David Niven's best known film roles are probably the Pink Panther series (despite being overshadowed by Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau) and The Guns of Navarone, but mostly he's famous for being, by a considerable margin, the most English man ever to go to Hollywood.
Before becoming an actor, Niven was an officer in the peacetime British Army; when the Second World War started, he rejoined for the duration. A measure of his popularity and success is that after seven years of war, during which he appeared in only two films (both government-sponsored propaganda pieces), he was still the second most popular film star in Britain. It was probably the moustache.
In most of his films Niven played a somewhat effete British gentleman, and looked distinctly out of place in his occasional action roles; this despite the fact that he spent much of the war as a commando.
Ian Fleming considered him the ideal actor for the role of James Bond. He only played him once, in Casino Royale 1967, which most people don't know, and many of those who know it think it doesn't count, being a comedy.
Tropes associated with David Niven
- Crowning Moment of Awesome: While presenting at the 1974 Academy Awards a "streaker" somehow gets onstage and runs naked behind him on live television. A startled but amused Niven immediately quipped:
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen. But isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?"
- Deadpan Snarker: When serving in the Second World War, Niven remarked, just before leading his troops into action, "Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I'll have to do it over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn."
- Nice to the Waiter: The biggest bunch of flowers at his funeral was sent by the porters at Heathrow Airport. The note with it read: "To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls. He made a porter feel like a king."
- Quintessential British Gentleman