Were David Niven still with us today, he'd be celebrating his 100th birthday! This debonair actor has long been one of my favourites, perhaps because I've always had a soft spot for the Brits, due to my own British parentage. I think he was also one of a handful of actors whom I was familiar with at a fairly early age. Although I would have been too young to have seen him in 1963's The Pink Panther when it first premiered on the big screen, it seems that movie was one of my favourite comedies once it started turning up regularly on TV just a few years later. It was from viewing this film again that I have created this caricature of David Niven.
In The Pink Panther, David Niven was cast as Charles Lytton, who is also secretly "The Phantom", a notorious jewel thief who has his sights set on the "Pink Panther" diamond owned by Princess Dala, played by beautiful Claudia Cardinale. Totally unaware of Lytton being "The Phantom" is the klutzy Inspector Clouseau, brilliantly brought to life by Peter Sellers. This is a film I can watch over and over again, not only for the rich comedy and sophisticated cast, but also that wonderful music score by Henry Mancini. Interestingly, though David Niven was meant to be the main star of The Pink Panther, he was upstaged by Peter Sellers in what was his first major Hollywood film role. Still, Niven holds his own and is a very engaging character throughout.
He also famously portrayed the extremely punctual Phileas Fogg in the all-star movie adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days, from 1956. Just recently, I caught a showing of The Guns From Navarone on TCM, which is another one of his best films. I hadn't seen it in years and had forgotten just how good it is. Tragically, David Niven was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, which left him severely debilitated in his last few years before he passed away in 1983 at the age of 73. In tribute on his 100th birthday, let's all raise a glass to this charismatic gentleman of the movies!