Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
- Robert Newton, Around The World In 80 Days, 1956. Impossible - due to his film-a-year contract with a Hollywood studio. "Like all big companies of that time, they were all eager to torpedo Mike Todd. Very nervous about Todd-AO so soon after the expense of their CinemaScope, VistaVision." Everything comes to he who waits. Thirty years later, Ustinov finally played Inspector Fix in a TV re-make. "I always get my man in the end!"
- Henry Fonda, War and Peace, 1956. Audrey Hepburn's canny choice for Pierre was not King Vidor's. Ustinov said he was "very touched" that she fought for him. "I stood no chance, despite her eloquence on my behalf, since the role had already been given to... one of the finest actors in Hollywood. But I remember her efforts with a surprise which has survived the passage of time."
- Nehemiah Persoff, The Sea Wall, Italy-France-USA, 1956. Italian cinemogul Dino De Laurentiis wanted Ustinov for Albert when the Indochina tale was known as This Angry Age and This Bitter Earth. James Dean’s shock death led to Anthony Perkins playing the hero, while Ustinov was blocked in a stage commitment.
- Dennis Price, School For Scoundrels, 1959. Ustinov wrote the first adaptation of Stephen Potter’s Oneupmanship books, and was going to play used car salesman Dunstan Dorchester. Then, a second script was ordered and one of the co-writers, Hal E Chester, helped direct the comedy with Cyril Frankel when the credited helmer Robert Hamer kept turning up drunk.
- Peter Finch, The Trials of Oscar Wilde, 1960. Good choice, but Finchey was exemplary.
- Riccardo Garrone, Salambo (US: The Loves of Salambo), France-Italy, 1960. Hollywood thought big (Harry Belafonte, Charles Laughton Gina Lollobrigida, Laurence Olivier). Franco-Italian wallets could not.
- Red Buttons, Hatari! 1961. A rare Howard Hawks error... The Grey Fox wanted a joker in his safari back-pack. McKern, Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov (up for the same role for the first time) were seen in London. McKern refused to work with such a rampant right-winger as John Wayne. Ustinov was busy. Sellers didn’t do politics and agreed to be Robbie. Then, Robbie became Pockets and American and, well, Buttons had recently won an Oscar. Not for being funny, that’s for sure. (Only hilarious on TV, Carney won his Oscar in 1975).
- James Mason, Lolita, 1962. He was surprised - and not amused - to find himself among director Stanley Kubrick’s potential Humbert Humberts: Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, David Niven... and the perfect choice, Errol Flynn
- Peter Sellers, The Pink Panther, 1963.
- Alan Arkin, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, 1966. Canadian director Norman Jewison had hoped to team Sellers and Ustinov as two Russian submariners invading Jack Lemmon's New England. The comedy still worked without any of them!
- Maurice Evans, Planet of the Apes, 1967.
- Woody Allen, Take The Money And Run, 1968. Having somehow survived the blood-letting messes of What’s New Pussycat? and Casino Royale, Woody made it clear he’d run his own shows from hereon - beginning as actor-director of the tale of the failed bank-robber. Yet in July 1965, he announced shooting would sart in September, starring Ustinov, and the next project would be Pinocchio! It was his way of being seen as a player when anything about Ustinov was news since winning his second Oscar in February for Topkapi.
- Mark Dignam, Hamlet, 1969. Due for Polonious in the Richard Harris version - beaten to the gate by the versions of British stage-screen director Tony Richarson.
- Yves Robert, Le Cinéma de Papa, France, 1970. For his fourth feature, Claude Berri (actor-turned-director and one of the most successful French producers) had a simple idea: “A son aims to be an actor, but it’s his father who becomes a star.” He had wanted his father to play himself. On his death, Berri searched everywhere - from local stars (Louis De Funès, Serge Reggiani, Michel Serrault) to the highly international Ustinov. (Berri’s mother, Betty Langmann, played his mother in his sixth film, Le Mâle du siècle, 1974; his sister, Arlette, was an editor and scenarist mainly alongside Berri and her lover, realisateur Maurice Pialat).
- Gene Wilder, Rhinocerous, 1973. Scots director Alexander Mackrendrick’s Laurel & Hardy take on the Ionesco piece ceased to be when when Tony Hancock quit. The director then suggested Peters Sellers and Ustinov. But no, this proved yet another Mackendrick projects that failed to ignite. Seven years later the Hair stage director, Tom O’Horgan, made it with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.
- Vladimir Smirnov, Bordello, Greece, 1985. Nikos Koundouros kept claiming he had big stars – Isabelle Adjani, Sophia Loren, James Mason, Ustinov. None of them joined his party. They probably hadn’t even heard of it. Koundouros did have Marina Vlady and she was aghast at how he made nonense of her role. Apart from the Thessaloniki festival (twice in 1985 and 1998!), the film was never seen anywhere
- Simon Dutton, Memed My Hawk, 1983. Buying rights to Turkish Marxist Yashar Kemal’s Nobel Peace Prize winning novel in 1963, producer Darryl Zanuck asked Ustinov to direct and star for Fox. The satire of peasants v landowners then passed on through Richard Brooks, Elia Kazan, Joseph Losey, even George Lucas (his Memed was called Luke Skywalker) before Ustinov and Turkish producer Fuad Kavur won the rights in 1975. Ustinov completed the script in ’79, and it took another four years to raise the cash (Fox among many refusing) for what proved, after all that time and effort, a sadly empty enterprise.
- Paul McGann, Doctor Who (The Movie), TV, 1996
- David Kelly, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. Ustinov passed before passing on Tim Burton’s offer to play Grandpa Joe. (Exactly the same sad epitaph for Gregory Peck). Burton also investigated Richard Attenborough, Kirk Douglas, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lloyd, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Paul Newman, Max von Sydow, Eli Wallach, David Warner. And finally gave the role to Kelly (“in three minutes,” said Kelly) on running into him at Pinewood studios for a costume fitting for another film.