13 March 2018

I hope Mr G. will give me back my old dressing room

When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, British actor David Niven left Hollywood to rejoin the British Army. (In the early 1930s, Niven had also been in the Army but quit to pursue an acting career.) Back in Britain, Niven was recommissioned as a lieutenant, then later joined the British Commandos and eventually took part in the Normandy invasion in June 1944. Despite public interest in his wartime experiences, Niven never really talked about the war. What he reportedly did say was: "I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war." 

From the following letter, written by David Niven to a friend named "Irving" several months after the end of WWII, it is quite clear that Niven wanted to forget all about the war. He was terribly excited to return "home" (i.e. Hollywood) having missed the life and his friends there. Before Niven left for Europe in 1939, he was under contract to independent producer Samuel Goldwyn and now, back from the war, was eager to pick up where he left off. 

As Goldwyn didn't have a project for him right away, Niven (while still in England) was loaned out to British producers Powell and Pressburger to star in their film A Matter of Life and Death (1946). He returned to Hollywood next, where he did a few other loan-outs, i.e. Magnificent Doll (1946), The Perfect Marriage (1946) and The Other Love (1947), before he worked for Goldwyn again. His first post-war film for Goldwyn was The Bishop's Wife (1947) co-starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young. (Production of The Bishop's Wife started in February 1947 and not in January 1946 like Niven said in his letter.) 

Niven and Goldwyn had a difficult relationship, with Niven often complaining about being loaned out to other studios while Goldwyn got the bulk of the loan-out money. In 1949, Niven was released from his Goldwyn contract and, despite the temporary career setback that followed, went on to have a successful film career, even winning the Oscar for Best Actor for Separate Tables (1958). 


c/o Boodles Club
St James's Street
London. S.W. 1

4 October

My dear Irving

I am afraid it is quite a while since I last wrote- forgive me.

Well, I am now once more a civilian and after over six years of Active Service believe me I am thoroughly satisfied with my blue suit and felt hat! 

It has been a long haul since I last saw you, and I just have to thank God for letting me come through O.K. without a scratch.

All I want to do now is to draw a heavy veil over the years since 1939 and forget I ever left Hollywood. 

I have missed the life the interest and above all my friends of the Industry so terribly during all this time and now when it seems that in a couple of months time I shall be back again-- I just can't believe it will ever come true!!

"Mr. G" 
I hope Mr. G will give me back my old dressing room-- No 5. I am terribly excited about coming "home" and will be reporting to the Studio a day or two before Xmas. I am supposed to start "Bishops Wife" on 1 Jan. At least that was the last information I had but I expect you know much more about all the arrangements than I do.

Mr Goldwyn has got me on his hands for five years "straight" so we ought to be working together a lot- - I hope so with all my heart. 

Please make certain that you are going to be on my first picture. I shall need all the help and encouragement I can get from my old friends-- I have six years to catch up! 

What is the news of Greg and Mac, Eddie and Ralph? And where is Bob Coburn? Is Bobby Webb still at the studio and will Bob Stephanoff be faced with the insurmountable task of trying to make me look good! Please give any of these old friends my best regards and of course Danny Mandel, Bob McIntyre and Al Evans, not forgetting Julie Heron, Frank Meyer, Eddie [?], Walter Mayo etc and all those great old pals in your department. Joe etc.

We'll have some great days together. Incidentally, I don't believe I was ever the temperamental type but if ever I show any signs of it please remind me of what I was doing exactly one year ago today-- I was working in Antwerp with showers of bloody V.1.s and V.2.s coming down on my head like hail, so compared with that and a lot of other things that have happened since I last saw you, I don't think anything the film industry can do to me will be anything but pure unadulterated heaven! 

While waiting for a boat and, most important, a new arrival in my family I am doing a picture here. A big Technicolor epic called "A Matter of Life and Death". Ray Massey is in it with me and we have laughed a good deal. I am due to sail for N.Y. on 10 Dec. and I am counting the days.

My very best wishes and kindest regards to all of your family. I am longing to see you again.

Yours ever
David Niven

P.S. Don't forget to find out about my dressing room!!

Images of Niven's letter courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Pictured above: David Niven and Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and below: Niven with Cary Grant and Loretta Young in The Bishop's Wife (1947).

1 comment:

  1. “You can count on Errol Flynn, he’ll always let you down.” – David Niven