Another conscientious text that plods through its subject’s life yet misses the insights that really inform. Here, British biographer Miller covers all the minutiae but never makes the legendary actor, writer, and director transcend the sum of his many parts.
Unlike many other claimants to the title, Peter Ustinov is indeed a Renaissance man. He’s acted in film, theater, and television; written novels and scripts; and directed plays, operas, and movies. He’s also an exemplary citizen who has worked on behalf of international organizations like UNICEF and founded an institute in England to study prejudice. Born in 1921 in London to Russian parents whose colorful ancestry included Germans, French, and Ethiopians, Ustinov has always had an international perspective and following, which Miller dutifully records. The author covers all the steps in Ustinov’s path to Grand Old Man, including his adolescent drama lessons, first appearances on the English stage, and time out as a private in WWII producing military training films with actors like David Niven. Success as an actor and a playwright was swift, and Miller lists the numerous plays Ustinov acted in as well as those he wrote (The Love of the Four Colonels, Romanoff and Juliet, etc.), the films he acted in (winning Oscars for Spartacus and Topkapi), the books he wrote, the operas he directed, his television appearances, numerous honors including a knighthood, friendships with luminaries like Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Charles Laughton. A convivial man who likes fast cars and tennis, Ustinov is also a great comic and mimic. Miller briefly notes his three marriages, the third now in its fourth decade, and the existence of three daughters and a son. Despite many appreciative testimonies and anecdotes from colleagues, Ustinov remains elusive under his many hats.
More a résumé than a life. For diehard fans only.