by Sheridan Morley ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1985
This first authorized biography is not as relentlessly sparkling as Niven's own accounts of his life and times--and for good reason. Morley, who views The Moon's a Balloon and Bring On the Empty Horses as Niven's ""finest performances"" has sifted through all the self-generated aprocrypha, seeking the true Niven behind the soignâ€š pose. He was born in London (not in Kirriemuir, Scotland, as he always claimed). ""Cirrhosis-by-the-sea,"" the beachhouse celebrated in The Moon's a Balloon, was shared with character-actor Robert Coote, not (as Niven told it) with Errol Flynn. (Friends were resigned to such switches of personnel in his anecdotes.) Despite all the adjustments of fact, however, it becomes clear that the charming pose was fed by a wellspring of genuine charm and courage in the man. A final note to Deborah Kerr reads ""Dear old chum, don't stretch the elastic too far, because it maps."" The death of his adored first wife Prinnie (she fell down a flight of stairs while playing a parlor game at her first Hollywood party after the war) is also movingly described by old friends who remember the change it wrought in Niven. Says Douglas Fairbanks, he was always like champagne, but after Prinnie's death ""the fizz went out of him."" Morley is amusing, if sometimes ungenerous, in his assessment of Niven's film career. None can quarrel with his dismissal of Casino Royale (""[it] looked like an all-night party of Bond freaks photographed by a surveillance system""), but Stairway to Heaven was an excellent film despite its poor box-office showing. The finest moments here, however, are actually provided by Niven's friends, who offer deeper insights than one expects of celebrities in a celebrity biography. There is Richard Haydn on Niven's second marriage: ""[Hjordis] was wonderfully decorative and always smelt gorgeous, but there was something odd about her. She always looked like a perfectly decorated house in which nobody actually lived, and David treated her rather like a precious toy that might get broken if you were too rough with it."" And the best overview (if rather sobering one) is offered by Anthony Quayle, a co-star in The Guns of Navarone: ""He didn't think acting was any kind of an art: he thought it was all a great treasure hunt for the girls and the caviar. He had no comment to make on the world, and after a while it became almost unbearable to hear him telling the same stories over and over again. He wasn't really an actor: he was a man who presented himself to the world over and over again."" A balanced, well-written book, quite a cut above the usual. It supplies perspective on the man--but it doesn't make a dent in his formidable charm.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1985
Page Count: -
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985
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