Peter Ustinov

Born: 1921-04-16

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Peter Ustinov

Born and raised in England, though conceived in Leningrad (now once again called St Petersburg), Peter Alexander Ustinov spoke French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish fluently and could get by in Turkish and Greek. He was educated in London at Westminster School and began acting at seventeen. During the early months of the Second World War he was David Niven's batman, briefly interrupting his theatrical career, but the British Army soon decided to use his talents in a film unit. He sold his first screenplay at twenty-four and directed his first film, School for Secrets, at twenty-five. Ustinov went on to be as famous as a raconteur and wit as he was as an actor, director and producer. In later life he was 'loaded with honours', including a knighthood and the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the University of Durham (which is England's senior seat of learning after Oxford and Cambridge). Ustinov held honorary doctorates from Durham, Toronto and Georgetown Universities and from St Michael's College, Toronto, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Free Flemish University of Brussels. The collapse of the Soviet Empire at the beginning of the 1990s gave Ustinov new opportunities to explore the Russian part of his heritage. He died in Switzerland of heart failure in March, 2004.Ustinov's first wife was Isolde Denham (a daughter of the movie director Reginald Denham and half-sister of Angela Lansbury). With Isolde, Ustinov had one daughter, Tamara Ustinov. With his third wife, Suzanne Cloutier, he had two more daughters, Pavla and Andrea, and a son, Igor.Peter Ustinov had a somewhat unusual family background. His German-speaking father, Jona von Ustinow (known as 'Klop'), was born, brought up and educated at Jaffa in Turkish Palestine, then served as a Luftwaffe fighter pilot during the 1914-18 war before coming to England as representative of the German Press Association, later serving as press attache at the German Embassy in London. 'Klop' became a secret agent for British military intelligence at his Embassy during the 1930s, then walked out, deciding to settle permanently in England. Peter Ustinov's Russian mother, Nadia Leontievna Benois (1896-1975), was a painter, born and educated in Leningrad. His uncle Peter von Ustinow (after whom he is named) was another Luftwaffe pilot who was shot down and killed in Belgium in 1917. His mother's father was the architect Professor Louis Benois of St Petersburg (a brother of Alexander Benois, designer of the early Diaghilev ballets), while his Ustinov grandfather Baron Platon Grigorievich Ustinov was a protestant landowner and army officer who was exiled from the Russian Empire for refusing to take an oath of loyalty to the Orthodox Church, settling in Italy, Germany, and Palestine, and taking German nationality and the name 'von Ustinow'. Peter Ustinov's ancestor Jules-Cesar Benois was a French pastrycook who migrated to Russia and became food-taster to the Emperor Paul I. He married the imperial midwife, Concordia Groppe, who was German, and they raised seventeen children. Peter Ustinov's great-great-grandfather, Michael Adrianovich Ustinov (1730-1838), lived to be 108, owned 6,000 serfs, and built sixteen churches on his vast estate near Saratov. One of Peter Ustinov's grandmothers, Magdalena, the second wife of Baron Plato von Ustinow (as he became), was half-Ethiopian, the daughter of a Swiss missionary and his African bride. She was named Magdalena because she was born in a tent during the battle of Magdala, at which the Ethiopians fought the British with the help of cannon built by her father, the missionary. And one of Ustinov's great-grandmothers was the daughter of Italian composer Catterino Cavos (1776-1840).

Source: TV.com
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