A Trip Down Memory Lane with David Niven
The Thrill of Seeing My Son's Name in the Credits
I really can't think of a favorite entertainer or even favorite movie for that matter. I have always enjoyed going to movies and there are many actors and actresses whose work I admire but none could be called favorites.
Well, if I absolutely had to name a favorite entertainer, it would be my son, Victor, whom I wrote about previously in my Hub entitled The Haunted Cornfield and who is currently studying acting in college. Of course this is just a father's pride. In addition to school productions and his stint at The Haunted Cornfield he has appeared in one movie.
While he was still in high school he landed a part in a film that some college students produced as part of a film course they were taking. It was a short, fifteen minute, production about six evil ninjas who are sent out by their master to kill a frail little blind girl who also happened to be a master at martial arts. The six evil ninjas are covered from head to toe in their robes so none were recognizable, but I knew which one was my son and his character had the distinction of surviving the longest at the hands of the blind girl who she took on all six at once and won. For compensation, my son received a DVD containing the movie (I don't think it even made it to YouTube) and it was thrilling to see his name roll past in the credits at the end.
Around the World in 80 Days
In thinking about my son and his desired career got me to thinking about movies I have seen and the British actor David Niven came to mind. There is no question that Niven was a great actor and I enjoyed each of the movies that I saw him act in. While Niven's acting was memorable and the two films that immediately came to mind were memorable, what really made them stand out in my mind was the fact that I had viewed both of the in the theater with my Father.
The 1956 blockbuster, Around the World in 80 Days, was my first exposure to David Niven. I was about ten years old when we went to see it. There weren't many movies made in those days that my parents felt were appropriate for children, despite the fact that most were rather tame by today's standards, so my brother and I did not get to go to the movies regularly.
Around the World in 80 Days apparently looked promising, so my parents took my brother, baby sister and I over to our Aunt and Uncle's house and they went to see the movie. I remember them talking about it when they returned to pick us up and they both decided that it would be good for my brother and I to see, so the next weekend my Father took my brother and I to the Saturday evening showing. This was a double treat as my Father or Mother had always taken us to matinees for Disney movies.
A Comedy Involving Aspirin and Birth Control Pills
While I went to other movies with my Father as a child, Around the World in 80 Days was the first movie made for a grown up audience that I saw - grown up here referring to the market and not the content.
Ironically, the first movie I went to as an adult with my Father turned out to be another one starring David Niven and this one, although a comedy, was adult themed with a plot and humor that would have gone right over my head at ten. This was Prudence and the Pill (1968) a comedy about an upper class Englishman named Gerald Hardcastle (Niven) and his wife Prudence. Gerald and Prudence's marriage had been dead for a while and, while they lived in the same house, they had separate bedrooms. Gerald had a mistress, Elizabeth, while his wife had a lover, Alan Hewitt (who is also her doctor). Gerald wanted a divorce, but this was the days when divorce was not only rare but also required cause. In the absence of good cause, a man usually ended up being forced to pay a substantial sum in the form of monthly alimony checks in return for her granting him a divorce.
When Gerald's sister unexpectedly become pregnant as a result of her teenage daughter, Geraldine, substituting aspirin for her mother's birth control pills (Geraldine was having an affair with her boyfriend and wanted to take precautions herself) Gerald decided to do the same with his wife's birth control pills. The plan was to substitute aspirin for her pills, hopefully causing her to become pregnant thereby giving him evidence of her infidelity which would allow him to divorce her without having to pay alimony. However, Gerald's plan was foiled when the family maid, Rose, decided to substitute the vitamins that Ted, the family chauffeur and her boyfriend, had been giving her, for Prudence's birth control pills. Of course Ted, looking for a simple sexual fling with protection, had been supplying Rose with birth control pills and calling them vitamins to hide his real intentions. The end result was that all of the women eventually got pregnant with the fathers marrying the mothers. In the final scene the four fathers are seen walking together pushing their prams (strollers) with their babies in them.
While the humor is dated, it was funny to those of us familiar with the sexual mores of the 1950s . I saw it a decade or so after its 1968 release at the Dryden Theater in my hometown of Rochester, New York. The Dryden is the theater on the grounds of the George Eastman (founder of Eastman Kodak) House Museum and is the theater where the films in the museum's huge film archive are shown, along with other classic films. My parents had a membership in the museum's film society and frequently went to their weekly shows. When I went back home for visits I often accompanied my father to shows at the Dryden and Prudence and the Pill was one of those that stuck in my mind.
I Don't Remember him in My Mother's Favorite Movie
The entry for David Niven in WikiPedia lists 97 films in which Niven appeared between 1932 and 1983. While I have probably seen more, I recognized ten as ones I remember having seen. Of these, Around the World in 80 Days was the only one that I remember seeing when it was first released with the others having been seen on TV, on video or as a re-run. Some, including The Road to Hong Kong (1962), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Pink Panther (1963) and Rose Marie (1936), I don't recall Niven being in and don't remember his part. While others, including Around the World in 80 Days (1956) and Prudence and the Pill (1968), along with Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960), Casino Royale (1960), Murder by Death (1976) and Death on the Nile (1978) I remember both him and the movie well.
His part must have been very minor in Rose Marie as I saw that one on TV at least five times while growing up as my Mother was a huge fan of Nelson Eddy who had the lead role along with Jeanette MacDonald in that film. If my Mother were writing this she would have had no problem identifying her favorite entertainer, and would have written about Nelson Eddy. Every time a Nelson Eddy movie was broadcast my Mother saw to it that the TV was turned to that channel (those were the days when homes had one, black and white, TV with three channels (ABC, NBC and CBS) from which to choose.
A World War II Commando
Niven's first career choice was the military and, after graduating from Britain's Royal Military College at Sandhurst, he received a commission as an officer in the British Army. However, he soon found service in the peace time army between World War I and World War II to be too boring and resigned his commission after a few years of service. He then traveled to the United States where he eventually embarked on a career in acting.
Following the start of World War II Niven returned to England and rejoined the army.
World War II was an all out war in which all of each nation's efforts and resources went to the war effort. Actors, like everyone else in the nation, were expected to do their part and most did. Many American actresses and older actors, like Bob Hope and Jimmy Durante, toured the world with the USO entertaining the troops at the front. Others, like Ronald Reagan, were drafted into the Army and assigned to Hollywood where they made training films for the troops along with films for distribution in theaters. These were essentially propaganda films designed to both entertain and keep up the spirit of the people on the home front. And, then there was the final group, which included men like America's Jimmy Stewart and England's David Niven, who enlisted and volunteered for combat positions.
Stewart enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps where he was first assigned to a unit making training and other films before getting himself assigned to flying B-24 Liberator bombers on bombing missions over Germany. Following the war, Stewart remained in the Air Force Reserve and ultimately rose to the rank of Brigadier General. Niven rejoined the British Army as an officer when the war started for Britain.
Like Jimmy Stewart, his original duties were training and movie production for the war effort. In addition to assisting with productions he ended up staring in two war movie productions one of which also included actor Peter Ustinov who, as a private in the Army was later assigned to Niven as his batman (an enlisted man assigned to an officer as the officer's personal servant) during the war and after the war co-stared with Niven in the movie Death on the Nile. Like Stewart, Niven wanted to see action and, after being accepted in the Commandos, was assigned to a Phantom Signals Unit which were Commando units that were posted at the front with responsibility for reporting enemy locations as well as keeping commanders in the rear updated on the ever changing lines at the front.
According to WikiPedia Niven, like many veterans who experienced combat first hand, never spoke much after the war about his military experience. Having experienced war's death and destruction first hand, he was apparently not anxious to relive or glorify it. But, despite being reticent about recounting his experiences after the war, he appears to have kept his sense of humor during the war as WikiPedia recounts a story about his attempting to ease his men's fears before a mission in which heavy casualties were expected by saying "It's all very well for you chaps, but I'll have to do this all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!" Unlike American film star Audie Murphy who ended up reliving his entire war experience in the 1955 movie To Hell and Back, the war movies that Niven appeared in after World War II were about battles other than the ones in which he had participated in as a soldier.
The Benefits of a Challenge
One of the benefits of taking on the challenge of writing on an assigned topic, such as HubMob topics, topics in the Requests tab of HubPages or the topics assigned in contests run by HubPages, is that you don't know exactly where the article will ultimately lead.
The article obviously has to stay within the bounds of the assigned topic and the writer has to have some knowledge of the topic to start with. However, as you work through the false starts, make discoveries as you are fact checking and continue to think and rethink the topic, you end up not only learning a lot of new things (many of which never find their way into the final article) but also, for me at least, find the process as interesting (but more time consuming) as reading a good article by another writer.
Writing this brought back many fond memories of films I have seen, both those with Niven in them as well as others. along with memories and insights into my Father and memorable times and experiences shared with him.
As a result of writing this I expect to be spending more time in the classic section of the video store looking for more of the 97 films with Niven in them. He could even end up being my favorite.