I’ve just finished reading this book by David Niven. I think, it’s for the third time. Each time I find something different to appreciate and always I laugh and find myself thinking what a wonderful writer this man is. His life story is full of the twists and turns we see in our own – some of his abrupt and sad and yet everything in this book is touched with kindness and a gentle good humour. Not only does it give a glimpse of the ‘real’ Hollywood in the glory days of Boogie and Bacall, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Cary Grant, Clark Gable and even newspaper magnate R. W Hearst, you also discover these people were his friends and have stories to tell that lift them from celluloid imagery into the real world. You also get a glimpse of the way ‘the system’ treated stars and extras (he was both at one time), and the great excess that abounded in the US before WW2. Niven went back to Britain, fought in the war and managed to return intact to his acting career. The title of the book comes from a moment during the shooting of the film, The Charge of the Light Brigade. I know I shouldn’t but I will:
“Mike Curtiz was the director of the Charge and his Hungarian-orientated English was a source of joy to us all.
High on his rostrum he decided that the right moment had come to order the arrival on the scene of a hundred head of riderless chargers. ‘Okay,’ he yelled into a megaphone – ‘Bring on the empty horses!’
Flynn and I doubled up with laugher. ‘You lousy bums,’ Curtiz shouted, ‘you and your stinking language. . . you think I knowfucknothing . . . well, let me tell you – I know FUCK ALL!'”
But the most delightful person in this book appears near the end. Clemence Dane, known to her friends as Winifred, is an older woman who came from a successful life in England where she was highly regarded for her novels, short stories, sculpture and paintings; to write screen plays in Hollywood. In Winifred I saw a role model. I may not necessarily go so far as to fashion a hat out of toilet paper and fill it with paints, but when it comes to appreciating the colours of a sunrise or the pleasure of the company of children, I’m with Winifred.
Thank you Dave. Another great read.
P.S ‘The Moon’s a Balloon” is just as good.