Sunday, May 5, 2002

Peter Ustinov / This much I know / Children are close to the mystery of birth and old people are close to the mystery of death

Peter Ustinov

Peter Ustinov
(1921 - 2004)

This much I know

Children are close to the mystery of birth 
and old people are close to the mystery of death

Sir Peter Ustinov, 81, actor and writer, Vaud, Switzerland

Geraldine Bedell
Sunday 5 May 2002 00.47 BST

Being an exile is a huge advantage, if you handle it properly.

I have few regrets. But once, when I was making a film in Israel, I was collecting my breakfast from a buffet when I saw Ariel Sharon coming in the other direction with his tray. I stood back elegantly to let him past, and he went on like an express train. I have always regretted I didn't stick my foot out and send him and his breakfast sprawling.
Immediately I'm interested in something, I feel 10 years younger.
I only found out after my father died how consistently he had been unfaithful. He even stole a girlfriend of mine.
Children are close to the mystery of birth and old people are close to the mystery of death. Those in between are involved with the moment, so that their horizons are much nearer.
Comedy is tragedy that has gone wrong. It's one way of being serious.
When the little boys at my prep school in London wished to be unpleasant, they accused me of losing the First World War because my father was German. When they realised they'd gone too far, they claimed the German trenches had been much more sanitary than the French. But my mother was French, so it didn't really help.
An optimist is someone who realises how grim things are and resolves to try anyway; a pessimist is someone who finds it out anew every morning.
My half-Ethiopian grandmother would tell me the story of the crucifixion when I was a child on her knee. She would describe it as if she had been there, crying so copiously that the top of my pyjamas became wet with her tears and very cold. I've been suspicious of the Bible ever since.

Politicians are like milk that has been forced to float above cream.
I suspect if I'd married my third wife first I only would have been married once. But you can't tell.
Children are born completely without prejudice. So it shows that the basic material is very good.
Technology is developing so fast that the human mind is not ready to take it in. And just as in the 15th century, when explorers were discovering new lands, we are in desperate need of cartographers to make sense of it.
Russia is a country in which 60-year-olds are queueing to play Hamlet, but can't because some 80-year-old is still doing it. So if you're Russian you just carry on working.
Human beings can walk on the moon, but can't make successful airport baggage trolleys.
I tried to keep my second marriage going for so long because of the children. When it broke up, the children said to me, 'Why did you wait so long?'
Why was I always so aggressive about Mrs Thatcher? It's simple: I am a feminist and she isn't.
Education ends with death. Or after, according to your beliefs.

My father wanted me to be a lawyer. I told him I would be an actor, because it's really the same profession but less dangerous to our fellow men.
The only form of patriotism I can really stand is a feeling for the sap in your veins. I can't bear patriotism at anyone else's expense.
Tennis umpires have a code of conduct that makes no concessions to anything other than the stiff upper lip. Why shouldn't a man break his racket if he wants? It's his racket.
How do actors learn their lines? I've played King Lear twice, at four-and-a-half hours a time, and I still don't know.
At school we were asked to name a Russian composer on a general-knowledge paper. The answer was Tchaikovsky, because we had been studying him. I put Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and I was upbraided in front of the whole school for showing off.
The English believe the Germans don't have a sense of humour. But they do; it's just more intellectual.
There was a picture up in my first school of Jesus Christ pointing out the extent of the British Empire. No one would dream of putting up such a picture today, so it shows there is progress.
What would I like on my tombstone? Keep off the grass.


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