Niv: The Authorized Biography of David Niven
By Graham Lord
Reviewed by Bruce Handy
Vanity Fair scribe and editor Bruce Handy was thoroughly entertained by Graham Lord’s biography of David Niven, aka “Niv.” And in case you were all, “Niv? Whaaat?” Mr. Handy explains to us that Niv is short for Niven. David’s last name: “(cf. Coop for Gary Cooper or Hef for Hugh Hefner).” Ohhhh, thanks for clarifying. To illustrate Niv’s self-deprecating attitude, Handy quotes him telling John Hurt: “I know exactly what my position is, old cock: I’m second-rate star.” We appreciated this penis reference and were appropriately satisfied with this week’s NYTBR vulgarity quota. But, boy oh boy, that was before we read on. Handy explains that Niv was known for being unreliable and as a result, Lord had a difficult time separating fact from fiction. He points to this example as one of the key mysteries that has had Niv scholars scratching their heads for decades:
One example: While Niven was in the Italian Alps filming a skiing sequence for The Pink Panther in subzero weather, his penis became frostbitten. He was advised to soak it in alcohol as a first-aid treatment, and, quickly returning to his hotel, went to the bar, asked for a brandy glass full of whiskey and took it to the men's room. Question: When another patron walked in, saw Niven with his penis in a snifter and gasped, "What are you doing?" Did the actor quip that he was urinating "in a brandy glass. I always do," (Niven's account in "The Moon's a Balloon") or "I always give it a drink now and then" (Lord's account, based on an interview with Robert Wagner)?
Answer: We’re putting our money on Robert Wagner. We assume the star of “Becoming Dick” (incidentally directed by Bob Saget) knows a thing or two about, um, “drinking” penises.