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(1921–2004). British actor and writer.

Appeared in: An Angel over Brooklyn (Ladislao Vajda 1957); John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (J. Lee THOMPSON 1965); Blackbeard's Ghost (Robert STEVENSON 1968); One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (Stevenson 1975); Logan's Run (Michael ANDERSON 1976); episode of The Muppet Show (1976); The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Marty Feldman 1977); Jesus of Nazareth (Franco Zeffirelli 1977); The Thief of Baghdad (tv movie) (Clive Donner 1978); The Great Muppet Caper (Jim HENSON 1981); The Search for Santa Claus (1981); Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (Donner 1981); Omni: The New Frontier (tv series; host) (1981); Around the World in Eighty Days (tv miniseries) (1989); The Phoenix and the Magic Carpet (Zoran Perisic 1995); Alice in Wonderland (tv movie) (Nick Willing 1999); Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (tv documentary) (Jan Harlan 2001).

Provided voice for animated films: Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird (Pierre Grimault 1959); Robin Hood (Wolfgang Reitherman 1973); The Mouse and His Child (Charles Swenson 1977); Dr. Snuggles (animated tv series) (1979); Grendel Grendel Grendel (Alexander Stitt 1981); Animal Farm (John Stephenson 1999).

Directed, wrote, and appeared in: Romanoff and Juliet (1961).

The obituaries for Sir Peter Ustinov predictably emphasized how many different talents he had displayed—as an actor, novelist, playwright, screenwriter, director, producer, television host, raconteur, and so on. And they were predictably much too kind to point out that he didn't do any of these things particularly well.

Seeking to determine precisely where Ustinov should have focused his energies, one might settle upon writing as his true calling, however difficult that might be to argue on the basis of his ineffervescent update of the Ruritarian romance, Romanoff and Juliet, and his other now-forgotten efforts. But writing even a mediocre play or film demands a modicum of skill, and Ustinov manifestly had the intelligence, erudition, and wit to produce something worthwhile. What he lacked, in the final analysis, was dedication to the craft.

Yet who can blame him? He was a sociable person, ill-suited to the lonely existence of the full-time author, and performing as an actor or television personality demanded far less energy and brought far greater rewards. What spoiled him for good, perhaps, was the misfortune of winning two of the most undeserved Academy Awards in film history—one for not being Chill Wills, and one for not being Stanley Holloway. Regardless of the evidence, a person's ego naturally recoils at the notion that one has received an honor solely by virtue of being a safe alternative to a despised favorite, preferring to imagine that his skills truly merited recognition. So, Ustinov acted more and wrote less—though he did not always choose his assignments wisely, backing out of the role of Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, allowing Peter SELLERS to become a star, while cheerfully staying on board the risible John Goldfarb, Please Come Home.

An actor whose prestige exceeds his abilities will always be welcomed by films which otherwise would enjoy no prestige at all, such as fantasy and science fiction films aimed at young audiences, where Ustinov soon found an occasional home. Without conveying the slightest hint that the fantastic in any way engaged his formidable intellect, he at least seemed to be enjoying himself in films like Blackbeard's Ghost, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, and The Thief of Baghdad, though he appears a bit uneasy in the company of Muppets, as if cognizant that he has improvidently stepped one rung too low on the Hollywood ladder. As for his major science fiction role, in Logan's Run, one would like to imagine that inept director Michael ANDERSON cast his film with slyly ironic intent: after Michael YORK haplessly flounders through his adventures, utterly unable to project any sort of passion or conviction, he finally escapes a nightmarish world filled only with overgrown adolescents like himself, looks for a mentor to provide some needed guidance, and stumbles onto Peter Ustinov. Oops. (For if anything, Ustinov seems even more befuddled than York, as if he didn't bother to read any of the scenes not featuring his character.)

Ustinov's career in the 1980s and 1990s was a muddle of sporadic leading roles, more frequent cameos, some easy money earned as a cartoon voice, and numerous appearances as Peter Ustinov, the urbane savant, in various television productions. Presumably to recognize all of this work, the British government then decided to award him a knighthood. Future generations of filmgoers will predictably wonder why.

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