ustinov: walter mitty at heart

The last of the Renaissance men. Peter Ustinov…

Through the 1960’s and beyond, Peter Ustinov was almost frantically in demand. Like other television performers, he was gnawingly aware of how fast comic material could be used up, and he had a horror of repeating himself too often. One example of trying to innovate was playing around with a skit that was based on a program performed in London for the BBC. It would add sentences before and after famous quotes. “Thus,” explained Ustinov, “to Queen Victoria’s ‘We are not amused,’ I would reply: ‘Actually, your majesty, it wasn’t meant to be funny.’ Then I’d have an elaborate African safari, with men groaning and slogging through the forest. Finally, one of them would say:’Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ And the answer would come back: No, as a matter of fact my name is Thompson.’ To John Paul Jones’ ‘We have not yet begun to fight,’ there can be only one reply: ‘You’d better start soon; the ship is sinking.’ To Drake’s ‘There is time to finish the game of bowls, and then beat the Spaniards,’ I would say:’Well, not really. You see, it takes three minutes to get to the ship and five more to cast off, and by that time the Spaniards will be round the corner.’ And Drake will say petulantly: ‘Oh, very well then.’ ”

—Acclaimed actor, raconteur and celebrated writer Peter Ustinov follows in the footsteps of Mark Twain and his 1898 published account of the epic journey he conducted around the globe – a time when the world was on the brink of a new century.—Read More:

At one time, early in his career, Ustinov received from Hollywood the highest compliment  it could pay an actor from Britain: he was offered the lead as the Brooklyn doctor in the movie version of the best seller Last Angry Man. Ustinov felt honored that his Brooklyn accent was considered so proficient, but declined the role.

Of himself in the late 1950’s he remarked: “I’ve never had enough money for it to embarrass me. I’m glad I started without a bean. It made me fend for myself. If I leave anything, I won’t make it easy for my children to get hold of it. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing I’ve ever done in the theater is what comes next. I’m a Walter Mitty at heart. I constantly dream of winning at Wimbledon.”

—And he said, “You mustn’t be too hard on the Afrikaners.
They are in the position of a minority people surrounded by
a stronger majority. And because they have selfish needs,
they regard themselves as the chosen people. And after all,
it’s not the first time that this has happened,” he said
with the faintest grin. It was interesting comment because
it was taking a kind of risk and at the same time being very
perspicacious — and very generous.
Certainly more generous than Twain, who called their
forebears “profoundly ignorant, dull, obstinate,
Indeed. Tutu’s a delightful character. He told me, “I never
saw a light. I never thought of the church as a vocation. I
went in because I thought it was the one place where a black
boy could be on equal terms with a white one. And it was
only once I was inside that I began to believe.”—Read More: image:


Interview. 1999. ( see link at end)…What made Twain a great travel writer?

He was a very good journalist. He had an individual way of looking at things and he noticed everything. I don’t regard “Following the Equator” as a very good book — it’s meandering and it came out at a time when picturesque qualities were more important than the discussion of social issues. But he did say one remarkable thing, which is that there’s no square inch of the world that hasn’t been stolen. For the period, it seems to me to be the most extraordinary way of advancing a view of the world. It’s absolutely true, of course.

Twain warns an ascendant America not to follow Britain’s lead as an empire builder.

Yes, and with the U.S. the imperialism is more of an anomaly. The U.S. is by definition anticolonial, and it had every reason to be anticolonial given how it was established. But when you look at the way Hawaii was annexed or how Puerto Rico was acquired, there were so many tricks involved. And more recently with Grenada in the 1980s — they were a wonderful, innocent country and they had their adolescence taken away from them. They had to become adult overnight and they grew up in a different fashion than what they were expecting. What’s sad is that the American students [whose safety was the stated rationale for the invasion by U.S. troops] were in no possible danger.Read More:="">

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