Doughnuts: Over 3 Dozen Crullers, Fritters and Other Treats (1994) at the age of 77.
In 1980, Dorian published an autobiography, The Girl Who Had Everything.
According to Dorian, she wrote her autobiography for her late son: "I really wrote it for Kim, who will never read it. But perhaps other Kims and their parents may learn from my unhappy experiences".
Dorian died in a Falls Church, Virginia nursing home from Alzheimer's disease at the age of 91 on July 7th in 2008. In her obituary, her first son, T.L. Hawkins, reminisced about his mother's famous "Fire and Ice" photograph.
Her only remaining sister Florian Parker died at the age of 92 in 2010.
Sir David Lean CBE (25 March 1908 – 16 April 1991) was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Widely considered one of the most influential directors of all time, Lean directed the large-scale epics The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984). He also directed two adaptations of Charles Dickens novels, Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), as well as the romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945).
Originally a film editor in the early 1930s, Lean made his directorial debut with 1942's In Which We Serve, which was the first of four collaborations with Noël Coward. Beginning with Summertime in 1955, Lean began to make internationally co-produced films financed by the big Hollywood studios; in 1970, however, the critical failure of his film Ryan's Daughter led him to take a fourteen-year break from filmmaking, during which he planned a number of film projects which never came to fruition. In 1984 he had a career revival with A Passage to India, adapted from E. M. Forster's novel; it was an instant hit with critics but proved to be the last film Lean would direct.
Lean's affinity for pictorialism and inventive editing techniques has led him to be lauded by directors such as Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Ridley Scott. Lean was voted 9th greatest film director of all time in the British Film Institute Sight & Sound "Directors' Top Directors" poll in 2002. Nominated seven times for the Academy Award for Best Director, which he won twice for The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, he has seven films in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British Films (with three of them being in the top five) and was awarded the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1990.
David Lean was born on 25 March 1908 at 38 Blenheim Crescent, South Croydon, Surrey (now part of Greater London), to Francis William le Blount Lean and the former Helena Tangye. His parents were Quakers and he was a pupil at the Quaker-founded Leighton Park School in Reading. His younger brother, Edward Tangye Lean (1911–1974), founded the original Inklings literary club when a student at Oxford University.
When Lean was aged ten, his uncle gave him a Brownie box camera. "You usually didn't give a boy a camera until he was 16 or 17 in those days. It was a huge compliment and I succeeded at it.' Lean printed and developed his films, and it was his 'great hobby'.
Lean was a half-hearted schoolboy with a dreamy nature who was labeled a "dud" of a student. In 1923, his father deserted the family and Lean would later follow a similar path after his own first marriage and child.
In the Christmas Term of 1926, Lean left school at the age of 18 and entered his father's chartered accountancy firm as an apprentice.
Bored by his work, Lean spent every evening in the cinema, and in 1927, after an aunt had advised him to find a job he enjoyed, he visited Gaumont Studios where his obvious enthusiasm earned him a month's trial without pay. He was taken on as a teaboy, promoted to clapperboy, and soon rose to the position of third assistant director. By 1930 he was working as an editor on newsreels, including those of Gaumont Pictures and Movietone, while his move to feature films began with Freedom of the Seas (1934) and Escape Me Never (1935). He has also edited two film productions of two George Bernard Shaw plays, Pygmalion (1938) and Major Barbara (1941).
Lean began his directing career, after editing more than two dozen features by 1942.
His first work as a director was in collaboration with Noël Coward on In Which We Serve (1942), and he later adapted several of Coward's plays into successful films, including This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945) and Brief Encounter (1945). The film shared Grand Prix honors at the 1946 Cannes film festival and garnered Lean his first Academy nominations for directing and screen adaptation, and Celia Johnson who played the female lead a nomination for Best Actress. It has since become a classic, one of the most highly regarded British films.
Two celebrated Charles Dickens adaptations followed – Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948).
The next film directed by Lean was The Passionate Friends (1949), an atypical Lean film, and the first of three films to feature the actress Ann Todd, who became his third wife. The last of the films with Todd, The Sound Barrier (1952), has a screenplay by the playwright Terence Rattigan and was the first of his three films for Sir Alexander Korda's London Films.
Summertime (1955) marked a new departure for Lean. It was partly American financed, although again made for Korda's London Films. The film features Katharine Hepburn in the lead role as a middle-aged American woman who has a romance while on holiday in Venice. It was shot entirely on location there.
Lean's films now began to become infrequent but much larger in scale and more extensively released internationally. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was based on a novel by Pierre Boulle recounting the story of British and American prisoners of war trying to survive in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War. The film stars William Holden and Alec Guinness and became the highest-grossing film of 1957 in the United States. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Alec Guinness, who had battled with Lean to give more depth to his role as an obsessively correct British commander who is determined to build the best possible bridge for his Japanese captors in Burma.
After extensive location work in the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, and elsewhere, Lean's Lawrence of Arabia was released in 1962. It recounts the life of T. E. Lawrence(played by Peter O'Toole), the British officer who is depicted in the film as uniting the squabbling Bedouin peoples of the Arab peninsula to fight in World War I and then push on for independence. French composer Maurice Jarre, on his first Lean film, created a soaring film score with a famous theme and won his first Oscar for Best Original Score. The film turned actor Peter O'Toole, playing Lawrence, into an international star, and was nominated for ten Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture and Lean's second win for Best Director. He remains the only British director to win more than one Oscar for directing.
Lean had his greatest box-office success with Doctor Zhivago (1965), a romance set during the Russian Revolution. The film, based on the banned novel by Nobel Prize-winning Russian poet Boris Pasternak, tells the story of a brilliant and warm-hearted physician and poet Yuri (played by Omar Sharif) who, while seemingly happily married into the Russian aristocracy, and a father, falls in love with a beautiful abandoned young mother named Lara (played Julie Christie) and struggles to be with her in the chaos of the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War.
As of 2020, it is the 9th highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation. Producer Carlo Ponti used Maurice Jarre's lush romantic score to create a pop tune called "Lara's Theme", which became an international hit song with lyrics under the title "Somewhere My Love", one of cinema's most successful theme songs. The British director of photography, Freddie Young, won an Academy Award for his color cinematography.
Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970) was released after an extended period on location in Ireland. A doomed romance set against the backdrop of 1916 Ireland's struggles against the British, it is loosely based on Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. The film received far fewer positive reviews than the director's previous work, being particularly savaged by the New York critics. Nonetheless, the film was a box office success, earning $31 million and making it the 8th highest-grossing film of that year. It won two Academy Awards the following year, another for cinematographer Freddie Young.
The poor critical reception of the film prompted Lean to meet with the National Society of Film Critics, gathered at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, including The New Yorker's Pauline Kael, and ask them why they objected to the movie. These critics so lacerated the film for two hours to David Lean's face that the devastated Lean was put off from making films for a long time.
During the last years of his life, Lean was in pre-production of a film version of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo.
From 1977 until 1980, Lean and Robert Bolt worked on a film adaptation of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, a dramatized account by Richard Hough of the Mutiny on the Bounty. After Bolt suffered a serious stroke and was unable to continue writing, however, Lean was forced to abandon the project after overseeing casting and the construction of the $4 million Bounty replica as the director felt that Bolt's involvement would be crucial to the film's success.
The film's producer, Italian mogul Dino De Laurentiis did not want to lose the millions he had already put into the project over what he thought was as insignificant a person as the director dropping out. The film was eventually released as The Bounty.
Lean then embarked on a project he had pursued since 1960, a film adaptation of A Passage to India (1984), from E. M. Forster's 1924 novel of colonial conflicts in British-occupied India. Entirely shot on location in the sub-continent, this became his last completed film. He rejected a draft by Santha Rama Rau, responsible for the stage adaptation and Forster's preferred screenwriter, and wrote the script himself. In addition, Lean also edited the film with the result that his three roles in the production (writer, editor, director) were given equal status in the credits.
Lean recruited long-time collaborators for the cast and crew, including Maurice Jarre (who won another Academy Award for the score), Alec Guinness in his sixth and final role for Lean, as an eccentric Hindu Brahmin, and John Box, the production designer for Dr. Zhivago. The film opened to universally enthusiastic reviews and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and Lean himself nominated for three Academy Awards in directing, editing, and writing. His female star, an English woman played by Australian actress Judy Davis her first Academy nomination. Peggy Ashcroft, as the sensitive Mrs. Moore, won the Oscar for best supporting actress, making her, at 77, the oldest actress to win that award.
He was signed on to direct a Warner Bros.-backed adaptation of J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun. Steven Spielberg, who was brought on board as a producer for Lean, later assumed the role of director when Lean dropped out of the project; Spielberg was drawn to the idea of making the film due to his long-time admiration for Lean and his films. Empire of the Sun was released in 1987.
The Nostromo project involved several writers whose work was abandoned. In the end, Lean decided to write the film himself with the assistance of Maggie Unsworth with whom he had worked on the scripts for Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and The Passionate Friends. Nostromo had a total budget of $46 million and was six weeks away from filming at the time of Lean's death from throat cancer and interment at Putney Vale Cemetery.
Nostromo was finally adapted for the small screen with an unrelated BBC television mini-series in 1997.
Lean was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1953, and was knighted for his contributions and services to the arts in 1984.
Lean received the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1990.
Lean was married six times, had one son, and at least two grandchildren—from all of whom he was completely estranged—and was divorced five times. He was survived by his last wife, art dealer Sandra Cooke, the co-author (with Barry Chattington) of David Lean: An Intimate Portrait (2001), as well as Peter Lean, his son from his first marriage.
His six wives were:
In 1999, the British Film Institute compiled its list of the Top 100 British films; seven of Lean's films appeared on the list:
He directed more films that won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography at the Oscars than any other director, with five wins out of six nominations for Great Expectations, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan's Daughter—the last nomination being for A Passage to India.
As Lean himself pointed out, his films are often admired by fellow directors as a showcase of the filmmaker's art. Lean was also notorious for his perfectionist approach to filmmaking; director Claude Chabrol stated that he and Lean were the only directors working at the time who were prepared to wait "forever" for the perfect sunset, but whereas Chabrol measured "forever" in terms of days, Lean did so in terms of months.
Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese in particular are fans of Lean's epic films and claim him as one of their primary influences. Spielberg and Scorsese also helped in the 1989 restoration of Lawrence of Arabia, which had been substantially altered both by the studio in theatrical release and in particular in its televised versions; the theatrical re-release greatly revived Lean's reputation.
Several of the many other later twentieth century directors who have acknowledged significant influence by Lean include Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Spike Lee, and Sergio Leone.
James David Graham Niven (1 March 1910 – 29 July 1983) was an English actor, memoirist and novelist. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Major Pollock in Separate Tables (1958). Other noted roles included Squadron Leader Peter Carter in A Matter of Life and Death, Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days, Sir Charles Lytton ("the Phantom") in The Pink Panther and James Bond in Casino Royale (1967).
Born in London, Niven attended Royal Military College, Sandhurst then joined the British Army. Upon developing an interest in acting he found a role as an extra in the British film There Goes the Bride (1932). Bored with the peacetime army, he resigned his commission in 1933, relocated to New York, then traveled to Hollywood. There he hired an agent and had several small parts in films through 1935, including a non-speaking role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Mutiny on the Bounty. This brought him to wider attention within the film industry, catching the eye of Samuel Goldwyn and leading to a contract.
By 1938 he was starring as the leading man in 'A' films. Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Niven returned to Britain and rejoined the army, being recommissioned as a lieutenant.
Niven resumed his acting career after his demobilisation, and was voted the second-most popular British actor in the 1945 Popularity Poll of British film stars. He appeared in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), The Bishop's Wife (1947) with Cary Grant, and Enchantment (1948), all of which received critical acclaim. Niven later scored a big success as Phileas Fogg in Michael Todd's production of Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
Niven appeared in nearly a hundred films, and many shows for television. He also began writing books, with considerable commercial success. In 1982 he appeared in Blake Edwards' final "Pink Panther" films Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther, reprising his role as Sir Charles Lytton.
James David Graham Niven was born on 1 March 1910 at Belgrave Mansions, Grosvenor Gardens, London, to William Edward Graham Niven (1878–1915) of Scottish descent, and his wife, Henrietta Julia Niven, of French and Welsh ancestry.
He was named David after his birth on St David's Day. He had two older sisters and a brother, and his sister the sculptor Grizel Rosemary Graham (1906 – 2007) created the bronze sculpture Bessie that is presented to the annual winners of the Women's Prize for Fiction.
David Niven's father was killed in the First World War on 21 August 1915.
Following the death of her husband, Henrietta Niven married Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt in London in 1917.
Niven was expulsed from Heatherdown Preparatory School thus ended his chances for Eton College, a significant blow to his family. After failing to pass the naval entrance exam because of his difficulty with maths, Niven attended Stowe School, a newly created public school led by headmaster J. F. Roxburgh, who was unlike any of Niven's previous headmasters. Thoughtful and kind, he addressed the boys by their first names, allowed them bicycles, and encouraged and nurtured their personal interests.
In 1928, Niven attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He graduated in 1930 with a commission as a second lieutenant in the British Army.
He did well at Sandhurst, which gave him the "officer and gentleman" bearing that was his trademark.
Niven grew tired of the peacetime army, and escaped to America. While crossing the Atlantic, Niven resigned his commission by telegram on 6 September 1933. Niven then moved to New York City, where he began an unsuccessful career in whisky sales, after which he had a stint in horse rodeo promotion in Atlantic City. After detours to Bermuda and Cuba, he arrived in Hollywood in 1934.
When Niven presented himself at Central Casting, he learned that he needed a work permit to reside and work in the United States. This meant that Niven had to leave the US, so he went to Mexico, where he worked as a "gun-man", cleaning and polishing the rifles of visiting American hunters. He received his resident alien visa from the American consulate when his birth certificate arrived from Britain. He returned to the US and was accepted by Central Casting as "Anglo-Saxon Type No. 2,008."
Niven's role in Mutiny on the Bounty brought him to the attention of independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and established his career.
Niven’s first sizeable part for Goldwyn came in Dodsworth (1936), playing a man who flirts with Ruth Chatterton, and he graduated to star parts in "A" films with The Dawn Patrol (1938) remake at Warners; he was billed after Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone but it was a leading role and the film did excellent business.
The day after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Niven returned home and rejoined the British Army. He was alone among British stars in Hollywood in doing so; the British Embassy advised most actors to stay.
Niven was recommissioned as a lieutenant into the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own) on 25 February 1940.
While on leave in 1940, Niven met Primula "Primmie" Susan Rollo (18 February 1918, London – 21 May 1946), the daughter of London lawyer William H.C. Rollo. After a whirlwind romance, they married on 16 September 1940. A son, David, Jr., was born in December 1942 and a second son, James Graham Niven, on 6 November 1945.
On 14 March 1944, Niven was promoted war-substantive major (temporary lieutenant-colonel). He took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, although he was sent to France several days after D-Day.
Niven ended the war as a lieutenant-colonel. On his return to Hollywood after the war, he received the Legion of Merit, an American military decoration.
Niven resumed his career while still in England, playing the lead in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), from the team of Powell and Pressburger. The movie was critically acclaimed, popular in England and was selected as the first Royal Film Performance.
Niven returned to Hollywood, and encountered tragedy when his first wife Primmie died at the age of 28 after falling down a flight of stairs at a party in the Beverly Hills, California home of Tyrone Power, while playing a game of hide-and-seek.
Niven made a few films in Hollywood, such as The Bishop's Wife (1947), Enchantment (1948), A Kiss for Corliss (1949). None of these films were successful at the box office and Niven's career was struggling.
In 1948, Niven met Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1919–1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model. He recounted their meeting:
I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life – tall, slim, auburn hair, up-tilted nose, lovely mouth and the most enormous grey eyes I had ever seen. It really happened the way it does when written by the worst lady novelists ... I goggled. I had difficulty swallowing and had champagne in my knees.
After a few more unremarkable films, Niven decided to try Broadway, appearing opposite Gloria Swanson in Nina (1951–52). The play only ran for 45 performances but it was seen by Otto Preminger who decided to cast Niven in the film version of the play The Moon Is Blue (1953). The Moon Is Blue, a sex comedy, became notorious when it was released without a Production Code Seal of Approval; it was a big hit and Niven won a Golden Globe Award for his role.
Niven also became heavily involved in American TV as a partner in Four Star Television, a company he established with Dick Powell and Charles Boyer. It ended up producing a considerable number of shows, in several of which Niven appeared. Four Star TV became a highly successful TV production company.
Niven's professional fortunes were completely restored when cast as Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), a huge hit at the box office.
Niven won the 1958 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Major Pollock in Separate Tables, his only nomination for an Oscar. Appearing on-screen for only 23 minutes in the film, this is the briefest performance ever to win a Best Actor Oscar.
With an Academy Award to his credit, Niven's career continued to thrive. In 1959, he became the host of his own TV drama series, The David Niven Show, which ran for 13 episodes that summer.
In 1960, Niven moved to Château-d'Œx near Gstaad in Switzerland for financial reasons, living near expatriate friends that included Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov, and Noël Coward. He divided his time in the 1960s and 1970s between Château-d'Œx and Cap Ferrat on the Côte d'Azur in the south of France.
Niven appeared as James Bond 007 in Casino Royale (1967). Niven had been Bond creator Ian Fleming's first choice to play Bond in Dr. No. Casino Royale co-producer Charles K. Feldman said later that Fleming had written the book with Niven in mind, and therefore had sent a copy to Niven.
Niven was in demand throughout the last decade of his life. In July 1982, Blake Edwards brought Niven back for cameo appearances in two final "Pink Panther" films (Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther), reprising his role as Sir Charles Lytton. By this time, Niven was having serious health problems. This was his last film appearance.
Niven wrote four books. The first, Round the Rugged Rocks (published simultaneously in the US under the title Once Over Lightly), was a novel that appeared in 1951 and was forgotten almost at once.
In 1971, he published his autobiography, The Moon's a Balloon, which was well received, selling over five million copies. He followed this with Bring On the Empty Horses in 1975, a collection of entertaining reminiscences from Hollywood's "Golden Age" in the 1930s and 1940s. A raconteur rather than a mere memorialist, it now appears that Niven recounted many incidents from a first-person perspective that actually happened to other people, especially Cary Grant, which he borrowed and embroidered.
In 1981 Niven published a second and much more successful novel, Go Slowly, Come Back Quickly, which was set during and after the Second World War, and which drew on his experiences during the war and in Hollywood. He was working on a third novel at the time of his death.
In 1980, Niven began experiencing fatigue, muscle weakness, and a warble in his voice. His 1981 interviews on the talk shows of Michael Parkinson and Merv Griffin alarmed family and friends; viewers wondered if Niven had either been drinking or suffered a stroke. He blamed his slightly slurred voice on the shooting schedule on the film he had been making, Better Late Than Never. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease") later that year. His final appearance in Hollywood was hosting the 1981 American Film Institute tribute to Fred Astaire.
In February 1983, using a false name to avoid publicity, Niven was hospitalised for 10 days, ostensibly for a digestive problem; afterwards he returned to his chalet at Château-d'Œx. His condition continued to worsen, but he refused to return to the hospital, a decision supported by his family. He died at his chalet from ALS on 29 July 1983, aged 73.
David Niven's body was buried in the local cemetery.
In 1985, Niven was included in a series of British postage stamps, along with Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Charles Chaplin, Peter Sellers and Vivien Leigh, to commemorate "British Film Year".