A copy-and-paste hack job masquerading as a biography, Graham Lord’s Niv revels in smutty, lifelessly rendered anecdotes about the late English actor David Niven (1910–1983). There’s an earlier, better Niven bio on the shelves: Sheridan Morley’s 1985 The Other Side of the Moon. The star in question also penned a pair of successful memoirs, The Moon’s a Balloon (1971) and Bring on the Empty Horses (1975). Lord quotes incessantly from these three books; without them, he would have none of his own.
In addition to cribbing passages from other writers, Lord displays a curious interest in the size of Niven’s phallus. I lost track of how many penis references that Lord inserts, yet—if you’ll forgive a mixed metaphor—they pop up perennially throughout Niv. Lord follows a sensitively wrought two-page essay on the death of Niven’s 28-year-old first wife with, “He had an incredible, peculiar way of grieving for her…he had an erection all the time…and it became quite difficult to walk around.”
Why does Lord think it’s essential for us to know this? His tone reeks of the worshipful vulgarity I associate with Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. “Beneath Niv’s smooth façade,” Lord writes, “there was still a deep well of insecurity that was deepened by the hiccup in his career.” In spite of Lord’s unquestioning reverence for Niven, he paints the actor as a dilettantish control freak who wouldn’t allow his second wife, the Swedish model Hjördis Tersmeden, to have a profession once they’d tied the knot. Hjördis disintegrated into an aimless, drunken boor, and Lord (all too conveniently) tries to portray the denied wife as a villain.
Lord’s arrogant tastelessness extends to mocking the e.e. cummings poem from which Niven titled The Moon’s a Balloon. The bangers-and-mash Lord reprints “who knows if the moon’s,” then dismisses cummings’ delicate, whimsical wordplay as “doggerel” and “twee drivel.” Lord’s clumsy, prurient book nonetheless spurs a faint eagerness to re-watch a couple of Niven classics: the Oscar-winning turn in 1958’s Separate Tables or the 1938 anti-war film The Dawn Patrol. – N.P. THOMPSON
Originally published in Seattle Weekly.
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