The Hjördis Niven bookshelf

David Niven - The Moon's A Balloon - book coverThe Moon’s A Balloon
David Niven, 1971
ISBN-10: 0140239243

David’s long-promised autobiography / collection of anecdotes became an international best-seller. Some of the stories, especially from his earlier years, are embroidered from his first fib-encrusted Hollywood promo biography. Many of the stories involving Hjördis do scan as true – if perhaps exaggerated. Her reaction to the book was not positive – “I haven’t read it”. So there.


David Niven - Bring On The Empty Horses book coverBring On The Empty Horses
David Niven, 1975
ISBN-10: 0340839953

The follow up to David’s autobiography is another collection of essays, this time concentrating on his Hollywood years and the characters encountered. According to Hjördis: “Another pack of old lies”.

Not quite. There are stories told purely for entertainment, but the book is also an incisive look at life in Hollywood, and again many of the stories involving Hjördis are true. The highlight is a fascinating chapter about Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, based on first-hand experience.


The films of David Niven, book coverThe Films of David Niven
Gerard Garrett, 1975
ISBN -0 85321  069 1

Glossy 250 page softback, crammed with rarely seen photos from David’s movies. There are two family snaps featuring Hjordis, but the book concentrates on it’s title subject – David’s film career. It is written with the warmth of a fan, but is brutally honest about the quality of many of the movies. An entertaining read!


Igor Cassini - I'd Do It All Over Again - book coverI’d Do It All Over Again
Igor Cassini with Jeanne Moli, 1977
ISBN-10: 0399115536

Igor’s highly entertaining autobiography. Hjördis appears in two pages during his “smorgasbord phase”. The book contains illuminating descriptions of the cafe society / jet set world of the 1940s and 1950s, inhabited by playboys, playgirls, and a variety of gossip columnists.

 


David Niven - Niven's Hollywood book coverNiven’s Hollywood
Tom Hutchinson, 1984

198 page hardback book, intertwining David’s Hollywood career with an illustrated history of Hollywood and its stars during the ‘Golden Age’ from the 1920s-1950s. Lots of great photos. Written by a film critic who knew David personally throughout his days in Hollywood. The biography is warm and the words about David’s films are entertainingly honest. There are a few photos of Hjördis, but the book is about David’s life as a film actor.


The Last Gentleman, A tribute to David NivenThe Last Gentleman, A tribute to David Niven
Peter Haining, 1984
ISBN-0 491 03103 3

220 page hardback split into three sections: David’s life story – with an emphasis on his acting and writing careers; specially written tributes by friends and colleagues; and a filmography.

The first section skims over the marriage – “like all couples, the Nivens were to have their ups and downs”, and the second doesn’t include any words from Hjördis, although she does appear in a few photos.


David Niven - The Other Side Of The Moon - book coverDavid Niven – The Other Side of the Moon
Sheridan Morley, 1985
ISBN-10: 0773680012

The first in-depth David Niven biography, written by the son of actor Robert Morley. It features interviews with David’s sons, and importantly with people who had passed away by the time of the next biography – including Hjördis. In the introduction the book describes the marriage as “often extremely unhappy”, but does not discuss it beyond the temporary break in 1959. Which is fair enough.

Morley, who knew David Niven socially, later said: “David did have some less than admirable qualities. He was an opportunist and he sought out stars as friends. But if those are a man’s worst qualities, he isn’t really a very bad man.”

Hjördis’ input was limited, and she did not demand any say in the book’s contents. In 1991, Sheridan Morley reported her reaction to its appearance on the shelves as “a thunderous silence.”


David Niven book coverDavid Niven – Endearing Rascal
Charles Francisco, 1986
ISBN-0: 86369 218-4

Lesser known American 300 page paperback biography. David’s sons provided some interview material, and there are snippets from a few of David’s friends, but Hjördis’ words mainly come from a 1957 American magazine interview. The bulk of the material comes from press clippings [pot, kettle, black] which are at times rather stretched and over-embellished.

The author occasionally touches on the more difficult aspects of David’s second marriage despite seeking to portray it as a happy, loving success, especially after the short split in 1959. If only.


David Niven - Niv, biography by Graham Lord - book coverNiv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven
Graham Lord, 2003
ISBN-10: 0752859285

The biggest and best David Niven biography, even though it seems to switch to a Hjördis biography half-way through, due to the force of her role – for good and ill – in David’s life. She does not come out of it at all well, despite Graham Lord’s occasional attempts at introducing balance. He seems to get more and more annoyed with her as the book progresses. It looks as if the image captions were added last, by which time Mr Lord was really letting rip.

Considering the weight of Hjördis’ presence in the book, it seems an oversight – and very unfair – that none of her friends and family in Sweden were interviewed.

The author interviewed David’s sons, his adopted daughters Kristina and Fiona, and friends such as Pat Medina, Doreen Hawkins, April Clavell, and, memorably, Lauren Bacall. The story of his interview with Ms Bacall is memorable in itself, and shows the difficulties involved in putting the book together.


True Grace. Wendy LeighTrue Grace – The Life and Times of an American Princess
Wendy Leigh, 2007
ISBN-10: 0312342365

Biography of Princess Grace of Monaco, which pays particular interest to her entanglements before and during her marriage. One chapter is devoted to her “did they, didn’t they” (doesn’t matter) relationship with David. Grace’s “was she, wasn’t she” friendship with Hjördis is also mentioned – with a dispiriting conclusion. The author interviewed David Jr and Jamie Niven, as well as some of David Snr’s friends.


What ho, Giotto! book coverWhat Ho! Giotto
Freddie Owen, 2012
ISBN-10: 1300871350

“An artist’s verbal sketchbook – on life, love of Italy and creation of a studio and garden in Le Marche…” Another garden lovingly described in the book is the one at Lo Scoglietto. The author also speaks warmly of a visit to the Nivens during David’s final winter in Chateau D’Oex, and his family’s subsequent friendship with Hjördis.


Others:

My Word Is My Bond, The Autobiography
Roger Moore, 2008

Kvinnor i elden
Jules Berman, 1954

Killing My Own Snakes
Ann Leslie,  2008

My Lucky Stars
Shirley MacLaine, 1995

Pieces of My Heart: A Life
Robert J Wagner, 2009

Jackie Oh!
Kitty Kelley, 1979


Bogus book corner:

The 2009 David Niven biography “The Man Behind The Balloon” reads as a fantasy in which the author lifts “Niv: The Authorised Biography of David Niven” and writes himself into it. The author’s supposed interviews with Hjördis appear to come straight from his imagination. Check out this Guardian interview with the author.

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