David Niven (1909-1983)
- Louis Hayward, The Flame Within, 1935. Niven's first Hollywood chance was testing for Edmund Goulding in a dinner-suit. "Pretty bad," said the director, "apart from the natural bit when you told the limerick. Except you were all frozen up. You won't get the part this time. But I think you can make it and I'm going to help you."
- Paul Cavanaugh, Goin' To Town, 1935. Mae West's director, Al Hall, got hold of his "frozen" test and summoned Niven to Her Presence. If Mae liked him without a vest, Paramount was ready with a seven-year contract. But minus papers - and agent - he had to split in order to return to America legally with resident alien visa and work permit. And he started as an extra.
- William Boyd, Hop-A-Long Cassidy, 1935. Central Casting's Anglo-Saxon Type 2008 hardly seemed appropriate when producer Harry "Pop" Sherman popped the question. "But I appeared in 27 Westerns without speaking a line. All we extras would stand in line to be sprayed different colours - red, brown, yellow - depending what nationalities we were supposed to be. Because I could ride a horse - rather forward in a 'Sandhurst seat' - and looked faintly sinister, they usually cast me as a Mexican."
- Fred MacMurray, The Golden Lily, 1935. Director-pal Edmund Goulding told Niven to quit extra work, found him an agent, Bill Hawks, and made more tests. "Three men did the same scene on the same day with Claudette Colbert - on a park bench complete with popcorn and pigeons. The other two [MacMurray, Ray Milland] got contracts at Paramount but nothing happened to me." Goulding took him to MGM where production chief Irving Thalberg said at a dinner party that he would sign up Niven. Among the guests, producer Samuel Goldwyn pounced first and Louella Parsons reported GOLDWYN SIGNS UNKNOWN. For seven years.
- Frank Lawton, David Copperfield, 1935. Tested to take over David The Man David from the Freddie Bartholomew’s Boy David.
- Alan Marshal, The Garden of Allah, 1936. Passing on both Brits, Niven and Ray Milland, showed (said Dietrich biographer Steven Bach), that producer David Selznick's "star-making instincts were not infallible."
- Patric Knowles, The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938. Before Captain Blood made Errol Flynn a star, Warners mused about Cagney as Robin and Niven as Will Scartlet. Niven was on vacation, closer to the real Sherwood than to Hollywood's.
- George Brent, The Old Maid, 1939. After directing him to Dawn Patrol glory, 1938, Edmund Goulding continued plugging his find - to play Clem, the man that sisters Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins fall for. "That man must be important both in name, performance and appearance... someone to remember. That's why my first impulse was to suggest David Niven." After musing on a Niven/George Brent type, Hal Wallis wanted Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis wanted Alan Marshall. Bogie was fired after a week and Goulding continued to also assist Brent's rise
- Laurence Olivier, Rebecca, 1939.
- Dana Andrews, The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946.
- Cary Grant, The Bishop's Wife, 1947. The guys swopped roles. Cary Grant becoming the angel assisting Niven's dour bishop. Very dour, it was his first film after the tragic, accidental death of his wife.
- David Farrar, Night Without Stars, 1951. Farrar was terrified of the love scenes with Nadia Gray, reported UK producer Hugh Stewart. "Quite frankly, I didn't want him - I wanted Niven." But the Rank Organisation said: "Niven is finished!"
- Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen, 1951. When first suggested for Bette Davis in 1938, although she wanted John Mills - better suited to how John Huston told Bogart to play Charlie Allnut: "The hero is a low life." Indeed, one RKO reader of potent projects famously called the CS Forrester book a “distasteful and not a little disgusting” taleof a “physically unattractive” couple.
- Nigel Patrick, The Sound Barrier, 1952. While making Appointment With Venus, Niven and Kenneth More were asked by director David Lean to take on the small role of a test pilot dying in the attempt to break the sound barrier. Niven wasn't interested. "Dead before the last reel, old bird! Not likely! I'm too old a bird for that. I like to be in at the finish."
- Clark Gable, Soldier of Fortune, 1954. Niven (and Cameron Mitchell) were first announced for the kind of Macao actioner that Gable (and the critics) agreed he was far too old fo . But, hell, it as right up his right-wing, anti-Commie alley. Like a red rag to a bull.
- Dennis Price, Oh... Rosalinda!!, 1955. When Noel Coward proved impossible as the English colonel, UK director Michael Powell ran to his "generous, prudent, kind" shining star from A Matter of Life and Death and The Elusive Pimpernel. But Niven was unavailable.
- Kenneth More, The Admirable Chrichton, 1957. Niven was welcomed home after war service with a cable from Sam Goldwyn: THINK CAN GET YOU ADMIRAL CHRICHTON [sic] WITH PARAMOUNT.
- James Mason, A Touch of Larceny, 1959. Paramount wanted Niv. UK producer Ivan Foxwell kept the faith with Mason. And he was perfect - even suggesting the final title for director Guy Hamilton’s suave 008th film that surely was the reason he was invited into the elite 007 coven for Goldfinger in 1964. Followed, of course, by Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun during 1970-1974. Meanwhile, Niven joined Hamilton’s 009th venture, The Best of Enemies, 1961. Once Mason was in Larceny, a poor UK actor called John Dearth was out… for looking too much like Mason!
- Ronald Howard, Babette s'enva-t-enguerre/Babette GoesTo War,France, 1959. French film historian Philippe Durant said Niven “had the good taste to refuse the film.” So the (empty) British officer went to Leslie Howard's son. The planet was more interested in his co-star. Brigitte Bardot. Unfortunately, with all her clothes on!
- Jerry Lewis, Visit To A Small Planet, 1960. According to Lewis, it was Gore Vidal's idea to cast him. According to the author of the play, "It was Vidal's idea to cast David Niven and Paramount agreed. Then... the dread Jerry Lewis..., somehow got the part which he played as a nine-year-old from outer space”!
- Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia, 1961.
- John Lund, If A Man Answers, 1961. Niven, Nancy Kwan and Claudette Colbert suddenly became Lund, Sandra Dee and… well, it Micheline Presle as Lund’s wife delivering The Line: “If you want a perfect marriage, treat your husband like a dog… Husbands often leave home, pets never. There must be a reason.”
- James Mason, Lolita, 1962. Stanley Kubrick’s first choicefor the paedophile Humbert Humbert had a Broadway date. Laurence Olivierwas warned off replacing Mason by his agent (who was also Kubrick’s agent - Stanwas furious!). Peter Ustinov was considered after his Oscar for Stan’s Spartacus. Niven said yes - then quickly, no, fearing the reaction of the sponsors of his Four Star Playhouse TV show.
- Lloyd Nolan, Circus World, 1963. Originally happy as Cap Carson, Niven quit after the script as churned into “a typical John Wayne film.” That is to say, Niven’s rôle kept shrinking as Duke’s grew taller.
- Sean Connery, Thunderball, 1965.
- Peter Sellers, Woman Times Seven, 1967. Or, Shirley MacLaine times seven. Each Shirl' with a different guy: Alan Arkin, Lex Barker, Rossano Brazzi, Michael Caine, Vittorio Gassman, Sellers, Philippe Noiret, etc. Even Marlon Brando in a tiny cameo sans credit.
- Patrick McGoohan, Ice Station Zebra, 1967. With Niven trapped as Sir James Bondin the circus of the Casino Royale, Hollywood director John Sturges called him urgently which is why McGoohan was not (much) inthe 13th episode of The Prisoner: Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling on Decembner 22, 1967.
- Christopher Plummer, The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975. Having one Panther stolen from under him was enough... He only returned for two more Panthers, but only after delivering the eulogy at Sellers' funeral. By now, Niven was so ill his dialogue was voiced by Canadian impersonater Rich Little.
- Edward Fox, Force Ten From Navarone, 1978. Not quite the "natural successor" to Guns. Nor to Niven.
- Leonard Rossiter, Le Petomane, 1978. Niven’s agent warnedhim off playing Jospeh Pujol (1857-1945), theFrench flatulistappearing before “crowned deaths of Europe” - by making a wholenew art form out of... farting.Peter Sellers’ agent agreed (even though the script was by Tony Hancock’sbrilliant writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson) and Ron Moody fled - not good for his image. (What image?).
- Michael Gough, Batman, 1988.