Tags: Celebrities. Famous people. Actors. David Niven
HELLY’S CELEBRITIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY
Thanks to Lindsay Betremieux, one of Dr. Laurence Khoo’s delightful receptionists at his Welsby Parade Medical Centre in Bongaree, you can now share this extraordinary anecdote with one of Britain’s most loved film stars of the 20th Century: DAVID NIVEN.
When I first started writing the regular celebrity features for the Bribie Islander 15 months ago, Lindsay asked me if I had ever interviewed David Niven, nicknamed Niv, her very favourite actor. I had always cherished a special note which Niven once wrote me on a plane and so copied and laminated it for Lindsay. And now here it is. But although I was as star struck about him as Lindsay was, I never managed to talk to Niv, in spite of both of us having worked simultaneously in different locations on the same film sets, like PINK PANTHER movies and DEATH ON THE NILE.
Helly Kemp(left) and David In ‘Death On The Nile'(right)
But his films which I loved most were AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, 55 DAYS IN PEKING and THE LITTLE HUT. Born in London, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace in 1910, Niv attended the Sandhurst Military Academy and served with the Highland Light Infantry in Malta for two years.
And although he was Britain’s top star he re-joined the army in the Rifle Brigade the minute World War II broke out. His Batman was Peter Ustinov. But in spite of six years absence from the screen, except for two war propaganda films in 1942 and 1944, Niven came 2nd in the 1945 Popularity Poll.
On his return to Hollywood, he was made a Legionnaire Of The Order of Merit, the highest American order given to a foreigner. But in spite of all the love, success and reverence Niven received from the public, his children, friends and the peers in his career and having been described as the greatest British actor of the century, nothing could make up for his unhappy 43-year marriage to Swedish model Hjordis Genberg, a disastrous marriage he refused to abandon.
But he never lost his sense of humour as certified by this delightful note to me. I was walking through first class onboarding a British Airways London to Milan flight when I spotted David and his wife at a window seat to my left. I had recently discussed with his agent, Theo Cowan, to do a photo feature with my brilliant photographer business partner, Nino Mascardi, at Niven’s Cap Ferrat villa on the French Riviera.
‘Dear White Cap! 23D’
I did not want to disturb Niven face on, so I went to my seat, wrote him a short note, mentioning that I was the girl in the white leather cap in seat 23D should he wish to discuss it further, and handed the note to the flight attendant. I just love his promise on the note of never writing on a sick bag again!
The epitome of British humour and a British gentleman! And how well this was confirmed when he died in 1983 from a motor neuron disease. The card attached to the biggest wreath at the funeral came from the porters at Heathrow Airport: “To the finest gentleman who ever walked these halls. He made a porter feel like a king.”