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Peter Ustinov

Peter Ustinov

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Also Known As: Peter Alexander Ustinov, Sir Peter Ustinov Died: March 28, 2004
Born: April 16, 1921 Cause of Death: heart failure
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: actor, author, director, screenwriter, playwright, set designer, costume designer, composer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

By his mid-20s, this burly, multi-faceted talent had achieved considerable success in both theater and cinema directing, writing and acting in cultivated, witty comedies. Peter Ustinov later won international acclaim and reached the peak of his fame in the early 1960s for his appearances in sweeping epics and lighthearted romps. He won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, for his clown in "Spartacus" (1960) and his engaging con man in "Topkapi" (1964). Ustinov has also earned critical praise for his directorial efforts (which he also produced, starred in and wrote): "Romanoff and Juliet" (1962), a biting Cold War satire based on his own play, the bracing "Billy Budd" (1962) and the "Faust"-inspired Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton vehicle "Hammersmith Is Out" (1972). The spotlight fell on Ustinov as a personality, too. Throughout the 60s and early 70s, he was a favored raconteur on talk shows whether or not he was publicizing a film. Yet his increasing girth often made his screen work seem either effortless or as if he were holding back and only giving a lazy indication of what he could muster.Ustinov was only 17 years old when he made his stage debut in "The Wood Demon" in the provinces. The following...

By his mid-20s, this burly, multi-faceted talent had achieved considerable success in both theater and cinema directing, writing and acting in cultivated, witty comedies. Peter Ustinov later won international acclaim and reached the peak of his fame in the early 1960s for his appearances in sweeping epics and lighthearted romps. He won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, for his clown in "Spartacus" (1960) and his engaging con man in "Topkapi" (1964). Ustinov has also earned critical praise for his directorial efforts (which he also produced, starred in and wrote): "Romanoff and Juliet" (1962), a biting Cold War satire based on his own play, the bracing "Billy Budd" (1962) and the "Faust"-inspired Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton vehicle "Hammersmith Is Out" (1972). The spotlight fell on Ustinov as a personality, too. Throughout the 60s and early 70s, he was a favored raconteur on talk shows whether or not he was publicizing a film. Yet his increasing girth often made his screen work seem either effortless or as if he were holding back and only giving a lazy indication of what he could muster.

Ustinov was only 17 years old when he made his stage debut in "The Wood Demon" in the provinces. The following year, he made his London debut in the title role of "The Bishop of Limpopoland," a sketch at the Players Club, which he also wrote. His first play to reach NYC was "The Loves of Four Colonels" (1953) but it was not until 1957 that he made his Broadway acting debut as The General in "Romanoff and Juliet," which he wrote. (He later toured the USA and the Soviet Union with the show.) By the time of his American debut, Ustinov was a top draw in England, having either written or starred in numerous stage productions. He continued playing roles on stage well into the 80s and in 1990 performed internationally in the one-man show "An Evening With Peter Ustinov." Proving to be a true man of the theater, Ustinov has not only performed in and written shows but also has directed (e.g., "Fishing for Shadows" 1940) and designed sets and costumes (for the 1973 London production of "The Unknown Soldier and His Wife"). Among his successes as playwright are "Who's Who in Hell" (1974), and "Beethoven's Tenth" (1984).

Moving to the big screen in 1940, the portly, often mustachioed actor was featured in the British propaganda film "Mein Kampf, My Crimes." He went on to play the title role in "Private Angelo" (1949), a deserter from the Italian army who accidentally becomes a hero, and garnered kudos for his turn as Emperor Nero in the costume epic "Quo Vadis" (1951). Some critics claim he stole the show as Lentulus Batiatus in "Spartacus" as he unquestionably did in "Topkapi," as the duped con man turned mole. (The scene in which he is asked to hold the rope during the crime is alone worth the price of admission.) "Romanoff and Juliet" (1961) was adapted from the stage play, with Ustinov recreating his role. "Viva Max!" (1969) found him playing a Mexican general retaking the Alamo, and in 1978, he began his impersonations of Agatha Christie's master detective Hercule Poirot in "Death on the Nile," a role he again essayed in "Evil Under the Sun" (1982) and in three TV-movies produced in the 80s. More recently, he was a stuffy expert in "Lorenzo's Oil (1992).

On the small screen, Ustinov's work has often tilted towards the high brow, or substantive or prestige projects. He appeared in numerous installments of NBC's "Omnibus" series in the late 50s, including an Emmy-winning portrayal of Dr Samuel Johnson, and was a regal Herod the Great in Franco Zeffirelli's miniseries "Jesus of Nazareth" (NBC, 1977). Mostly, Ustinov is remembered for several remarkable Emmy-winning performances in "Hallmark Hall of Fame" specials: as Socrates in "Barefoot in Athens" (1966) and as a Jewish deli owner who takes in a black youth in "A Storm in Summer" (1970). he also was "Gideon" (NBC, 1971), the Israelite who defeats the oppressors only to have his own vainglory defeat himself. Ustinov has frequently hosted and/or narrated reality-based shows, such as "Omni: The New Frontier" (syndicated, 1981), and numerous specials. Although very British in manners, he was outwardly proud of his Russian heritage, speaking of it often and creating and hosting: "Peter Ustinov's Russia: A Personal History" for the BBC in 1986.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Memed My Hawk (1987) Director
2.
  Hammersmith Is Out (1972) Director
3.
  Lady L (1966) Director
4.
  Billy Budd (1962) Director
5.
  Romanoff and Juliet (1961) Director
6.
  Private Angelo (1949) Director
7.
  Vice Versa (1948) Director
8.
  School For Secrets (1946) Director
9.

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Luther (2003) Prince Frederick
2.
 My Khmer Heart (2000) Narrator
3.
 Animal Farm (1999) Voice Of Old Major
4.
 Bachelor, The (1999) Grandad
5.
 Alice in Wonderland (1999) Walrus
6.
 Stiff Upper Lips (1997) Horace
7.
 Phoenix and the Magic Carpet, The (1995) Voice Of Phoenix
8.
9.
 Inside the Vatican (1994) Narration
10.
 Inside the Vatican (1994) Host
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1938:
First stage appearance as Waffles in "The Wood Demon" at Barn Theatre in Shere
:
Joined Leonard Sachs' Players' Theatre where he wrote and performed monologues
1939:
Joined Aylesbury Repertory Company
1941:
Screen acting debut, "Mein Kampf" (semi-documentary)
:
Recited his monologues in a short film, "Hello, Fame!"
1941:
Wrote first full-length staged play, "House of Regrets"
1941:
Began stage directing career with "Squaring the Circle"
1942:
Joined Royal Sussex Regiment of Army; transferred to the Directorate of Army Psychiatry, writing recruitment and propaganda films
1944:
First screenwriting credit, "The Way Ahead" (with Eric Ambler)
1946:
Directed first film, "School For Secrets"; also screenplay)
1949:
First film as producer, "Private Angelo"; also director and screenplay)
1953:
NY stage debut as playwright, "The Love of Four Colonels"
1957:
Broadway acting debut, "Romanoff and Juliet"; also wrote play; later toured the USA
1957:
US TV debut, "The Life of Samuel Johnson"; won first Emmy Award
1960:
Won first Oscar for his comic turn in "Spartacus"
1964:
Co-starred in "Topkapi"; won second Oscar
1978:
Played Hercule Poirot in "Death on the Nile"
1981:
Hosted TV series, "Omni: The New Frontier"
1986:
Served as host for BBC TV series "Peter Ustinov's Russia: A Personal History"
1992:
Last film for seven years, "Lorenzo's Oil"
1999:
Returned to features as a tea plantation owner in Raj India in the comic spoof "Stiff Upper Lips"
2001:
Appeared in the British TV drama "Victoria & Albert"; aired on A&E in USA
2003:
Co-starred in "Luther," a biopic of religious reformer Martin Luther
2003:
Cast as William Stoughton in the TV MiniSeries "The Salem Witch Trials
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Mr Gibbs Prep School: -
Westminster School: -
London Theatre Studio: - 1937 - 1939

Notes

He was named Commander of the British Empire in 1975 and knighted in 1990.

Until 2000 when Michael Caine picked up his second Oscar, Ustinov was the only British male to have won two acting Academy Awards.

"Peter Ustinov is probably the most famous and popular middlebrow entertainer in Britain today. Equally in his plays as in his turns, he always seems to be 'on', to be there, providing a characteristic flourish, a typical ironic joke, a custom-built piece of business, as if the characters and players were projections of himself beaming from some 3-D projector backstage." --Critic Alan Brien, quoted in "The Great Stage Stars" by Sheridan Morley.

Ustinov was a rector of Dundee University (1968, and 1971-73).

He a recipient of the Distingished Service Award, UNICEF (1975).

He was awarded the Prix de la Butte (1978).

Ustinov was named Best Actor for the Variety Clubs of Great Britain (1979).

He was named Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1985 by the French government.

Ustinov was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris (1988).

Among the honorary degrees Ustinov has received are an honorary doctrate in music from the Cleveland Institute of Music (1967), honorary LLDs from the University of Dundee (1969), LaSalle College of Philadelphia (1971) and University of Lancaster (1972) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto (1984).

Received the UNICEF medal for distinguished services

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Suzanne Cloutier. Actor. Married on February 15, 1954; divorced in 1971; mother of Pavla, Igor and Andrea.
wife:
Helene du Lau d'Allemans. Press agent. Married in 1972.

Family close complete family listing

grandfather:
Alexandre Benois. Art director. Designed Abel Gance's "Napoleon"; maternal grandparent.
father:
Iona Von Ustinov. Journalist, diplomat. German; wrote under the pseudonym 'Klop'.
mother:
Nadia Benois. Painter, stage designer.
daughter:
Tamara Ustinov. Born on July 25, 1945; mother, Isolde Denham.
daughter:
Pavla Ustinov. Mother, Suzanne Cloutier.
son:
Igor Ustinov. Mother, Suzanne Cloutier.
daughter:
Andrea Ustinov. Mother, Suzanne Cloutier.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"House of Regrets: A Tragi-Comedy in Three Acts" Jonathan Cape
"The Banbury Nose: A Play in Four Acts" Jonathan Cape
"The Love of Four Colonels: A Play in Three Acts" English Theatre Guild
"The Moment of Truth: A Play in Four Acts" English Theatre Guild
"Romanov and Juliet: A Comedy in Three Acts" English Theatre Guild
"Add a Dash of Pity" Little, Brown
"Ustinov's Diplomats" Bernard Geiss Associates
"The Loser" Little, Brown
"We Were Only Human" Little, Brown
"Photo Finish: An Adventure in Biography in Three Acts" Heinemann
"The Frontiers of the Sea" Little, Brown
"The Unknown Soldier and His Wife: Two Acts of War Separated by a Truce" Random House
"Halfway Up the Tree: A Comedy in Three Acts" Random House
"Krumnagel" Little, Brown
"Ustinov in Focus" Zwemmer
"Dear Me" Little, Brown
"The Old Man and Mr. Smith: A Fable" Michael O'Mara Books
"My Russia" Little, Brown
"Beethoven's Tenth" Samuel French
"Ustinov in Russia" Michael O'Mara Books
"The Disinformer: Two Novellas" Arcade
"Quotable Ustinov" Prometheus Books
"Ustinov Still at Large" Prometheus Books
"Life Is an Operetta and Other Short Stories" Prometheus Books
"Monsieur Rene: A Novel" Prometheus Books
VIEW COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY

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