By Peter Ustinov, Penguin, 1979
While looking for the perfect picture of Peter Ustinov, I was struck by how many of them included Muppets*. Was that a thing? Then again, I associate him with my childhood movie life, either from early cinema experiences (Death on the Nile, Logan's Run) or from movies before my time that my mother suggested we watch on TV (We're No Angels, Hot Millions), so it kind of fits.
Ustinov was born in London, the son of a native German aristocrat who had served in the Kaiser's army in World War I and became a press officer at the German embassy in London (and spy for MI5). Ustinov's mother was a painter and designer for the ballet. Peter attended the tony Westminster School and turned to the theatre to relieve the tedium (he said). His parents fought constantly, and his childhood was not a happy one.
During the Second World War, Ustinov enlisted as a private and became the "batman" for David Niven, a high-ranking officer, so they could associate with one another reasonably within the boundaries of military protocol to work on the film, The Way Ahead. for which Ustinov was one of the screenwriters.
Primarily known as an actor, Ustinov was also a playwright, radio personality, and raconteur. He won a couple Academy Awards, a few Emmys, a Grammy, and a BAFTA in the course of his career. No Tony, but he *was* nominated. He spoke English, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish fluently and could fake it in a few others.
In and around his film and television appearances, Ustinov served as an ambassador for UNICEF, wrote a bunch of books, and was appointed Chancellor of Durham University (England) in 1992. So he was *that* guy, but apparently a really nice one (cf. Muppets).
I've always liked him in the biblical pictures -- the chubby, smart, mostly charming weasel in a robe -- but I had a particular fondness for him as the romantic lead to Maggie Smith in the crime caper, Hot Millions. They seemed so sweet and companionable.
Peter Ustinov died of heart failure at the age of 82 in his home in Switzerland.